By Courtney Baranay
If you were to ask me the exact day that Anders Bjork showed up in Room 208 at Perley Fine Arts Academy, I would be hard pressed to remember. But that is simply because “Mr. B.” has become a permanent fixture in our classroom.
He arrived around the middle of September 2015 to fulfill required hours for a class. In front of me was a very tall, very sweet young man who looked more excited than the kids to be here.
We were in the middle of math, so I asked Anders if he would work in the hall with a group of students. He readily agreed. Near the end of the class, I peeked out and saw him on the floor surrounded by third-graders. Not one child was goofing off, and they were almost finished with the assignment! I then knew that there was something special about Anders.
I’m not sure how many hours Anders was supposed to fulfill. What I do know is that he is still coming to Room 208 weekly for the second year in a row.
The kids learn so much from Anders. He taught them about hockey by allowing them to interview him exhaustively. Then he hauled in his gear and a hockey stick. We laid out the entire outfit to show what he wears every game. He let each student try on his helmet and pads and take a picture with him. Suddenly, I had 18 kids who had fallen in love with this young man.
I warned the children that Anders had a grueling schedule and that once hockey season started, we might not see him often. But he made sure to come each week that he wasn’t traveling, and if he was out of town he always texted to let the class know he was thinking about them.
In 2015, Anders was selected for the Junior National Hockey team and traveled to Finland. We kept up with the tournament online. Anders came to see the kids as soon as he returned, bringing them a signed poster, his jersey and bronze medal. These items still hang on our Mr. B. bulletin board — along with a hockey stick and a piñata he presented to the kids.
Anders came to as many programs and activities as he could, borrowing his roommate’s truck or riding his longboard. He met our class when we went to the Snite Museum at Notre Dame.
Anders even invited the class to see a hockey game! We kept the whole thing a secret. He signed shirts for the kids, and my partner teacher and I spray-painted his name and number 10 on them. The night of the game, we ate pizza and walked to the arena. It was the first time many of our kids had set foot on Notre Dame’s campus.
At the end of last year, I prepared the kids for Anders leaving. The day he brought the piñata was one of the best and worst afternoons. Many kids cried, even when they got home. But Anders stayed in touch through FaceTime each week.
This year, I got a text from Anders saying he couldn’t wait to come back. And what a year it has been. He met us at the Snite and took this class to a hockey game. He comes at least once a week, sometimes accompanied by his teammates. He brags endlessly about the kids and knows every one.
Anders has an educational impact on the children. They learn geography by keeping track of where he plays. They know about statistics by tracking the team’s wins and his goals and assists. Because of him, these children want to go to college.
Anders has helped mediate disagreements between the kids, taught them how to let things roll off their backs and not be so quick to judge.
But the most important thing he has done is to keep coming back. During my 10 years teaching for inner-city schools, I have had hundreds of volunteers, students and student teachers come through my classroom doors. None has stayed longer than four months.
But Anders always comes back, even if he only has 30 minutes to spare. He has been one of the most constant, loving figures in my students’ young lives.
Unconditional love is real, and it exists in the heart of Anders Bjork. If you don’t believe me, come and talk to my kids.
Editor’s Note: Marketing junior Anders Bjork, a forward who helped lead the Irish hockey team to the Frozen Four championship in April, was a runner-up for this year’s national college Hockey Humanitarian Award for community service. He has worked with South Bend’s Perley Fine Arts Academy students for the past two years. This is a shortened version of an essay by Courtney Baranay, a Perley teacher. tinyurl.com/bjorkperley