Harlem Academy mourns the loss of iconic middle school history teacher Sean Robertson, who died at his family home in Milford, Massachusetts last Thursday.
Sean brought two important traits to every class he taught at Harlem Academy: love for his students and a passion for history. It was a powerful combination that made learning incredibly interesting and relevant for our kids. That was Sean’s mission from the first moment he set foot in a classroom – a place he was destined to be.
Sean came to Harlem Academy 12 years ago and always viewed the study of history as a vehicle to change injustice. It was critical to him to teach about the civil rights movement, about disenfranchised people rising up to overcome obstacles and create a path to success for themselves and others. With classes of students coming from diverse backgrounds, Sean was very intentional about his approach. His deep love for and link to our community was palpable. You had to look no further than how he engaged his students to understand that.
Our guiding principles call for us to be “warm but demanding,” and Sean couldn’t have been a better role model for that fundamental value. He cared about our kids’ lives both inside and outside of school and developed meaningful connections with them. He held them to high standards and expected their best, and he did so with love. Sean understood that infallible recipe for children to thrive and executed on it at the highest level.
The love was reciprocal. Students often chose him to be their graduation dinner speaker, and alumni consistently tell me that no history class – even at some of the top secondary schools and colleges in the country – compares to his.
Sean’s parents must have done a lot of things right. From the moment I met him, he was always comfortable in his own skin. He had the ability to approach every challenge and opportunity with equal energy, openness, and engagement. Even as he tackled his cancer, he shared with his students a message about using adversity as a chance to develop and understand yourself. Living our school creed was just something he naturally did.
As our community mourns this extraordinary loss, we find solace in the many gifts Sean left us. His passion, his kindness, his curiosity, his love, and the immeasurable impact he has had on our students. Having gathered at the school before dawn, two buses filled with current students, parents, alumni, and colleagues are headed north to his hometown funeral in Massachusetts so that we may honor his legacy and say goodbye.
With warm regards,
Vincent A. Dotoli
Head of School