By CATHY MOUNCE, Register Staff Writer
It is over 7,000 miles from the west African country of Congo to Gainesville but for Gainesville High School (GHS) math teacher John Kabongo it was well worth the trip.
At the March 18 school board meeting he was named ‘Teacher of the Month’ for the Gainesville Independent School District. (GISD)
In his introduction of Kabongo to the board high school principal David Glancy said, “John is simply one of the best teachers I have ever seen.”
Kabongo attributes his success to his parents who taught him to be self reliant and to always have high expectations for himself.
“My parents did not pressure me to succeed,” Kabongo said. “It was just understood and what we did. My father led our family by example and we all knew we had to try and do our best.”
Kabongo’s father gave up a good job in the Congo to find a better place for his four children in America since opportunity there was limited.
“My father came first to America to prepare the proper paperwork for the rest of the family to follow,” Kabongo recalled. “We sold everything and our first stop in the United States was at New York when I was 13.”
The warm equatorial climate of the Congo did not prepare the family for the cold winter weather of New York.
“We had jackets of course but when we got off the plane we thought at first we were dying,” Kabongo laughed. “We did not know what was happening when our ears turned numb. Then our fingers. We had never experienced cold before. A stranger had to explain to us what was happening.”
The Kabongo family moved to warmer Texas and settled near Eagle Mountain. Kabongo graduated from Boswell High School (BHS) in the Eagle Mountain Independent School District.
“BHS Pioneer coach John Abendschan inspired me,” Kabongo said. “He taught math and algebra. I have not seen him since I graduated but I will go back some day to thank him.”
“I did not speak English very well since my native Congo languages were French and Lingala so I had challenges with English and history and other courses requiring a better English understanding. But in math you do not have to speak it to understand. I grasped the concepts and after graduation from Boswell I attended The University of North Texas (UNT) and majored in Computer Science.”
Kabongo also participated in a special teaching program at UNT to train effective and highly qualified teachers. He spent three months student teaching in the Fort Worth school district prior to coming to the Gainesville campus.
In only his second semester at GHS, Kabongo has become a pioneer again as he brings new teaching techniques to his students, many who also have challenges with English. He soon learned that flexibility was required in teaching students with varied backgrounds.
“I know what they are going through trying to learn as I have been there also,” Kabongo said. “It is important that I retain their attention and will use whatever means necessary to communicate to them whether it is by language, hand gestures or new technology.”
One of the new technological tools Kabongo is using is a ‘smart board’ which involves an interactive white board and computer program.
“It's a great tool for me because it allows the kids to see the work step by step while they are doing their work,” he said. “It helps the visual learners by looking at the work instead of just listening to me and the student can interact with it. I love it.”
Kabongo is the third of four children in his family and is taking care of his mother and a younger sister. Older twin siblings, a brother and sister, have productive lives of their own.
“When we first came here, my father found a job working in a donut shop to provide for us. It was not what he was used to but he was not too proud to work there. Recently he returned to Congo to accept a job opportunity. Once my little sister graduates high school I think my mother will go back there to be with him.”
Once a die-hard soccer player, Kabongo now loves the Indianapolis Colts football team and especially enjoys Miami Heat basketball.
Kabongo, a Christian, met his future wife at a church in Arlington. His wife is also from Congo and they are planning a September wedding.
“When I first moved here, I did miss my friends and family,” he said. “But I am thankful for the opportunities that I have been given and for what my parents sacrificed for me. I have not been back to Congo since I left but hope to return some day to visit, perhaps to show my children the land of their roots. I look forward to it.”
Chad Henderson, media representative for Gainesville ISD prepared a video about John Gabongo’s journey to Texas.
To view the video, visit GISD’s YouTube channel at >www.youtube.com/gainesvilleisd<http://www.youtube.com/gainesvilleisd>.