From club hockey to Honors Physics to Quasimodo, Darik Vélez is part of it
It’s Monday afternoon, and science faculty member Darik Vélez is cutting through the Friedman Community Center on his way back to Simpson, where he serves as head of house and lives with his family. As he walks through Raffini Commons, he stops to greet one of his current students.
Vélez asks Fifth Former Paige Adams how she’s enjoying his Honors Physics course. The answer is a surprise. “I’m taking your class because you were my club hockey coach,” admits Adams.
It turns out Adams needed to take physics to satisfy course requirements, but knowing Vélez through her athletic commitment helped her leap into the honors class. “Mr. Vélez was always fun and supportive and worked hard to make sure that we all improved regardless of where we started in our hockey experience," says Adams, a confessed poor skater. “After already having had such a positive experience with Mr. Vélez, I decided to sign up for his class. He has brought the same energy to class as he had during club hockey season, and he has been a supportive mentor as well as a phenomenal teacher. I have learned a lot in his class and always look forward to it.”
All students must participate in sports during their time at SPS, and Vélez likes to think that club hockey is the best option offered. "Some have never tied skates before or they are varsity athletes where this is not their sport, and they’ve never skated before,” says Vélez. “You never know what is going to happen. The pretense of ‘we must succeed’ gets erased in club hockey.”
For Vélez, there is no final destination in education – it is a continuous learning process. “Students ask me, ‘how do you teach the same thing every year?’ It’s an excuse to discuss interesting things with interesting people,” says Vélez.
Vélez hails from a family of educators – both of his parents were professors at Dartmouth; his father a neurobiologist and his mother a Spanish instructor – but their influence wasn’t what led him to pursue teaching. “The first time I saw the potential of leading a classroom was in a college physics class,” says Vélez, who holds a B.A. in astrophysics from Williams College and master’s in astronomy from Wesleyan University. “I had so much fun being able to explain what I had learned. It’s fun to share the experience with them and watch them realize that they can get it. It’s invigorating to share that experience with others.”
Outside of his School duties, Vélez is an award-winning performer on the New Hampshire theater scene – he took home a New Hampshire Theatre Award for best actor last year for his role as Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre Dame with the Concord Community Players. It’s an extension of his belief in the value of exploration in all walks of life. “I don’t like being put in a box,” says Vélez. “I always want to break molds and encourage students to do the same.”