There’s no better word to describe middle school than ‘challenging.’ A time where everyone is awkward and shy (and quite smelly), middle school is rarely reflected on as pleasant. In middle school, I was the smart, musical, nerdy kid who was picked last for dodgeball but enjoyed learning. I was, like any middle schooler, uncertain in myself and in the things I was good at.
But now a senior in high school, I can say with certainty that I’ve changed, grown, and developed since I was roaming the halls of my middle school, Richmond School in Sussex, WI. (Thank goodness). That being said, my middle school years have had a lasting impact on the person I am today and will become.
Every teacher I had growing up at Richmond School was phenomenal and taught me far more than lessons in math or science. But it wasn’t until eighth grade U.S. history class with Mr. Cody Leland that I truly understood the impact a teacher can have on a student’s life.
Energetic, easygoing, and enthralling, Mr. Leland has a way of captivating his students, finding subtle ways to make history a little less boring. Mr. Leland understands the variety in which kids learn and reflects that within his lesson plans. Whether it was through standard lectures, videos, or discussion of current events, each student was able to relate to the course topics and enjoy history more than they could have imagined.
For me, U.S. history was brought to life through the projects we were assigned. Again aware of the many ways students learn and grow, Mr. Leland offered options for his students?ranging from posters and brochures to essays and short stories; the variety gave way for his students to use English, art, and technology to relate to what we were learning in class. Whenever the option was given, I chose to write essays or nonfiction stories, leading me to discover the passion I have for writing. I never would’ve thought I would discover a passion for the English language in a History class but I am so grateful that I did.
Recognizing the passion and (as he says) the “gift” I have for writing, Mr. Leland, to this day, challenges me to be the best writer I can and to restlessly pursue my goals as a writer. Much of my success in writing has stemmed from the continual encouragement he offers. Convinced that he will someday read a novel of mine, his heart to see me succeed has changed my life in a way I don’t think he will ever truly grasp.
Mr. Leland’s desire to see his students succeed has never been limited to academics and extracurriculars?he challenges his students to be the best version of themselves they can be. Encouraging authenticity, humility, and kindness, Mr. Leland offers opportunities for his students to participate in programs such as “Operation Sending Hope” through the American Public Education Foundation and “Mail Call” through the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight (both organizations work to honor and serve the military families within Wisconsin). Three of his students in 2015 took the call to participate in “Operation Sending Hope” to heart, spending hours on a video that would go on to win a national contest within the program.
But most importantly, however, Mr. Leland leads his students by example?when he isn’t in his classroom, he’s working as Richmond’s athletic/activities director and Charger Academy (summer school) principal. He sacrifices so much of himself (and his time) to make a positive difference in the lives of Richmond’s students and the community as a whole.
The love and compassion that Mr. Leland has for others is undeniable?as undeniable as the mark he is leaving on the lives of his students and on this world. Mr. Leland, thank you for the heart you have to see your students succeed. Thank you for showing your students what it looks like to be humble and kind. Thank you for challenging me to be the best version of myself and I thank you for your continual encouragement and unfailing support in everything I do (especially in my writing pursuits… I can’t guarantee that novel you’re hoping for, but I’ll try). You have made an impact on my life larger than imaginable and for that, I will always be grateful.