This Former State Champion Gymnast Is Now Your English Teacher

Natalie Meins, Staff Writer

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When most people at Clairemont High School hear the name ‘Paula Riley,’ they think of an energetic and quirky AP Literature teacher who loves classic books and her two small dogs. However, many people don’t know that she was also a very accomplished dancer and gymnastics instructor for many decades. Although she is currently focused on bestowing knowledge to young teens in high school, Riley still fondly recalls her experiences as a dancer, and continues to incorporate these experiences into her daily life as a teacher.


For Riley, an experienced literature teacher in Clairemont San Diego, gymnastics was her first true passion, and it all started in second grade. “I grew up doing lots of physical activities…and was heavily involved in competitive gymnastics from elementary level all the way up until Senior year,” Riley explains. Growing up in Denver, Colorado, Riley did everything she could to involve herself in the wide world of gymnastics.


At just twelve years old, she walked every Saturday to her local recreation center and taught gymnastics lessons to toddlers. “My favorite event in gymnastics was something called the floor exercise.”This experience introduced her to dancing later in her schooling career by incorporating stylistic elements that were inspired by the artistic flow of dance. She even joined an elite dance group during high-school called the ‘Pom-Poms’.

After Riley graduated at 18, she attended Grossmont College as a part of the dancing program. There, she says, her life was changed forever. “The dance classes I took were ‘state-renowned,’ and people would come from all over to learn from some of the greatest dance teachers in the business.” Riley solidified her dancing skills at Grossmont, and this made a lasting impression on her. “That moment when all people start something new in their life, like when I first walked through the door of that gym… that program was just unbelievable.”


After college, Riley became a dance teacher, working at places such as ‘Kids in Action’ and ‘Harper’s Dance Studio,’ However, a time came when she knew that her dancing and gymnastics career was at an end; she felt that her body could no longer handle the physical toll that these activities took on her. She found her new passion in literature and books.


“Being a dance teacher…was awesome preparation. Being on-stage, learning how not to be afraid of everyone staring at you, was an aspect that really helped me to prepare for teaching AP Literature in the high-school setting.” Her enthusiasm, in fact, is something that Riley is renowned for at Clairemont High. One of her senior students, Emily Hascall, comments that “…she actually created a dance to help us remember a list of literary devices. It really helped me, and I still repeat it in my head sometimes when I write essays in class.”

When asked what she would have done differently if given the chance, Riley said that she ‘didn’t think she could say that out loud.’ However, she did say that dancing and gymnastics was a huge, integral part of her life. Through many competitions, win or loss, Riley stuck to her dream. Even when she decided to part ways with her childhood passion, she found new ways to include the creativity she had always been a part of in her new career.

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This Former State Champion Gymnast Is Now Your English Teacher