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Class of 2021: Teachers Who Made a Difference

Jenna Mazzoccoli
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inspirational teachers

This year's graduating class shares stories about teachers who have inspired them along the way. 

For our annual Where Are They Headed feature, seniors fill out a survey about their high school experience. Each year, we include the question: Teacher who changed your life and why. And once again, students’ responses were heartwarming. Seniors are the ones in the spotlight this month, but behind them are hundreds of teachers who have inspired them and helped them grow. 

Minla Phillips – Lovett Elementary School, Pin Oak Middle School, Lamar High School 
Minla Phillips is heading to Howard University in Washington, D.C. to study Psychology. She says: “Mrs. Sara Gutierrez, my second grade teacher at Lovett Elementary, always encouraged me to be the best that I could be and taught me to challenge myself.”

Christian White – Oak Forest Elementary, Our Savior Lutheran School, Lutheran High North
Christian White is heading to Texas A&M University, where he will study Engineering. He says: “The teacher who has had the most profound impact on me is Mrs. Blythe Barreto. She teaches 11th-12th Theology at Lutheran High North. She always has a positive outlook and encourages me to use my gifts and talents. Her lessons are engaging and well organized so that everyone has to stay active in what is being taught. Theology is one of my favorite subjects and she has always found ways to nurture my interest.”

Megan Gutierrez – Condit Elementary School, Pin Oak Middle School, Bellaire High School 
Megan Gutierrez is heading to Austin College, where she will study Biology. She says: “I had Ms. Michelle Thomas at Bellaire High School for Geometry and Algebra 2. She always believed in me and helped me to be the best student that I could be. She helped me to greatly improve my math skills and to be more confident as a student.”

Michael Ware – Westbury Christian School 
Michael Ware is heading to Prairie View A&M University. He says: “Ms. Veronica Dillard, 6th grade Science teacher at Westbury Christian was always available to her students, supportive and really cared about us doing well in the classroom and about our personal concerns. She was easy to talk to.”

Meridian Monthy – West University Elementary School, St. John's School 
Meridian Monthy is off to Yale University to study Political Science.  She says: “Ms. Maureen Pflugfelder, my 5th grade homeroom teacher, taught me to be excited to learn and continue learning outside of the classroom.”

Stephanie Davis – The Shlenker School, Pin Oak Middle School, The Emery/Weiner School 
Stephanie Davis is heading to Pace University in New York City to study Entrepreneurship. She says: “David Lombardi taught me English my junior year at Emery. He is the teacher who has had the biggest impact on me. He was very kind in class and in the halls and really made you feel good about your work. He was encouraging and made class fun! Because of him, I take more pride in my writing and I realize how important it is to be kind to others.”

Maya Alatin – Kolter Elementary School, Lanier Middle School, The Emery/Weiner School 
Maya Alatin is off to The University of Texas at Austin, where she will study Communications and Leadership with a minor in Business. She says: “Jacob Guidry taught me Precalculus, Statistics, and Calculus at the Emery/ Weiner School. Mr. Guidry taught me to ask questions outside of the box and always prioritize my learning rather than the actual grade. He has challenged me and has helped me realize my potential in and out of the classroom.”

James Vaquero – St. Michael Catholic School, Strake Jesuit 
James Vaquero is heading to Southwestern University to study Business and play baseball.  He says: “The most influential teacher in my life has been and still is Mr. Donovan Fikac. He was my freshman English teacher, as well as my baseball coach for all four years. He has always ‘been in my corner’ and helps me out with any problem, no matter if it is personal, academic, or sports related.”

Nancy Gallegos – St. Edward Catholic School, St. Pius X High School 
Nancy Gallegos is heading to the University of Tulsa, where she will study Biological Sciences. She says: “My Choir director Mr. Paul Jurick changed my life since he has always been a supportive religious figure to me since freshman year. He inspires me with his love and passion for music and theology. He always finds a way to brighten up my day and treats everyone with respect and care and I admire his great dedication to his faith and career.”

Mia Kalinsky – Beth Yeshurun Day School, The Emery/Weiner School 
Mia Kalinsky is heading to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she will study Nursing. Mia says: “Mrs. Tanya Meinecke-Smith takes time to get to know her students beyond the classroom. She is very observant and can always tell when someone has something going on and is all open ears. I was hesitant going into Spanish III sophomore year because I didn't have a great Spanish teacher previously. Mrs. Meinecke motivated me to take Spanish and made sure that I succeeded.” 

Theophane Polydoros – Poe Elementary School, Lanier Middle School, Lamar High School 
Theophane Polydoros is heading to Trinity University, where she will study Psychology and English. She says: “Elisa Infante was my teacher all four years at Lamar High School where she taught classes in the agriculture pathway: Principles of Agriculture, Livestock Production, Veterinary Medicine, and Advanced Animal Science. She left an impact on me as she introduced me to the Future Farmers of America (FFA) program where I joined, and has since changed my life in terms of responsibility, time management, leadership, as well as finding enjoyment in what I do!”

Mason McHugh – First Baptist Academy, Houston Christian High School 
Mason McHugh is off to Texas A&M University, where he will study Engineering. He says: “Mr. Lukas Rieke, my 11th and 12th grade physics teacher at Houston Christian High School has always been there for me in times of struggles and challenges. He's challenged me to have outside the box thinking and aided me in the learning of complex topics.”

Arnulfo Macias – Ketelsen Elementary School, Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School, Lamar High School 
Arnulfo Macias is heading to San Jacinto College, where he will study Mechanics. He says: “Karen Georgiev at Lamar High School was my English teacher. She changed my life because she seemed to care. She reached out to my parents when I was struggling and was there when I really needed the help.”

Paige Hoffer – Horn Elementary School, Pin Oak Middle School, Bellaire High School 
Paige Hoffer is heading to The University of Texas at Austin, where she will study Sociology on a pre-law track. She says: “In the beginning of middle school, I was painfully shy. Mr. Greg Switzer gave me an environment that helped me not only cultivate, but also express my opinions.”

Grace Massey – Herod Elementary School, Pin Oak Middle School, Lamar High School 
Grace Massey is heading to the University of Arkansas, where she will study Biology and Pre-Med. She says: “Andy Ayala always pushed me to be better and always had a good joke”.”

Lily Flexon – Memorial Drive Elementary School, Spring Branch Middle School, Memorial High School 
Lily Flexon is heading to Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to study Marketing. She says: “I lived in Geneva, Switzerland for second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Howe, made the experience one to remember. She encouraged me to grow and trust myself while providing a nurturing and supportive classroom environment.”

Ellie Consolvo – Oak Forest Elementary School, Johnston Middle School, Lamar High School 
Ellie Consolvo is off to Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., to study Psychology and Philosophy. She says: “Mr. John Latchett from Johnston Middle School was my 8th grade math teacher. He changed my life because he taught me even the most difficult lessons are some of the most important. “

Anastacia Yefimenko – The Village School 
Anastacia Yefimenko is heading to Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, to study Entrepreneurship. She says: “My IB environmental systems and societies class was taught by Dr. Michael Walker. I had him in 11th and 12th grade and he was really helpful when I was first starting my business. He showed me above and beyond support.”

Ashley Nguyen – Chinh Nghia Elementary School (Vietnam), Jane Long Academy, Lamar High School 
Ashley Nguyen is heading to the University of Southern California to study Neuroscience. She says: “I want to give a huge shoutout to Mr. Maxwell Ross for being such a funny and cool Physics teacher my junior year. I never thought I would like his class, but his class ended up being my favorite. He just has always been really passionate about his job and willing to help his students.”

Thalia Pullin – The School at St. George Place, Grady Middle School, Lamar High School 
Thalia Pullin is off to The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland to study Film. She says: “My art teacher at Grady Middle School, Mr. Loren Gardner, changed my life because he was the first person to truly believe in my art abilities. I was scared to try new things with my art but he encouraged me to work outside of my comfort zone. He also wrote me a letter when I graduated telling me his favorite artwork of mine and wishing me the best in high school. I truly believe I wouldn't be the artist I am now without the support he gave me in middle school. Thanks Mr. Gardner!”

Adelle von Grabow – Rooney Ranch Elementary School, Dunstan Middle School, Lamar High School 
Adelle von Grabow is heading to Colorado State University to study Neuroscience. She says: “One teacher that changed my life was Mrs. Georgiev who taught English my Junior and Senior year of high school. Before I came to her class, English was very boring to me and all of my previous teachers were very monotone. When I came to Mrs. Georgiev's class, the scene was completely different. The environment was extremely colorful and she found interesting ways to teach a lesson such as through singing!”

Emily Burnett – West University Elementary School, St. John’s School 
Emily Burnett is going to Barnard College in New York City. She says: “Dr. Kristiane Stapleton was my 11th grade English teacher and helped me become confident in my writing ability and was always there for me when I had a non-English-related problem.”

Margaret Hudson – Presbyterian School, Lamar High School 
Margaret Hudson is off to Texas A&M University to study Business Management. She says: “Mrs. Toni Mouton at Presbyterian School has positively impacted my life in more ways than one. Throughout my time in middle school, Mrs. Mouton was the associate head of the Middle School and led the Gifted and Talented Enrichment Program. She was both an advocate and a mentor to me through my time in middle school.”

Anirudh Srinivasan – The Village School 
Anirudh Srinivasan is heading to Harvard University. He says: “I had Mrs. Denise Keenaghan in 10th grade for English 2 honors and 12th grade for IB Literature Standard Level 2. She changed my perspective on learning because before I took her class in sophomore year, I considered every subject to be individual, like nothing really related to each other. There's STEM, English, then there are foreign languages. But after taking her class, her teaching style, and teaching methods, I realized that everything is related to each other. Everything is connected to something else in some form or another, and you can apply it any way you want.”

Kevin McKenna – Condit Elementary School, Lanier Middle School, Strake Jesuit
Kevin McKenna is off to the University of Notre Dame to study Finance. He says: “Mr. Brock Scheller was my junior year English teacher at Strake Jesuit. His course was challenging and forced me to push myself in an area I felt I was already strong.”

Matthew Moseley – The Kinkaid School 
Matthew Moseley is heading to Northwestern University to study Radio, Television, and Film. He says: “Mr. Olen Rambow changed my life because he redefined what a classroom could be. The unique lessons and welcoming environment that he created made me excited to go to school every day. He taught me what it was like to love learning.”

Ja'Von West – Betsy Ross Elementary School, Clifton Middle School, Lamar High School 
Ja’Von West is heading to Texas A&M Kingsville, where he will study Engineering. He says: “Mr. Tyrone Chambers from Lamar High School changed my life because he always believed that I would be great in life, always pushing me to my fullest potential and the way he treated me like I was his own is incredible.”

Andrew Mee – Herod Elementary School, Pin Oak Middle School, Lamar High School 
Andrew Mee is heading to the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, to study Biology and play soccer. He says: “I am so grateful to have been able to be a part of Mr. David Fisher's TOK (Theory of Knowledge) and World Religions classes. Mr. Fisher has never failed to make his classes interesting, always prompting and facilitating insightful conversations into topics over these two courses. Beyond the curriculum, Mr. Fisher has always gone above and beyond, especially during this time of virtual learning, to make a personal relationship with students in his class. I always feel that I can ask him for advice, or share my achievements with him because he truly cares about me as an individual and not just as a student.”

Alex Lavine – Beth Yeshurun Day School, The Emery/Weiner School 
Alex Lavine is heading to Texas A&M University, where he will study Business Administration. He says: “A teacher that changed my life was Mrs. Kelsey Hughes. She taught me Geometry in 10th grade at Emery. Her class was definitely not easy at all, but I learned that putting in the max effort in a class can really pay off. I ended the year with a grade I was satisfied with, and I really learned how to work hard. I showed full effort in her class and she recognized my efforts which were very satisfying.”

Lili Alamshenas – The Fay School, The Awty International School 
Lili Alamshenas is off to the University of North Texas to study Kinesiology. She says: “My junior and senior year English teacher, Ginger Stone at The Awty International School, was always there for me and helped me through a lot. She also stood up for me and was by my side when I needed her.”

Jaylenn Holmes – Roberts Elementary School, Meyerland Performing and Visual Arts Middle School, Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts 
Jaylenn Holmes is heading to Texas A&M University where she will study Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance. She says: “Mr. Sean Tellez is our Assistant Principal at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. He truly fights for diversity and makes the students truly feel welcomed. I always felt that he was in my corner and I am very appreciative of all the help he gave me over the years. Whether it was a simple chat to clear my head or asking him for reference letters for college. He truly cares about his students.”

Miles Goldstein – Kolter Elementary School, The Emery/Weiner School 
Miles Goldstein is off to Brandeis University, where he will pursue Near Eastern and Judaic Studies. He says: “In 11th grade, Jennifer Williams was my AP English Language and Composition teacher. She helped me break through the block I had formed in writing. I wasn't able to separate the joy of the practice with the boring school activity, but she helped me break that and rediscover why I loved it so much, in turn making me a better writer, which helped me get in to college. And our school's music director, Mr. Kelly Dean, always placed a lot of trust in me. Sometimes, the best way to teach someone to be a leader in a band setting is to throw them into the fire, and that's exactly what he used to do with me. He told me I needed to fill an hour and a half, and that he'd provide the equipment. I was on my own for the rest of it. I had to get a band of my peers together, pick out songs, and teach them to the other members. What we learned to do come the day of the Shabbat, however, was to rely not on preparation, but on our underlying skills, our ability to improvise, the shared rapport and understanding of each other we had developed, not by practicing individual songs, but by playing in the same music department for many years. We weren't perfect, but we sounded good, and we sounded authentic.”

Editor’s note: See our June issue for our annual “Where are they headed?” spotlight on graduating Buzz seniors. Also, check out – and contribute to, if you haven’t yet – our database of college-bound seniors

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