Reska: The Spine of Aquila

Betty Nguyen
The pineapple is Reska’s “logo.” Images of pineapples can be found decorating her entire office.

Editor’s Note: The following article is composed of experiences, anecdotes and quotes written by Aquila’s staff to demonstrate our appreciation for our advisor, Laura Gordon Reska, on her birthday. 

Timer in hand and agenda written on the board, journalism teacher Laura Gordon Reska starts seventh-period journalism with a smile.

Reska has taught UPA’s journalism class and served as the advisor for Aquila since 2013.

With a degree in Print Journalism from Cal State Fullerton and experience as a copy editor on the Daily Titan, Reska is a self-pronounced journalism nerd.

And on March 24, 2020, Reska turned an undisclosed age.

Throughout these past seven years, Reska has made a positive impact on every journalism student she has taught.

When senior Betty Nguyen first walked into Cornell for journalism on the first day of junior year, she never thought that the teacher she met at the classroom doorway would become one of her favorite teachers on the planet. To Nguyen, Reska seemed powerful, confident and accomplished. As Nguyen got to know Reska through working in Aquila, Nguyen learned how kind, loving and full of life Reska is. Reska has helped Nguyen so much these past few years, from editing articles to just offering life advice. 

“I wouldn’t have found my passion to pursue journalism in the future if it weren’t for Mrs. Reska,” Nguyen said. “She taught me how to be strong, how to never give up on pursuing something just because you’re afraid to or because someone else said ‘no.’ I can’t believe that in less than two months, I won’t get to sit in journalism class and hear Mrs. Reska say ‘housekeeping’ at the beginning of every seventh period of the week. Mrs. Reska, I’ll always cherish popping into your office every third period and talking to you about my journalism plans or just about my day. Thank you for being the glue to the Aquila family. I hope to make you and Aquila proud in the future.”

Nguyen is also very grateful that Reska wrote her letter of recommendation for college and that Reska is her first mentor and will always be her favorite mentor in the journalism business. 

Reska taught freshman Vidya Achar to be confident speaking to people she does not know and to keep asking questions until she finds answers.

“Mrs. Reska taught me the value of curiosity and finding answers to even the most daring of questions,” Achar said.

Reska has helped sophomore Sheyla Escalante grow so much throughout this year, and she has helped Escalante gain self-confidence around herself and others.

“I could never have found my love to speak in front of other people if it weren’t for Mrs. Reska,” Escalante said.

Reska is a dedicated teacher and passionate about the subject she teaches, inspiring many students, one of them being junior Akshara Kollu. 

“Journalism never intrigued me until I took Ms. Reska’s class,” Kollu said. “She’s taught me the importance of news and I always find myself excited for seventh-period journalism. I’ve grown my passion for writing and I’ve learned to get out of my comfort zone in Reska’s class.” 

Over the course of a year and a half, Reska taught sophomore Joe Shem to look for reasons instead of just being a bystander in a comfort zone.

“Things were always just the way they were and I could never find a venue for asking questions, and even if I did, I would just find an excuse to avoid it,” Shem said. “Mrs. Reska changed my attitude by making me excited to ask people questions.”

Reska has made journalism many people’s favorite class, including senior Luca Scarra.

“When I first joined, I was afraid of the workload and scared of writing, but with her help, I got really into it and blossomed into a stronger writer,” Scarra said. “She always pushed me to work harder because she knew my potential when I did not see it. Journalism has always been a fun and exciting environment for me to unwind if I had a rough day earlier at school, and I can thank Mrs. Reska for that.”

Through thick and thin, Reska has been a warm and encouraging presence in the lives of her students, especially for senior Arielle Rose-Finn. When they struggle with their work or just need a pick-me-up, she is readily there to give them support.

“She made sure I was okay on a day when nothing seemed to be going well for me,” Rose-Finn said. “I can feel that she genuinely cares for us, and I love that about her.”

Senior Kevin Benjume sees Reska as a loving and committed teacher who guides her students through times of confusion, helping students find their love for journalism and beyond. 

“I found my love of making videos through my journalism class,” Benjume said. “Mrs. Reska convinced me to make a YouTube video of a story I had in mind. As soon as I was in front of the camera, I knew this was exactly what I wanted to do. All thanks to Mrs. Reska.”

Reska is a kind and caring person who always livens up the class, even when students are stressed from finals, tests or deadlines. Freshman Ayush Rai is happy to walk into journalism with good vibes each day. She makes everyone feel on top of the world even when they feel they are stuck at the bottom.

“I’ve never felt so much energy in my final class of the day,” Rai said. “Each day in journalism packs an interesting punch that I have never really felt before, but I can really thank Mrs. Reska for that.”

While teachers are supposed to teach and look out for their students, it is evident that Reska goes the extra mile. She wants to make sure all her students are thriving and offers her complete support. If they are not, she makes sure to check up on them. Sophomore Melanie Rayas appreciates the positive support from Reska, especially when she is not feeling very confident. 

“I won’t ever forget that during the first weeks of journalism, Mrs. Reska came up to me and told me that she was proud of the work I was doing in her class. It made me feel so happy; it’s rare that a teacher goes to you personally to tell you that they’re proud of your work,” Rayas said. “Mrs. Reska has a unique relationship with each and every one of her students, a trait that not very many teachers share.”

During times of doubt, students can look to Reska to brighten their day with Reska’s warm and comforting presence as she works to build students up in the classroom. 

“Even though I’ve had Mrs. Reska for a semester and a half, she built my confidence in my journalistic ability,” sophomore Alyssa Garcia said. “One day she called me over to go over my article and I got really scared because I didn’t know if she liked it or not. To my surprise, she said, ‘Are you thinking of taking journalism again?’ To be honest, I thought I was really bad at writing and reporting, but she made me realize that I am good at what I do and built my confidence up. Everyone say ‘Happy Birthday Mrs. Reska!’”

Furthermore, Reska fosters an efficient and collaborative classroom where students are passionate about their work and supportive of their peers. She cares about her students and is always finding new ways to make learning more interesting and impactful.

“In my two years of journalism, Mrs. Reska has taught me not just how to be a better writer, but how to ask good questions, get out of my comfort zone, be more organized and be a part of a team,” junior Jenna Plasschaert said. “She often asks me how I am doing and reminds me that it is always okay to ask for help.”

Reska serves as an excellent example of how to help students during a time of crisis. She uses her tech-savviness to ensure a smooth transition to distance learning.

“She definitely understands the confusion and stress right now,” senior Aaron Janse said, “it’s great to have a teacher that can move work online while sacrificing neither learning nor student mental health.”

Reska continues to exceed her curriculum to further engage her students. The most notable of Reska’s teaching includes utilizing the value of curiosity. 

“Before I had Mrs. Reska as my teacher, I always suppressed my thoughts about why something happens or how something can be better,” junior Katherine Nguyen said. “However, she gave me a creative outlet I never knew I needed to express myself and reach out to the world. I am always constantly improving and exploring my capabilities because of the opportunities she provides. It has definitely been a joy being one of her students and I will always look forward to the end of the day when I can hear the words of ‘Housekeeping!’ Mrs. Reska has truly changed me for the better and I cannot thank her enough for that.”

When junior Chelsea Nguyen completed her sophomore courses form in her freshman year, she placed journalism as her fourth elective choice thinking that she would get Art 1 as one of her two electives, but high school counselor Dot Westerhoff placed her in Reska’s seventh-period journalism class. Nguyen asked Westerhoff about journalism and Westerhoff showed her the latest Aquila issue, which had a photo of milk tea as the cover. Nguyen continues to believe that Westerhoff was her fairy godmother at that moment because if she had not met Reska, she would not have discovered her passion for photojournalism.

“The reason why I dedicate so much time and effort into journalism is because I want to go beyond just one contribution and deliver a complete masterpiece that not only myself, but also Mrs. Reska would be proud of,” Nguyen said. “Journalism is not just an elective to me, it’s one of my passions, and I am forever grateful that I was put into this class my sophomore year because Mrs. Reska’s class has shown me to understand what hard work truly means and that it takes courage and determination to explore and accomplish new ideas. Mrs. Reska has created a community of persevering journalists with the same goals: to enhance Aquila and discover more about who we are as individuals. She is the key factor to the journalists we have become and one of the reasons why I want to pursue a career as a teacher and a side job as a photojournalist.”

It is a no-brainer that Reska does a phenomenal job of pushing students outside their safe bubble into the real world. 

“Mrs. Reska truly inspires me to put myself out there and get out of my comfort zone,” sophomore Romita Pakrasi said. “I would have never been able to do the interviews or reporting I did without her advice and guidance. It truly impacted my writing.”

She offers advice and has always been supportive to her class. Her words mean so much to students because of the impact they carry.

“I remember after I had published my first article online, Mrs. Reska came up to me and said she liked my article,” said Pakrasi. “I was so nervous I hadn’t done a good job, and her words really made me feel proud of my work. It pushed me to keep going, and write more articles, like I’m doing now.”

Reska has always been an inspiration to young journalists, pushing them to go find that story and supporting them through each and every challenge.

“I remember I would always get a ton of feedback on my articles and they always encouraged me to look deeper into the story,” sophomore Desiree Pekar said. “I wanted to be sure I was able to work through my challenges when writing each article, and Mrs. Reska helped me do that.” 

Reska has also always had a well-structured and efficient classroom, which is appreciated by the students. 

“I really like the class because I can always count on my teacher and peers to get their work done. I’ll never hear the word ‘housekeeping’ the same way again,” Pekar said. “I like how Mrs. Reska would always keep us included on Aquila and how she gave us a safe environment to learn in without fear of being judged or fear of making mistakes.”

Reska and her stories of traveling and experiences inspire students to live life to the fullest and not only to live but document it. This was the case for first-year journalism student Britney Stout. 

“I have found a new appreciation about being able to write and document the experiences I am fortunate to have been able to do over the past years,” Stout said. “I look forward to hearing what Mrs. Reska has to say every time I walk into Yale for the seventh period cause it is always lively and interesting.”

Reska’s curiosity and passion for journalism and teaching her students inspires them to do their best even when all hope seems lost.

“I would not be the same student I am today without journalism and Reska’s help,” sophomore Tiffany Tran said. “She always knows the right things to say to have her students do their best and is always encouraging them in times of struggle. She is one of the few teachers that actually cares about her students’ wellbeing and she trusts them to carry their own workload. She not only inspires us, she makes us feel like we’re not just some crazy teenagers who need micromanaging 24/7. She’s an awesome teacher and an awesome person.” 

Reska, a devoted and dedicated teacher who shows resilience in it all, takes an amazing approach, accommodates her students and is accurate in her teachings.  

“I’m grateful for her selfless acts of putting time and an immense amount of effort into this class,” junior Faith Montes De Oca said. “Her hard work and dedication that she puts into this class are reflected in the work Aquila produces. Her sacrifices do not go unnoticed and I’m very appreciative of the numerous skills she has taught me.”

Reska’s positive and upbeat attitude almost always makes going to journalism something to look forward to for sophomore Julia Wong. Reska also has fun team building activities that the students take part in; for example, adding a GIF to a Padlet board based on your mood.

“I took journalism last year, and I liked it, but what made me want to really take it again was that Mrs. Reska always tried to make the class interesting and mostly fun,” Wong said. “She’s also really supportive of what you’re doing and tries to help make it better, which is really nice.”

When signing up for classes, journalism tends to stick out to uninformed students as a boring newspaper class with a high workload. However, Reska’s journalism curriculum has proved to many students that journalism can be more than just a writing class.

 “Going into my first year of journalism I didn’t know what to expect,” senior Dylan Ziegler said. “I had only heard that there was a lot of work and a lot of writing.” 

The way Reska runs her class leaves students to explore their interests and express themselves through various mediums. 

“Mrs. Reska has given me the opportunity to pursue topics I’m interested in, and through mediums I enjoy,” Ziegler said. “Journalism allows me to have an outlet for creativity and self-expression that I don’t get in other classes, and I think that’s what makes Mrs. Reska’s journalism class so special.”

Reska’s brightness and passion help the students work harder and come excited to journalism every class. Her passion and curiosity makes it easier for students to discuss different topics with her.

 “I enjoy talking to Mrs. Reska,” sophomore Jenna Mi said. “I love being able to talk to her about real-world issues and her vast interest in topics. Her kindness always warmed my day even if it was the end of a long and tiring Friday.”

Reska is a very thoughtful person that dedicates tons of her time to the journalism class. She has a driven spirit and is very unique from other teachers. No matter the agenda for any class period, students know it has been well-planned. 

“She strays from the norm, and it makes her class more fun and interesting than other classes,” sophomore Mia Guevara said. “And when I am not feeling myself, Ms. Reska is one of the first to check up on me.”

Reska has taught freshman Akhila Ayyadevara to always ask questions and never just let things be. Reska has provided a community for Ayyadevara and has helped her be a more confident person. 

“Mrs. Reska has given me a place to put my thoughts on paper,” Ayyadevara said.

Reska’s ever-present positivity and cheerful smiles are always there to welcome her journalism students, or any student for that matter. Her fervor to see the best in her students in whatever they put their minds to keeps her students fixated on their work, and her open mind allows for easy communication of new ideas. 

Freshman Emma Fulton, who started her journalism adventure this school year, enjoys being able to easily converse with Reska.

“I like knowing that my thoughts and constructive input are always welcome, and that I can have an actual conversation with someone who’s open-minded,” said Fulton. “As someone who usually keeps to herself unless around close friends, I love how Mrs. Reska is always open for a quick chat, journalism-related or otherwise.”

Reska is very dedicated to her work as a journalist and a seminar leader and does not give up on what she wants. 

“I have known Mrs. Reska for three years I believe and, man, have I learned so much about not only her hard work and dedication into her classes but as well to every individual student in her class,” junior Evelyn Ramirez said. “Mrs. Reska has taught me not only how to be a great writer but also a great student and person as a whole. I learned that she is such a joyful person filled with so much talent. Being around her makes me the happiest person because I know I have at least one person to help me get through the tough four years at UPA. She always checks up on you and keeps you going to do your best. She really does bring out the good in everyone. I love and appreciate her so much and I can not thank her enough for how much she has helped me.” 

Reska has made every class of journalism interesting and valuable to the journalism course. She is very gracious and one can tell she wants to see her student succeed by the way she reaches out to her students, sometimes to check in with classwork and other times just to have a conversation and see how their day is going. 

“At the beginning of the year I didn’t know if I really wanted to be in the class, but Mrs. Reska just said ‘give it a try’ and ‘if you really don’t like it, you can switch out,’” senior Devon Bargas said. “She has always been very understanding, especially when it comes to pushing back due dates and for that, I am forever grateful. Over the course of this year, I have learned a great deal about journalism and events going on around the world and school because of this class.”

Reska is like a spine, flexible enough to allow an organism to move but strong enough to support it.

On the first day of journalism class in her freshman year, timid Janessa Ulug never would have dreamed that she would eventually become Managing Editor of Aquila. But with Reska’s continuous support, positive feedback and insight based on her own experience, sophomore Ulug was able to grow into the leader she is today.

“I remember getting edits from her on an in-depth I had written in my first year of journalism,” Ulug said. “She told me, ‘I’m telling you this because I respect you.’ That sense of just being taken seriously has stuck with me to this day, and it’s solidified this confidence in myself as a journalist.”

Reska leads by example in the classroom. She is a smart and strong role model who lets her own passion and excitement shine through as she teaches the art of journalism.

“You can really tell she’s just this fearless journalist, and very wise,” Ulug said. “From bonding over our shared love of em dashes to discussing edits on an article, she’s always proven to be this warm, energetic presence that I know I can rely on for support. Throughout my years with her, she’s pushed me to be the best writer and leader I can be. She’s encouraged me to explore underrepresented perspectives, and she’s helped me realize my passion for telling those stories. I’m forever grateful for that.”

Reska excels both as a leader and a mentor for leaders. Not only does she provide support for Aquila reporters but she fosters an environment where leaders can be cultivated, especially when it comes to the editorial board.

“As precise as I have learned to be with my words, I don’t know that I can accurately string together the right ones to communicate the extent of my appreciation for Mrs. Reska,” sophomore Alexandra Rozmarin said, who became co-Editor-in-Chief for the Aquila in the 2019-2020 school year.

During the first semester of Rozmarin’s freshman year, Reska asked the class to write her letters which she would later respond to. Rozmarin, running out of time and brainpower, asked about Reska’s favorite type of soup. 

“She took the time to answer so deeply and so honestly, writing about a celery soup she had on a safari in Serengeti,” Rozmarin said. “She taught me that the simplest of questions can show you the intricacies of a person and what makes them unique, which is one of the most important lessons a journalist can learn, and she didn’t do it by telling me but by showing me. She is the kind of person to genuinely care about what you have to say and make you feel listened to which embodies what it means to be a journalist. Any recognition I have gotten for my work I attribute to her because I would not be half the journalist I am had she not shown me the way.”

Reska has maintained a respectful, caring and motivated learning environment for all of the years that journalism has been active, especially when Aquila transitioned to a newsmagazine during senior Kristian Crowther’s first year in journalism in the 2017-2018 school year. He will have trouble forgetting Reska’s enthusiasm for journalism and benevolent guidance supplied to him from the moment he started as a sophomore reporter to co-Editor-in-Chief.

“After three years of production nights, cracking jokes in meetings, deep emotional rants and my occasional blunders as both an EIC and a person, I can confidently say that Mrs. Reska is like my mother away from home,” Crowther said. “While she won’t cook you food and instead taunts you with a delicious salad during EIC meetings, she is always there when you need her. When you make a mistake she is never mad but just disappointed, she gives amazing advice when you’re down and pushes you to not drown in self-pity. Mrs. Reska is someone that not only cares about her students but motivates them to be the best versions of themselves, and that is the kind of motivation that has kept me functioning when I walk into journalism each day despite what bricks life throws at me.”

No matter how many years pass by or how many students cycle in and out of her class, one thing is known for certain. Reska’s enthusiasm, benevolence and caring personality inside of the journalism classroom will continue to shine bright for each and every one of her students, an influence that will last much longer than a 36-week course.

“Not only did I end my three years on Aquila as a stronger writer, but as a leader and a person that’s confident in themself,” Crowther said. “Mrs. Reska has taught me to push past my mistakes and learn from them, to step out of my comfort zone, and most importantly, have fun while doing it,” Crowther said. “I have already drafted a mental list of the things and people I will miss when I leave UPA, and being on Aquila for three years and being under Mrs. Reska’s guidance is at the top of the list. Happy Birthday, Mrs. Reska, and I will miss you.”