Lora Calise: “I want them to become citizens of the world.”
By Kendra Gravelle
Sitting in the same classroom from which she’s been teaching for the last 22 years — with various trinkets from Spain adorning the windowsill, a Spanish-history timeline on one wall and a student-painted mural of Don Quixote on another — Lora Calise reminisced about her years of experience as a Spanish teacher at Smithfield High School
“This is a wonderful place to work,” she said, “and it’s a wonderful way to spend my days.”
Last month, thanks to her years of dedication to the place she loves so much, Calise received much-deserved recognition as a Golden Apple Award winner, presented by Channel 10 WJAR.
Calise was in the middle of teaching a Spanish class — it was spirit week, and students and teachers were partaking in “tie-dye day” — when she suddenly noticed a ruckus in the hallway.
“I went to the door to see what was going on,” she explained, “it was just a mess of people in the hallway, and they all came pouring into my room.”
Suddenly, a huge crowd — including a camera-crew, the district superintendent, the principal, fellow teachers and students — filled her classroom.
“It was a complete and total surprise,” Calise said. “I had absolutely no idea that this was going to happen.”
She added that one of the most unforgettable parts of that moment is that her parents, her sister and her daughter were in on it.
“It was a special day, for sure.”
The Golden Apple Award is an honor given to teachers in Rhode Island who exhibit “the true spirit of teaching.” Sponsored by NBC10, Hasbro and the Rhode Island Department of Education, recipients of the award have been nominated by either current or former students.
“The most special part about receiving the award is the fact that it was a student who nominated me,” she said.
Calise was nominated by Nicole Boyle, a former student who is currently in her senior year at Rhode Island College. In her nomination letter to Channel 10, Boyle praised Calise for always coming up with unique ways of teaching the subject matter — from directing Spanish-language plays to assigning hands-on projects — adding that Calise “makes every lesson one to remember.”
“These lasting relationships that I’ve been able to have with these very special people,” Calise said of the bonds she’s formed with students, “that’s what you get up and come to work for every day. Not to conjugate a verb, and not to make an adjective agree with a noun — that’s the smaller part of what I hope I can accomplish in my career.”
She added that working with high school students keeps her on her toes.
“They energize you, and they keep your perspective fresh. I still love it as much as I did 22 years ago.”
Calise, who has been teaching for 28 years in total, added that she still keeps in touch with several of her former students.
“She’s really, really good with the kids and connects with them on a lot of different levels,” said Dan Kelley, principal of Smithfield High School. “Lora is awesome.”
Calise said that her goal is to have each of her students leave her classroom with an open mind.
“I want them to be willing to explore things that are new to them,” she added. “They shouldn’t necessarily be afraid of things that are different. The world is an amazing place, and if learning another language allows you the opportunity to learn more about the people of this world and the places of this world, then it broadens you as a person.”
“I want them to become citizens of the world,” she continued, “to be open to what’s in front of them. There’s so much in front of them, now more than ever.”
She said she strives to remove the intimidation factor often involved in trying new things — whether it be listening to new music, trying new food or traveling to foreign destinations.
Every other year, Calise takes a group of her students to Spain. The next trip will happen at the end of the current school year.
“This is my dream trip,” she said of the 10-day excursion. “It’s my grand tour.”
The group will begin the tour in Barcelona and will travel from there to Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, Seville and Grenada.
“All of my favorite places,” she said.
Calise, who is the chair of the world languages department at the high school, said she hopes to implement a world language curriculum at the elementary level. Currently, there is no program in place for the youngest students in the district.
“That’s the time to begin your language learning,” she said. “You’re catching them at their most receptive state at that age.”
Calise, who is originally from North Providence, began her exploration into world languages as a high school student.
“Languages were always fascinating to me,” said Calise, who studied both Spanish and French. “They’re kind of like puzzles. How many different ways can I put this puzzle together to communicate what I need to communicate? And there are an infinite number of ways that you can put words together to communicate your meaning.”
Diana Daniels, who also teaches Spanish at Smithfield High School, commended Calise for acting as her mentor.
“There is not a better teacher to work with,” said Daniels, who has worked with Calise at the high school for 15 years. “She has helped me tremendously to become a better teacher and I learn from her everyday.”
“She makes teaching a profession with integrity,” Daniels continued.
Lisa Dunphy, who’s been teaching world languages in the Smithfield School District for 15 years and at the high school for five years, said she counts herself lucky to be able to work alongside Calise every day.
“I’m so proud of her,” she added, “and I’m so happy because she is so deserving of this award. Nobody works harder or puts the kids first more than she does.”
Kelley said it’s important that teachers are shown some appreciation.
“Teachers in this country don’t get the credit that they deserve,” he said, “And I think we have a lot of potential Golden Apple Award winners here at Smithfield High School.”
“Lora’s a great leader who does a great job of bringing Spanish to life for our kids,” Kelley continued. “She’s a rock star.”
And Calise won’t soon forget why she does what she does.
“Teaching isn’t about the subject matter,” Calise said, “because most of the time that knowledge can be temporary. Teaching is about broadening horizons, and that’s where I feel most valuable.”