by Christiana Chetram and Nikita Chen
Throughout her 36 years of teaching, English teacher Patricia Hughes-Rodrigues continues to make an impact on countless students. Her compassion, outgoing personality and dedication to her job contribute to her reputation as an exceptional educator. The strong connections and relationships that Hughes makes with her students are a reflection of her priorities and love for teaching. Those connections will be missed next year.
After being a member of the Bobcat family for 13 years, Hughes-Rodrigues will retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year. As an educator, she guides thousands of students through their academic lives and works to influence each one of them. She believes that it is important to build strong bonds with each student because of the integral part it plays in their academic success. Known for her cordial personality and sense of humor, Hughes-Rodrigues plays a big role in the family atmosphere fostered at West Broward High School. It is not unusual for her to tell a joke during lunch or dress up in an outfit that relates to the piece of literature that she was teaching. At West Broward, Hughes makes her mark on the school, the staff members and her cherished students.
“Kids come back after having her and thank her for helping them succeed in their junior and senior classes because they learned a lot from her,” said Dennis Rodrigues, Hughes’ husband and AP History teacher. “ Things like that are how the relationship grows over the years.”
Hughes was born in Canandaigua, N.Y. As a child, her family moved to Grove City, Pa. outside of an Amish community. She attended Lincoln Elementary, Grove City Area Junior High and Grove City Area High School and then went on to attend Edinboro University in Pennsylvania. Hughes-Rodrigues graduated from Edinboro University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in English Education, and her heart was quickly set on becoming an educator. One main influence on her career choice was her father, who worked on the school board while she was growing up.
“My father and my mother both instilled that education was very important, and I thought, you know, I love learning and what a better place to learn than to be a teacher, because every day is a learning experience,” Hughes-Rodrigues said.
English is a subject that Hughes-Rodrigues particularly enjoys, and it was one of the main reasons why she decided to become an English teacher. The other major reason that drew Hughes-Rodrigues to become an English teacher is that she thought she could bring literature into her students’ lives in a way that they would appreciate it a bit more, putting her own spin on lessons to enthrall her students.
“I’ve always loved grammar. I know that’s usually what students hate, but I love grammar. Plus, I thought that if I was an English teacher, I could bring literature to the classroom that was going to interest students,” Hughes-Rodrigues said.
Hughes-Rodrigues began her teaching career at Miramar High School in 1985. After teaching there for six years, she would continue her teaching career at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School [MSD] in Parkland, Florida. Hughes-Rodrigues taught at MSD until 2007 before West Broward High School would open its doors. She has been working at West Broward for 13 years, accounting for almost one-third of her three-decade-long career in education.
“She knows her stuff! When I was working as the AP over the English department, I learned quickly that she would be a leader in her department,” said Wendolynn Sanchez, Grade 12 Assistant Principal. “Mrs. Hughes’s work ethic is without compromise. She is dedicated to both the craft of teaching and the students she teaches. She has a light-hearted spirit and is great at craft projects.”
Hughes-Rodrigues believes in making strong teacher-student relationships. She tries her best to become a reliable figure in her students’ lives both in and outside of the classroom. Being there for her students and getting to know them is a fundamental part of creating a dynamic classroom, and this extra step can create a difference in both a student’s academic progress and attitude. She does this by attending as many sporting events, performances and activities as she can.
“I think if students don’t think that the teacher is really interested in them, they’re not going to do the work. They’re not going to care, so I try to get to know them outside of the classroom. Again, going to those sporting events when we’re able to do that again, going to the drama performance, seeing a competition of some kind. Then they see this person is willing to give up some of their own time that they could be at home doing their own thing,” Hughes-Rodrigues said.
In addition to creating strong connections, she strives to make her students feel relaxed in the classroom by being someone that they can always feel comfortable and reassured in and out of the classroom. She pushes her students to succeed and she creates an environment where her students are secure enough to answer questions and speak up in class without feeling judged. Hughes-Rodrigues also goes out of her way to ensure that she is approachable and someone that her students can talk to. Allison Kalinsky, former student and science teacher at West Broward, remembers her congenial approach.
“She’s not a teacher that will ever put students on the spot or make them uncomfortable. And she was always like a very kind teacher like she was somebody who was very gentle and like she never made you feel judged, I guess. She challenged us but never made us feel bad if we didn’t know how to do something right away like she was very patient. She was somebody that was always easy to talk to and she just genuinely cared about her students,” Kalinsky said.
Hughes-Rodrigues makes her classroom a comfortable place for students to learn by incorporating her outgoing personality into her teaching style. Between a fellow English teacher, Angela McCann’s and Hughes’ classrooms, you will find a pole decorated depending on the season or holiday. She takes pride in making a fun and friendly learning environment and is known for her great sense of humor. During homecoming week and holidays, Mrs. Hughes is never hesitant to dress up and be playful. She has also been known to frequently wear silly attire that is based on a piece of literature that she is teaching in her classes.
“I think it’s probably my willingness to be goofy at times. Right now we’re reading Macbeth, so I’ll change my voice to be one of the witches and put on a witch hat, even if we’re here online. When we’re learning something in grammar and we sing a song to remember subordinate conjunctions,” Hughes-Rodrigues said.
Her hard work in the classroom has paid off as Hughes has repeatedly led her students to a consistently high passing rate of the Grade 10 English Florida Standard Assessment (FSA). She has not only helped students achieve some of the highest scores in the state but also has accomplished something that many teachers have not, a 100% passing rate.
One year, all of Hughes-Rodrigues’ students passed the statewide exam. This was something she describes as one of her “proudest moments.” These scores are a reflection of the exemplary teacher that Hughes-Rodrigues has proven herself to be.
“Well, our school has consistently been one of the best schools in the district in English, and I attribute that in large part to her entire team of course. But throughout the years, teachers come and go, but no matter who is in the team, they always perform above and beyond, exceptionally well and I attribute that in a large part to her,” said Lorraine Liverpool, Department Chair and English teacher at West Broward.
Hughes-Rodrigues has made a point to teach her students some important life lessons before they leave her classroom. Occasionally, she’ll tell her students what her life was like as a kid or have class conversations. Hughes-Rodrigues hopes that her students will keep sight of these non-academic lessons as they grow up and become young adults.
“Be a good person. Do the right thing. Simple is sometimes better. My students get to know some things in my background that I’m from this little, tiny town in Pennsylvania that’s outside an Amish community. And I saw those values in people that you could live a simple life and be just as happy as that person who has opulence, who could have whatever they want. Money isn’t everything; that’s another lesson that hopefully the kids know,” Hughes-Rodrigues said.
The relationships that Hughes-Rodrigues builds with her students are still present after they graduate. One of her favorite parts of teaching is watching her students grow up and begin their life as adults. According to Hughes-Rodrigues, students usually try to reach out to her once they have left West Broward. She has been invited to several college or university graduations and commissioning of students who attended the Naval Academy. Watching these ceremonies gives Hughes-Rodrigues a sense of pride and accomplishment as she sees a child that she once taught go on to achieve great things in their life.
“What makes me proudest is that when kids go off to college, graduate from there and go on with their lives. Some of them still keep in contact. Now with the internet, we have everything set up, so a student can go to the school website and email us,” Hughes-Rodrigues said.
Hughes-Rodrigues’ relationships with her students have been a constant for more than three decades, and her comradery with colleagues is no different. She has a compassionate personality and is known to be very dependable, trustworthy and one who is always willing to go out of her way in order to help someone. It is a trait that is most admired by one of her closest friends and colleagues, Angela McCann.
“She’s very caring. When Mr. Vasquez had a baby recently, she crocheted a blanket for him. She’ll bake cakes if there is an occasion,” McCann said. “She’s very thoughtful and very kind. She’s made a massive difference.”
Throughout the past 13 years, Hughes-Rodrigues has left nothing short of a legacy at West Broward through her students’ academic achievements, her one-of-a-kind personality, genuine love for her students and passion for teaching. She makes a difference in the lives of most peers, administration and students who have encountered her and has consistently worked to create a stronger family atmosphere at West Broward.
“Because of her caring nature and her willingness to do whatever it takes to help somebody, whether it’s another colleague or students, she’s willing to go above and beyond to assist in whatever way, whether it’s academically or non-academically. She’s a very caring, giving person and I think that might be what attracts people to her. She’s an all-around great teacher, great person,” Liverpool said.