Tonja Takes Off to Retirement

Tonja Gray and her fiance


Tonja Gray and her fiance

Jakob Birnbaum, Writer

After working at Bellows Free Academy for 25 years as both a mah teacher and math interventionist, Tonja Gray is retiring. 

Gray has taught math classes such as AC Algebra I, and recently became the school’s math interventionist during the 2022-23 school year. During her time at BFA, Gray has made a lasting impact on the many students she has taught during her career.

Students have seen her and her iconic “Cat Mum” license plate pull into school, with her exiting the car with a smile on her face. That smile has had an impact on many students.

Gray’s former student Benjamin Birnbaum (‘23) spoke highly of Gray, stating, “She was great at making Algebra easier to do. Even when the school went remote during the end of the 2019-20 school year, Ms. Gray was still prepared, and the fact that she looked prepared during the beginning of the pandemic shows her perseverance as a teacher to teach.”

Another student, Hannah Branon (‘23) said “Ms. Gray had the kindest smile and was very welcoming. Her class brought me connections I otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

While the math interventionist position has been more hands-on, it has given Gray more opportunities to connect with students and watch them improve on their math skills so that they do better in class.

When asked by The Mercury about her favorite thing about teaching, she said, “Working with students who struggle because I like to help them to be successful. And it just makes me feel really good to see a student who had done poorly all of a sudden really excel.”

Gray’s love for animals has been a huge part of her personality. One of her favorite moments on the job was connecting with a student who had lost their cat.

“[The student] said it made her feel so much better to have somebody understand how badly she felt, and that she just really appreciates having somebody who could share in her sadness over that first story that comes to mind,” Gray said.

Gray said that her biggest accomplishment is “working with kids who might not feel that they are part of the ‘in crowd’ and they might not feel that they’re very popular.  But, hopefully, I’ve been able to show them that they are loved. And they are so valuable.”

For retirement plans, Gray’s have been pretty clear. 

“I am getting married in August [to] a wonderful man from Leeds, Maine. We’ll be moving there, [where] I intend to go to school.” She added, “I would like to do Chaplain work, working either in a hospital or possibly with the homeless, or even in hospice care.”

If Gray could take one thing with her to Maine, she exclaimed, “I would take the love I have seen the staff show to students and to each other.”

When asked what she wanted to leave behind, Gray said she hopes other students will follow in her footsteps and leave “the idea that we must help each other through our struggles.  We have to hold one another up when we need it.”