Wabash College and Nolan Catholic HS - Win-Win

by Tom Runge

April 14, 2008

I was about one half of the way back to my hotel in Dallas from Nolan Catholic High School when it hit me – it was just like the PGA commercials you see on ESPN – these guys are good. That was it – these guys – all Wabash alumni teaching at Nolan Catholic - ARE GOOD!

I thought of the smile Vic Powell let’s slide out of the side of this mouth. I thought of Bill Placher’s grin when he likes what he sees and hears. I thought of the Willis Johnson "look". I thought of the giant favor Steve Schmutte did for me way back when.

That morning at Nolan Catholic I had spent a little time in the classrooms of Peter Pactor ’65, Josh Jones ’07 and Gabe Duarte ’02. Peter’s been teaching longer that Josh has been on the earth! Peter’s class was translating the Aeneid. Of course, when I entered the class I went right to the back of the class because I was absolutely horrible in Latin – and John Fischer knows that only too well! The class had 14 students and it was immediately clear to everyone, even me, who had done their homework and who hadn’t.

The interesting thing from my perspective was that not a single student tried to tell Peter they were prepared when they weren’t. And Peter didn’t berate, he simply reinforced the importance of this exercise as they moved forward in the advanced classes in Latin. Peter’s approach is pretty mellow – he’s been here and done that many, many times. He knows how to get the best out of his students.

Peter then took me to Josh Jones’ English class. Josh had his students doing political cartoons. I had to think a little bit to see the tie-in but it was perfect. History is being made daily in this year’s elections and the importance of the Campaigns communicating with the voters, in all types of communication, was paramount. Josh has opened the eyes of many of his students to current events, visual communication and the importance of language in every phase of this historic campaign.

I had to keep reminding myself that Josh just graduated from Wabash last May – he’s been a teacher a total of nine months! Five years ago Josh was one of the Nolan Catholic students. Now he’s teaching. However, he is a talented educator well beyond his years. He has an edge to him when teaching – challenging his students to learn, learn, learn. He is forever calculating one more way to get his students to best their best. One of Josh’s students walked me to Gabe Duarte’s class. As I walked with him, it was readily apparent that he was having a blast in Josh’s class. Working had but enjoying the learning.

Thank goodness for the student taking me because I would have never found Gabe’s classroom. It was in the old band room underneath the gym. The entrance was an unmarked steel door, down the outdoors stairs that separate the gym from the softball field. After about 30 seconds in Gabe’s class, I completely understood the windowless steel door – this wasn’t an old band room, it was an educational safe, a vault where comfortable but edgy learning was going on.

The room was a combination of normal desks arranged in a semi-circle and about three, fresh from the fraternity house, winged back chairs spread around the room. Gabe sported a club shirt – after all, on Friday everyone could wear a club shirt instead of the usual uniform. Gabe was teaching a speech class (he also is doing the theater productions for Nolan).
The next speech in the class was to be a persuasive speech and Gabe walked them through the different elements of that type of speech. It wasn’t just a run through of the basics however. In his own manner, he was persuading the students to give this speech, which counted as their final, their absolute best shot. His teaching style came right off the outline – he gave them a great persuasive speech without ever saying that’s what he was doing. You could tell- in this old band room – that this was a special place.

It just so happened that the day I visited Nolan was Liturgy Day and that meant a mid-morning Mass. I wasn’t at all surprised to see these three faculty members involved in the Liturgy. Peter Pactor and Gabe Duarte were there keeping an eye on things and Josh played the guitar accompanying the excellent choral group. It all seemed to be natural – after all, Peter, Josh, and Gabe are involved teachers and Nolan community members.

For more Nolan photos, click here and here.

Photos from top: Gabe Duarte '02 and his speech class, Peter Pactor '65, Josh Jones '07, and Gabe




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