Yeung leaves Westford Academy

Michael Tricca, Staff Writer

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A few weeks ago, current Mandarin students and their families received an email from Neil Yeung, for some their teacher of three years, telling them that he will be leaving next year. Along with teaching Mandarin, Yeung also runs the Bridge program alongside Tracy Murphy, and co-advises Cirrus with Mr. Brumbaugh and Mr Bogue. However, next year he is headed to Ann Arbor, Michigan.

“As with most of my decisions in life, I’m following my heart. This time, the path leads to Michigan,” said Yeung.

Yeung’s office in the Bridge room is a quiet place, much removed from the bustle of the rest of the school. On one wall a world map is hanging, and a line of colorful dinosaurs amble across the white wall.

“It’s like I’ve captured all aspects of my life with [these],” said Yeung, “Dinosaurs and traveling.”

Yeung was put in charge of the Bridge program, a sort of “support balloon” which eases students who have been out of school for a long period of time back into the game.

Yeung came to Westford after spending seven years living in Shanghai.

“I was going to write a book about my time in China…an auntie in the neighbourhood popped up one day and was like, ‘Hey! They need a Chinese teacher in this school! Go apply!’” said Yeung. “Three years later and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

Much of what has kept Yeung teaching at WA is the connection he feels with his students.

“All eloquence aside, I really love them. I hope it comes through in the classroom. They’re the reason I do this every day,” said Yeung.

Westford Academy has proved to be an excellent environment for teaching. When Yeung first came here, he was new to teaching, but the staff was very accepting and willing to work with the new member.

“If you can find a job where you spend most of your day laughing and smiling, you know you’ve found something special,” said Yeung.

It is this positive personality that landed him a position in the Bridge program; Yeung wanted to spend more time in the building when he first came, and he had time available to devote to such duties. “Things just fell into place,” said Yeung, “The program was created based on the needs of the student body, whether for sports-related injuries or other [matters]. There is a huge need at WA for support that guidance is just too busy and overwhelmed to handle; they do so much,” said Yeung.      “Imagine if you get injured and you’re out for a month. You come back and you’re expected to do everything on your own.”

A manageable task if one knows who to talk to and how to talk to them, but some students find this difficult. These students are who the Bridge program is for: people who need the extra help but do not vocalize that need, and also simply those who are weighed down by make-up work alongside regular classes.

“A lot of students don’t know we’re approachable”, said Yeung. Teachers, he continued jokingly, are in fact human beings, and can be approached as such.

“The town needs to realize that mental health and health in general are extremely important”, said Yeung regarding the future of Bridge. “You have to have the support here; [The town] needs to be on board with it. It’s not just ‘take a pill and be better.’ It’s ‘you are human, and you are valid, and you have a reason for being here.’”

Much of the same applies to the Mandarin program, where the support of the town is needed to continue properly.

When he moves to Michigan, Yeung hopes to find a position as a counselor at the University of Michigan.

“This is how much Bridge has changed my perspective on things; I want to counsel and advise,” said Yeung.“I’d rather get to know you guys and help you through life, instead of worrying whether or not you remember vocabulary from such-and-such chapter about renting an apartment in China. Student connections are what matter to me the most, and they’re what I’ll carry with me.”

These connections are things Yeung’s students remember well.

“[Yeung] is honestly a really good teacher,” said sophomore Nigel Zhang. “He balances work with personality.”

Senior Thomas Mitsock was also a student of Yeung when he took Mandarin I, and Yeung went on to be his faculty advisor for his senior internship.

“[Yeung] is a huge part of how I will remember my time at Westford Academy; he made the language so accessible, and he cares so much about the students he has. I’m glad that I found both a great teacher and a great friend in Mr. Yeung,” said Mitsock.

As some parting words, Yeung says, “travel your butts off. Get on a plane and go somewhere. Nothing beats travel.”

He also recommends that students thank their guidance counselors. “They do so much for you behind the scenes.”

Also, of course, join Cirrus and take Mandarin; “Xue Zhongwen shi zui hao! Dingming shi ni de hao pengyou! Wo ai nimen, zaijian!” (Study Chinese, Dingming (our class mascot) is your friend, love you guys, bye!)

Mitsock had some final words for Yeung.

“I’m sad to see him go, but the impact that he had on this school will stay after he leaves,” said Mitsock. “I wish him the best in all of his adventures!”

 

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