In the eyes of his high school students, Robert Gabbitas' influence is measured more in his ability to help each student feel loved than by the knowledge shared in his classroom.
"He's the whole reason why Highland [High School] has stayed together," said one of his students. "Everybody loves [him]."Brother Gabbitas, or Senor as his students affectionately refer to him, retired in June after 35 years of teaching Spanish in the Kern County School District, and as a voluntary, early-morning seminary teacher in the Bakersfield, Calif., area.
During his years as a teacher, Brother Gabbitas taught an estimated 6,620 students. He remembers most, and said he made a conscious effort to make each student feel important. A collage of 200 photos adorned a classroom wall, while other pictures of senior portraits, prom photos and team portraits were filed in his desk drawer.
The ability of Brother Gabbitas to influence the many, stems from his ability to inspire the one.
"I never want a student to feel left out," he said. "I don't even like to have students out there eating lunch alone."
He attributes some of his deep-felt concern for his students to a movie he saw years ago. The movie portrayed a young boy who became alienated from his family and friends, and eventually died because of overwhelming depression and a lack of love.
"It's not like you're coming to class," explained another student. "It's like you're going to your grandpa's house."
In addition to his 6:15 a.m. seminary class and his Spanish classes, Brother Gabbitas teaches adult Spanish night classes and serves on two state foreign language education boards. He also serves as second counselor in the East Bakersfield Stake presidency.
Beyond his accomplishments, however, his students will remember his sense of care for them.
"You can't go to any school function, football games or whatever, without seeing Senor," said Jackie Thompson, a senior student in his seminary class.