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Matanzas Pirates’ Mission: A Senior Rallies Students and Faculty For a Teacher’s Survival

| September 25, 2012

One of Jo Ann Nahirny’s students hugs her on her last day of class at Matanzas High School, before she left for treatment last week. (© FlaglerLive)

Jo Ann Nahirny, an English teacher of long date at Matanzas High School and the author of the Teacher’s Trenches column on FlaglerLive, is battling the recurrence of an abdominal cancer for the next three months, in Gainesville. One of the students she influenced deeply in her class chose to respond in his own way.

By Juan Torres

As I walked down the crowded halls looking for my classroom on the first day of my sophomore year, I heard a distinct voice slice through the chatter in the halls. As students gossiped about what teacher they have, who they planned to sit with at lunch or what new clothes and “swag” they prepared for the new school year, they were interrupted by interjections like “Pull up your pants boy! I don’t need to be seeing that crack!” I could have sworn that the glass around me had shattered. That pitch and that voice was too distinctive to belong to any normal person.

It didn’t. It belonged to the woman who’s influenced me more than any to date.

Juan Torres

I entered Jo Ann Nahirny’s fourth period English 2 class that first day at Matanzas High School to get attention from all my friends and establish my title as the class clown. I would give the almighty Nahirny a run for her money. Little did I know that she would be the one to flip my world upside down with her red pen and her arsenal of vilifying words. Nothing could save me from the wrath that was Nahirny.

From my punk phase in 10th grade to my more mature chapter in Mrs. Nahirny’s AP English class in 11th grade, there’s just too many stories to write about and not enough space. I’ll always cherish moments we had in that room, especially when she was more than just a teacher. She was my friend. That classroom was more than just 27 students confined between four walls and learning about adequate writing techniques. We were a family. She was the reason for it. We all craved success. She gave us the tools and showed us the way. We all yearned to acquire more knowledge. She was like the lumberjack on a cold winter night feeding logs she chopped into the fire. Her raging fire was a classroom craving tinder in the form of SAT prep questions and AP essays and AP practice passages.

Now here I sit at 2:51 in the morning two years later, embarking on my last year of school, my senior year at Matanzas high school, thinking about the experiences I have been fortunate to share with Mrs. Nahirny–and about the email I received from her over summer break. We were all aware that she was a cancer survivor and that she’s the living proof that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. She overcame the cancer and became one of the most effective and talked about teachers at Matanzas. But in that email she informed us that she’d be out of school for three months. Her cancer had recurred. She’d be undergoing heavy radiation therapy.

Knowing from firsthand experience with my grandmother in Colombia who defeated breast cancer with chemo radiation at the age of 78, I am aware that it is not a pleasant thing to undergo for patients or their families. I knew that Mrs. Nahirny could use all the love and support she could get to help her along her recovery. That’s when it hit me. She has done so much for me and my fellow students, never ceasing to be there for us in our times of need, that it was my turn to rally up my classmates and school administrators to return the favor. As a family, we need to show her we care for our own and that we will be there for her. That when she feels weak and feels the urge to fall and lose hope, we will be there to catch her and help her back up. Because as Matanzas Pirates we have established a sense of pride and commitment over the years. We are always there for our own. It is all for one and one for all. Right now it is all for one.

With the collaboration of our schools administration and fellow classmates, I have come up with a plan to make this experience a little more positive and bearable for Mrs.Nahirny as she goes through treatment in Gainesville. We’ll pass around ‘Get Well Soon’ cards that will be signed by everyone attending Matanzas. We’ll post flyers around our halls to inform faculty and students of our cause. We will try to raise whatever money we can to make this easier for her and her family because this is a situation that no one should experience alone. Then I and some of her ex-students will drive to Gainesville to deliver the cards, flowers, gifts and donations to make sure we as a school and a community are the reason that she maintains that beautiful smile, in as much as possible, as she under goes her treatment. Mrs.Nahirny will have more than just her family supporting her. She will have the whole school and community with her every step of the way because we will always care for our own.

If you have any questions or inquiries regarding making a donation or if you wish to give us an item to deliver to her in Gainesville on your behalf when we make the drive up there Thursday, September 27th, please feel free to contact me 386/237-2856.

Juan Pablo Torres is a senior at Matanzas High School.

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6 Responses for “Matanzas Pirates’ Mission: A Senior Rallies Students and Faculty For a Teacher’s Survival”

  1. JoAnn Nahirny says:

    OMG — I logged onto Flagler Live to see what was going on in Palm Coast and I am floored! I knew Pablo was coming up to UF to see his girlfriend, and he said he wanted to drop by to see me and my husband but I didn’t expect THIS! I have been bragging about MHS to my radiation therapists every time I go for one of my treatments. The running gag is how many different MHS team sports shirts can I wear before I run out (today it was boys lacrosse and tomorrow is girls volleyball). At this afternoon’s treatment I brought my CD of the MHS chorus to listen to during the procedure, and the radiation therapists loved it, and how professional it sounded — we were in tears together over the beauty of it. I miss my students and my classes and Room 5239, but maybe I will get to see some of you this week after all. I will give you the grand tour of what is “my world” now. … And note to Pierre, the cancer is in my abdomen, but technically it is called retroperitoneal sarcoma.. What a mouthful! I love you PIRATES, and thank you, Pablo. I am proud to see after two years with me you can use figurative language, some of our SAT words AND write in the active voice… Your college professors will be pleased when send you on your way next year… And don’t worry, I plan to be there at the graduation in the amphitheater in St. Augustine in 2013…. You can count on it!!!!

  2. Catherine Nahirny says:

    Thanks for all the support. My mother greatly appreciates it, as do we all. I can only hope (along with the rest of out family, her friends and her co-workers) that she recovers as quickly as possible and she can get back to doing what she loves.

  3. Sue Dickinson says:

    What a powerful message. This is what Flagler County is all about. Everyone here to help others out in the time of need. How wonderful it is for me to read how a student feels and is reacting to his teachers time of need. Juan if there is anything I can do to help you please let me know. or 386-931-2889. It is so wonderful to hear students talk about what a difference teachers have made in their lives… Mrs. Nahirny we are there for you in any way that we can help. You are in my thoughts and prayers… Be strong – you can get thru this!!!!!

  4. The Truth says:

    I’m not very far off from my high school years, but this young man gives me hope for many generations to come. There are still many good people left in this world. If only we all focused on how precious life is instead of the smaller, less important things we would be much better as a nation. Love your neighbor, cherish your family and friends and smile throughout every day. I wish the best to Mrs. Nahirny in her treatment.

  5. BeachGuy says:

    Juan, excellent read. You are off to a very bright future! BTW, we all had a “punk” phase, it’s just a part of growing up. Thoughts and prayers are with Jo Ann!

  6. pamala says:


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