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Examiner
  • Matt Beem: Good teachers, encouragement can transform a teen

  • Joe received the McCoy Medal last month at Truman High School. The Independence School District awards McCoy Medals to the top 50 students in each of its high schools’ junior classes.

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  • Joe received the McCoy Medal last month at Truman High School. The Independence School District awards McCoy Medals to the top 50 students in each of its high schools’ junior classes.
    Kate and I are proud of Joe, who ushers in our family’s fourth generation of William Chrisman High School students.
    Until this year, he seemed to believe – like so many other teenagers – that sports, music and his social life left too little time for academics. Yet he somehow held his own and, since receiving the award, has become hyper-focused on his grades.
    Suddenly, Joe is choosing weekend homework over time with buddies at church and on the soccer field. When we returned home several weeks ago from the McCoy Medal Awards ceremony, he told Kate and me – both overly effusive about the evening’s recognition – that he hated to cut the party short but needed to get to his room to study for the next day’s anatomy and physiology exam.
    Go figure.
    Our son’s recent metamorphosis has reminded me how much our high school experiences influence our sense of who we are and what we can accomplish. Not so long ago, I was in Joe’s shoes.
    I remember well my uncertain academic self-image. While others were confidently touting the simplicity of Algebra 2 and proudly interpreting Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot,” I was struggling to complete my math homework and plod my way through the book.
    Somehow, I passed Algebra 2 and American Literature and Composition the second semester of my sophomore year. I even earned decent grades.
    And then the unthinkable happened. I learned early in my junior year I’d been selected to receive the McCoy Medal.
    I couldn’t believe it. Those who chose the award winners surely had confused me with another student.
    To ensure there hadn’t been a mistake, I stopped by my counselor’s office the same day I received my McCoy Medal letter. She confirmed it was intended for me.
    Talk about a teenage transformation. I still remember how the award changed my sense of my academic potential.
    Ms. Fisher, Chrisman’s English teacher-extraordinaire, chipped and chiseled me throughout my junior year. She either sensed my potential or took pity on me – I’m still not sure which – and devoted her full energy to sharpening my reading eye and writing hand. I will be forever grateful.
    Ms. Fisher handed me off to Ms. Sapp and Ms. Neegard. They ran me through the senior year reading-and-writing mill, forcing me to confront my weaknesses.
    Looking back, there are other high school teachers who played a significant role shaping who I am today.
    At the top of the list is Mr. Wiley, my ninth grade geometry teacher. He introduced me to the transitive property of equality – which I still use – and showed me how to lead with class and aplomb.
    Page 2 of 2 - There was also Mr. Johnston, who nurtured my love of biology with his ability to make learning fun. And Mr. Stewart, whose commitment to teaching animal development and behavior presumed we’d all become veterinarians. Or Mr. Lee, my choir teacher, whose confidence always pushed me to do and be my best.
    There’s no question the McCoy Medal influenced me. It drove me to work hard and achieve my all.
    Here’s to hoping it will impact Joe in the same way.
    Matt Beem is president and chief executive officer of Hartsook Companies, an international fundraising consulting firm. He lives in Independence.
     
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