Devon* was in high school the first 2 weeks of the new school year. The school realized there was a mix-up and he had actually failed the 8th grade, so they brought him back to repeat his last year of middle school.

Most students knew Devon already. You can only imagine the embarrassment he must have felt at having to return and face his peers and teachers again for another year of 8th grade.

My partner teacher said Devon had been known to have severe outbursts. I also knew he got into lots of fights and had a rough situation at home. My first few interactions with Devon were…interesting. He had a propensity for standing breath-length apart from my face and threatening me. I would calmly ask him to do what is was I needed him to do, usually sit down and get his book out. Eventually he would break and say something along the lines of, “I’m just playing with you, Mr. Hart.”

The beginning was a rough patch, but eventually things began to settle down. He was several grade-levels behind, but wasn’t on my Focus List. However, once our “STAR” positive behavior lunch program began, I made it a point to include Devon.

Our STAR lunches were amazing. I felt so lucky to work with 8th graders because we had some really insightful, relevant conversations on a variety of topics including how to deal with your emotions and communicate effectively. Later in the year, we began to talk about life in general: what drugs do to your body, how to be a strong student in high school; what college looks like and how to get there; how sports teach valuable lessons such as teamwork and sportsmanship and perseverance.

Devon and I built an amazing connection during that time. He is a very funny guy—actually, hilarious. He was also a great dancer and a witty, intellectual guy. We had some interesting conversations that revealed his maturity. Devon was a bit resistant to going to the lunches with me initially, but I think he just didn’t want his peers to think that it was something he wanted to do. Eventually, Devon would be excited to see me every day and he quickly became a joy to work with.

As an added bonus, our positive relationship during our STAR lunches impacted Devon’s academic behaviors.  He rarely missed a day of school.  He began taking detailed notes and consistently turned in his homework.  He studied for tests, participated in extra-curricular activities, and researched different high schools.  In the span of about 6 months, Devon truly became a remarkable all-around student.  More than that, Devon became a remarkable young man.

It was our last few days of school, and I was preparing to say my goodbyes to everyone. Devon came up to me and said that he wouldn’t have graduated the 8th Grade had it not been for me—that I helped him to care about school. At his graduation, Devon was awarded a scholarship of $100 for being an outstanding student and putting forth substantial effort.  He was the only student to receive an award of any kind.

I am beyond proud of Devon and his achievements—he was able to overcome his initial embarrassment, draw upon his strengths and succeed! I look forward to seeing where his efforts and talent will take him in life.

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*Names have been changed to protect the identity and privacy of our students.

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