Teacher Spotlight: Karri Gomez

Even when she was young and living in the tiny town of Ponca City, Oklahoma — a town so small that there wasn’t even a McDonald’s until she turned 13 — Karri Gomez knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. My family was either in teaching, farming, or insurance — there was no in between. My parents, aunts, and uncles were teachers. I’ve always had a natural knack for communication and reaching kids,” said Gomez. “I learned [from my family] at a very early age that teaching was more than giving instruction in a classroom setting: it’s about building confidence and life skills.”

Over the years, Gomez watched her family make a difference in their students’ lives and became inspired to do the same in her future classroom. She believes that every experience you have molds you. She moved around frequently as a child, and those experiences strongly affect her approach to teaching. She’s conscious of how every child feels in her classroom and remembers what she would have wanted as a new student.

“We moved around a lot, and when we moved, I got to experience being the new kid — sometimes good, sometimes bad,” said Gomez. “I had teachers that were empathetic and teachers that weren’t. It really taught me what it’s like for a child to experience being new, and I would never want someone to experience the negative things that I did; I really want them to experience the positive things. I want to create an enriching and engaging classroom where students enjoy the learning process.”

In Gomez’s classroom, she makes the curriculum come alive, whether it’s through solving exciting “classroom crimes” with interactive clues or by sharing funny, relatable stories. You’ll never find her at her desk; she’s constantly involved with her students, joyful as she watches them discover new information.

“I’ll teach any grade level, I love them all! But third grade is so much fun. What’s so amazing about this age group is this is when they start to develop their own voice and personality. They take what they’ve learned and really start to apply it,” said Gomez. “They become more independent and mature learners; they become more advanced readers, writers, mathematicians, and thinkers. We go deeper into topics and the students can relate the content to their personal life and experience. This shows up in their writing and everything becomes more personal. It’s so much fun watching them grow throughout the year!”

Not only does Gomez help students grow academically, but spiritually. At the top of every assignment, each student’s paper is headed with Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” She loves sharing the Word of God with them and loves watching their eyes light up in the faith-filled moments

“As a teacher, I always say a prayer about the class I’m going to get,” said Gomez. “It’s not so much, “How am I going to get through all this material?” It’s, “Open my eyes to what they need. How can I help them? Who needs help academically? Who needs to challenged? Who is lacking in self-confidence?”

Throughout the year, Gomez gets to know each student as an individual and encourages them to push through challenges. It’s important that each child understands how capable they are and that they can always lean on the Lord, because He will always be there for them.

“I never look at what I do as a job; I love working with my students. I love that I get to learn with them. Building a strong rapport with students is the key to a successful learning experience,” said Gomez. “Students have to know they can come to you. You have to be there for [students] and get to know them. They have to know I’m going to help them, be there for them, and cheer them on.”

As an Orlando private school, our staff is committed to proclaiming the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ. We believe in teaching the whole child and want students to love learning, helping them grow into well-rounded, contributing members of society. Learn more about us by contacting us here.

Teacher Spotlight: Lillie Gelfand

Lillie Gelfand’s whole life was in Florida. But when her husband was transferred up north, she moved to Connecticut. He thrived in the icy winters and she loved watching him thrive, even though she preferred the warm.

“It was heaven for him, freezing for me!” said Gelfand. “He was also a trumpet player — an amazing trumpet player, a performance trumpet player. He graduated from Julliard. My husband was only 45 years old; he was so young, he passed away unexpectedly. It was a shock. I came back [to Florida] alone and started over by myself, trying to grasp what was happening in my life.”

Upon returning to Florida, Gelfand first went to Palm Beach County, where there was the comfort of friendly faces and familiar places. But it was challenging to return to a place where she’d spent so much time with her husband, and she was ready to start over. However, she still loved Palm Beach County and her memories of growing up surrounded by music. She discovered her passion at age 10 when she learned to play the trumpet. This led her to join the band at Fort Lauderdale High School later on, and during her senior year, her band director had two different guests come to class.

The first was a composer from a university in Tennessee. They were playing his music, and one of his pieces had two difficult trumpet solos — and Gelfand got to play both. “He was the first person who ever said to me, ‘You should go to college and major in music.’ It had never entered my mind to do that, ever,” said Gelfand.

The second guest, the orchestra director from Brown Community College, said something similar: “‘I want you in my orchestra. I want you to come major in music.” Thus, Brown Community College became the place where Gelfand began her musical education, before going on to graduate from Florida Atlantic University.

Gelfand spent the early years of her teaching career in Palm Beach County. After moving back from Connecticut, she interviewed at St. Charles Borromeo, but decided to return home to Palm Beach, where she started two part-time jobs that she loved. But when spring break of 2014 came around, Gelfand came to Orlando for her daughter’s wedding — and she got a phone call.

“I was still up here because I was watching her dog, and it was my spring break. I answered the phone because it was an Orlando area code. It was the same principal who had tried to hire me previously, and she asked if I would reconsider taking the job; she asked when I could come to Orlando. I went over that same day and talked to her,” said Gelfand. “I wanted a fresh start, my daughter was here, and I was getting offered this job a second time. I was thinking, ‘There must be a reason. God must want me to be at this school for some reason. I’m going to take this job.’”

In the five years since Gelfand accepted the position, she’s loved watching the music program flourish. Just this year, the band has grown from seven students to 38, and the chorus from 15 to 35. She’s enjoyed singing fun, silly songs with three-year-olds; she’s watched 8th graders create impressive TV jingles; she’s taught students everything from musical composition to famous composers to how music affects our daily lives.

“I see kids who have never, ever read music or picked up an instrument, and have no idea what’s happening — get it. It’s the joy of what I do,” said Gelfand. “I absolutely love being able to watch my students grow and see what they accomplish. That’s the reason I love working at a PreK-8 school. I always tell them, my goal isn’t to make music teachers out of you! My goal is to share my passion for music with you; my knowledge. And to give you the opportunity to do something you never thought could do, which is to play music or perform onstage. I’ve had parents tell me how they can tell I love what I do, and that’s what I want. I hope my students get that I do what I do because I love it, and I want to share that with them.”

As a private school in Orlando, our staff is committed to proclaiming the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ. We believe in teaching the whole child and want students to love learning, helping them grow into well-rounded, contributing members of society. Learn more about us by contacting us here.