By Henry Goodhue, president of the Hillsborough Education Association
The Hillsborough Education Association (HEA) has always prided itself on being “The HEArt of the Community.” Close to half of our more than 1,000 members proudly call Hillsborough home. This community knows and trusts our members and schools to educate their children. The HEA is proud to support local charities, organizations and to give back to our community through our robust PRIDE program.
But Hillsborough schools, the majority of New Jersey public schools and public school employees, have found themselves transitioning to a time of great uncertainty as we moved to flexible learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Steps had to be taken to protect our community, but the impact of social distancing was immediately keenly felt amongst our students, their families and our members.
We are in the business of education, but the product we create is connections. We help students connect to concepts, each other, their community, the world and a million other areas that we may never realize. Yet, we abruptly found ourselves in a time of self-imposed distancing.
As we reframed the entire paradigm of public education within a matter of days many of us began to examine the concept of social distancing and quickly realized that one word need not be attached to the other. To be clear, we must physically distance ourselves from others to flatten the curve and save lives, but we must also seek to maintain social connections.
Technology was the obvious choice for many as we sought to maintain social networks, but it also provided us an opportunity to expand upon things we had previously done and amplify their positivity within our communities.
Recently, the HEA partnered with various community stakeholders to create the BORO Pride initiative that celebrates all the wonderful aspects of our community. BORO Pride can be found marching in parades, magnetically stuck to the back of vehicles, hung in local businesses’ windows or volunteering at the Rotary Fair. One of the earliest supporters of this initiative was Hillsborough Mayor Doug Tomson.
Mayor Tomson is a lifelong resident of Hillsborough and has been a member of the Township Committee since January 3, 2012. Whether it is judging a science fair or being a guest reader for Read Across America, Mayor Tomson has been a frequent participant in countless events in our public schools.
When Mayor Tomson mentioned to the HEA that he had recently recorded himself reading a story for one of our six elementary schools, the conversation naturally progressed to how it could be shared with all our students. It was decided that the video would be shared through the HEA Facebook page and posted in various community forums.
Within 24 hours, Mayor Tomson’s reading of “Duck for President” had been viewed over 2,400 times in eight states and two countries. The video received rave reviews, had pictures of children gathered around to listen posted and even inspired a young reader to post a video returning the favor of a read-aloud for the mayor.
When asked how he came to the idea of a town-wide read aloud, Mayor Tomson said:
Every year I look forward to Read Across America because it provides me an opportunity to go into the schools and read to so many eager students. As a parent, mayor and a proud NJEA family (my wife Rachel is a teacher in the Readington Township School District) I’ve seen first-hand the adjustments teachers have done to ensure that students are receiving a top-notch education during this challenging time.
To that end, I had a principal reach out to me and asked that I read one of my favorite books, “Duck for President,” to students at her school. It was such a big success that I wanted to partner with my friends at the Hillsborough Education Association so that all students in the district could have a little bit of normal in their daily lives.
Mayor Tomson faces the daunting task of leading the Hillsborough community through an immensely challenging time. He is in communication with our residents numerous times each day, but he also recognized the importance of taking a moment to connect with our youngest citizens and supply a moment of levity in the midst of events that have upended their world.
The desire to provide some normalcy for the students of Hillsborough has spread as more local elected officials and residents have volunteered to record read-alouds for the community. Only time will tell if they can break the record set by Mayor Tomson!