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Eva Poole-Gilson, Area Coordinator of Inyo County, Eulogizes Big Pine Classroom Teacher

Eulogy, in memory and honor of Gabrielle Guerrero Orsello

Honoring a late Big Pine teacher

By Eva Poole-Gilson

Special to The Inyo Register

Last year, 2019, Molly Fisk, poet laureate of Nevada County, California, received a grant from the Academy of American Poets to fund workshops to encourage students to write poems in response to our state’s recent wildfires. The grant funded 22 poets from California Poets in the Schools to lead the workshops.

That’s how I got involved. CPITS – founded in 1964 and originally housed at San Francisco State University – is the “umbrella” I’ve taught under for years. My work with CPITS, now called CalPoets, has brought me happy days – I’ve lost count of how many. It’s introduced me to many wonderful young students. And, ah yes, to many fine teachers.

For sure one of the sweetest of all was Gabrielle Guerrero Orsello.

I’d been in Lone Pine last Sept. 5, and as twilight came down, I headed north on U.S. Highway 395 back to my home in Bishop. Just a few miles beyond Independence and the old Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, I couldn’t help but notice in the darkening light a glowing golden orange rectangle high to my west, against the Sierra.

FIRE! Definitely. And definitely where it didn’t belong.

Alone in my little Honda I began taking deep breaths; I felt I couldn’t get enough air. Memory dropped meanly, quickly down on me: Feb. 5 and 6, 2015. That memory wrapped around me like a bad jacket; the long, tight hours with my dear friend from Swall Meadows who lost her home those days – in what came to be known as the Round Fire.

It was only a memory, but it was a choker.

The September 2019 fire I was riding toward eventually got named: “Taboose Fire.”

I kept a close eye on it for weeks, until it was considered “contained.” It was allowed to burn out. But it made me nervous for a long time.

It made me think of the Big Pine children who must have witnessed its shocking start as I had, and who must have continued to see its slow, smoky demise, as I had, for weeks.

I decided to see if I could take the Fisk program to them.

I called Big Pine School. “Who is the teacher of the fourth graders?” (I’ve always especially liked working with 9 and 10-year-olds. In my life, that’s when I met lifetime friends.)

Good fortune; Big Pine’s fourth grade teacher was Gabrielle Guerrero.

I didn’t know her, but I liked the sound of her name and asked straightaway to be connected. Thinking to be speedy and convincing, I launched right into what the Fisk program and I were about.

She broke in, “Oh that would be wonderful! We’re working on a poetry unit right now. You’ll fit right in! Let’s meet.”

For five magical days I witnessed Gabby’s rapport with her young students. She shared her energy, sensitivity, and knowledge with them minute by minute. She entered into their studies; everything they said, questioned, read – all of import to each of them was of essential importance to her also.

They responded with minute by minute respect, curiosity, and a wide willingness to learn. They took to sharing in the way that she modelled, the kind of risky sharing that poetry requests. Truly, Gabby was an outstanding teacher!