Raquel Laiz is many things; a mother, a dancer, a wife, a lover of the outdoors. To the students and staff of Franklin High School, she is the heart of college and career exploration, opportunities, and connections. Every college visit, career oriented field trip, or event at Franklin that is in any way related to learning more about the opportunities after high school, is organized by Laiz. “It takes a lot of time to organize all of the little pieces,” Laiz comments. When putting together a field trip, she must account for safety, snacks, transportation, communication with students, teachers, and staff at the company hosting the field trip to make sure everyone is on the same page and has everything they need. Laiz does all of this and more with a bright smile lighting up her face. On top of all the organization and reaching out that must be done to ensure all the events go smoothly, Laiz is always there to support her students in every way she can. If a student needs to talk to her, she’ll put everything on hold to listen and provide them the help they need.
Laiz’s strong work ethic is rooted in a steady haul of faculty (equivalent to Advanced Placement) science classes in high school that were rigidly pushed by her mother. She went to the local high school and college in Camaguey, the Cuban village she grew up in. She was a dedicated student, and always strived for good grades. In addition to high level courses, Laiz was “very active in culture,” participating in school plays and a Salsa Rounds team with which she placed second at nationals. Despite the fact that her mother repeatedly told her she should pursue a future in teaching, her love for the arts did not spread to education until later in life. After a teacher convinced her lawyers did not always follow the rules, but helped to change them, Laiz began work on a legal degree, which morphed into a major in business and economics. When she was in her late twenties, Laiz returned to Camaguey University to teach Ancient History and fell in love with the teaching career just as her mother predicted. However, once she started a family of her own, she moved her teaching career to America so that her three children could grow up with more freedom.
Family has always been incredibly important to Laiz. Her youngest son lives at home and is in his senior year at Portland State University (PSU). All three children graduated from Franklin High School, and her two eldest children live nearby in Gresham or Portland proper. Her family is very tight-knit, and always make space in their busy schedules for spending quality time together. Laiz loves to spend time outdoors and goes on frequent hikes and lunch dates with her children and husband, or babysits her grandchildren. Her family is her number one priority, but time alone is important as well. Laiz loves to learn, and is currently reading a book about the different types of heart surgery that she finds fascinating despite never being able to watch medical procedures such as surgery. In high school, Laiz wanted to be a dentist. However, once she shadowed a dentist and found that she fainted at the sight of blood, she decided to consider less messy professions.
All three of Laiz’s kids are passionate and hard-working, often with up to 55 hour work weeks, much like herself. She usually arrives at school by 7:30 am and may be there until four or five every evening. After the school day is over, she spends a couple of hours writing reports or emails, and completing the basic paperwork that gets put on hold throughout the day for her students. One of the highlights of every day for Laiz is hearing a student say “good morning Raquel!” as she arrives at work. Starting on December 3rd, Laiz will be taking on the roles of College and Career Coordinator and Latino Community Outreach at Portland Public School district headquarters, BESC. Although she will miss Franklin, she is excited about her new job in spite of some stark changes. At Franklin she has a private office and lobby space with tall glass windows on a beautiful campus; at BESC she has a single cubicle quietly tucked into a room with countless other people who are just as passionate about their jobs as she is. She will miss her direct relationships with her students the most, but she looks forward to working on creating systems that will support students on a much larger scale. Franklin’s manufacturing teacher Myron Ryan says he is “sad for Franklin, but thrilled for [Laiz] with this great opportunity.” When Ryan first joined the Franklin staff, Laiz helped raise the program to its full potential by raising a $7000 grant from Daimler Tech to buy a plasma cutter that is the backbone of the Advanced Metal student run business that still operates today.
Laiz considers the Franklin community to be her extended family. Though she will be working 20 minutes away from them from now on, she will not be so far that students or staff can’t visit her just to wish her a good morning once in a while. The impact she made on each and every student will last forever. “Raquel was always there when I had questions about my future. I have a different situation in my life and she helped me find those resources that I needed and would not have been able to find without her,” says Jade Zonor-Halonen (11). Laiz will always be a part of the Franklin family; she’s just extending her family to reach not only the students and staff of Franklin High School, but of the entire Portland Public Schools district.
Raquel Laiz (former College and Career Coordinator of Franklin High School) works with students to prepare for leading counselors from across the district on tours of the school’s state of the art Career and Technical Education programs. Photo taken by Lani Vandehey.