Monday March 6, 2023

Teachers Provide Hope and Make a Difference, Whether They Know It or Not

Alton Carter visited Spencer and Willow Brook Elementary Schools last week to deliver a message of hope. He shared the story of being put into court custody at eight years old, along with his siblings, when his mother was declared unfit. He’s never met his father. He went on to spend his childhood in seventeen foster homes and a boy’s ranch. His upbringing would make many people give up hope. But, that is not what happened to Alton Carter. Alton Carter instead chose to channel his pain into positivity and healed himself by sharing hope with everyone he meets.

Carter’s book, The Boy Who Dreamed Big, was the theme for his visits to the OKCPS schools last week, hosted by the Oklahoma City Public School Foundation and sponsored by OU Children’s Hospital/OU Health. This book is about how Mrs. Thompson, his 4th grade teacher, never gave up on him even when his behavior was at its worst.  She inspired him to use his imagination to overcome obstacles in his life and to believe he could do more and be more than his current surroundings dictated. He didn’t realize until he was an adult just how much of an influence she’d been on his life, and dedicated this book to all the teachers, counselors, coaches and school administrators who show up every day to love their students no matter what and to continue to provide hope for a future that is different.

Though he was able to thank Mrs. Thompson when she came to his first book signing, he’s always felt badly for not telling her how much she helped him. So, at Spencer Elementary he gave these students a chance. As Mariah Carey’s song Hero played, he asked all the kids to tell their teachers something they were thankful to them for. There were many, many hugs shared. The students ended with a resounding round of applause and standing ovation for all the educators in the room. By then there weren’t many dry-eyed adults left in the room.

“Reach out for your dreams when things seem rough. Follow your dreams when life gets tough. Those words from The Boy Who Dreamed Big can resonate for anyone anywhere, but are especially poignant for kids who come from families who are struggling. Carter’s message to them is, “What’s true about you today does not have to be true about you tomorrow.” Every student received a copy of his book for their own and they left the gym politely thanking everyone.  As Carter told the teachers, “Your job isn’t to save all of these kids. It’s to plant the seed of hope so they can save themselves.” We hope the seeds Alton Carter planted will reinforce our teachers so that every child can flourish.

Mary Mélon-Tully is the President & CEO of the Oklahoma City Public Schools Foundation. To read her article on the, click here.

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