By Johnny Russell ’22
15 years ago, head of the foreign language department and Spanish teacher Sr. Jairo Rivera came to Woodberry. About to start a family, Sr. Rivera didn’t want his kids to grow up in Miami where he had lived. He was looking at boarding schools in the Northeast such as Pomfret, Peddie, and Hotchkiss, but Woodberry wasn’t even on his radar. One day, to his surprise, Mr. Brewster called him about an opening for a Spanish teacher. Placed in the Duncan House during his visit, Rivera fell in love with the campus and enjoyed the positivity amongst the boys in the classroom. “In the Northeastern schools the kids are very competitive about their grades, but at Woodberry I didn’t see that competition,” he says.
More than a decade after that special visit to the Forest, Señor Rivera has never looked back. “My favorite part of Woodberry is the students. Although my class is very challenging for them, I love having students come and visit my classroom after they graduate to tell me how much they learned in my class.” Throughout his tenure, the school has taught him the importance of patience and flexibility, meeting with students regularly to help them understand the material covered in his class.
As head of the foreign language department, Rivera has implemented some new changes to the way languages are learned at Woodberry, especially Spanish. With more of a communication-based curriculum, students are learning “the natural language.” His goal is for the boys to master the mechanical part of the Spanish language through an emphasis on fluency and an interactive approach.
Although he’s done a lot, there are still things he wishes he could change: “It would be more effective for the boys if we had 75-minute classes. Near the end of the 90-minute block, they are exhausted and worn-out.”
Through all of his hard-work and dedication to the well-being of Woodberry and its students, Sr. Rivera has led a tremendous legacy at the school and will continue to do so in the future.