The 2020-21 school year has brought a lot of new faces to the Oak Hall faculty. One of the new faces is Zachary Mair, a Middle and Upper School Latin teacher.
From a youthful age, Mair knew he wanted to be a teacher. Ever since he tutored his peers in high school, Mair and his reputation for being known as a great teacher has been secure. “The main reason I wanted to [teach] is [that] it was something I was really passionate about,” he said. “I ended up really, really enjoying the ability to help many, many students, and I just haven’t stopped,” Mair elaborated. Before joining Oak Hall, Mair taught at Olympia High School in Windermere, Fla. He was first introduced to Oak Hall during his first high school Latin competition, which Oak Hall hosted, and has been drawn to the school ever since. “Oak Hall has always been this big name in the Latin community and the time I spent here with the competition, and everything I had with the [David and Generosa] Jackson’s beforehand, it drove me to go further and further to being able to work with the classics and students who are interested in it,” Mair explained.
Mair grew up in Orlando and went to Winter Springs High School. Knowing he wanted to be a teacher, he attended the University of Central Florida and got a degree in teaching Latin. At Oak Hall, he teaches Latin B, Latin 2, Latin 3, and Latin 4. Mair loves teaching a language, as he enjoys teaching students for multiple years, helping them grow along with the language. He is also the head of the Oak Hall Junior Classical League (JCL). He loves Gainesville, but due to the restrictions of COVID-19, he hasn’t had the chance to explore what the town has to offer. He is excited for when he will be able to experience Gainesville more openly without having to worry about the virus.
In his spare time, Mair loves to play board games, ranging from the most basic to the more obscure. His favorite being Citadels, a game where players acquire new roles with the purpose of obtaining gold and construct buildings, in turn, gaining points to win the game. Whenever Mair is not home, he loves to water ski and sail. He feels that if he were not a teacher, he would have worked on integration of technology into classroom settings, trying to develop programs and fluency for the teachers and students in the classrooms especially for Latin classes. Mair is very excited to be here, noting the school has already left a huge impression on him.
As the world is going through big changes, society as a whole attempts a new normal daily. With the changes in how education is perceived due to the necessity of distance learning, Oak Hall School has adapted to continue the excellence it is known for. The hiring of new teachers is especially important during this period. “I did my best to adapt to individual student needs and adjusted my instruction and expectations accordingly,” said April Palmer, Oak Hall Upper School’s new history teacher. After teaching at Williston High School for 13 years and Bronson High School for 5 years, both public schools, she returned to the city that taught her the craft of teaching. “I have been looking for a school that values the art of learning instead of ‘teaching to a test’,” she said. “Having autonomy in the classroom is extremely valuable to me, allowing me to focus on the joy of teaching and discovering students’ interests and passions,” Palmer explained.
Palmer attended the University of Florida to continue her education after she graduated from Bell High School, 40 miles Northwest of Gainesville. While studying at UF she “fell in love with Gainesville in the process”. She majored in sociology and secondary social studies education for her undergraduate and graduate work. If she had not become a teacher, Palmer believes she would have gone into the field of psychology or sociology.
The newest hire at the Upper School teaches an array of courses, from U.S. Government and Politics to AP Psychology. While her classes span all the grades in the Upper School, her favorite grade level to teach are juniors. “They are becoming mature young adults focusing on graduating and becoming involved and informed citizens,” Palmer noted.
Originally from Hamilton, Ohio her family moved to Bell when she was 5 years old. Her love for teaching came at a young age and developed as she got older. Her greatest satisfaction as a teacher occurs when students “achieve their goals and [realize] that they can overcome obstacles,” Palmer said.
In addition to the usual history posters adorning Palmer’s classroom walls, she created shelves to display her mass collection of Funko Pop! Dolls. Her two favorites, “Pusheen Caticorn” and “Dragonsheen”, share space with the likes of Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson from the movie Grease and Gizmo from the movie Gremlins. Her vast collection also includes historical figures like Rosie the Riveter, Uncle Sam, Benjamin Franklin, and Abraham Lincoln. Not only do the Pop! Dolls bring vibrance to her classroom, these characters show a relatable side to Palmer that students might not otherwise have seen.
Margarita Avellaneda, who taught at Oak Hall School for 29 years, passed away after a battle with a long illness on Aug. 29. During her tenure at Oak Hall, Ms. Margarita (as she was affectionately known by her students) taught Spanish and Latin, chaired the language department, and led Oak Hall to many victories locally and nationally in Spanish and Latin competitions. She created the excellence that is today’s Oak Hall’s powerhouse Latin program.
As the news spread on social media regarding Avellaneda’s passing, current and former Oak Hall faculty members, along with alumni, reminisced about this wonderful colleague, teacher, and friend:
“Ms. Margarita was one of the most respected members of the faculty at Oak Hall, not only based on her many years [of service], but also as her reputation as an excellent teacher. She was an amazing mentor, colleague, and lunch companion. She was a powerhouse in the classroom, a teacher with high expectations and an extensive knowledge of both her subject areas. We all felt lucky to have been mentored by her and to have had the opportunity to teach her daughter Muriel.” – Evelyn Smith, current Oak Hall Upper School Media Specialist
“Ms. Margarita was amazing. A lovely, classy lady who commanded respect by giving it. A staple of the Oak Hall community. I was honored to carry on her tradition there. She and her family will be kept in our minds and hearts.” – Dr. Generosa Sangco-Jackson, former Oak Hall Latin teacher
“Ms. Margarita was demanding, but fair and intensely passionate about her student’s learning. I still remember one of the many things she used to tell our class…..’If you want to learnnnnn………..then you have to sweat!’ Best Spanish teacher ever.” – Robert Bryan, current Oak Hall teacher and Alumni ’90
“The day I got into college she congratulated me, gave me a hug and said cheerfully, ‘Don’t get lazy now! Real learning isn’t about getting into college.’ Spot on. I double majored in Spanish for fun due to her influence which opened a world of travel and art. Deeply thankful for her influence.” – Leigh Monty (Meredith Montgomery), Alumni ’01
“She was the best! She taught me Latin and I once said, ‘It sounds so fast when you speak Spanish,’ and she said, ‘Have you ever heard how fast you talk?’ One of my favorites!” – Marcy (Wolsfelt) Mortimer, Alumni ’89
“Ms. Marg was so kind, funny and a wonderfully engaged teacher. Not everyone knew that she was an excellent basketball player too. How do you get kids to love studying Latin and travel to state competitions to take more tests for fun? She knew how to motivate us. She was the best.” – Scott Kotsch, Alumni ’89
“Margarita was an amazing and supportive colleague and educator…she lead the world in passion and integrity.” – Ed Legare, retired Oak Hall teacher
“Sra. Margarita was a wonderful teacher who helped fuel my love of Spanish literature. She is one of the reasons I double majored in Spanish in college. She really did have a wonderful sense of humor. I remember on senior prank day, two of the guys in our class decided to ‘party boy’ her. They ripped off their shirts and did this ridiculous dance routine. She just rolled with it and laughed, right up until she said, ‘Yes, yes, and now we study.’ One of my favorite high school memories.” – Lauren (Wannenwetsch) Barbeau, Alumni ’05
“It’s teachers like Ms. Margarita that make Oak Hall great! One of a kind.” – Hollis Mutch, Alumni ’02
Margarita (‘Rita’) Bacchella Avellaneda passed away at home after a long illness on August 29, 2020. She was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina on October 20, 1940. There she received an MA in Classical Languages from the University of Buenos Aires and was an instructor of classical Greek and Latin languages until 1967, when a military coup upended the country and precipitated the departure of hundreds of university professors. She and her then husband Andres Avellaneda accepted positions at the University of Puerto Rico, where they taught until undertaking graduate studies at the University of Illinois in 1970.
Margarita earned a second MA and completed studies for her doctorate in Classics at UI. They returned to Argentina in 1974, teaching in several universities and welcoming the birth of their daughter Muriel in 1977. The advent of yet another brutal military dictatorship sent them into their second political exile, this time to Gainesville, FL in 1979. They were amicably divorced soon after.
She accepted a position at Oak Hall School to teach Latin and Spanish, which she did for 29 years until her retirement in 2008, chairing the Language Department and leading many school teams to first positions in state and national competitions at the Latin Forum and the Florida State Spanish Conference. She engaged and inspired her students, becoming a mentor and a well-beloved teacher in a group of distinguished professionals. Her former students and colleagues will remember her not only for her teaching of Spanish and Latin language and cultures, but also for the life lessons and guidance she imparted. Rita was a woman of character and a devoted mother, endowed with great intelligence, a wonderful sense of humor, and a compassionate approach to life.
In 2015 she married her long-time companion, Jorge Martinez. They shared a love of the opera, classic American and Foreign movies, good food, reading and traveling around the world. Rita delighted in good conversation, her many friendships, and watching the games of the NBA, since she had been a star player in minor league basketball in Argentina. She will be remembered and missed by everyone who had the chance to know her as a teacher and as a human being.
She was predeceased by her daughter Muriel Avellaneda, who died in 2010, and by her husband Jorge Martinez, whose death preceded hers by 11 days. She is survived by a group of dear friends in Buenos Aires and Gainesville, by her former husband Andres Avellaneda and by her stepdaughters Joanne Martinez and Christine Jacobus. All of us have a debt of gratitude to Dr. Melanie Hagen, her wonderful family doctor, and to the Wong family-Andres, mother Esther, wife Theresa and sister Pamela-for the loving care they gave to Jorge and Margarita.
Following her wishes, her remains will be cremated and no funeral services will be held. She will be buried next to her daughter Muriel.
Arrangements are under the care of Forest Meadows Funeral Home, 725 NW 23rd AVE, Gainesville, Florida, 32609. 352-378-2528.
Amidst all the negative ways the pandemic has impacted the world, it is important to look at the positives. As a former president once said, “Never waste a good crisis”. Oak Hall senior Alexa Katz took these words to heart. During the five months campus was closed due to the coronavirus, Katz saw a problem and found a charitable solution. She started “Masks by Alexa” to help people affected by the pandemic.
The organization she decided to raise money for is Gigi’s Playhouse, a charity for individuals with Down Syndrome. They offer free educational, therapeutic-based and career development programs for individuals with Down Syndrome, their families, and the community, through a playhouse model. The program is completely volunteer-run and donations-based. “I had many conversations with friends and family about masks being uncomfortable and, honestly, how ugly [masks] were,” Katz said, “I knew there was a solution,” she continued.
Katz spent a few days discussing the project with the people at Gigi’s Playhouse, then got to work. She began using white masks and tie-dying the masks all different colors. “I was shocked by the support I received from friends, family, teachers, and even people I didn’t know,” Katz said enthusiastically. Her original goal for the fundraiser was $1,000 but she has already raised more than $2,000. All the profit she makes goes directly to Gigi’s Playhouse, helping to support people in need. Each mask is $10 and can be ordered through Katz’s website http://www.masksbyalexa.com.
Mask requirements, social distancing among other requirements
By Sarah Youngblood
Oak Hall School has been preparing for a safe return to school since March and has new protocols for this school year in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while giving students a proper, positive learning environment. The school devised a task force, led by Head of School Dr. James Hutchins, to procure a plan of action for the 2020-21 school year. This task force includes a multitude of staff and faculty members as well as a medical advisor, Dr. Mary Grooms to give advice from a medical standpoint. The final, but fluid, plan was published July 7 and they continue to ensure that everything is running as smoothly as possible.
Oak Hall’s Director of Auxiliary and Operations, Jeff Malloy, is also the chairman of the taskforce. His main task was guiding the rest of the committee to ensure all faculty, staff, and students would be safe upon their return to school. Malloy noted that the re-entry plan had a test run during the summer camp program the school hosts every year. The school’s summer program ran for seven weeks with one occasion where it was shut down for four and a half days “in an abundance of caution” Malloy explained.
“It is for these reason we have grade level cohort groups in the Lower School, assigned seating the the Middle and Upper schools, and a sign-in system for general areas in use by high school students.”
– Jeff Malloy on extra steps Oak Hall is taking to ensure contract tracing is possible.
The school is following all Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Students, staff, and faculty members are required to wear face coverings inside all buildings on campus at all times but may remove masks outside as long as social distancing guidelines are followed. Social distancing guidelines pertain to within the buildings as well, and teachers are instructed to monitor that students are keeping proper distance from each other. Every morning students, faculty, and staff must go through a mandatory temperature check where they are given stickers which allow them to enter the buildings. Any person that has a temperature of 100 degrees or higher will be sent home. There are numerous hand sanitizer stations in each division’s building as well as inside each classroom. In order to reduce traffic in the hallways, the Middle and Upper Schools have implemented a two-bell system that lets out two grades at a time and alternates which grades go first every week. In the Lower School, the school’s website explains that “fourth and fifth grade lockers will be grouped by class to reduce cross exposure.” All information on the procedures can be found on Oak Hall’s website via https://www.oakhall.org/covid19 . This plan of action is constantly being reviewed in order to keep families updated on the latest developments.
In the event that there is a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the school’s community, Oak Hall states that it plans to seek guidance from the Alachua County Health Department. The infected person will either be sent home or kept home and the school will be prepared to disinfect and possibly close a classroom, division, grade, or office depending on the recommendations of the health department. “There are certain thresholds within the Oak Hall Community that would trigger a need to shift to online continuous learning at the class, division, or school level,” Malloy said. “We would look at [the] class, division, or school positivity rate as well as an overall rate of on campus students, faculty, and staff that either have the virus or are impacted by quarantine,” he continued. When asked about whether there have been any confirmed cases on campus or within the community, he assures that “we are monitoring some situations, none of which are currently a direct threat to our community.” Malloy, along with other faculty members did training through the Johns Hopkins Contact Tracing Course. “This course helped us learn the right questions to ask and how to track positive cases that are a direct threat to our community,” he noted. Because of the training, the school implemented “grade level cohort groups in the lower school, assigned seating in the middle and upper school, and a sign-in system for general areas in use by high school students,” Malloy explained.
Oak Hall seniors Caroline Jurecko and Amelia German feel safe returning to school, “…as long as everyone wears a good mask and wears in correctly,” German said. Like German, Jurecko is happy to be back, but notes the adjustment period has been difficult, especially with the congregating of students on campus. She hopes the teachers will “do more to minimize large crowds of people in the hallways,” she said. German agrees with the problem of congestion in the hallways and adds that teachers should be better monitoring which grades are released from class at the correct bell, although she still feels that “everyone’s in the hallway at the same time even with the multiple bells.”
Malloy feels the transition has been much easier than he originally envisioned. He understands some of the challenges, however, are that students want to be with their friends, which makes it harder for them to maintain the required six feet of distance. The other challenge Malloy claims has “simply been making people understand that their decisions on the weekend could directly impact the success of the school year for us.”