Longtime RPS Educator, Bunroth So, To Retire After Almost Four Decades

By Melissa Moore-Randall

On June 17, Bunroth So will begin his first of many future summer vacations as a retired teacher.  The dad of three and grandfather of two has decided to retire after  37 years in the Revere Public School district including six years at the Beachmont School and 31 years at the Garfield Community Magnet and Middle School. Bunroth is a Cambodian-American who immigrated from Cambodia in 1981. His journey to the United States is as amazing as his tenure with RPS. “I was so grateful to be able to immigrate thousands of miles from the war torn country. I am the first generation in my family to have attended schools and earned a high school diploma, bachelor degree, and M.Ed in the US.” Bunroth described himself as a hard working kid who attended both morning and afternoon sessions of school. Before, in between and after school, he would feed animals that his family raised including pigs, ducks, chickens, and dogs, as well as cater to the family’s vegetation. Bunroth came from a large family including three brothers and four sisters being the third child in the family which faced tragedy. “Unfortunately, my older brother was executed in 1976 by the Khmer Rouge due to his job with the Military Police. My youngest sister also died in 1977 due to severe illness and a lack of medication to help keep her healthy.” “My dad was the breadwinner of the family. He worked as a secretary of the Electric Company in Battambang Province for 27 years before the fall of the Khmer Republic into the hands of the Khmer Rouge. My mom stayed home taking care of the family, going to the market buying groceries and preparing 3 meals for the family. In addition, she would clean the house and hand wash my father’s and younger siblings’ clothes. My dad barely earned enough money to support our family during the civil war between the Khmer Republic, supported by the US government, and the Khmer Rouge, supported by the Communist Chinese government (1970 – 1975). But my dad managed to send all of us to school, although we dressed in ripped or patchy clothes. We, sometimes, would wear mismatched sandals just to keep our feet protected from walking on the bumpy gravel road to school.” Bunroth barely finished 9th grade when the Khmer Rouge took over the country on April 17, 1975. Like other Cambodian families, they were forced to leave the city to find new shelter in the rice fields 5 miles away from their home. “School and government buildings were modified and put into use as prisons and storages. During the three and a half years that the Khmer Rouge took control, my family and I were separated from one another into labor camps. Our days consisted of waking up at 5 am to work in the fields until 11:30 pm, stopping only for half hour lunch and dinner breaks.” He was reunited with his family in January 1979 when they were liberated from the Khmer Rouge by the Vietnamese Invasion. Once united, his family waited at the Thailand border in a refugee camp for about a year before they were selected in a lottery to resettle in America. Before they could travel to America, the family stayed in a holding center in the Philippines for 8 months where they received medical care and participated in orientations to prepare them for their new lives in the United States. They finally arrived in Massachusetts on July 21, 1981. “My siblings and I were enrolled in school. I attended South Boston High School and graduated in 1984 at the age of 23. Normally I wouldn’t have been able to attend high school due to my age, but because I had experienced 6 years of interrupted learning in Cambodia, I was allowed to enroll in public education.” Bunroth reflected on his career and his most rewarding experiences as an educator. “Over the years, I would say the most rewarding experience I have as a teacher is seeing students grow over the years and continue to challenge themselves. I’ve seen this even more so having taught the Stock Market elective where the students have to do extensive research before deciding on whether or not to buy or sell stock shares. And by far, the most memorable experience has been the fact that our students have earned the title of 5x Champions in the State-wide Middle School Stock Market Competition, earning Second place three times.” As an educator, he also faced challenges during his 37 year tenure. “Some of my biggest challenges as a teacher have been finding ways to transfer my teaching skills to remote learning. Figuring out the technical aspect of this was difficult, but I’m proud to say that I figured it out in the end. Following this, the next challenge was finding ways to keep students engaged in their learning after returning back to in person learning both last year and this school year – especially when students have come back from a year and a half of relying on technology and devices to engage with learning.” As Bunroth’s career winds down he said he will not miss the routine of getting up early in the morning to beat the morning traffic. “I prefer to feel relaxed before my teaching day starts and nothing throws that off more than running late and dealing with traffic. I will miss seeing and greeting my colleagues and students with a smile.” He also reflected on his colleagues as he prepares for his well-deserved retirement. “The entire GMS administrative staff and teachers I’ve worked with over the years are amazing people. But two colleagues I felt I have grown the closest to in my years as a teacher are Carla Buonopane and Candi Conley. These two have been extremely supportive to me. We have had each other’s backs through all the ups and downs we’ve experienced together in the last couple decades and I’ll miss them! Just a few more years, ladies!” In return, many of So’s colleagues spoke highly of him and his almost four decades in the Revere Public School system. Superintendent of Schools Dianne Kelly – “I’m so happy for Bunroth that he has reached this incredible milestone.  I was able to work closely with Bunroth when I was in the math department and then when I was math director.  He has been an incredible inspiration throughout my career in the Revere Public Schools – always willing to collaborate with colleagues, always challenging students to work hard, and always showing high expectations for everyone.  We will definitely miss him and his infectious smile.” Former Assistant Superintendent Ann Marie Costa –  “Bunroth So has been an invaluable educator to the RPS community and a role model to the students he has taught during his distinguished 37.6 year career with the district. A lifelong learner, he always took advantage of professional development opportunities even earning his Master’s Degree from Lesley College in 2018. He has been dedicated to his students, whether it be in the classroom, advisor to the very successful Stock Market Club, establishing a Running Club at GMS, or other aspects of community involvement.” Math Coach Candi Conley – “When I began my teaching career with the RPS in 1994, “Mr. So” helped me to not only survive the first year but he also helped me to thrive.  As my unofficial mentor and bilingual co-teacher, Bunroth taught me about Cambodian culture and the  difficult experiences that he and our students shared. He also taught me a lot about second language learners and gave me the tools I would need to reach and teach all of my students. I can’t thank him enough for that. I’ve never met a more patient, dedicated and empathetic teacher than Mr So. His shoes will be tough to fill.” Garfield Middle School teacher Carla Buonopane – “I have had the pleasure of working with Mr. So for the past 28 years at the Garfield Middle School.  We all know that people don’t go into teaching to make a lot of money.  People become teachers to make a difference to the students that are in their class to teach them that they can accomplish their goals and become whoever they want to be.  Mr. So did just that.  Each year Mr. So would teach the Stock Market Elective.  Students loved being in his class.  Each year they entered the Stock Market Exchange Contest and won!  Sometimes the hardest part about teaching is just getting kids interested in learning.  Mr. So never had that problem.  His Stock Market Elective, his teaching of math, and his relationship with many of the students made Mr. So a great teacher.  I wish him well (and wish it were me that was retiring) as he begins this new chapter in his life.  He will greatly be missed at Garfield Middle School. So has no immediate plans after retiring. “At the moment, I do not have any retirement plans. But one thing I know for sure is that I will continue to keep myself active (running, walking, bicycling, and hiking) and spend a lot of time with my family – especially with my two grandchildren. Future plans will be to visit my homeland, Cambodia, and travel around the states. I am so grateful to be able to immigrate thousands of miles from the war torn country. I am the first generation in my family to have attended schools and earned a high school diploma, bachelor degree, and M.Ed in the US. My last thought I’d like to impart comes from Lance Armstrong … if you ever get a second chance in life for something, you’ve got to go all the way.”

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