By Radhika Viswanathan
For many students, social studies teacher Mr. Joseph Ko is much more than a teacher. Students know his door is open—at any hour of the day—whether they are looking for a warm person to talk to or looking for a warm cookie to munch on. When a teacher like Mr. Ko has formed such strong relationships with students, it’s hard to imagine how the environment at South would be without him around. This hypothetical became a reality on March 16, when Mr. Ko underwent sudden open heart surgery.
This news was a huge shock to students and faculty alike. Principal Susan Elliott said, “This affected the school in two major ways. First, I think we all just miss him. He’s a very special teacher and person and it’s hard not having him around. Second, this was really scary. When we first learned that this had happened to him, it shook everyone up; he’s never even sick!”
As finals and APs approach, Mr. Ko’s classes are facing a major change: for the rest of the year, Mr. Gennaro Fontano will be their teacher. For Mr. Fontano, the biggest challenge of the job is trying to step into Mr. Ko’s shoes. “Mr. Ko is an expert at this. He’s someone who is extremely versed, so it’s difficult coming in as someone who’s not been doing it as long, and trying to figure out, ‘How do I keep the class at the level that’s expected of it?’” Mr. Fontano said.
The clubs and after school activities that Mr. Ko advises were also affected by his absence: For example, the Debate Team had to attend their national tournament without him. Debate Team treasurer Andrew Schneider said, “Even though everything went smoothly, we definitely missed Mr. Ko. We had to do a lot of the registration ourselves. Advisors from other schools were really involved in helping their teams, and we didn’t have that extra coaching.” It’s clear that Mr. Ko is still strong in the hearts of students; many have made Get Well cards for him. These cards are being collected in a basket in the main office, and when Mr. Ko is well enough to have visitors, they will be sent to him. And everyone’s good wishes have been working. Mr. Ko has improved considerably, and while he is officially out until next year, he may be well enough to visit by the end of this school year. “I was told coming into this position that Mr. Ko was sort of a hallmark of the school, and I didn’t know how seriously to take that, but it really is the case. I came in and all of the students had a genuinely good relationship with him. They really cared for him and it seems like he really cares about them too,” Mr. Fontano said.
Although this news has certainly shaken up the school, it has also made the school stronger. “If there is a blessing in something like this happening, it’s that it really reminds us to be actively appreciative… Go that extra step and just let people know how you feel and make sure you’re conscious about that appreciation,” Ms. Elliott said.