With field trip funds in mind, Mather teachers will run in marathon

Hong Le-Smith, top right, is shown with her family after her last marathon in 2019. The pre-kindergarten teacher plans to run the Boston Marathon on Monday to raise funds for the Mather School.
Hong Le-Smith photo

Michael Bortolussi, a fifth-grade teacher at the Mather Elementary School, will run the Boston Marathon the benefit the school on Monday. Courtesy photo Michael Bortolussi

Two teachers from the Mather Elementary School in Dorchester will lace up their sneakers next week to run in the 125th Boston Marathon, carrying on a tradition of running to raise money for student field trips. 

“I love the school and the students, and I think it’s a good cause that takes some of the stress off teachers,” said Hong Le-Smith, 39, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the Mather. It will be her third time running in the marathon. This year, she’ll be joined by fifth grade teacher Michael Bortolussi, 28, who ran virtually last spring.

The Mather School fundraiser, held each year since 2015, aims to raise $10,000 to fund field trips for its students. Each year, the tradition has continued with two teachers or staff members volunteering to run the race. 

This year is the first time the marathon will be held in October. It was cancelled last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. An estimated 20,000 runners will make the 26.2-mile journey from Hopkinton to Boylston Street.

“I’m excited just to be back in person,” Le-Smith said. “I did a half virtual last year, so I think it will be nice to be back in Boston and to run the route with other people.”

Le-Smith started training for the marathon in June, a time when, she said, the heat can make training especially challenging. But along with training, she was juggling her three kids and planning family vacations. 

For Bortolussi, the heat also took a toll on his training during the summer. Some days, he said, he’d spend 30 minutes just staring at his shoes before setting out on his 20-mile run. By that point, he’d been training for the race and raising money on and off for nearly two years. 

He didn’t lose his focus, though. Walking into his classroom every day, he said he was inspired by the familial culture at Mather and the school’s fundraising goal—a strong enough motivator that pushed him to rush home after school was dismissed to continue his training. 

Before he began training last year, Bortolussi said, he had never run more than four miles at a time. While Le-Smith is about to embark on her fourth marathon—her third time racing the Boston route and once racing the Chicago marathon—like Bortolussi, she wasn’t always a runner. 

She didn’t start until after college as a way to keep in shape and minimize stress. Lacing up her sneakers, she started out with a mile and built up her distance from there, falling in love with the “simplicity” of the sport along the way. 

Le-Smith, who grew up in Dorchester, said she is participating in the race this year because she didn’t have these opportunities to attend field trips while she attended the Mather School as a kid.

While the school team has to date raised more than $7,000 on their GoFundMe, the group hopes to raise $10,000 for their students. In the past, the money raised has funded trips for their nearly 500 students from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade.

With the cost of school buses alone costing upwards of $800, Mather School principal Hai Son said the fundraiser eliminates the financial barriers for teachers when planning field trips to Boston’s museums, the New England Aquarium, or to one of the 31 community organizations the school partners with. 

Son said that Bortolussi and Le-Smith have worked since the summer distributing flyers, setting up a GoFundMe, and organizing fundraising events. Just last week, Le-Smith said, the pair raised an additional $2,500 through an event—launching them closer to their $10,000 benchmark

“We want the community to be aware of the needs of Boston students as a whole, not just Mather students,” Son said. “We want to make sure all students have access to learning, and we want to create opportunities for all regardless of race and socio-economic status.”

When the race begins at 9 a.m. on Oct 11, Le-Smith said she’ll be on the lookout for her husband and three kids. Her oldest daughter, who is now 5, will be cheering her on from the sidelines.

When Bortolussi ran the marathon in 2019, he said his fiancée made t-shirts printed with a photo of him decked out in his cold-weather running gear—which he believes will make a reappearance this year as his family cheers him on from the sidelines. He said his students will try to spot him on their TV screens.

“Even though Hong and I are running this year,” Bortolussi said, “there are other people who are in the background that are making it possible to fundraise every year.”

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