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Tom Poblete: He came back home to New London

Three words — the best words — that epitomize Tom Poblete:

He came home.

Born in New London, educated in New London, played basketball (a 1,000-point scorer) in New London. He could have applied his teaching degree from St. Anselm College in New Hampshire anywhere. But he returned to the 06320 to, as he says, "pay it forward."

Poblete, who graduated from New London High in 2000, was recently named the high school's Teacher of the Year.

"My dad (Tom) always made it a big deal to live in New London and stay in New London," Poblete said earlier this week. "He graduated from New London in '72 and had a lot of friends here. As time went on, some of his friends moved to the suburbs. My dad always felt it was important to stay here and instilled that in me at a young age. I'm lucky Lou Allen (the high school principal at the time) hired me."

That was 16 years ago. Poblete teaches social studies and has done some coaching as well. In spite of a frequently presented question — when are you going to move? — the young man who grew up near Pequot Chapel, now a husband and a dad — isn't going anywhere.

"I believe in New London Public Schools," Poblete said. "For me, I always wanted to send my kids through New London schools. I believe we produce excellent citizens. Through my 16 years, I've seen former students become doctors, scientists, Naval officers, dentists, lawyers. Every single year, New London High graduates kids who go to best colleges in the country. I've made it a point to stay here and send my kids here."

Now for today's understatement: Not everyone in this corner of the world shares Poblete's opinion about city schools. New London has been a regional punching bag for low test scores since forever. But if protests in our streets haven't taught us anything else in recent weeks, they've awakened us to this: An education is about totality, well beyond vapid standardized test score numbers. New London kids, simply through their experiences within a small, diverse city — and whose high school offers an Ethnic Studies class that ought to have folks from the burbs taking notes — own eclectic educations others are missing.

"The youth of today is more connected than any other generation," Poblete said. "Obviously, technology has a lot to do with that. I have faith in the kids today. They're becoming active with current events like never before. They're expressing what they want and are learning to speak out."

Perhaps kids who are being educated in New London — and Norwich as well — ought to consider education as a career. They are, of course, welcome to be the next Tom Poblete and return home. Or are their life experiences an even better fit for the suburbs, whose dwellers could benefit from more educational totality?

"Education in the classroom and even as a coach has changed a great deal since I was a student," Poblete said. "Everyone used to get treated the same. Held to the same standard. As a society, we are shifting. In education, it's very evident. We realize you can't teach and coach every student the same way. They all have different strengths and weaknesses.

"In the classroom, we've begun to modify our lessons. As a coach, the same thing. As a society, we are going through that period of adjustment. People's voices are being heard. We need to differentiate and recognize what other people are going through. We need to address the needs of all our students. All. Eventually, that will happen in the suburbs as well."

Happily for the 06320, Tom Poblete is home for good. He learned the "pay it forward" thing early. Now he is its best example.

"New London has a history of people paying it forward. It's the Whaler Pride thing of wanting to make it a better place," Poblete said. "Vaughn Dowsett was my Little League coach and never had any kids on the team. Roger Robinson, my rec basketball coach, is still coaching. His sons all coach now. Those are the people who make New London great. The youth football coaches who dedicate time, money, rides, food ... it's happened for years. (City councilor) Marty Olsen for years has come back to the high school to tutor kids. Valdez Madry, who I went to school with, runs a Christmas fundraiser to provide gifts for kids whose families don't have the money. I want to rise my kids in a community with people like this."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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