Tributes to Our Lost Heroes
The Covid-19 pandemic tragically took the lives of more than 70 Department of Education employees. Each and every one made a lasting impact on the lives of their students, families, coworkers, and communities. This page is dedicated to telling some of the stories of the colleagues who we lost far too soon.
Linda Pope, Paraprofessional
“Ms. Pope was a ray of sunshine every day, regardless of the weather, cheerfully encouraging students who successfully worked out a problem to, ‘Hug your brain!’” — Elizabeth Jarrett, principal of P.S. 154 Harriet Tubman in Harlem, talking about paraprofessional Linda Pope, who died of Covid-19 in April 2020.
For twenty-six years, students with special needs at P.S. 154 knew they could always count on Ms. Pope for support and a smile. Every morning, she would sit with her children in the cafeteria to make sure they ate their breakfasts and began their day on a bright note. And when she walked down the hallways, she would stop at every classroom door to wave to the kids inside.
After Ms. Pope passed away, colleagues and family members of her students posted dozens of on-line tributes to her, all conveying how her positivity brightened their lives.
Just a few examples:
“I feel so fortunate to have worked with Ms. Pope this year at 154. She was so wonderful to me and was absolutely dedicated to her students.” — David Love
“Ms. Linda Pope had a heart of PURE gold, and a laugh you could hear down the hall. I was so blessed to work with her in Kindergarten at P.S. 154. Days in our class were full of love, life, light, and laughter. She was so dedicated to our students, her friends, and her family, and she loved her job.” — Lauren Ginsberg
“When I first arrived at Harriet Tubman Learning Center as a self-contained special education teacher, Ms. Pope was the paraprofessional with me. She made me feel welcomed and helped me out immensely. This year she was the para in my class again, and the students and I will miss her dearly. The kids absolutely loved her — all of them. She could be a tough cookie, but she also had a nice warm smile and was extremely helpful and accessible. We will miss her so much.” — Michael Nevarez
Students with special needs thrive with the care and support of special educators, and for twenty-six years Ms. Pope was an exceptionally special member of the P.S. 154 community.
High School English Teacher
“Ms. Nguyen's passion for teaching and love for her students was ingrained in who she was. She would do anything for her students, and they knew it. Each spring, she'd come bouncing into my office (and delve into my secret stash of candy) to talk about how she could support ‘her’ seniors (yes, they were ‘hers’) as they were making their way towards graduation, and perhaps getting a little lazy with their work. She was intent on doing whatever needed to happen to help them cross the finish line and make their way to what came next in their lives after Brooklyn Latin. She was so invested in who they were, and who they would become.”
– Rebecca Davidson, writing about her colleague Kimarlee Nguyen, who taught English at Brooklyn Latin for six years before passing away from COVID-19 in April at the age of 33.
The word “passion” comes up over and over in the many heartfelt tributes to Ms. Nguyen from her students and fellow educators. A devoted teacher and inspired creator, Ms. Nguyen’s infectious enthusiasm for language and literature illuminated the lives of those around her. Like many of her students, she was a first-generation American who became the first in her family to attend college. Ms. Nguyen earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Vassar College, where she also played rugby, and a master of fine arts degree from Long Island University.
In the classroom, Ms. Nguyen’s outgoing personality and devotion to awakening a shared love for the written word helped her forge powerful and sustaining connections with her students. Listen to one of her seniors: “You not only made me laugh and feel happy, but you also gave me the determination I needed when I felt like I wanted to give up or quit. I found it hard adjusting back to English class this year after being out, but not only did you help me every step of the way, you gave me the opportunity to enjoy English and reading again. Your class challenged me in ways I wouldn't think possible, and I'm so glad to have known you.”
Ms. Nguyen’s parents came to the United States in 1982 after fleeing from Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime and several difficult years in a refugee camp in Thailand. The stories they told her as a child served as a powerful foundation for Ms. Nguyen’s creative expression. Ms. Nguyen earned numerous writing fellowships and residencies for portrayals drawn from her family’s experiences, and in her off hours was working on a novel titled Lion’s Tooth, about a Cambodian-American family living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Everyone at Brooklyn Latin will deeply miss Ms. Nguyen, as this tribute from teacher Caitlin Ferraro illustrates: “I think the biggest reason why it's so hard for me to accept that you're gone is that you were more full of life than probably anyone I've ever met. You were so unapologetically vibrant. You were always so THERE, and I can't wrap my mind around you being anything but. I am so grateful for your friendship, for the comfort I found in you during a really tough year, for the lightness and joy you brought to my life, to our community, and to every community you were a part of. There are so many more things I want to say but I can't figure out the right words. I wish you were here to help me find them.”
Louis S. Barcelo
Physical Education and Health Teacher
“Virtually every child Mr. Barcelo encountered has stated that he was their father figure and positive role model. He truly made every child feel like they were important. Reading posts after his passing from students he had 15 years ago, the sentiment is the same: ‘he was like my dad.’”
— Julie Princivil, on his longtime colleague of Louis S. Barcelo, who taught Physical Education and Health at P.S./M.S. 280 Mosholu Parkway for 26 years and served the DOE for 32 years before passing away in April at age 54.
In many school communities, there’s one special educator whose distinctive personality and ability to connect serves as a unifying force in the school’s culture. For decades at P.S./M.S. 280 Mosholu Parkway in the Bronx, that person was Louis Barcelo, known to everyone as “Mr. B”.
In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Mr. Barcelo supervised breakfast and lunch, talking non-stop with students as he meandered through the cafeteria. Principal James Weeks describes Mr. Barcelo as “an amazing person, full of energy and love for everyone, especially the students.”
Mr. Barcelo’s famous T-shirts expressed his passion for his work, including: “TEACHING, the hardest job you’ll ever LOVE,” and “Love to Teach, Teach to Love!” Ever the dedicated educator, shortly before he passed, Mr. Barcelo sent a video to his beloved school community, ending his personal message with a cheerful thumbs-up and a reminder: “Bye-bye, and don’t forget to do your remote learning!”
On a tribute page filled with many dozens of remembrances from colleagues and students, one comment in particular captures what made Mr. B. so special:
"He was REAL with the students. He talked to them, he laughed with them, he told it like it was when they were acting up, and always lovingly and patiently shared his wisdom with them. He would say, ‘You have to treat people the way you want to be treated’ and modeled that respect and loving kindness with every single person. On the playground, he would connect the lonely child with the group and always made sure each kid was playing fair and with respect. He led the entire cafeteria in singing happy birthday to make kids feel EXTRA loved. And he always shared his special message, ‘Have a good day, Mr. Barcelo loves you guys, and please make the right choices!’ I used to tell him all the time, ‘Those words are what kids will remember!’”
And he will be remembered. After Mr. Barcelo passed away, dozens of his former students returned to the school to light candles in his honor. One student put words to the lasting impact Mr. B leaves behind: “He taught me how to tie a tie when I was a little kid. He taught me how to be professional and be the best person I can be. Now I’m going to try to live my life like him and show the love to others that he showed me.”
High School Social Studies Teacher
“Mr. Vasquez was such a beautiful soul who always kept me out of trouble. But I also always knew that if I got into trouble, he was someone you could talk to about anything and he would never judge you. Not only was Mr. Vasquez an amazing human being, he was always there unconditionally for me when I was coming out, undocumented, and struggling.”
— a former student of Joshua Vasquez, a social studies teacher at Bushwick Leaders High School who passed away of COVID-19 in April 2020
Above and beyond Mr. Vasquez’s gift for stirring up a passion for learning in the classroom, he pushed his students to become agents of change in their community. A former community organizer before he began his career as an educator, he enthusiastically practiced what he preached. In 2013, the New York Daily News published a profile of Mr. Vasquez highlighting his work with the police to improve safety in the neighborhood surrounding the school. Mr. Vasquez’s quote in that article reflects the philosophy that guided his life’s work with such purpose: “The ingredients for transforming schools and communities are always the same: dedicated, organized people having the courage to work for the same goals.”
Mr. Vasquez was a mentor to countless educators over his twenty years with the DOE, including Gerard Henry, who went on to become principal at Brooklyn Lab School. The testimonials those colleagues posted on the internet after his death convey the profound effect he had on them and his students, such as:
“Mr. Vasquez was a hero to every kid he ever taught, and had a real love for the Bushwick community. He mentored me as a new teacher, taught our students to organize, took them on meaningful field trips, and he’d even dress up as ancient historic figures to engage the class. He made the work fun, and he brought joy and a sense of belonging to so many kids that the city had given up on. I hope all his students know how much he deeply loved them.”
“The world lost a smart, big-hearted, and crusading educator. Josh Vasquez was a mentor to me and so many others when I began teaching in Brooklyn 15 years ago. He worked passionately and optimistically within an imperfect system and used his own life as a model for what others like him could achieve. He loved his community and his students fiercely, but he always welcomed and championed outsiders like me.”
Mr. Vasquez’s talent and passion for healing wounds and spurring community change continue to serve as a guiding light to those fortunate to have known him and to the school community he leaves behind.
Paula Pryce-Bremmer, Guidance Counselor
Careers in Sports High School, The Bronx
"Ms. Pryce-Bremmer was a mother figure who built powerful relationships with our students not only while they were at school, but long after they graduated. She organized biannual barbecues that hundreds of our former students attended. And several of them followed in her footsteps and became guidance counselors themselves because they admired her so much.”
– Johanny Garcia, principal, describing Paula Pryce-Bremmer, a guidance counselor for fourteen years who passed away from COVID-19 in March 2020 at the age of 51.
Described by parent coordinator Michael Santana as the “heartbeat” of Careers in Sports High School, Ms. Pryce-Bremmer touched everyone with her energy, positivity, and compassion. Her former student Jesus Ventura recalls how she encouraged her students to dream big. “She’d say, ‘It’s not going to be easy, but here’s how we’re going to do it.’”
Mr. Ventura himself is a prime example of the impact Ms. Pryce-Bremmer had. Even while battling his own academic struggles, he was determined to help other students succeed just like she had. “I would tell her, ‘Ms. Bremmer, you have to clear up your office because I need a spot for my desk when I graduate.’” And in January, with her support, he started working as a counselor side by side with her.
Ms. Pryce-Bremmer first joined the DOE in 1998 as an elementary school teacher. She joined Careers in Sports in 2004 as a creative writing teacher, but it was upon her transition to the role of guidance counselor in 2007 that she found her true passion. Her longtime colleague and close friend Lonice Eversley noted that Ms. Pryce-Bremmer especially loved helping students to become the first members of their families to attend college. “Enormous power resided in her, yet she was one of the most gentle, kind, and humble people who has ever walked the earth,” she recalled.
Ms. Pryce-Bremmer’s generosity extended to creating a scholarship in her family’s name that provided awards to graduating seniors with a passion for the creative arts. Indeed, her talent for connecting her students to grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid was part of what Ms. Eversley describes as her “magic.”
Traditionally, seniors at Careers in Sports give roses to their families and loved ones at graduation in thanks for their support. “Over the years, she received so many roses from students,” Ms. Eversley says. “Paula was like light: all about love, encouragement, and kindness. And everyone was grateful to her.”
Omara Flores, Assistant Principal
P.S. 95, The Bronx
“If a student was upset about something, Ms. Flores would stand by patiently until they calmed down and then quietly discussed with them how to manage the problem together. Every year, you could see tons of students mature as they emulated how she interacted with them.”— Eileen Rivera, describing her colleague Omara Flores, a beloved assistant principal at P.S. 95 Sheila Mencher in the Bronx who died from Covid-19 in April 2020 at the age of 55.
For nearly twenty years at P.S. 95, Ms. Flores immersed herself in every aspect of life at her school. Her responsibilities included overseeing seventh and eighth grade, serving as coordinator for the multi-language learning program, and supervising assessments, science education, after-school activities, graduation ceremonies, and myriad other duties.
Principal Serge Davis says, “Ms. Flores was a true professional who was really focused on improving each and every day to empower the lives of her teachers, students, and families. She approached the work with great integrity, humility, and empathy.”
Former students who returned to visit P.S. 95 always made a point of seeking out Ms. Flores and thanking her for all she did for them. Principal Davis said that since she passed away, several students have told him that they are dedicating themselves to doing well in the years ahead because they know that’s what Ms. Flores would have wanted.
Nick Merchant, an English teacher who had known Ms. Flores for twenty years and been supervised by her for fourteen, posted this tribute to her on social media: “Early on, she took me under her wing and helped guide me as an educator. Every day, I would pop into her office to say good morning, share a prayer, and discuss what I was going to teach for that day…Omara was there for me every time. I would find solace in her office in the most tumultuous times. I could bring her my bad news, and I would leave with next steps.”
Though her students and colleagues mourn her tragic passing, the positive example Ms. Flores set for them is a gift that will last their lifetimes.
Tammy Hendriks, Junior High Math Teacher
I.S. 238 Susan B. Anthony Academy, Queens
“Tammy had a special gift for connecting to junior high school students in a way that I’ve never seen in my thirty-three years of teaching. She was so loving and nurturing while also a tough advocate on their behalf. And as a colleague, she was the glue in leading our math team while helping out everyone throughout the school with her amazing technological skills.”— Kathleen Comack, a longtime colleague of Tammy Hendriks, a teacher at I.S. 238 Susan B. Anthony Academy who passed away of COVID-19 in April 2020.
With her infectious laugh, easy sense of humor, and boundless energy, Ms. Hendriks was a spark of vitality who brightened the I.S. 238 community throughout her eleven years at the school. Students and faculty alike gravitated to her and knew that she cared about them.
“Tammy was full of love and a true nurturer,” Ms. Comack says. “Every student in every one of her classes enjoyed and learned from her. As a math teacher, she was fair, fun, warm, firm, demanding, structured, dedicated and very ‘cool’ in the eyes of her students.”
Ms. Hendriks attended Molloy College, C.W. Post and the College of Saint Rose, earning two master’s degrees. In addition to her mathematics skills, she was also a talented artist who decorated her classroom with eye-catching posters of her own design.
Latesha Hachette, a former colleague of Ms. Hendriks’ from Jean Nuzzi Intermediate 109—where she began her career—recalls: “Tammy was notoriously organized and efficient. Sometimes she would come into my room and ask for something and I had to rummage through tons of papers to find it. She was such an awesome friend that when I finally found it, she would chuckle and thank me, even though it must have driven her Type A personality crazy!”
The former colleagues were reunited at an Algebra for All professional development conference in the summer of 2019, and Ms. Hachette recalls that time fondly. “We would spend those A4A sessions together problem solving, laughing about old times, and conversing about life.”
Ms. Hachette’s words echo those of so many others: “Tammy was an amazing, driven, and caring educator who left such a huge impact on her students and colleagues.”