Horses Can Fly


Photo Credit: Glen Echo Staff

“Sponz Alley” is located in the art hallway.

by Ken Kerbs, Glen Echo Staff 1975-1978

For a college class I’m taking in education, I had to watch a film about a successful Broadway singer, William Martinez, whose life was changed by his 8th grade music teacher. It brought back a lot of raw feelings I had (and still have) for my Glen Rock High School yearbook adviser and art teacher, Alan Sponzilli, who we all addressed by his nickname, Sponz.

Martinez shared that his choir teacher complimented his voice at a time when he could barely muster a sound. But when he finally did, her encouragement gave him a burst of confidence to pursue singing even while his deaf mother was initially dismissive of his wishes.

My “Sponz” saw that I was a budding photographer and in 10th grade pulled me aside to recruit me to shoot for the yearbook. He was the type of teacher who went out of his way for his students–and me.

For example, one day I was telling him that a galloping horse left the ground on all fours. Maybe he was playing devil’s advocate, but he emphatically said, “No way!” I said I could prove it to him if only I could find a motor drive that fit my camera.

When I saw him the next time, he had a package on his desk for me. He had gone out of his way to rent a motor drive that did indeed match my camera. It could fire off four frames per second.

I looked at him in shock thinking, “Wow. You did that for me?”

He said, [I’m paraphrasing because it was over 40 years ago], to go find him a horse and prove that it can fly. And so I did. Horses became a theme in our 1978 yearbook, so whenever I look through it I remember with glee that amazing gesture which touched me dearly.

I have his obituary laminated on my wall behind my desk as I now teach high school photojournalism in South Central Los Angeles. He passed away in 2005. I know he would be proud of me having given up my career as a photographer earlier than I ever thought I would to become a Career Technical Educator attempting to bring my passion for photography and journalism to today’s young people.

Just like young William’s choir teacher, who passed on to William a new kind of energy and a love for music and voice, my Sponz knew that acts of kindness could change a life. In fact, both teachers have changed hundreds, if not thousands, of lives throughout their careers.

I often wonder where I would be today had it not been for this one teacher in my life. We stayed in touch throughout my college days and beyond (he got to meet my three sons in 1999.)

But his legacy has taught me that teaching is passing on inspiration–a source of power that lives in one’s heart. Hopefully, I can live up to that and give “it” to some of my students. I am a true believer in Martinez’s story just as I’m adamant that Sponz is watching my every move.

When I hand out cameras to my students, I tell them to try to see their world in a way they haven’t before. “Trust what your eyes see,” I say. I’ve begun to see, in my first year of teaching, just how that works and it makes me full of joy to follow in Sponz’s footsteps.