The story of Sharon Montoya’s early adult life reads like a traditional” boy-meets-girl” movie script.
Born in Brooklyn, Sharon received her B.A. from Brooklyn College and her M.A.in English as a Second Language (ESL) from Columbia’s Teachers College. She was unhappy working in New York City public schools because many of her students spoke Spanish and almost no English. She felt a little lost not knowing any Spanish and so decided to go to Madrid, Spain to learn the language. To earn a living, she taught English in a private language school.
“One young man, an artist, began writing me notes on his homework papers, asking whether he could take me to see the Prada Museum,” she recalled.“Thinking his advances were inappropriate, I asked to have him removed from my
class,” she said.
But he was persistent. Weeks later, while she was going down some steps to leave the school and he was going up, he stopped to talk to her, wanting to know why she had refused to have him in her class. “I was totally embarrassed,” she said. “I had to explain and justify what I had done." And then he asked whether he could walk her to the bus stop. ”And, that’s how it all began,” she said laughing.
True to the movie script, Manuel and Sharon were married two years later: not in Spain but in Gibraltar. “To get married in Franco’s Spain both parties had to be Roman Catholics, Sharon explained. . Gibraltar, which is British, had no such requirement so that’s where they decided to go.
But there’s more to getting married than making the decision. There are legal documents to be signed so they needed witnesses. ”We didn’t know anyone in Gibraltar so we had to ask people passing by whether they would come to the Registry Office to witness the signing of the marriage contract.”
At first, they lived in a small farming community of some 500 people where many of the old farmers spoke in aphorisms so she improved her Spanish. “We lived in an old granary, using a hot plate to cook on.” Sharon related. After almost a year of being a “Hippy,” Sharon said she missed the more traditional comforts of life so they moved to Segovia, a picturesque, historic city northwest of Madrid with a 2,000-year old Roman aqueduct and an old castle that Walt Disney used as a model for the film “Cinderella”. By then they had two sons. Sharon taught English in a girls’ high school, run by nuns, and also had a group of private students, doctors who were studying to pass U.S. Medical Board exams.
However, she wanted their children to have a better future, so they moved to Park Slope, Brooklyn where Sharon taught Spanish at Middle School 51. Her husband then returned to Spain for his art career, while Sharon stayed in New York with the children.
Once the kids were out of the house, Sharon decided to fulfill her dream of joining the Peace Corp. At age 59, she was accepted and assigned to the Philippines where she became an itinerant reading specialist, serving 12 schools in the province of Cavite.
“It was a demanding job because their only books were written on newsprint with line drawings and no color. When I had to stay overnight in a school far away, I slept with the lights on to keep the mosquitoes at bay. I developed a reading curriculum and, with the aid of a teacher/friend on Long Island, wrote to U.S. book publishers asking for donations for the province’s 200,000 school children. And I also spearheaded the creation of a mobile library system to circulate the books and worked with the teachers to label them according to grade level.”
When she returned from the Peace Corps, in 2002, Sharon taught ESL classes and Accent Correction at Long Island University, until she retired.
In 2020, GNPS recruited her to teach beginner Spanish classes. “Good Neighbors gave me a chance to meet new people, to be active and to be productive again.” And her students love her.