MEA member Owen Bondono pledged to spend his time as the newest Michigan Teacher of the Year (MTOY) lifting up marginalized voices and working to ensure no children get left behind as schools face the unique challenges of operating amid a global pandemic.
The ninth grade English Language Arts teacher from Oak Park’s Freshman Institute was named the 2020-21 MTOY on a virtual conference call attended by other finalists for the award, who are the Regional Teachers of the Year (RTOYs) named in April from each of 10 regions in the state.
“Personally my area of focus is always to uplift marginalized voices in our community, both as teachers and for our students,” Bondono said. “As a queer person I know firsthand the harm that can come to marginalized students in schools, and as someone who has made a career now of teaching black and brown children, I know the harm that they come to every day.”
Bondono has led training and organization within his building and district to improve climate and culture surrounding issues of equality and is a facilitator for LGBTQ Student Safe Spaces. He is also a member of the AntiRacist Leadership Institute and Resource Coordination Team (MTSS).
Principal Pam Vermiglio described Bondono as a “dynamic instructor” committed to his craft and his students. His focus on building strong relationships “encourages students to take risks which fosters heightened participation in a supportive environment.”
Selecting the MTOY is about more than picking the best teacher in Michigan – which is an impossible task anyway, said State Superintendent Michael Rice. The Michigan Teacher of the Year is an important ally and advocate for educators and students.
“We’re raising up a new generation, and ours is the most important profession as a result of that,” Rice said. “To all of our Regional Teachers of the Year – you are all leaders and we appreciate you. We’re going to count on you even more than we might have normally counted on you… given the trying times in which we find ourselves.”
Bondono, who will enter his sixth year of teaching in the fall after working four years as a paraprofessional, said that last spring educators across the state did “something extraordinary that we were never prepared for” in turning suddenly to remote learning as the novel coronavirus took hold in the state.
Going forward, he added, “A concern will be making sure everyone has an equitable school experience through the pandemic, whatever that looks like for each area and each district. We are going to have a unique set of challenges and making sure that no one gets left behind is going to be a bigger challenge than ever.”
Bondono’s selection as the 2020-21 MTOY began with the nomination of more than 400 teachers last fall. The field was narrowed to 10 RTOYs in April. Each RTOY then interviewed with a panel of education stakeholders, presented a short professional development module, and answered questions on a range of topics relevant to issues faced by teachers today.
“Every teacher has their own purpose, and once you find it, let it be a guiding light for every decision you make in your classroom.” Bondono wrote in his MTOY application. “Ultimately, teaching is an expression of my love of humanity. My way of making my mark on the world is making the next generation better. I know that growing the next generation of humanity is a community effort, so I will create that community wherever I find it.
“If we could provide every student with a classroom where they feel safe and seen, we would see learning increase by any metric,” said Bondono.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers like Bondono have shown an unwavering commitment to Michigan’s children.
“Owen is a shining example of the teachers who have stepped up and found creative ways to reach and educate our students,” Whitmer said. “I’m proud to know that whether we’re in the midst of a global pandemic or not, there are teachers across the state who will go to the ends of the earth to ensure our kids get a great education.”
The RTOYs will serve together during the upcoming school year as the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher Leadership Advisory Council (MTLAC). During their year of service, the RTOYs ensure the voices of teachers are present in discussions about solutions for pressing issues facing schools and children.
In addition to his work on the MTLAC, Bondono will engage in discussions with a non-voting seat at the monthly State Board of Education meetings and as a member of the Governor’s Educator Advisory Council. Bondono is also the state’s candidate for the prestigious National Teacher of the Year award.