As Luis Ramirez spoke of his mother's battle with dementia since 2009 and the new responsibilities he and his family took on while watching his mother's quality of life diminish, many of the 800 teachers sitting in the Conard High School auditorium fought back tears.
"It was a trying time," Ramirez said. "And while your story may be different from mine, I know many of you can relate to these times of feeling so stretched, so tired and so scared you don't know how you will show up and take care of our students and families, but you do.."
Named West Hartford's Teacher of the Year in May, SMITH Stem School social worker Ramirez said it was the kindness and compassion he sees in his children's interactions with his mother as she progresses deeper into dementia that reminds him of the students he interacts with — full of love, hope and compassion.
"As educators we have an important role to support the whole child. As we face difficult times in education or in our personal life, my hope is that we dig deep, believe in ourselves and the power that we have to make a difference," Ramirez said. "
As the school year starts in West Hartford on Wednesday, the state legislature has not finalized education funding. Noting the fiscal uncertainty, West Hartford School Board Vice Chair Cheryl Greenberg said the town's teachers have support behind them.
"There are rumors and threats and misconceptions and finger-pointing and a whole lot of scary numbers being thrown around, and it is scary," Greenberg said. "But behind all of us are the people of West Hartford. Our town is committed to the high quality of our schools."
Superintendent Tom Moore said Monday's convocation speech was a difficult one for him to prepare between the state's fiscal budget crisis and the violence in Charlottesville, but urged his staff to continue to advocate and fight for their students.
"We have to be peddlers of hope, we have to believe that tomorrow can get better, we have to believe the impossible is possible. ... Our kids cannot afford for a budget battle to defeat us," Moore said. "I believe in the goodness of humanity. I believe Charlottesville is waking people up, I believe that the budget crisis is waking people up to decide what's most important to us."
Student Josie LaForte, a senior at Hall High School and a daughter of a first-grade teacher at Morley and an Earth science teacher at Hall High School, noted some funny, quirky anecdotes she heard over the years.
"Someday after this whole state budget thing is all worked out and you've all since retired to Martha's Vineyard, one of your former students will be sitting on the floor of their attic with an old, dusty yearbook balanced on their lap looking at a page with your face on it, and they'll be reminiscing of you," LaForte said.
Gretchen Nelson, West Hartford Public Schools Director of Pupil Services, said 32 people have joined the school district either as teachers, administrators or staff this school year.