When Gerry Kuroghlian retired in 2008 after 43 years as a Staples English teacher, he knew he would not spend leisurely hours playing golf.
If you know “Dr. K” — and everyone in Westport does — you’d know he’s not a leisurely guy. And he is definitely not a golfer.
As soon as he left Staples, Kuroghlian headed in the opposite direction: to Bridgeport, the city where he was born and spent his early years. Following the lead of Westporters he knew and admired — Dick Leonard, Doris Shiller and dozens of others — he volunteered at Mercy Learning Center.
Last year he taught GED classes at the much-heraled women’s literacy and life-skills center. This year he’s teaching English as a Second Language — influencing (and learning from) women from Mexico, Bangladesh and all points in between.
“These are heroic people,” Kuroghlian says admiringly.
“They’re moms, housekeepers, breadwinners — they do it all. They’ve got multi-tasking down to a science.
Kuroghlian calls these women “the best students I’ve ever had.” They get up, get their kids ready for school, catch a city bus, and arrive promptly by 9 a.m.
“No one is ever late. No one ever has not done the homework,” he says admiringly. “They’re motivated to learn, and they’re completely unafraid to ask questions if they don’t understand something. They’re amazing.”
After class, the women work on computers. They also go on field trips.
Kuroghlian recently took them to the library. They paid particular attention to the children’s section, where they learned how to get library cards for their kids.
“These woman are totally motivated to improve the lives of their children,” he says.
But Mercy Learning Center is only part of Kuroghlian’s rich life. He also volunteers at Kolbe Cathedral, the small parochial school in Bridgeport.
Westporter Bill Mitchell got Kuroghlian involved. Mitchell is a “Shepherd” — someone who provides financial assistance and mentorship to a student during his 4 years at Kolbe — and when he introduced Kuroghlian to the school and its students, “Dr. K” was hooked.
The English instructor works with all 60 seniors on their college essays. He offers an objective eye, and a lifetime of experience in helping the Bridgeport teenagers bring personal, individual voices to their writing.
“They’re great kids,” Kuroghlian says. “They’re unbelievably polite, with firm handshakes — boys and girls. They all have jobs, and do an incredible job balancing school, sports and work.”
Having watched Bridgeport decline so far from its heyday, Kuroghlian feels good about his current work — and the women and teens he works with.
“In Bridgeport, education is seen as a privilege — not something to take for granted.
“As a teacher, I’ve never felt more valued. I’m rewarded not with money, but with thanks.
“The women at Mercy want a better life for their kids, and the kids at Kolbe want a better life for themselves.
“They all realize that education is their only way out, and they’re all killing themselves to get an education. It’s a wonderful environment to be in.”