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Class of 2016: Teachers Who Made a Difference

Jordan Magaziner Steinfeld
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Kathy Higgins

Beloved Condit Elementary School Ms. Kathy Higgins at her retirement party this spring, surrounded by students. The Condit community, including current and former students and families, will miss her dearly. She was named as one teacher that has made a difference to these graduating Buzz seniors. 

Often, teachers teach students more than just the subject they set out to teach – history, math, science – and become mentors as well. Years from now, students may not remember a specific date that an important historical event occurred, but they will remember the teacher that inspired them to take a certain career path or who made them laugh or who calmed them down when they were feeling stressed.

This year, to gather information for our annual “Where are they headed” article featuring high school graduates and where they’re heading to college, we included the question: Teacher who changed your life and why. The responses we received were so meaningful, but too long to include in our print article, so we’ve gathered them all here for you.

Congratulations, Class of 2016, and thank you to all of the incredible teachers who helped you along the way. To see where these high school grads are heading, check out the article. Also, find out where more local grads are heading - and contribute to, if you haven’t yet – our annual database of college-bound Buzz-area seniors. New this year, seniors can send a message to other seniors through our site to congratulate each other or ask questions about college. 

Kolin Ariza:Mr. Gregory Switzer in 6th grade at Pin Oak Middle School. I joined the fishing club and immediately fell in love with fishing until this day. We went on tons of fishing trips on the weekends and I enjoyed every one of them.” 

Madison Auerbach: “Coach Miguel Garza at St. Pius X High School was my basketball coach in 9th and 10th grade. During intense games, when I would get frustrated and angry at myself, he taught me it was more important to have fun and not take life so seriously.” 

Jillian Bass: “My 12th grade English teacher, Dr. Charlie Scott (The Kinkaid School), because he showed me that even in simple books, there are always different ways to see the depth in writing.” 

Greer Blitzer: “Mrs. Tarah Moser, my AP English teacher in 10th grade when I originally attended Westside High School. She never gave up on me and sought to make sure I reached my full potential.” 

Jared Burch: “My 12th grade Korean Calculus teacher named Ms. Nguyet Pham (Episcopal High School) was the nicest lady I have ever met and gave the class money on Chinese New Year.” 

Quinn Burhans: “Ms. Sara Matthews, my second grade English teacher at The Joy School. She taught me how to read and, within a few months, I was reading at grade level. Without her guidance and willingness to help me succeed, I would not be where I am today.” 

Merritt Chastain: “Coach Russell Wichmann (Memorial High School) - he gave me a better appreciation of literature and was an excellent football coach.” 

David Cook: “Ms. Susan Sisler, German Teacher at Memorial High School. I had her for all four years of high school, and she always took the time to make sure we reached our full potential as students.” 

Charles Dorfman: “Ms. Gara Johnson-West is an Upper School History teacher at St. John's School. I had her sophomore year. She has always been a fan of mine and checks on me from time to time offering support and guidance. She is also responsible for fueling my interest in history. I have had the opportunity to take an elective history with her this semester called Modern Revolutions.”

Lane Drager: “The teacher that changed my life the most was my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Scott Hanold (Presbyterian School). He helped me further my interest in English and gave me some of the best advice about school that I have ever received, that ‘School is what I make of it.’ The more work that I am to put into school, the more reward I will receive; this is a piece of advice that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.”

Sarah Drew: “My engineering class junior year with Mrs. Alaina Scorsone (Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart) really changed my life. That class helped me get out of my comfort zone and made me realize that I want to be an engineer.” 

Lizzy Fallon: “Ms. Rosie Beniretto, the eighth grade World History teacher from St. John's School. She taught me that working hard for my grades will pay off.” 

Charles Filby: “Kimberely Feign, Bellaire High, 11th grade, English 3.”  

Madeline Graham: “When I was in fifth grade at River Oaks Elementary, my teacher Ms. Tomiko Wilkerson would go out of her way to give us extra opportunities for science experiments. I remember playing with the circuit boards, trying to get the lightbulb to light up. Her passion for science aided in developing my love for the subject, and ultimately my decision to pursue a career in the sciences.” 

Valerie Herrscher: “Mrs. Elizabeth Schwartz, 10th and 12th grade English at St. Thomas' Episcopal. She was always there for me when I needed her. It didn't matter if I was sad about a bad grade or if my parents were out of town and I needed some help with my brother. I know I can go to her with anything.”

Scott Kennedy: “Mrs. Mary Jackson at Stratford High School, 12th, for Student Council and Accounting, helped me build a passion for my school. Mrs. Janice Cummons at Stratford, 10th-12th, for Newspaper, encouraged my love of writing and gave me the freedom I was craving to think outside the box.” 

Kushal Kuchibhotla: “Ms. Archana Kadam, the chemistry teacher in Kuwait (Fahaheel Al-Watanieh Indian Private School) who taught me in grades VII, VIII, IX and X, was not only an excellent teacher in the subject but her classes were brought to life by her practical approach of relating the subject to day to day life. She ignited a zeal to learn and understand the world around me. She was also extremely approachable, encouraging and motivating her students. Her command over her subject, her practical approach and humility inspires me and makes me aspire to be a person like her.” 

Erin Lai: “Mrs. Evelyn Cornejo was my 5th grade science teacher at Condit Elementary School. She was the first teacher that I had that I saw as more than just another authority figure. She became and still is my role model today.” 

Paul Labanowski: “Mrs. Gara Johnson-West, 10th grade World History II at St. John’s School, taught me to learn for the sake of growing as an individual, not just to get good grades.” 

Christian Loutchaninoff: “Mr. Ed Finger at the Briarwood School. Mr. Finger taught World History and loved to travel the world, as my family does. It was great to be able to discuss different places we each traveled and the culture experienced.” 

Kaitlyn Massin: “My eleventh grade algebra II teacher, Mr. Jacob Guidry, at Emery High School changed my perspective on math. I used to dislike math because it was my hardest subject and nothing clicked, but Mr. Guidry dedicated extra time to help me and always made sure I was grasping the information. He made math actually fun to learn and he explained every concept thoroughly. Any person can see that he cares a lot about his students and has full confidence that all of them will succeed.” 

Charlie Meacham: “I have had so many amazing teachers it is difficult to select just one. Mrs. Susan Permenter was my second grade teacher at Awty International School and she took the time to understand what I needed as a student. She allowed me to stand while I worked which was important for me because I was very active. Mr. Greg Cullinan taught me English in 7th and 8th grade at Awty International School and he helped me realize how engaging a teacher can be. It made me a much more curious student. All of my IB teachers at Awty have gone above and beyond the call of duty. They have all been outstanding.” 

Camryn Mitchell: “My eighth grade math teacher Ms. Debrah Magee (Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart) has changed my life the most because she was more than just a teacher for me. She was like a parent, but also a friend. She was easily approachable, fun and treated everyone like her equal. She taught me that making mistakes is a part of life and sometimes instead of crying about them you have to laugh about them, shake them off and move on. We also had the same birthday, which I think made us even closer.”  

Sydney Nelson: “Coach Stephanie Gore was my history and RTOT teacher. She would always make me laugh. When you are in her class, you will have so much fun, share laughs, and more.” 

Domenic Patronella: “Coach Brett Mills, my junior year at St. Thomas High School. He’s a very stern disciplinarian, but fair. Taught me a greater appreciation for history and how important it is, as it always repeats itself.” 

Bryan Read: “Mrs. Sandra Hardy in the fourth grade at Memorial Drive Elementary School because she got me interested in writing and encouraged me to be creative.” 

Harrison Rosenthal: “My kindergarten teacher, Ms. Kathy Higgins at Condit Elementary School, had the biggest impact on my life. I had a special connection with her and she helped give me the basic knowledge on all subjects to help me excel in them later in life. I always spent extra time with her having her help me and teach me extra. I even slept at her house one night and she took me to one of my gymnastics competitions.” 

Peyton Ross: “Coach Ivory Young was my coach all through St. Vincent de Paul middle school sports. He taught me discipline and how to be team player. I will always appreciate what he did for me. “ 

Emily Soice: “10th grade, AP World History, HSPVA, Mr. Wyatt BIngham. Mr. Bingham taught me how civilization came to the point it is at today, how the world became separated into have and have-nots, Sunni and Shi'ite, North America and South America, industry and agriculture. He was my first AP teacher, and taught me how to write piercing essays and analyze the world around us. He is also one cool dude.” 

Oliver Wang: “Mr. Bret Ramsey from St. Thomas' Episcopal School, who showed me in Mock Trial that passion and hard work can achieve anything.” 

Katie Whalley: “A teacher who has changed my life is Dr. Yvette Tumminello (The Briarwood School) who is currently my math teacher. She has taught me to never give up on math and to keep persevering even though math isn't the easiest subject for me.” 

Eli Winter: “I've got lots. My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Kari Burdick (West University Elementary School), has gotta be up there. She let me read whatever I wanted to and we're still friends today. That kind of thing is really formative in ways you don't realize until 11 or 12 years later.

In high school (Carnegie): Mrs. Erica Harris. Freshman English and 10th grade Creative Writing. She's why I'm here today. Also, Mr. Benjamin Holloway, senior AP English Lit. He's also amazing. I have trouble articulating why. Also, Mr. Chris Rajadurai. Many other teachers: Mr. James Parker, Mr. Terry Swift from Pin Oak Middle School, Mr. Nick Gonzalez from Pin Oak. Quick, obligatory shout-out to Mr. Quang Tran.

My music teachers, both formally and informally: Formally, Rachel Buchman, Dan Sedgwick, Kris Wettstein. And more informally, Max Jared, Daniel Bachman, Mike Cooper, Nathan Salsburg, Jana Hunter. All huge inspirations.

Jamal Cyrus at the CAMH. 

Also, Jackie and Steve Majerus-Collins from Youth Journalism International and Becca Keo-Meier.

Lastly, Michael Duke from Helfman Religious School. He's my role model. (Tapuach!)” 

Editor’s Note: Have a teacher who recently inspired you or your child? Email us at [email protected] to potentially include this teacher in an upcoming story about favorite teachers. 

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