Teachers expand horizons past classroom


photo courtesy of Carlos Velasquez

Social Studies Teacher Carlos Velasquez plays the drums in his cover band Smugglers Reef.

From grading  assignments to dealing with difficult students, teaching can seem like a pretty stressful job. Even with limited time, educators are finding ways to serve their community and pursue their passions outside of work. 

History teacher Carlos Velasquez  is the drummer in a cover band called Smugglers Reef. “I’ve been really involved in music,” Velasquez said. “In high school I was a top musician. I was in the all-state orchestra and I played with the Broward symphony.” 

When Velasquez was in college, he and some friends created a rock band, but in the end he stopped playing music for a while. It wasn’t until recently he started up again.

“I made a stupid mistake and stopped performing classically. It was the dumbest thing I ever did,” Velasquez said. While he wishes he never stopped playing, he continues to practice with his current band.

In addition to caring for her own three children, philosophy teacher Michelle Lipp is also a home cook for another family. It started with picking the kids up from school and later turned into cooking for them. She makes meals like roasted lemon herb chicken and copycat Chicken Kitchen dishes. 

The cover of “A Simple Smile: A Poetic Memoir” by Dorthy Mahfood

“I feel blessed every day for this opportunity and the relationship I have made with the entire family,” Lipp said. She wants to continue to cook for the family as long as she can, although she doesn’t plan to leave teaching to become a professional chef.

When he isn’t editing student essays, English teacher Dale Mahfood pursues writing novels he hopes to publish. He also helped his mother Dorothy Mahfood publish her book of poems “A Simple Smile: A Poetic Memoir,” which is written about her early life in Jamaica.

“I enjoyed working with her on one of the initial edits of her poems,” Mahfood said. 

He helped to hire people to edit the book and design the cover and format. The book contains inspiring narratives of Dorothy’s motivating life and experiences. It’s available now in bookstores and on Amazon.

Mahfood is currently working on a project called “The Jamaica Chronicles” which is a historical fiction series set in Jamaica in the 1940s through the 1970s. The first book in the series “Oristano” was inspired by stories his mother told him about growing up in Jamaica. 

“I’ve fictionalized some of her stories and added many other fictional characters and events,” Mahfood said. “It takes place during the last part of World War II… which was the beginnings of moving away from being a British colony.” 

More information on his work can be found on his website dalemahfood.com.

When she’s not helping her students, Spanish teacher Roxana Rivero uses her knitting skills to make hats and scarves for hospitalized children in Peru.

“It all started back in March, right after school was shut down,” Rivero said. 

She already had a friend who knitted for kids with cancer, and after hearing about it, Rivero wanted to help out as well. While she hasn’t been to the country in three years, her friends in Peru help distribute the scarves and hats to the kids. 

“It’s such a great cause! I love making each hat and scarf. [I add] some unique detail if I can,” Rivero said.

Reading teacher Ruth Fafasuli mentors at-risk foster children and helps adolescents who have been in abusive households. 

“Since my daughters are grown, I feel like I can do something in such situations,” Fafasuli said.

Ruth Fafusili spends time with foster kids she has built a relationship with. (Courtsey of Ruth Fafusili)

She is interested in a volunteer program where she can watch over kids in the foster care system.

“I am still in contact with a young man named Wilno and I met him when he was 16 and he is now 24,” Fafasuli said. Wilno was in a very bad place at the time, and now has found a place to live, food, and mental health care. To this day, he still refers to Fafasuli as “Mom.”

In addition to working with foster children, Fafasuli paints and makes hand crafts at home. She enjoys holiday crafts, but still does others like painting her patio and painting floral designs.

Art teacher Cynthia DePanicis encourages her students’ artistic pursuits and assists the elderly in her off time. From getting groceries to just being someone to talk to, she stays “on call” for older residents.

“It’s important to reach out,” DePanicis said. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to help them feel comforted.  “All they need is someone who cares and to feel loved.”

Some may not think about the life teachers have outside of school. In reality, there is so much more to what they do. Whether it’s another career or helping others, teachers’ lives expand beyond school.