It's technically accurate to say that she was my high school Spanish teacher, since I did take Spanish IV and V with her. But that's kind of like calling the Pope a priest. Señora LaRosa was a force of nature. She was on the school board and was the senior class advisor at the high school. She knew every single student in that school, and loved them all, with this fierce love that was like having a momma bear at your back. You always knew when Señora LaRosa was around -- the fluorescent glasses and pants suits kind of gave it away -- because she'd always greet people in the halls. She spoke to everyone in Spanish, regardless of whether or not they knew the language, and everyone understood her. Not many people have that gift.
She was the driving force behind Project Graduation, which was the all-night graduation party that the high school hosted, with games, snacks, prizes, and breakfast, to keep kids sober and off the streets on graduation night. She rounded up hosts of parents (including the Pony Parents) to help with this event, and sold chocolate bars as a fundraiser for it. In the summers, she'd go to Mexico and live in a garbage dump, teaching the children who lived there, and then she'd come back to us in the fall and tell us all about her summer.
She survived so much, including a previous near-death experience in the principal's office. She'd been spearheading the effort to have another Spanish teacher fired. Now, given that this guy a) couldn't speak Spanish, b) could barely speak English, c) was known for sexually harassing his female students, and d) had been arrested twice for threatening his ex-wife, once at a soccer game and once with a shotgun at her house, but pled nolo contendere and was let off because of e) probable Mob ties, you'd think this would not be difficult. But it's really hard to fire a tenured public high school teacher, and Mr. C was not about to let that happen. So he fought Señora LaRosa every step of the way, even going so far as to get into a screaming match with her in the principal's office, at which point her heart stopped, and she keeled over, and they had to use CPR to get her back to classroom strength. But she did get him fired, in the end. He then sent his daughter after her in revenge. The daughter, who was in the same graduating class as Little Sister Pony, punched Señora LaRosa in the mouth just as Project Graduation was letting out, and the last shot on Little Sister Pony's graduation video is of a line of parental cars driving away from the high school, with one kid being taken away in a police car.
Señora LaRosa survived all that. She planned parties, she gave out diplomas at graduation, she bullied and meddled and cajoled and loved every single kid who walked through the doors of my high school, even the ones that no one else loved. In my senior year, she coached me into winning a gold medal at a state competition for reciting poetry in foreign languages (Spanish; I asked if I could compete in German as well, but they said no, because I wasn't taking it through the high school). About a month and a half ago, I got a "high pass" on my graduate school Spanish translation test, even though I hadn't studied for it and hadn't actively taken a Spanish class in ten years -- that's how well Señora LaRosa's language instruction worked.
Adios, Señorita Marselli. I'll miss you.