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A science teacher’s success

When Erick Hueck learned that one of his students had been kicked out of the house for fighting with his stepfather, the high school science teacher did more than his job required: He found the young man a new home. Hueck, who teaches at Miami Senior High School, asked his sister to take in the student who dreamed of becoming a teacher. Together, Hueck and his sister became the young man’s surrogate family, and he thrived under their care. He graduated from the University of Florida and now teaches at a public school in Houston. Five years after taking him under his wing, Hueck still keeps in touch with this student who continues to tell his former teacher: “If it wasn’t for you, if it wasn’t for you. …”

Erick Hueck

Erick Hueck guides one of his chemistry students at Miami Senior High School.

In his 24 years at Miami Senior High, Hueck has heard many students express a similar sentiment. The school enrolls mostly low-income students; many are Hispanic, immigrants or the children of immigrants. Many parents have neither the time nor the ability to help their children with schoolwork. Often, they work two jobs just to make ends meet. Students and their families appreciate the support Hueck gives them: his advice on where to go to college, his guidance through the college application process, the time he takes writing letters of recommendation. Parents will tell him, “Thank you so much. My kids love your class. They know you’re dedicated.”

Hueck, who has a doctorate in educational leadership and has taught a range of courses—biology, earth and space science, general science—teaches AP and honors chemistry. He also chairs the science department and heads the AP and gifted programs. Over the years, the school’s valedictorians and salutatorians have chosen Hueck 15 times as the teacher who has made the biggest difference in their lives. In 2003, he was named regional teacher of the year.

The award-winning teacher had not always planned to pursue a career in education. After college, Hueck was accepted to dental and pharmacy school, as well as medical school, but realized he would find teaching more rewarding. He recalls that in college he enjoyed tutoring his fraternity brothers, who told him he made things easy to understand.

Among the most gratifying parts of his job is when former students return to the school. A young woman now at Amherst College visits during Christmas to tell Hueck how well she’s doing. A young man now at the University of Pennsylvania stops by to tell him the same thing. And a former struggling student who’s now an auto mechanic comes in to thank him for not giving up on him and offers to fix his car.

Alexander Pena will soon join their ranks. A 2011 graduate of Miami Senior High, he will attend Williams College this fall. Pena, who took Hueck’s AP chemistry class, says his teacher made the subject both accessible and enjoyable. “I’m not really a science student,” says Pena, who prefers English. “But I really enjoyed my AP chemistry experience. I might even consider a career in science.”

Pena will likely discuss that option with Hueck during visits home. One afternoon in late August, he’s already getting a head start on such visits. Before leaving for college, he has stopped by Hueck’s office to say goodbye.