Josh Langworthy, a junior at Grant High School in Portland, Oregon, wrote the following essay about his “every day hero” during our Katrina unit. In addition to paying tribute to a woman who deserves it, Josh’s story also provides lessons for teachers. Who are the students in our classrooms? What are their stories? As much as NCLB would like to turn students into test scores, they arrive with a history that might help us teach them — and reach them — more effectively.

Josh Langworthy

“How was your day?” is the question I hear on a daily basis when I come home from school. The person who says this is my foster mom, Michelle McAllister. I’ve known her for coming up on three years. I’ve lived with her the whole time. Michelle has helped me tremendously in such a short period of time.

Michelle used to work at Department Human Services as a systems manager. Her job was to make sure that the case workers were getting what they needed to help the foster kids on their case loads. Then she wrote the contracts to get the appropriate funding for the needed services. One day she was going over a case that spoke out to her. She decided to ask the caseworker about the two boys that the case belonged to. Those two boys just so happened to be my brother and me. After a few hours of convincing, my caseworker managed to get Michelle to open her home to my brother and me. I was very happy to be moving anywhere because we were living in a hellhole at the time.

I moved into Michelle’s house in eighth grade. I had only been living there for a month or so when the school I was attending finally got tired of my attitude and was going to expel me. They called my mom (Michelle), and she came to the school and talked to the principal. Since I lived out of the district, my mom (Michelle) convinced the principal to transfer me to a school in my neighborhood, so that I didn’t have to go to an alternative school and got to stay at a regular school.

I transferred school districts and started to adjust to the new school. Even though I met a lot of new people, I still spent a lot my weekends at home. Michelle decided to go and buy my brother and me both a brand new bike. This was a big shock to me because for my whole life no one had just bought me something because they wanted to. The bike made it easier for me to do things with my new-found friends and some of the old ones. Over time, I put that bike to good use. I rode it everywhere and popped way too many tires to count.

Freshman year was one heck of a year. Almost every day I got a new discipline referral. I don’t know what Michelle was thinking, but she put up with me. That year, Mr. Chetard, the Vice Principal, had my home phone number on speed dial. And even though I was always in trouble, Michelle decided to take my brother and me to Disneyland for the first time. We had never been there before because with a childhood like ours, you don’t even daydream about going somewhere like that. Michelle and Rick, my foster dad, paid for the whole thing out of their pockets, which wasn’t cheap. We stayed there for about a week and had a blast.

Michelle knew that I was really into skateboarding, so she bought my brother and me both brand new snowboards before we’d ever been up on the mountain. This was a big risk that she took but it turned out good in the long run. I am an avid snowboarder although I have only been snowboarding for a year or so. She has driven my brother and me up to Mt. Hood so many times, so that we could snowboard. This year she is going to try to get my caseworker to pay for me to get on the snowboard team, and if the state doesn’t cover all of the costs, she said that she and Rick will cover the difference.

Michelle helped me turn my life around. I don’t think that she fully realizes how much she has impacted my life. If she would not have opened her house to me, I would not be graduating from high school, I would not be going to college, I would not be going to end up as a fireman. I would have ended up in jail. All I have left to say is: Thank you.