West Side Story

  • Baseball plays Linn-Mar at Oak Ridge Middle School on June 29.

Building connections across the district

As Mayra DeVries prepares for her new job at Liberty High, she hopes to make a positive impact on the new school as she says goodbye to colleagues and students she’s grown close to at West.

When the new high school opened, West lost a large number of both students and teachers. Next year, more teachers will be migrating to Liberty High School. Among them is Mayra Devries.

The Spanish teacher and West PALs adviser will become a counselor at Liberty in the fall of 2018.

DeVries went to at the University of Texas with the plan of becoming a Spanish teacher. While there, she discovered she was more skilled in building relationships with students than teaching a curriculum. She then pursued her masters in counselling.

After working in Texas for several years, DeVries moved to West in 2016. She was hired as a Spanish teacher and part-way through the year was asked to manage Success Center. She applied to be a counselor at Liberty last year before it opened, but was not offered the position.

“I feel like there’s always a plan in the works and so I felt like it just maybe wasn’t a good year for me to go…” said DeVries. “But I will say Dr. Shoultz really saw some potential in me because he knew that I was a counselor before and he believed in me and offered to send me to PALs training.”

Peer Assistance Leadership (PALs) was a program at a school in San Antonio where DeVries used to work. This school year it was offered at West for the first time.

“The premise of the class is [for students] to be a positive role model and … a mentor,” said DeVries.

Students involved with PALs worked with adaptive PE students and kids at Weber Elementary. They also help students whose first language isn’t English. They try to connect with students who are struggling academically or feel isolated.

I feel like the most important thing is to build a connection with your students, to really genuinely get to know them and try to help them whenever possible and just be there for them, [to] be that constant for them.”

— Mayra DeVries

“I feel like the most important thing is to build a connection with your students, to really genuinely get to know them and try to help them whenever possible and just be there for them, [to] be that constant for them,” said DeVries.

Rachael Saunders ’18 met DeVries through PALs and helped her organize the Best Buddies basketball game that took place in October.

“She has been a rock this year just because of her spunk and the amazing love she has for her students,” Saunders said.

Saunders will be in college next year but is looking forward to her sister, who is currently a freshman at Liberty, getting to know DeVries next year.

DeVries chose to go to Liberty so she could exercise her degree in counseling and be at the school her two children will one day attend, but she had a lot to consider before making that decision.

“We had a lot of conversations about her going to Liberty because she’s had a hard time with it. She loves West and she loves the kids at West,” said West High Assistant Principal and Mayra’s husband Luke DeVries. “And obviously the administrative team at West,” he joked.

The couple met while working at the same school in Texas, so they’ve been working together for years. “Every once in a while I’ll give her a hard time about it, but I told her from the beginning that I’m supportive of what she wanted to do,” he said.

One of the things that makes the move hard is leaving the people she’s connected with at West.

“I told her I was gonna barricade the door,” said Travis Henderson, a social studies teacher. He’s excited for DeVries’ new position but sad to lose his colleague next year.

The teachers became friends this year when DeVries’ classroom was moved across the hall from Henderson’s. They both have seventh period open, and during those free 50 minutes, the two would unwind in her classroom as the day came to a close.

She has a really positive energy that is very magnetic, I think for kids but also for other teachers. Whenever I need a big dose of positivity, I just go over there and I feel better.”

— Travis Henderson

“She has a really positive energy that is very magnetic, I think for kids but also for other teachers. Whenever I need a big dose of positivity, I just go over there and I feel better.”

Henderson isn’t the only one who benefits from DeVries’ positive demeanor. For Keshawn Shaw ’19, DeVries is someone he can confide in about anything. She was there for him one particularly difficult day this past winter when his grandma had walking pneumonia. DeVries let him spend that day working in her room and talking with her.

In addition to providing emotional support, she has helped Shaw find scholarship opportunities and encouraged him to participate in PALs next year, which he plans on doing.

Devries will be bringing the PALs program that she created at West to Liberty, and the West PALs program will be taught by Kerri Barnhouse.

“I’ll still be teaching a section of PALs, but then I will probably be helping students more one-on-one individually with further planning and stuff like that,” DeVries said. “Hopefully I’ll help with building school culture and a sense of community … I feel like I’ll be more included in conversations to that effect.”

The balance of being a counselor and a teacher is an aspect of the job DeVries looks forward to. In a private office, she will help students with future planning, but will have a whole group of students to teach in a more open setting as well.

“It will keep me in touch with what’s happening … I do plan to be a really visible counselor out in the halls and greeting students because I want them to know who I am so that they can come seek me out for any situation that might arise [if] they need help.”

DeVries’ main goal is to make a positive impact on the students.

“I just believe wholeheartedly that kids are our greatest resource and I … feel like investing that time and helping kids grow and just making a difference in our youth is really impactful.”

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Building connections across the district