To Better the World We Live In

To Better the World We Live In
Danny Stock

During her 29 years at GDS, Maribel Prieto taught every level of Spanish at the High School, chaired the HS Language Department, and infused an appreciation of the Latin culture and its people in all that she did.

“When I teach, I don’t only teach language or culture,” Maribel said. “I teach my community’s struggles, my peoples’ struggles. I help [younger] generations learn to respect, reflect, and give back to better the world we live in.”

Maribel yearbook 1995

Maribel from 1985 yearbook

What Maribel brought to the school captures her training and passions. Raised and educated in Cuba, Maribel already had experience teaching college-level Spanish in the U.S. and training as a dancer and choreographer when she joined GDS as a long-term substitute teacher in 1994.

After landing a permanent position at GDS, she completed a doctorate in Spanish while teaching full-time. She helped build the School’s Spanish curriculum, create the first Upper-Level Spanish course, and expose her students to Latin American culture and the contributions made by indigenous peoples spanning the African Continent and the Americas.

But her influence reached beyond the classroom. Maribel served as the faculty advisor for a Spanish conversation club and HOLA, a club for Hispanic and Latine-identifying students and allies. Alongside her husband, Eduardo Gonzalez, who retired from GDS in 2022, Maribel also developed the former Latino Arts Assembly, which for 21 consecutive years, introduced Latin music and dance into the High School.

 “She opened vistas on Latin America for the entire school and facilitated constructive action on questions of discrimination and suffering from natural disasters,” said former World Language Department Chair Gail Massot. “Her passion for social justice and service was a beacon for all around her to bring those at risk safely to shore.”

GDS trip to Cuba in 2015 Maribel center and husband Eduardo kneeling

GDS trip to Cuba in 2015 with Maribel (center) and husband Eduardo (kneeling)

Connecting Their Learning to Their Lives

Maribel prided herself on establishing a rapport with her students by opening a dialogue with them so she could help link the materials they were studying to issues that mattered to them.

“You must get to know students and know what moves them,” she said, adding that this connection ensured real learning.  And students noticed. Claire Pires ’09 remembers how Maribel always spoke to her outside of class—often multiple times a week—no matter how busy she was. “I always looked forward to our chats together, and I always felt so thankful that I had someone to talk to in between the hustle and bustle of classes,” Claire said.

Brock Davis ’22, who was in Maribel’s class for three years, sensed that she was deeply invested in his learning. “When Maribel worked with me, I knew she cared about my progression,” Brock said. “I miss our conversations after class when we would discuss a variety of topics: societal issues in Central and South America, the bravery of Rigoberta Menchu in Guatemala, and music in the Caribbean.”

Rowan Bianchi ’16 fondly recalls many of the topics covered in Maribel’s class and the way she managed to connect Rowan’s interests in art and history through Spanish language study. “While I may not remember every vocabulary word I learned in Language and Culture class, I remember how Maribel made me feel so valued, both academically and personally,” Rowan said.

Imparting a Love of Spanish

Jonathan Panuthos ’96 speaks Spanish at home every day with his Colombian wife of 19 years and their two young children. He in part credits Maribel’s persistence for his fluency in the language. “I did not study as much as I should have and found myself without completed homework quite often,” Jonathan said. “But somehow Maribel found a way to get through to me.”

Director of Enrollment Management and Financial Aid Chris Levy, who worked with Maribel in his former role as HS Assistant Principal, noted her tireless work to ensure students received all the support they needed. “I’ve observed her helping students gain more comfort in Spanish by making the learning experience less intimidating and more accessible,” Chris said.

In Maribel’s class, even the sometimes-dreaded parts of language learning became exciting and enjoyable because of Maribel’s enthusiasm for the topic and her feedback on projects, said Izzy Evers ’23. She also encouraged students to ask any question, Izzy said, even about a Spanish phrase or tense they think they should already know.

Maribel said that the moment of complete comprehension, when students would grasp a complex topic, gave her work meaning. “Nothing else gives you that sense of accomplishment as an educator than that moment,” Maribel said. “That ‘Aha!’ is your paycheck.”

Maribel said that she’s proud to have spent a sizable part of her career in a school where she felt that her work had purpose, where teachers had the autonomy to explore multiple viewpoints, and where her students went on to make a difference in the world, just as she had always hoped.

Former GDS Spanish teacher Larry House, who worked closely with Maribel for 27 years, said that she can’t think of enough wonderful things to say about her former colleague’s work ethic and dedication to her students. “She has been deeply loved and admired by her students and her colleagues,” Larry said. “Maribel gave her heart and soul to GDS. Her retirement is a huge loss to the school, but she will long be remembered with the greatest affection and gratitude.”

In her retirement, Maribel expects she’ll always remain connected to education and service in her community. “I’m not leaving this place sad,” Maribel said in June 2023. “I’ve had such fulfillment at GDS in all the roles I’ve had.”

To Better the World We Live In

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