TEWKSBURY — As the 2020-2021 academic year starts, many wonder how you go back to school in a midst of a global pandemic. How do we ensure that kids wear and keep on their masks? What do we do if someone in the school gets COVID-19? How will we track it?
Conner Bourgoin, an English teacher and Class of 2021 Advisor at Tewksbury Memorial High School, talked about the recent rallies organized by the Tewksbury Teachers Association, and his thoughts on the upcoming school year.
When asked about the process of organizing the rally, Bourgoin stated, “We had a lot of teachers that agreed we needed to take action in order to show solidarity, so we got together and planned this great idea for a rally.”
Bourgoin remarked on how successful the rallies were in terms of attendance.
“A supermajority of the Tewksbury Teachers Association (nearing almost all) were in attendance, and some parents showed up to the afternoon rally. It was wonderful to see everyone come together.”
But what was the reason for the rally?
“We protested because we still do not have a memorandum of agreement to work under COVID-19 conditions. Whenever work conditions change, they need to be bargained between the School Committee/superintendent and the Tewksbury Teachers Association. As of Sept. 2, no memorandum has been agreed to for hybrid teaching, yet we still had to report into buildings that we had not believed were completely bargained to meet both sides' criteria of being safe.”
According to Bourgoin, the reopening plan for Tewksbury Memorial High School looks like this: “Schools are going to do a hybrid half-day to start. Students are separated into two cohorts. One cohort meets Monday and Tuesday, all are remote Wednesday, and the other cohort meets Thursday and Friday. The opposite cohort will be taught remotely on days they are not in the building.”
Bourgoin also offered what he would have liked to see happen in terms of reopening.
“In a perfect world, most teachers would want to teach remotely until it's safe to go back into the building. Hybrid learning adds a lot more planning on teachers and it will likely be difficult for students to manage, and students are in the building for a very little amount of time (twice a week for four hours each).
Of course, as with any event or rally, there was opposition, as Bourgoin explains.
“There was absolutely opposition from people on social media, along with a few passers-by of each school. Overall, though, I would say most passers-by, whether pedestrians or drivers, were very supportive. Administration gave no direct push-back to our protesting. Some building administrators seemed to support us. I really appreciate that, as do many teachers.”
Bourgoin also took a moment to give thanks to those involved with the cause.
“I would like to thank everyone who organized the two rallies. This team was actually put together within two weeks. That's incredible. Union leadership deserves a huge thanks, also. The union president, Josh Bilodeau, and vice presidents, Lisa Zullo and Julie Taggart, are excellent leaders. Along with them, everyone on the Memorandum of Agreement bargaining team deserves a huge thanks.”
With many districts going back on hybrid plans and choosing to go remote, Bourgoin used that to make a prediction about what lies ahead for Tewksbury Memorial High School.
“I feel with flu season coming up, most districts will go through a phase of remote learning at some point.”
When asked about the response he has seen to reopening plans and the protest, Bourgoin explained:
“The Tewksbury Teachers' Association's focus has always been at a local level, and we've listened to the many opinions that Tewksbury residents and fellow teachers have. Our one goal, through it all, is to ensure that all students and staff are safe.”
Bourgoin elaborated on how he, as a teacher, feels about the upcoming school year.
“I am looking forward to teaching again — it's going to be very challenging, especially under hybrid learning. That's, at times, going to be twice the preparation (since you're getting ready for students at home and students in your classroom). A lot of teachers are very nervous about getting sick or having to quarantine, however, and rightfully so, but as the case is every year, we are always excited to meet our new students, whether in a remote or hybrid manner.”
Bourgoin is also the class advisor for the Class of 2021, which means he was designated four years ago to oversee the planning of their fundraising and events such as junior prom and senior week, with the elected officers. When asked about the plans for his senior class, Bourgoin remained optimistic.
“I'm very excited to celebrate with the senior class, alongside Ms. Lindsey Bowden White, my co-advisor. We have some very fun events planned for TMHS senior week, and we are hoping that not even COVID-19 can stop our Spring 2021 plans.”
Bourgoin also reflected on how the events of 2020, such as COVID-19, and the Black Lives Matter movement, has changed the way he teaches.
“I always try to include different texts that advocate for diversity in my classroom, and I also try to evaluate which authors I use (there are plenty of white male authors), and the BLM movement has really made me want to do that in full force this year. Another teacher and I want to work on making units primarily based around Black voices (whether that be poetry, short story, novel, etc). It's so important to teach students, especially in Tewksbury, perspective from other backgrounds, races, and ethnicities; but more importantly, it's important to create a curriculum that is inclusive and make all students, whether BlPOC or LGBTQ+, feel safe and heard. COVID has definitely made me more savvy with teaching through different online media.”
Finally, Bourgoin had some words for students, families and teachers who are nervous about the upcoming school year.
“I truly think we are going to get through it. It's going to be hard. It's going to be a rollercoaster at times, but we are in this together, and I am very lucky to work in a building with such a strong sense of community. I know we will support each other through it all.”
It will, without a doubt, be an interesting year for everyone involved in school systems, ranging from administrators, to faculty, to students and their families. But it is incredible and inspiring to see teachers, such as Conner Bourgoin, come together in solidarity for the safety of their students and themselves.