EDUCATION: Darleen Torres | Puerto Rico Native Shares Her Love Of Spanish With Students At PBCHS

16_EDUCATION Darleen Torres

Wellington Education

Story by Chris Felker

Photos by ???

It’s a safe bet that Daleen Torres won’t ever suffer from empty nest syndrome, even though her children are now grown and on their own. Torres tends a nest of fledgling Spanish speakers daily for most of the year, as a teacher of Advanced Placement and Cambridge Program classes at Palm Beach Central High School.

Torres started out as a Palm Beach County School District substitute teacher back in 1998. She later became a permanent substitute before being promoted to a full-time teaching position. Now Torres is head of the World Languages Department at PBCHS.

“I grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to the [mainland] United States when I was 27,” she recalled, noting that it was her husband Francisco Rivera’s idea. “Of course, I was a good wife. I followed him. I had gone to the University of Puerto Rico, and my career was as a social worker.”

Married for just a few years at the time and with two young children, Torres began her time in Wellington was stay-at-home mother. She soon made friends with a neighbor, who began encouraging her to find a part-time job so that she could exercise her education and get some time out of the house.

“It was at a Christmas party at her house, with some other friends, and they said they were looking for substitute teachers,” Torres said. “She knew that I had a bachelor’s degree — not in education, but I have a bachelor’s, and that’s what you need to be a substitute. So I went and applied, and I got the job.”

Torres started out as an elementary school substitute, teaching a little bit of everything. “I tried to, of course, do some Spanish, and I taught math,” she said. “I worked in ESE (Exceptional Student Education) programs at an elementary school, and also at Wellington High School.”

Eventually, a perfect opportunity arose. “I applied to be a permanent Spanish substitute teacher at WHS, and that’s how I actually opened my doors,” Torres said. “I decided to certify myself [to be a full-time teacher], so I was going to school and working at the same time.”

Torres completed that program in 2003 and received her permanent teacher certification. In 2007, she became national board certified in world languages, and a short time later became department head, where she now oversees eight other teachers.

Even as a supervisor, she is still fully hands-on. “I’m teaching five classes, but one of them is a combo, so that would give me six,” Torres said. “All my classes are college-level.”

She is very proud of her work with the Cambridge Program.

“It’s an international examination program, including not only world languages, but all the subjects, and we are one of the schools that offers this program,” Torres said. “We have been very successful. The first year we offered the program, as related to world languages, we offered pre-courses getting the students ready to move on into college-credit classes. We still offer some of the Advanced Placement courses here, and I actually also teach those courses in advanced Spanish.”

And these courses are not just for juniors or seniors. “Actually, the program is open for kids that are already maturing and they’re college-bound,” Torres explained, noting that Cambridge classes are open to freshmen, and at the AP level, there are actually more 10th and 11th graders.

“In one of the highest courses for Spanish, the advanced level, that includes leadership — those are more for juniors and seniors,” she said. “So it’s a combination.”

But Torres aims to be far more than just a Spanish teacher to her students. She sees herself as a mentor, encouraging their potential.

“I try to encourage kids where we see they have potential, but they haven’t considered themselves to be college-bound,” she said. “When we see their talent, we encourage them to participate in the program, and some of them have continued in different classes after that.”

Torres tries to explain to her students how important it is to follow up on their studies in today’s fast-paced world.

“Many of my students who go to college minor in Spanish while they study nursing, business or other fields,” she said. “They understand how important it is to be bilingual right now. We are a multicultural society, particularly in Florida.”

Torres recommends that her students continue their Spanish studies after high school.

“You don’t learn a language in four or five years; you keep learning something new every day,” she said. “And I use myself as an example, because, of course, I have a strong accent. I’m aware of that, and sometimes I mispronounce [words in English]. I’m aware of that, but I learn new vocabulary all the time.”

Asked about the greatest reward she gets out of her career, Torres cites the fledglings coming back to the nest as full-plumed adults on a trajectory to success.

“Before Thanksgiving, I had one of my world language students come back — and this is an American student telling me he’s holding Spanish conversations through Skype,” she said. “He’s actually using the language and talking, and he came back to thank all the teachers. He was telling me how much he had gained… Those things keep you going.”

Her biggest reward?

“When I see my kids actually learning something that really has gained them some proficiency,” Torres said. “When they pass the test, I feel like a proud mother.”



This year’s Wellington Education series profiles some of the many educators who are expanding the minds of today’s students and tomorrow’s leaders.