COVID continues to wreak havoc on schools and challenge teachers, parents and students alike. But an earlier global pandemic also thwarted (kind of) the plans of FFT Fellows Kerensa Elzy, Andy Gomez and Eric Bethel. In 2009, as the teaching team designed a Fund for Teachers fellowship to learn more about the Singapore Math concept, Asia fell into the third global pandemic of the 20th century (after the Spanish Flu of 1918-20 and the Russian Flu of 1977). H1N1, also known as Swine Flu, shut down schools, conferences and countries’ borders — including Singapore’s. When the teaching trio landed first in Southeast Asia that June, everything they planned fell apart.
“They called our office from Thailand asking about options and turning back wasn’t one of them,” recalls Stephanie Ascherl, Fund for Teachers chief of staff. “Andy reached out to a friend who graduated from the University of Hong Kong and soon, armed with multiple contacts, the team pivoted to a new plan.”
“Often, a perfectly planned lesson will take a completely different direction than you intended,” said Andy. “But, more often than not, these detours lead you to discover something new and revealing about your students. Despite our fellowship’s detours, we learned not only about instructional techniques, but about our own strength to persevere and the common desire to see students succeed globally.”
Read more about their fellowship here.
Back at the Unidos Dual Language Charter School outside Atlanta, Andy focused on using newly-learned math strategies with English Language Learners. “If these students don’t understand, it is usually a language issue, not a math issue,” he said. This focus on bilingualism and biculturalism in education eventually led to his role as the Two Way Immersion Coordinator for Montgomery County Public Schools’ just north of Washington, DC.
“Teachers have to be flexible because you never know what will happen,” Andy reflected in his post-fellowship reporting. “You can plan as much as possible, but have to have an open mind and be ready and willing to do whatever necessary.”
This week, Kerensa (who is also Andy’s sister) let us know that Andy passed away earlier this month. “If it was not for him, Eric and I would not have been so intrepid to take on the challenge and advocacy required to embark on the FFT journey,” she said. We celebrate Andy’s dedication to the teaching profession and the students’ lives he surely changed.