Every morning, Sean White sips his third cup of coffee while greeting students with encouragement as they file into the halls of South View Elementary in Muncie.
As the student assistant coordinator, White’s job revolves around tracking attendance and creating attendance incentives, so he often utilizes his small corner office as a safe place for students and parents alike to share their concerns.
“I have a passion for working with youth who are often labeled as at-risk or troubled,” said White, who celebrated his one-year anniversary with South View in October. “When you see a kid every day, you kind of start to see, ‘OK, this kid obviously had a rough morning at home,’ so I can bring them in here, and we can read books or even just come, sit and talk about what’s going on at home. I get to take a new approach on the type of relationships I have with students.”
Anthony Williams, principal of South View, said while White’s role “is rooted in student and family support, he daily finds ways to help administrators, teachers, support lunch time and be a visible presence in the building.”
With schools closed due to COVID-19 concerns, White said he now focuses more on parent phone calls and has a list of students to check in with daily.
“Many of the phone calls I make every day now are to students I worked with on a regular basis in school,” White said. “It is important that we keep in contact and let the families know we are still here to help and encourage their students.”
Finding South View
Before coming to South View, White taught history in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then was offered the opportunity to be the first teacher of the alternative education program for at-risk kids at Central High School in Muncie.
Although both of White’s older sisters are teachers, he said he didn’t know if it was something he wanted to pursue until college.
“I’ve always enjoyed teaching,” White said, “but there were a few people who were negative about it, and that kind of influenced me away from it. But, once I got to college, I decided it was probably the best thing for me.”
Justin Cope, special education teacher who works with students who have individual education plans involving emotional disabilities at South View, said gaining White as an addition to the team last year has only been a positive for the school.
“[White taught] an older brother of one of the students I was working with at Central, and here at South View, we were having difficulty reaching the family and stuff — getting on the same page and making contact,” Cope said. “Once the parent knew Mr. White was here, we had a rapport, we were able to get in contact and she responded really well.”
Now, White works with and disciplines more of Cope’s students, and Cope said White respects them and treats them like every other student.
“He has a great balance of what I like to call firm but fair,” Cope said. “I think he reaches the kids well, and I think he’s kind of a morale booster. It can get kind of difficult here, but he’s always trying to make people laugh and having fun with the situation.”
Spreading His Passion
Aside from his position at South View, White is also the assistant boys’ tennis coach at Central and a member of the Brothers to Brothers program, a nationwide youth mentoring program designed to aid in the growth and development of kids.
White said he often uses his coaching strategies in the halls of South View as well as his teaching techniques while coaching.
“I’ve really learned to recognize who I’m speaking with. I catch myself here using bigger words that I would with high school students, and sometimes I’ll just have a third-grader look at me like, ‘What did you just say?’” White said. “I’ve also learned how to break things down more. For the guys who may be new to tennis, they may not know all of the terms I’m using, so I’ll think, ‘How would I break this down for a third-grader?’”
White will graduate in May with his master’s degree from Ball State in education administration and supervision, and he said he wants to continue advancing his administrative career in Muncie Community Schools. Even though he was unsure if he would like elementary school, White said, he feels he has made an impact just by being a male resource.
“I think there are over 30 staff members in the building, but only five of them are men,” White said. “This is a place in their life when they are more-easily shaped. A lot of the students here, even when they are struggling, they want to be more. They want to do more. So, seeing successful men and women can really drive a student in a better direction.”
Similar to his experience at Central High School, White said he has seen many kids who “make 180-degree transformations” either by attending class more often and getting 100 percent on the attendance assignments they would have ripped up before or by changing their attitudes.
“That is one of the best things about this job, and it is something I miss now that we can’t go to school,” White said. “Before, I might have had a bad day, pretty rotten, but then, at the end of the day, I’d have a kid come up and [show me a high-scoring assignment]. That makes you happy because they’re excited. They see how they can finally do it; they can succeed.”
Contact Tier Morrow with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tiermorrow.