Her husband suggested an early dinner, a Cinco de Mayo celebration with tacos and margaritas picked up from a restaurant and brought back home. Oh, and they needed to pick up some cat food.
But the errand turned out to be far from ordinary.
Car horns blared as Megan Congemi, a math teacher at St. John School in the North End, stepped out of her apartment building onto Washington Street in Downtown Crossing at 4 p.m. Tuesday.
Dozens of students erupted from sunroofs and car windows. Tears, laughter, and shouting ensued. One student’s sibling, a first-grader at the school, shook a yellow cowbell as he passed. Congemi was handed homemade signs, which expressed the students’ love and appreciation.
In the past two weeks, Congemi’s husband, Chris, along with the school principal and parents, concocted the elaborate plan to honor Megan for Teacher Appreciation Day.
“I had no idea,” said Congemi, 29, who hasn’t seen any of her students in person for seven weeks. “This inspires me to do what I do every single day. We’ve been working really, really hard these past few months, and it makes it worth it knowing that they are safe and happy.”
“She’s a really nice person, and she’s kind and loving,” said student Aidan Hennessey, 9, who attended the parade.
When the school transitioned to online learning, Congemi’s third- and fourth-grade students were devastated. Social distancing prevented them from seeing their friends, and the pandemic ended all hopes of finishing the school year in the usual fashion.
To boost their spirits, Congemi hosted a Zoom pajama party over spring vacation, where all the students could casually reconnect for the first time since leaving school.
“Our pajama party turned into a dance party,” Congemi said. “There’s so much going on in the world, I want them to just worry about their education and just think about themselves. They don't need to be worrying about crazy stuff.”
Since her start at the school just under two years ago, Congemi has made a big impact. Her teaching skills are unparalleled, according to parents and students.
“Right on the first day, she gave us little tricks and everything to learn math problems,” Aidan said. “She wanted to ensure that we knew them.”
“I really like her. She's funny, kind, nice, smart,” said Ella Baird, 10. “She made it better by helping us on Zoom. She set it up so we can have one-on-ones if we need help or just want to talk.”
Every morning, Congemi sends out daily work agendas to make sure her students have some structure to their days. From posting explanatory videos on YouTube to making Kahoot quizzes online, she’s adapted particularly well to the virtual environment.
“There’s been a lot of frustration with online learning, but that’s the antithesis of what we’ve experienced with her,” said Sean Hennessey, Aidan’s father. “Megan has stepped up her game, along with the rest of the teachers at St. John School."
“She’s a phenomenal teacher in regular school, and she has rolled with the punches completely and done so much for all of the kids,” said Amy Abbott-Baird, Ella’s mother. “She’s teaching new content, too. We’re trying to find a way to give back to her.”
The signs told the story.
“We love you!” read one sign taped to the front of a car, surrounded by red hearts.
“You are the best teacher!” said a rainbow-colored sign held by a student.
“I miss you so much,” said another, adorned with a smiley face.
After Congemi caught up with students and parents on the sidewalk, it was time to say goodbye. Unsure of when she’ll see them next, Congemi said acts of kindness like the parade are what gives her the energy to stay positive during trying times.
“I teach at an amazing small school, so it's so nice to have them all come out, and I feel so honored to be their teacher,” Congemi said. “It keeps me going.”
Matt Berg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mattberg33.