Originally founded in 1965 as a campus for students with learning disabilities, Heritage has seen a wide breadth of teachers and students. Yet, some teachers have remained for over 20 years, staying as they watch students, buildings and more change around them.
Mrs. Anita LaTorre began at Heritage in 1996, making this her 26th year. Initially hired as a Foreign Language teacher, she taught French and Spanish for nine years until she became a Dean in 2005. Spending six years as a Dean, she was concurrently the High School Summer School Principal, becoming the Heritage Junior High Principal in 2011. This is now her 11th year in her current position.
“I feel as though I have grown along with our school, and it has been wonderful to be a part of that growth,” Mrs. LaTorre said. She cites the family atmosphere as one of her consistently favorite aspects of the school. With Dr. Laurie, she is currently on the Board of Directors of AISF (Association of Independent Schools of Florida) to help accredit other schools.
Mrs. Christy Williams is currently a faculty member of the Fine Arts department, in her 27th year of working at Heritage. She teaches Junior High, Visual Concepts and Drawing 1. However, she didn’t start out in her current position. In 1995, she began working as a Kindergarten teacher’s assistant with Mrs. Joan Lister. Her prior careers had always involved art but this was her first position in education. Dressing up the Kindergarten classroom became her forte and teaching the little one’s art was her passion. She spent nine years with Mrs. Lister, using her support and encouragement to go back to school and complete her art degree. During the next nine years, while she attended FIU, she worked with Mrs. Susann Price and the Fine Arts Department as the Visual Arts Assistant. Upon graduation in 2012, she became part of the AHS faculty as a Visual Arts educator.
“Without the continued support of my colleagues and administration, I would not be in the position I am today. I feel this story is a testament to the value of being part of the American Heritage family,” Mrs. Williams said.
She cites that the most noticeable change that has occurred over her years of employment is how big the campus has become. “When my daughter tested for Kindergarten it was in a parked trailer in lot 3. Along with more buildings came a lot more staff. We used to know everyone, from high school all the way down to PK3,” Mrs. Williams said.
Mrs. Dee Solimena takes the prize as the teacher who has taught at Heritage the longest, with a record of about 45 years. She started as a 4th grade teacher, then went to 2nd and settled for many years of teaching primarily a combination class of 1st and 2nd grade. When kindergarten was added, she switched to teaching that as well, a move she initially did not want to make, but ultimately felt that she couldn’t give up taking care of small children for the world. She loves the honest and high creativity and curiosity of children of such a young age.
When she first started, she had to teach every subject, from academics to physical education to music. When the school was moved to Plantation, they got special enrichment teachers for such subjects, like the library, art and music. Now, as a teacher in the academy, she has the support of reading specialists in the reading lab and children get double reading help.
She cites many differences from when she began and now in her teaching journey at Heritage. Before 1986, when she first arrived at the school, she started out working in portables and had a ditto machine. These appliances changed to xerox copiers to chalkboards with chalk and then went to promethean boards with dry erase boards then to projectors. She watched as the school instituted uniforms and put computers in classrooms, going from a once a week computer lab to requiring ipads for everyone.
She chose to remain at Heritage, despite leaving for a year to teach at public school because of the benefits she felt from teaching students at Heritage as opposed to students at public schools. “I felt that public schools could not accomplish and have the children learn the way Heritage does; here, it feels very structured although there are still great teachers at public school; here, a cap of 12 students and 1 assistant is very effective to help children with learning problems,” Mrs. Solimena said.
She cites the people as the most meaningful component of Heritage. “The school can encourage children to enjoy learning since all the people who work at school are like a family. They are all super caring, from administration to teachers to counselors to the PTO to the maintenance people to the cafeteria staff. Everyone works together as a team and wants to help you,” Mrs. Solimena said. There is a lot of communication, with constant progress reports that get sent out and parent-teacher meetings.
Ms. Diana Adams is a veteran teacher, having taught every grade from 2nd to 12th and even GED. She came to AHS in 1996, looking for the best school for her children who were in 6th and 8th grade. After deciding AHS was the best school for her kids, she applied for an English teaching position. I began teaching 8th grade English the first year but moved to Freshman Honors English the next year, which quickly became her favorite English class to teach. She began the newspaper in 1997, and then added Journalism the next year, and then added the Lit Mag and Creative Writing classes. In 2001, she took over the Yearbook class. For each addition, she lost an English class until she ended up with no English classes at all.
She cites one of the biggest changes to the school as the campus itself. “When I first came to AHS, there were no 8000 or 9000 or 4500 or 2500 buildings. My first year I taught in a portable trailer that was set on the tennis courts that were where the 8000 building is now. It was bricked on the outside to look like a building while they began building the 9000,” Ms. Adams said.
For her, why she is still at AHS is no mystery. “I love my students and especially in the publication classes where I often have them four years in a row. I love my classes. I love my school and administrators, and most of all, I love my students. I am proud of being on the faculty at AHS,” Ms. Adams said.