As soon as the crying, desperate student in mid-meltdown saw Cornel Carter in the hall, he flung his arms toward Cardinal Valley Elementary’s Home/School Liaison – the safest of harbors for many boys at school.
The boy all but disappeared into the welcoming embrace of the 37-year-old “Big Daddy” on campus.
Carter soothed the boy, an act of kindness and guidance Carter repeats all day long. Said Carter: “It’s hard for me to walk the hallways with all the kids hugging me.”
When he joined Cardinal Valley three years ago, he feared those hugs might not come. Carter entered a school that is 80% Hispanic and he didn’t know the culture or language. How would he be accepted?
“Immediately the kids treated me as one of their own. They were willing to open up to me, and I’ve been able to click with the kids,” he said.
That’s his great gift, according to Janice Wyatt-Ross, who works as a consultant at the school. “He has a passion for children and will go out of his way to provide mentorship and guidance,” she said. “He has past students who call him on a regular basis if they are having problems at school or in the neighborhood.”
In fact, the morning he was interviewed for this story, Carter met with a former student who came to Cardinal Valley before heading to middle school just to talk with his mentor. A day earlier, a former student visited Carter after school, and the two shot hoops together until 6 p.m.
As the Home/School Liaison, Carter works with a four-member team as de facto social workers for struggling students and families. Team members are counselor Sherry Howard, social worker Juanita Green and the Family Resource Center Director Carmen Cotto.
“School is more than test scores,” Carter said. “It’s about the family, home life. Whether there’s enough clothing and enough food.”
And whether students have the proper social skills to succeed. Toward that end, Carter heads three Friendship Groups to help boys form and maintain friendships. He also leads two anger management groups and runs two after-school programs. It adds up to a long day of giving to young people, who gratefully embrace Carter into their lives.
“I love my work,” he said. “It’s a part of me. I tell my kids they’re my students for life. I’m not married, but at school I have many sons.”Asbury Educator.
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