Once in a while I run smack dab into a story that I just can’t seem to shake from my mind. At Winona State University we finished our fall 2009 classes last Friday. In our last labor economics class of the semester we were briefly discussing the effect that a solid role model can have on young people who come from a tough background. After class one of my students, now in her mid-thirties, shared her experience with me.
Seventeen years ago she was a high school senior in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Pagosa Springs was the fourth high-school she had attended. She was living on her own, working part time in a Laundromat and sleeping on couches in the homes of friends. She finally found a small place to rent for a few months, but her part-time job left her continually short of cash. Unable to come up with the $300 rent she needed, she finally decided to drop out of high school and take a dead end job.
Within a week after she dropped out, she got a knock at her door. It was one of her teachers at the high school. He asked her why she hadn’t been to school. She told him of her financial difficulties. He gave her $300 to make the rent. She came back to school. Today she remembers how he kept an eye on her, tutoring her and making sure that she kept on task to graduate from high school.
My student, who will realize her dream and receive her college degree next week, remembered the “crappy old rusty car” that her teacher drove. “They weren’t paying him anything” she said. “That $300 must have been a huge sacrifice for him.” Then she said, “I never really understood why he helped me.” I told her that there could be only one reason. He cared for her. He didn’t want to see her fall between the cracks. He was a man who sacrificed for his students simply because it was the right thing to do; he needed no other reason.
I just received an email from my student. She got on the internet and tracked down that high school business teacher who knocked on her door 17 years ago. His name is Doug Bowen. He still lives and works in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. He is the Director of the Archuleta County Alternative High School. Doug’s still there, still at it, still helping the kids who most need a leg up.
I hope you read this blog, Doug. When the students graduate from Winona State University next week, I’ll have the pleasure of witnessing the final lap of a journey that wouldn’t have taken place if you hadn’t been there for her. Know that you really made a difference. Know that she is enthusiastic, caring, and a good mother to her daughter. Know that the return on investment from your $300 has never been equaled in the world of finance or economics. Thanks, Doug.