In high school, my family and I uprooted and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. With the move came a change in scenery and a new school to grow accustomed to. Abruptly entering a sea of unfamiliar faces, the experience was traumatic, and I found myself feeling all alone. Fortunately, theater quickly became an outlet for me to express myself, and to find community.

At the same time, I was new to acting and had certainly never considered myself a singer. For this reason, when auditioning for the school play, you can imagine my surprise when our teacher selected me for the lead role. Here I was, in the running against a student who had been the lead in every school play in his career, and Mr. Allred chose me. I was delighted.

The rush didn’t last long. The other student, as surprised as I was, immediately turned his shock and anger to me, shouting a nonsensical racial slur about my Japanese descent.

Fortunately, Mr. Allred didn’t tolerate the language. He stuck up for me and punished the student for his hurtful language. He supported me, and validated the fact that I had earned the role in the play, fair and square.

Throughout my high school years, Mr. Allred looked out for my best interests, and supported me as I chased my dreams. After high school, he even helped me audition for, and earn, a scholarship for acting.

Twenty years after I graduated high school, and long after the trials and tribulations of my teenage years were behind me, my father passed away. At the funeral, and seemingly out of nowhere, in walked Mr. Allred. All these years later, he was there when I needed him, letting me know I was not alone.

It’s passion from educators like Mr. Allred that continue to fuel my dedication to life-long education to this day. I was fortunate throughout my educational journey to have teacher mentors every step of the way, believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. After all, that’s what education is all about—changing lives. It’s about developing not just the mind, but the person.

As a teacher at Fusion Lake Forest, it’s my deepest desire to see my students succeed. That’s what resonates with me about the Fusion model. Fusion teachers and administrators focus on helping the whole student succeed, not only in academics, but in life.

After 30 years in various roles in education, it didn’t take long for me to realize what set Fusion apart: it’s love. Love in the classroom stems from Fusion Founder Michelle Rose-Gilman, and flows passionately through campus leadership and into the lives of our students. Our administrators don’t just exemplify love in the classroom—they live it.

At Fusion, I feel motivated, cared for and loved, and I know my students feel it, too.

Gary Fujino is a Humanities & Japanese Teacher/Mentor at Fusion Academy Lake Forest. He grew up with a passion for the humanities so teaching Japanese, as well as history and English, at the Chicago-Lake Forest campus allows him to exercise some of that love.  He has a bachelor’s of fine art in theatre from the University of Utah, as well as a master’s of theology from Dallas Seminary and an intercultural studies degree from Trinity International University in Deerfield.  Gary loves to connect with people, especially in the classroom.  He taught Japanese in the Dallas area public school system and has also taught English as a Second Language cross-culturally in Japan.

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