This past week, I was at our administrative secretary’s desk in The Bridge Academy charter school when I noticed a snapshot of my friend and fellow educator, Michael Thomas Bologna of Fairfield, who was recently taken from us way too soon. There was Michael’s winning smile, his trademark, on our secretary’s informal memorial wall. His snapshot joined those of a beloved student, Rafael, and one of our school’s founders, Ms. Aline Doss, who, like Michael, were robbed of long lives by incurable illnesses.

I met Michael nearly three years ago when he was assisting one of our teachers as a volunteer on our senior projects program. This program , which entails students creating presentations around their sought-after career choices, is every senior’s exit ticket out of our college preparatory charter school. As a well-respected Fairfield lawyer and valuable volunteer, Michael played a vital role in helping students prepare their final presentations and coaching them with speaking.

I loved working on senior projects as the writing coach and learned a great deal from Michael’s courtroom experience about presentations. And I was pleasantly surprised as I began my 4th year at The Bridge Academy, to learn that Michael had truly achieved his dream of becoming a teacher and would be joining our staff as senior projects and chemistry teacher. I was also happy to know that we’d be working together with the seniors to help them navigate their journeys toward college or jobs.

Supporting Michael in his new educator’s role was great for me and we were a good team. He and I arrived early every morning and Mike always approached his work with enthusiasm, putting in those long teacher hours and sometimes feeling frustrated if students didn’t seem to respond. I always assured him that his students were learning more than he perceived and his feelings were normal for any new educator.

At meetings, Michael was always filled with questions and ideas about how he could make things better. He faced every day, even those when his health was fading, with a smile and a humorous quip. And up to his last day at school, Mike continued to find the energy and commitment it takes to be a successful, outstanding l teacher. This man was just so happy to be here, and his abundant energy and zeal were contagious. He got the job done and left us all a whole lot better for his being part of our Bridge Academy family.

For senior projects, his favorite part of his assignment, Michael took a different approach to making the work more interesting and rewarding for students. Among his accomplishments were to create an interview component so that students would speak to professionals in their chosen fields. He hammered at getting students to understand and use research and to follow MLA style. No plagiarism was his middle name.

He incorporated anecdotes and stories of unusual cases from his long-time law career in Fairfield and he loved sharing valuable reflections and life lessons from his own family. We all felt that Michael was a more sincere teacher because he didn’t mind opening up about what had gone right and wrong in his life and how much he had learned.

And the students clearly appreciated Mike’s vulnerability. His interest and in particular his compassion for students with special needs helped our seniors believe that nothing was impossible. Their attendance at Michael’s funeral clearly showed the impact he had on their lives and their futures.

As an educator and a friend, I always appreciated the respect he gave me in the classroom and outside as well. What I most appreciated was his openness to ideas. For example, when I suggested we take the students to the libraries at Housatonic Community College and the main library in downtown Bridgeport, he welcomed the suggestion and asked if I’d pull together those tours.

When there were opportunities to use my English and writing background on aspects of senior projects and do brief teaching stints, we used teamwork to get the work done. And Michael offered excellent suggestions and feedback to help me do better job teaching segments of senior projects.

These past couple of weeks, I have felt the void that so many of us here at Bridge are feeling and every morning I look down the dark hallway, waiting for the light in Michael’s room to go on. I feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to work with Michael Thomas Bologna and I know that the light of his life and the contributions he made to our school will be his legacy. You truly fulfilled your dream to teach and we’re so glad you did it here. Rest in peace, my good friend.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com.