Teacher Dedicated To Keeping West Side Spirit Alive

Mr.+Bernard+shows+off+his+senior+picture+from+WSHS+class+of+1982.+

Lauren Cincotta

Mr. Bernard shows off his senior picture from WSHS class of 1982.

Lauren Cincotta, News Editor

His signature beard, his appreciation for Crocs, and his dedication to photographing school events for the yearbook are known across the school.   His enthusiasm for West Side history is legendary. Mr. Bernard’s reputation precedes him. The self-appointed “institutional historian” is also the faculty mentor for the Robotics Team and advisor for the Trivia Club, As Schools Match Wits, and the yearbook.  A WSHS alumnus himself, Mr. Bernard has had the unique opportunity to teach at the same school he attended. His career as a teacher began with a passion for engineering, math, and science. “I had considered being a teacher as early as my student days at West Side,” he explained. Though ultimately, he decided to pursue his passion for engineering, working in the industry for about ten years. 

It was not until he began teaching a night class in computer-aided drafting at Holyoke Community College, that he thought about teaching again. Though the first teaching job he took as a math teacher at Agawam High School was not very enjoyable. “All the while I was dreaming of my ‘ideal’ teaching job: teaching physics at West Side in the same classroom where I learned physics from Mr. Case and maybe coaching the As Schools Match Wits team,” Bernard explained. Fortunately, a position for a physics teacher opened at West Springfield High School. In 1996, Mr. Bernard began teaching in his old classroom. He taught physics at WSHS for almost 20 years before switching over to Engineering courses in 2017. 

In that time, he has made many memories, “ I have had countless rewarding experiences with students in the classroom and in extracurricular activities,” he noted. He even met his wife while they were both students at WSHS. Some of his favorite memories are of staff member Mr. Boudreau. The special education teacher was known for his “classic” pranks (such as stacking quarters under the then-principal’s desk every day to raise it) and his sense of humor which he displayed in “Boudreau Grams”(cartoons and other jokes) around the school. Boudreau passed away in 2008 and is remembered for his kind, generous spirit and his love for fun. Mr. Bernard tries to keep that spirit of fun alive throughout the school today. 

The school community is extremely important to Mr. Bernard. “Any community, whether it is the town as a whole or the subcommunity of our school, is only as strong and vibrant as its people,”he said. He encourages others to get involved in the school community the way he has. “If there were no kids willing to get involved with the football team, for example, there would be no football games, not Pep Rally, no Thanksgiving Day game,” he added, citing the various events and organizations that make WSHS a strong community. 

“Any community, whether it is the town as a whole or the subcommunity of our school, is only as strong and vibrant as its people.”

— Mr. Bernard

It’s events like these that can make time spent as a student more enjoyable and fulfilling. Several students that have worked with him in activities can attest to his positive presence and its impact on them. “ He’s always willing to give a helping hand whenever possible and he doesn’t make me feel stupid for asking odd questions,” said junior Yearbook Club member Caylin Salina. The students on the robotics team must persevere through challenges and work through problems. Guidance from Mr. Bernard helps the team through the process. “ He encourages us to solve our own problems without being walked through everything that needs to be changed or fixed,” said junior Robotics Team member Crystal Madore. 

But the lessons taught through these activities also extend to the lives of students. “He always says to be confident in yourself and to own your mistakes because there’s no better comedy than being your own person,” Salina added. Students that work with Mr. Bernard are challenged to grow in the classroom and as individuals. “He likes to have us think outside the box in order to solve things,” Madore continued. His positive impact on staff members is evident as well. Mr. Scott, a science teacher here at WSHS, noted that when he first met Mr. Bernard he was impressed by, among other things, “His deep devotion to giving his all to his students every single day no matter how tired he was or what was going on his life.” Mr. Bernard’s impact surpasses the classroom. “He is an outstanding person and educator,” Scott said. Mr. Stromwall, who has worked with Mr. Bernard for 15 years, has learned a lot from him as well.  “Most importantly, have a sense of humor. Life is short, and you never know how one little interaction with someone else can impact their day. Stay positive and find the fun in life,” Stromwall said.

His effect on the school community is widespread, from working with students and preserving their history. As yearbook advisor, Mr. Bernard takes on the responsibility of documenting every year of WSHS history. It is often a thankless job that requires hours of effort, but there are some aspects of it that are extremely rewarding. “I enjoy making sure that each year at West Side is documented as fully and as well as possible,” Bernard said. Additionally, Bernard maintains the Yearbook Club Archives which go back to 1919. These achieves include information and artifacts that Bernard has collected over the years. The Yearbook also sells vintage yearbooks for alumni who might have lost their own, or never purchased it while in school. “Reuniting alumni with their high-school memories is the best,” added Bernard.

Part of that history is his own time as a student at West Side. Looking back, he believes that, “The most dramatic and positive changes are connected to diversity and character.” West Springfield has become noticeably more diverse over the years and that has been reflected in the student body of West Springfield High School. Overall, he believes that the school community as a whole has generally become more accepting. As the school community continues to change, Bernard hopes that students will continue to be involved, both while they are students and after they graduate. “While you are a student here, be part of that; and after you graduate, consider giving back — teaching, coaching, working as a paraprofessional, volunteering as a community mentor for Innovations Pathways or the Robotics Team.” Taking part in these activities can further enrich the school community for current students and future generations.