So Long, Señora Schork, ‘Guapa’

Features

by Alyssa Pilecki ’20

With a heavy heart, it is my honor and pleasure to formally bid farewell to one of the most integral, celebrated, and wonderful members at Kingswood Oxford, Modern Languages Department Chair Lynn Schork. Also popularly known on campus as Señora Schork or ‘Guapa,’ she decided to announce her plan for retirement within the past few weeks after an extremely dedicated and amazing 42 years. Ms. Schork is more than well-deserving of recognition and appreciation for everything that she has accomplished at and contributed to KO.

After receiving a B.A. from Middlebury College and an M.A. from the University of St. Joseph, Ms. Schork came to KO in 1977 and quickly became one of the most legendary and beloved people in the community. Throughout her career, Ms. Schork has developed an impressive track record, juggling a multitude of positions and responsibilities, including being the Language Department Chair for over 30 years, teaching Spanish to all levels except for seventh and eighth grade, advising all Upper School forms, coaching varsity gymnastics for 25 years, working in both admissions and college advising for some time, flexing her skills as a school guidance counselor, and acting as Dean of Students and Interim Director of the Upper School for several years.

As Ms. Schork has been affectionately looking back on and reflecting upon her days at KO, she said she rejoices in having been able to explore all these unique opportunities that the school has offered her and to extend her skillset in exciting and innovative ways.

“I like all the jobs that I’ve had at KO because each one has helped me to deal with issues in different ways, to deal with what it’s like growing up and constantly staying current with all people: students, parents, and colleagues,” she said. “Those jobs made me a better person and teacher, and I adored coaching when I could.”

Many students and teachers alike have verified this as well, saying that Ms. Schork always made sure to reach out, make connections, and genuinely help or interact with each person as best as she could. Ms. Schork is more than just a teacher: she truly is a warm-hearted mentor and friend to everyone.

One of Ms. Schork’s advisees and Spanish 5AP students, senior Claudia Petrie, said she appreciates Ms. Schork and the great impact she has had. “I learned a lot from Ms. Schork about staying positive and letting things go, along with always working hard and doing my best in everything,” she said. “I have known her since I was a lot younger because my mom and my brother both had her as a teacher when they were at KO, so she has always been there to listen to me and talk to me about anything.”

Another Spanish 5AP student, senior Rabih Chughtai, said he agreed wholeheartedly that Ms. Schork has been vital to his high school experience and his ability to speak Spanish. “As a student, she has taught me about how important it is to look at and understand the picky details of grammar,” he said. He explained that it is easy to gloss over grammar rules, but Ms. Schork always took the time to go in depth and apply the details to his Spanish speaking, reading, and listening. “She’s a great teacher who always brings energy to the class. My class was very prepared for the AP, and that was all because of her,” he said.

Ms. Schork said she attempts to go beyond the grammar and integrate Hispanic and Latin cultures into her classes, as well. “The wonderful part about teaching a language is that it is all about culture, so you’re bringing the world into the classroom, getting students excited about countries from all around the world,” she said. “You can take a look at history and current events and study people, places, and literature.” In a foreign language, she explained, there really is more than just knowing how to conjugate verbs; it is about knowing how to effectively communicate with and appreciate other people, which Ms. Schork said she takes into account when teaching and working with students.

Upper School history teacher Robert Kyff, who joined KO alongside Ms. Schork in 1977, said that this much is apparent to anyone who meets her. “First of all, what stands out about Ms. Schork is that she is extremely nice, kind, and energetic,” he said. “When I first met her, I quickly realized she would always give 100% of her effort to her students, and when she was the gymnastics coach, she would help them so much, too. She’s incredibly bright and a terrific teacher, one that has a wonderful sense of humor and enjoys socializing with both students and teachers.”

Mr. Kyff’s kind words did not stop there, though. “Ms. Schork genuinely brings a spark of joy to every situation she encounters,” he said. “She has a relaxed and calm approach to life, loves to travel, and learns about new cultures and about nature constantly, so she has a lot of  knowledge and experience to pull from.” Mr. Kyff said this also came in handy when Ms. Schork acted as Dean of Students and Interim Head of School. “Both positions are very strenuous jobs and require patience, which Ms. Schork has plenty of, and she showed tremendous composure and leadership while helping to create a safe and engaging community,” he said.

While Ms. Schork explained that she loved working in admissions, college advising, counseling, and coaching, she said there is nothing that has had quite the same effect on her as teaching has. “I just love the teaching aspect, and what is surprising to some people is that I’ve never gotten tired of it,” she said. Ms. Schork said that she believes this is due to the fact that every year there is always a new mix of students, which makes it seem like a brand new class to her all over again. “It’s invigorating, it’s fun, and it keeps me engaged in the world, in terms of everything that’s going on in [my students’] lives,” she said.

One of her favorite ways of connecting with her students and the world was through sabbaticals, and Ms. Schork said she completed two of them. For those who do not know, a sabbatical is a period of paid leave for a teacher to study or work while traveling in order to help that teacher enrich their expertise, bring what they have learned back to the school, and incorporate it into the curriculum. Ms. Schork said the first one she went on was in 1991 with the program “Semester at Sea,” where she worked on a boat as a student life coordinator for three months, traveling from port to port, helping students with their Spanish and Portuguese skills. The next sabbatical she took was with “Swiss Semester,” which allowed for both students and teachers to experience life in Switzerland for a semester, through the incorporation of outdoor physical activity, strenuous athletics, and intense academics.

Besides Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal, Ms. Schork has visited many other countries, such as living in Mexico or taking a trip to Nepal. Other places she has been to include most of South America, most of Central America, many places in Europe, and some areas in Asia and Africa. Ms. Schork said the only places she hasn’t been are Antarctica and Australia, the latter of which she might still want to visit! With this extensive love for traveling, it is no surprise that Ms. Schork has an extraordinarily well-developed appreciation for culture and language.

Dean of Students William Gilyard said that when he joined the KO faculty eight years ago and met Ms. Schork, it was strikingly clear to him that Ms. Schork’s enthusiasm was one that was unmatched by most. “When I first met her, I knew she was a genuine lady, and I later found out she even calls everyone ‘guapa’ or ‘guapo,’ which shows how connected she becomes with each person,” he said. “She is someone who is very knowledgeable as an educator and could give anyone salient, practical advice about being a teacher.” Mr. Gilyard said he believes Ms. Schork truly loves teaching and that her passion positively affects each student and adult she meets.

Senior Lian Wolman expressed a similar view, saying that she has enjoyed having Ms. Schork as a teacher for the past two years. “Ms. Schork’s energy and love for Spanish is truly contagious,” she said. “She is definitely one of my favorite teachers, and I am going to miss her so much next year!”

Beyond the scope of teaching, though, Ms. Schork also finds joy and passion in many other areas of her life. Some of her favorite things to do include arts and crafts, eating out at restaurants (her personal favorite is West Hartford’s Bricco), watching high-school and coming-of-age movies, playing along while watching “Jeopardy!,” reading pretty much anything she can (especially coming-of-age or adventure books), traveling, hiking, spending time in the great outdoors, visiting New Jersey and Maine, and engaging in athletics, especially biking and gymnastics.

Actually competing herself on the varsity gymnastics team during her high school and college careers, Ms. Schork said it was only natural for her to coach the varsity and intramural teams at KO. Due to Ms. Schork’s effort and enthusiasm, the gymnastics team thrived for 25 years, garnering successes such as several undefeated seasons and championships.

It is quite interesting that this 21-year-old woman fresh from New Jersey planning to get a Master’s Degree in International Business ended up staying at her first teaching job ever, loving it so much she stayed 42 years more. “I feel like I just started teaching here; these 42 years have flown so fast. There are so many amazing memories, I feel like I’m coming home,” she reminisced. “The community, all my students, all my colleagues, the students who’ve become my colleagues, parents, I appreciate them all. I’ve literally grown up here.”

Ms. Schork said one thing that helped to convince her to stay all those years ago was that she knew KO was a comfortable, engaging, and invigorating place where she had room to change; now, she said she knows that her intuition proved to be right. “I’ve grown so much as a person and as a teacher here,” she said. “I have had the freedom to teach where I can hone my craft and become a master, something that is hard to find in most other schools or even workplaces in general. Also hard to find is the amazing talent that each of my colleagues has had.”

Ms. Schork said that she, Mr. Kyff, creative arts teacher Wayne Pierce, and orchestra director Richard Chiarappa all started around the same time, so Ms. Schork said that their bond remains strong and genuine, as they have amazing memories of teaching together and working together for so long. “I have great respect for my other colleagues as well. Mr. Sherfinski, Mr. Lindsay, Mr. Roberts, Mr. Caley, who are no longer here, these are only a few of my very special friends,” she said. “I give a huge hug to all my colleagues in the language department, a really unique and wonderful group of friends. Ms. Dunn, Mrs. Semmelrock, Ms. Costantini, Mr. Garcia, Mr. Martinez, Dr. Briggs, Ms. Ma. Oh what a wonderful group to work with! They are absolutely amazing, and I can’t say enough about them, or any of the faculty and staff in the rest of the school.”

Among the many colleagues who reciprocated the warm thoughts, Mr. Kyff said he will deeply miss Ms. Schork’s fun-loving and lively spirit and the lessons that she taught him. “One thing I saw in Ms. Schork that I learned from her was to treat each student as an individual and meet the needs of that student as effectively as possible,” Mr. Kyff said.

“She always had a real interest in each one of her students and got to know the students as people in addition to their academic work.” He said that Ms. Schork became a trusted confidant and close friend of his and of many other teachers throughout the years, and that he will miss her greatly. Mr. Kyff also said he hopes she will enjoy free time being with the people she loves in the places she loves, and that she will be able to travel to all the places she has never been.

Señora Schork, on behalf of all of the KO community, both members past and present, we are going to miss you so, so much! There really are no words to describe just how greatly you have touched each and every single one of us, even those of us who have only ever heard you say “¡Hola, guapa!” in the hallways. Your energy, your smile, and your sincerity really do bring a spark of joy to every situation.

Thank you for being the teacher we adore, the shoulder we lean on, the role model we look up to. We wish you a happy and safe retirement, hopefully filled with plenty of traveling, reading, and arts and crafts, and we hope you will visit us in the years to come. ¡Muchas gracias para todo, y hasta luego, Guapa!