The following is a press release from Flintridge Sacred Heart:
Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy has six new faculty members
this year. This week, we profile two of those new teachers (the rest to follow
in upcoming issues).
When Lara Walker was 18 years old, she moved to Chile. Born and raised in Utah, the teenaged Walker didn’t have any connection to Latin America or speak any Spanish when she made the trip. The plan was simply to do volunteer work for a year—but Walker quickly fell in love. “When I came back [to America], I was just so enamored with the Spanish language, Hispanic culture and Chile,” she says. “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just knew I wanted to continue studies in that area.” So she did—Walker went on to earn her B.A. and M.A. in Spanish from the University of Utah, another M.A. in Latin American Literature from the University of Pittsburgh and her Ph.D. in Hispanic Studies from the University of Houston. This year, Walker joined the faculty at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy as an upper-level Spanish teacher.
With former teaching experience on the college level as well as at a college-preparatory high school in Texas, Walker decided to apply to the position at FSHA after hearing about the school from her husband, who grew up in the Pasadena area. “I taught my sample class on the very last day of exams. Everyone seemed really comfortable, and it was just a comfortable place,” she explains. “The students were so sweet and seemed really willing.”
This year, Walker is teaching Spanish II, Spanish IV and AP Spanish. To keep her class fresh and interesting, Walker uses short stories, poetry, music, movies and other materials in her lessons. “Language is so interdisciplinary,” she says. “We use the Spanish language to talk about subjects our students are studying in their other classes. Math, science, history, culture—we talk about all of these topics in our class.”
It’s no surprise that her students continue to show up to class excited. “It’s a really fun class,” says Madelyn Martinez ’17, who takes Spanish II with Walker. “We partner up and have a discussion, then open the entire conversation to the class.” Even with all the fun, though, Walker makes sure the lessons stick. “She’s really good at helping me understand even if the whole class has already got it,” says Audrey Perry ’17, another Spanish II student. “And it’s so cool that she lived in South America.”
As for Walker’s ultimate objective for her students: “I just want them to love Spanish. If they love the language, and all that communication and understanding entail, then ways of thinking about the world and ways of seeing the world are opened up to them.” From the enthusiasm of her students, Walker is already well on her way to accomplishing that goal.
Walker’s Ph.D. dissertation focused on Luisa Capetillo, a Puerto Rican feminist labor leader who fought for workers’ (and women’s) rights during the early 1900s. Though Capetillo is mostly forgotten by modern audiences, she was a prolific writer and activist during her time. Going beyond her dissertation, Walker translated Capetillo’s last book into English and published, Absolute Equality, An Early Feminist Perspective: Influencias de las Ideas Modernas, a bilingual edition with Arte Público Press in 2009.
Kristina Ortega knew about Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy long before she accepted the position as upper-level religion teacher at the school. Raised in Hollywood, Ortega attended Immaculate Heart High School, but had many friends who went to FSHA. “I knew that FSHA was a nurturing, warm environment that was all about empowering young women,” she says. This fall, Ortega joined the faculty at FSHA as an upper-level religion teacher.
Ortega had worked at Chaminade College Preparatory for the past seven years—first in campus ministry, then as a religion teacher. But it was her belief in single-sex education that led her to FSHA. “There’s an authenticity with girls in a single-sex educational environment,” Ortega says. “They aren’t afraid to be themselves or show off how smart they are.”
Not one to shy away from complex issues, Ortega’s senior religion classes have become a place for intellectual conversations about identity, gender and faith. In this semester’s applied theology focus, the students have been discussing worldviews. “It’s about getting the students to understand that where they come from uniquely affects how they see the world,” says Ortega. FSHA’s international boarding students have proved extremely helpful in the discussion. “I’m so grateful for the international students who feel confident enough to speak up with their perspective,” Ortega explains. “The whole point of this lesson is that you have to meet people from other parts of the world to understand, appreciate and even address the problems of your own culture.” Next semester, the senior religion course will address women’s spirituality.
As for what happens once her students leave the classroom, Ortega hopes that they will have the tools to approach their faith critically and academically. “It’s not about just believing in A, B, and C because you’re supposed to. I want them to know there’s a why, and that they have the ability to find that why,” she explains.
When Ortega’s not in the classroom, she can be found serving on the Archdiocese’s Religion Education Congress. As part of the REC, Ortega is on the Liturgy Planning Team for Youth Day 2014—an Archdiocesan event that brings together 10,000 high-school students at the Anaheim Convention Center for a day of workshops, speakers, liturgy and rally. Three FSHA seniors will also serve on the Liturgy Planning Team, while a group of FSHA’s dance students will perform during the rally.
Ortega and her husband act as support parents for a house of Jesuit volunteers (JV). The JV program takes recent college graduates and sends them to different parts of the country to volunteer—often in impoverished or struggling communities. As support parents, they address everything from basic housing concerns such as handyman appointments to emotional needs.