A conversation with Jose Antonio Moreno
If you could say anything to the current students of Darien District 61, what would that be?
Jose answered this question in both English and Spanish. Click on the video on the top to view it in English or on the video on the bottom to view it in Spanish…
What were some of the special memories you had of your time at Fairview, Mark DeLay, Lace and Eisenhower Junior High?
When I was in kindergarten, the program was still taught at Fairview School. My memories include Mrs. Mac showing us how craters on the moon were made by throwing rocks into a pit of sand, playing bean-bag tag back when Mr. Filas was our gym teacher, and making art with Ms. Misiora.
During my time at Mark DeLay, my favorite classes were always Art and Science. Even now as an engineering student, I’ve found that these two subjects always go hand in hand, even if it doesn’t always seem like it. I always encourage people to take breaks from work and focus on something creative, because it opens up your mind to different perspectives and methods to solving problems. I applied this using Legos in 1st grade, when I built a scale model of the Sears Tower that towered over my head (it was still the Sears Tower back then), and brought it in for show and tell.
I remember collecting these weird walnut things that fell from the trees outside Mark DeLay and “selling” them for sticks or grass during recess. I’m not sure why we all did this, but we did, and we enjoyed it.
I remember Mrs. Behegan’s African drum unit, the winter plays (“Oh it’s Christmas time in Darien, in Darien Illinois”), and pretending to be a pharaoh during the fifth grade Egyptian unit. In gym, Mr. Nash’s “patriot pinball” variation of dodgeball always made it a good day, and I remember my intramural hockey team won the little after school league three years in a row.
For Halloween, we would all wear our costumes to school and then parade around the circle lot.
For Discovery, Mrs. Kinder and Mrs. Kennedy took us on an architectural boat tour of downtown. While we were waiting for the boat to come, we were told not to feed the geese. I fed them anyways, and they attacked us.
Eisenhower brought so many more memories. In our sixth grade band trip to Orlando (it’s wild to think they took 6th graders on a trip to Orlando), we met the founder of the Trans Siberian Orchestra, who started handing out $100 bills to all the students.
I made the soccer team in sixth grade, even though I probably wasn’t good enough back then to have stayed on the team. I also made jazz band, even though I probably wasn’t good enough back then to have made jazz band. Regardless, these challenges made me better.
In eighth grade, I scored the game winning goal against our rivals Lakeview off of a punt, playing as the goalkeeper as seen in this video…
Also in 8th grade, Mrs. Perisin took some of us to a science contest at Fenwick, which totally confirmed how interested I was in research and finding out more about how to apply science in a practical way.
Who were some of the memorable teachers you had?
When thinking about teachers who truly impacted my academic career, it’s impossible to single out just one. There have been so many influential people that served the role of teacher in my life, and I’m thankful for every one of them. The students of District 61 are truly lucky to have such quality teachers.
Mrs. Boslett and Mrs. Lewis were a dynamic duo in fourth grade that always worked together; what I remember most about them was the high expectations they had of their students. To many fourth-graders, this translated as “they’re so mean,” but I’m grateful that they demanded so much of us, because it made us better students.
Mrs. Skweres and Ms. Parr may have taught me the skill most important to my academic and future professional successes: how to communicate effectively through writing. Mrs. Skweres would assign us write an essay every week nonstop, while Mrs. Parr really focused on using more captivating language. Despite my current work being technically centered and mathematically inclined, writing is still a passion of mine, and it’s been central to everything I do. Data analyzed is insignificant if you don’t know how to share it with a wider audience.
Proper delegation of responsibilities is critical to making sure big assignments get done, and this skill has allowed me to successfully manage the 3D printing club and all 250 of its members this semester, and to succeed at interviews with employers for an internship this summer. I’ve found that the art of presentation and persuasion is such an important skill, and this is all a direct result of how much emphasis my teachers at Mark DeLay put on creating quality writing.
Outside of academics, Ms. Kelly and Mrs. Kennedy were the two people who influenced me most as a person. Ms. Kelly radiated happiness and truly cared about the well-being of her students. What I saw in her was a selflessness, which was very comforting (and I probably took that for granted back when life was so much easier in my elementary school days). Ms. Kelly impacted those around her and left behind what she touched in better condition than she had originally found it. I remember she would always provide words of encouragement for me when I was nervous before all the various spelling bees I participated in.
Mrs. Kennedy led the Discovery Program during my time at Mark DeLay, where I would get taken out of class with a few other friends to go and work on something else, which included anything from building a house out of newspaper that fit 8 people, tapping away at a rock full of fossils her daughter had brought back from Arizona, building a bridge out of toothpicks under the constraints of time and money, or learning about Bloom’s Taxonomy (we were 10 years old!).
My fondest memories of Mark DeLay were the times I spent in her class, because she created an environment where I could exercise my creativity and encouraged me to be myself. Thinking back on it now, the projects we did back then encouraged me to pursue engineering today.
The newspaper house project really sticks out in my mind, because we had three days to build the house. The first two days were entirely spent arguing with each member trying to convince the others that their design was best. Getting frustrated with this, I got everyone to agree that while we argued about design we should at least start rolling up newspaper tubes so that we wouldn’t run out of time. This approach got us started, and that was the hardest part. The rest was easy. This whole time, Mrs. Kennedy didn’t intervene and take over the group, even though she silently saw us arguing for two straight days. Instead, she held back watching, giving us the opportunity to solve the problem ourselves and work as a team.
Had she not done this I would have missed out on a very valuable lesson on the importance of initiative and how to work as a team. As a lesson to be taught, what she did with that project taught me a skill that the educational system hasn’t allowed me to revisit until just now, when I’m involved in various team-centered engineering projects.
More importantly, Mrs. Kennedy always encouraged me to be myself, and that was so crucial to my confidence in those days. A school is a place that fosters the development of a student in terms of their role in a community, not just the scores they receive on exams.
Teachers were not the only people from District 61 who are memorable to me. Marcelo (I’ve always known him as Marcelo), worked as both a bus driver and as a custodian. Mr. Lang (I’ve always known him as Mr. Lang, and I hear he recently retired), also worked as a custodian alongside Mrs. Whitesides, who worked at Eisenhower during my time. I always saw these people working tirelessly, always working late hours, and yet they were some of the friendliest people I came across during my time in District 61. It’s the people behind the scenes who don’t get enough recognition that deserve it the most, and I thank them for all the hard work they put in, and for simply being friendly people.
In 6th grade, Mrs. Pidde first comes to mind. Again, people considered her a “mean” teacher, but this was simply her high expectations for her students. The pride she put into what she taught was obvious, and I feel she prepared me as a student to take on the challenges of middle school.
Mrs. Perisin also comes to mind in how she was able to connect with her students and teach ideas to seventh-graders that would be covered in high school AP chemistry and AP biology (concepts for college-level courses) through the use of experiments and hands-on activities (we dissected a frog at one point).
Ms. Zurbano (now Pahati), ran the band program and instilled a love for music in her students, whether this was playing saxophone in the marching band, playing piano in the jazz band, or playing guitar in a rock band. Ms. Zurbano wasn’t only a teacher, but a friend for her students, and this was what made her successful. The band trips to various states she organized are some of my fondest memories, and were the result of her hard work in preparing us musically and organizing the trips with the help of the band booster parents.
I also remember selling an unearthly amount of chocolate bars to fundraise for the trips, and winning gift cards worth something like $150. That was a lot of money in middle school, and it’s even more now as a college student.
The person that sticks out most during my time at Eisenhower was Mr. Stallings, who taught me social studies and coached the chess team (put up with coaching the chess team). Back then, I was able to connect with Mr. Stallings because we had similar taste in music and I admired his devotion to the art of cinema. He was eccentric in his ways, yet this is why his students loved him: he simply acted like a real person. The most important lesson Mr. Stallings taught me is to be yourself, and that your idiosyncrasies are your greatest assets.
Lastly, a teacher who made my time valuable in District 61 was Mrs. Maciel, who taught in the ESL department at Eisenhower back then and now teaches at Mark DeLay. Today, she’s doing the same thing that she did back then, which was to help Latino students, like me, find the self-motivation to succeed. Her work ethic back then and even now is remarkable (I still call her regularly to tell her she works too hard). I should have visited her room more often while I was in middle school, but I am still proud to call her my mom.
How old are you?
19 (born in January 1996.)
Where did you live when you attended school in District 61?
Where do you live now?
West Lafayette, Indiana (Purdue University)
What grades did you attend in Darien District 61?
Kindergarten through eighth grade
What are some of your accomplishments and noteworthy activities since leaving District 61?
Having only graduated from District 61 five years ago, it’s difficult to write about activities I consider noteworthy in comparison to what someone farther along in life may have accomplished, but I still find satisfaction and happiness from the adventures that I’ve gone through since. District 61 truly prepared me to seize the opportunities that were presented to me throughout high school and now in college.
Whenever I had the chance to make a short movie for a class project, I would jump on that opportunity. This interest culminated during my sophomore year at Hinsdale South, when I was asked to direct and produce a movie that showcased the school’s philosophy, which was then showed to the entire student body on the first day of class. That experience was rewarding because it was the first time I was in charge of managing and organizing people to create something substantial, something I could share with the community.
Equally important was the substantial amount of time I dedicated to soccer during those four years. It might sound cliché, but I learned the incredible importance of working hard and how to persevere when even this was not enough to accomplish your goals. Regardless, I have great memories of playing alongside my teammates on the varsity team. Learning to deal with failure was critical: it gave me the courage to pursue opportunities that I might normally have written off.
This tenacity landed me a paid weeklong visit to MIT during my junior year, where I discovered how some of the most interesting yet humble students in the country acted, how they thought, how they shared their ideas.
More recently, I was sponsored by the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers as a freshman to attend its National Conference in Detroit, where I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship from Microsoft. At the moment, I’m working on building a working 3D printed electric guitar that is cheaper than anything on the market, as well as other entrepreneurial projects.
What are some of your current involvements (including jobs, activities and interests)?
Here at Purdue I’m currently serving as Vice President of the 3D Printing club, a senator for my dorm building, and working as a lab monitor in the 3D printing lab.
When I’m not busy studying, I like to spend my time playing soccer at the gym, because I get the chance to meet people from all over the world. I also enjoy performing on the weekends with a rock band called Tower Six (https://www.facebook.com/TowerSixBand) that I started with some friends.
What are some of your plans/goals for the future?
My short-term goals for the future are to finish working toward my bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and complete a double minor in computer science and entrepreneurship. We live in a time similar to the 1960s where humanity is on the verge of entering a new space age, and I want to be a part of that excitement by working in the aerospace field.
The long-term goal from there would be to establish my own company one day after having the experience of working in the corporate environment for a while. It’s hard to say how much of this will pan out or what the steps needed to get there will be, but I am confident that I am on the rights path to securing a better future for myself and those around me.
Are you single? Married? Pets?
I’m currently dating my girlfriend from high school, Sara. It worked out that we’re both studying engineering at Purdue, so we can help each other out with work and that sort of thing.
I also have fish as pets in my dorm, including an eel and three aquatic frogs. I highly recommend fish for any college dorm or office. They’re soothing to watch when you’re overloaded with work and don’t require too much care.