Meeting in her second-grade classroom, I sat down in one of the tiny chairs feeling like a student having to show the teacher my work. But if I were to be in elementary school again, Sonia Gomez-Neri would be one of my favorite teachers.
I first met University City’s Spreckels Elementary teacher Gomez-Neri in September 2003, when she started teaching first grade there, coming over from Burbank Elementary, where she had taught for eight years. I became her first “room parent” and during the times we worked together on class projects, I remember her mentioning that one day she would like to write children’s books. Now, she’s a published writer.
Gomez-Neri’s book of poems, “One Last Chance,” was inspired by her faith and a death in her family. The book was written as a gift to family members. Besides “One Last Chance,” she’s also written “Don’t Forget About God” and a story entitled “Shivery the Skeleton,” which is a Halloween-themed story for children with messages about friendship. She’s in the process of writing more books, including family memoirs and gift books. There’s also a possibility of future collaborations with another teacher as the illustrator.
Influenced by writers like Shel Silverstein, her stories are also inspired by her work as a teacher and the experiences of what she sees students going through in their own lives. Gomez-Neri also pulls from her own childhood and the prejudices she felt growing up.
She recalls being put down due to her Mexican ethnicity, even though her neighborhood in Clairemont was diverse. But her mother always told her, “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel that you are less than what you are; you’re just as good as anyone else.” She has taken those lessons to heart, and those memories have become strong influences in her work. When asked why she loves to write, she calls writing her “soul’s release” and feels she was always meant to write and “release what’s deep about me.”
Gomez-Neri has no plans on stopping her role as a teacher, as teaching is still her calling and she enjoys the lessons she gives on reading, writing and math.
“Teaching children the core subjects is making a good impact with kids,” she says. “It’s a challenge but a joy as well.”
There have been changes Gomez-Neri has seen while teaching the elementary grades, primarily that the curriculum has become more rigorous. And of course, technology has played a big part. At one point, everything was getting bigger, and now it’s getting smaller. Students are more tech-savvy, and she does have some who bring mobile phones that need to be checked in to the phone box. But overall, she is happy with Spreckels and the direction that leadership is taking the school.
While teaching at Spreckels, Gomez-Neri had the rare opportunity to teach her own children, which she really enjoyed. She also enjoyed living in the community, being close by, and having her kids attending the same school. You could also find her and her husband Raul watching their kids play at local soccer, football, baseball, and softball games, where they also volunteered. Many of her family members attended too, cheering on their grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
During those times I was her room parent, I also remember conversations with Gomez-Neri where she spoke of wanting four children. Back then she had two, and now she has four kids. She doesn’t claim to remember that, but it shows that this teacher knows how to make her dreams a reality.
“One Last Chance” is available for purchase on Amazon.
LA JOLLA WRITERS CONFERENCE
Gomez-Neri was able to publish her book after attending the annual La Jolla Writers Conference. The next event is Oct. 25-27 at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla. It offers more than 60 intimate classes to foster personalized attention taught by New York Times best-selling authors, literary agents, and industry experts. While attendees come from all over the United States and multiple countries to attend the annual event, the LJWC takes pride in advancing the careers of local writers and supporting local teachers and schools. In 2016, the LJWC started the Blakey Scholarship to provide full scholarships to teachers in area schools and local active/retired members of the military. Since then, they have provided more than a dozen full scholarships to those in the community. To apply for a Blakey Scholarship or attend the conference, visit lajollawritersconference.com.