Aspire to inspire

Coming from Chicago schools to West High in 2019, Paraeducator Donald Doyle continues to spread an impact at West ever since, inspiring students and starting the hip hop club.

Frequent greetings, from waves to friendly “Hello’s,” are a common thing students experience once they get to know a staff member at the school. However, once a student gets to know paraeducator Donald Doyle, frequent check-ins on life are what they get used to. 

“My whole purpose in life is to spread love, to encourage, to motivate. To bring the best out of people,” Doyle said. 

Born and raised in Chicago, Doyle’s high school experience was unique. After losing interest in traditional learning at an all-boys Catholic school, Doyle asked his mom to go to Dunbar Vocational High School, where he tried a variety of skills, specializing in communication and graphic art. Doyle then started working in a music studio, and that is when his love for music developed. 

“I like to take the different elements of music, I like to bring everything together to make one sound,” Doyle said. 

After that, he had a lot of different jobs, from security positions to selling cars. 

“All of this is a reflection of me not continuing my education — for me to be bouncing from job to job to job — because if I had educated myself on something that I can make a career out of, I wouldn’t have had to do that,” Doyle said. 

All of this is a reflection of me not continuing my education — for me to be bouncing from job to job to job — because if I had educated myself on something that I can make a career out of, I wouldn’t have had to do that,”

— Donald Doyle

Doyle volunteered at a school program called Safe Passage to help schools ensure the safety of their students at high-crime corners. His volunteer work later on became a job, and it sparked his passion for working with students. The road then led him to Iowa City to become a paraeducator.

For Doyle, a paraeducator position is more than just an educator; it is a mentor, a friend, and a role model.

“It’s like being a parent, I mean, me working with the school is like being a parent,” Doyle said. “I don’t look at you as students; I look at you as my kids.” 

Paraeducators are assigned to a specific student to accompany throughout the school day to help them with classes. 

“As a child, I didn’t have that. We didn’t have paraeducators, and we didn’t have mentors in a school,” Doyle said.

Doyle became a paraeducator at West High in 2019 because of his goal to become a guide for the students. 

“I noticed that working in Safe Passage, I saw that students needed someone to connect to. I also realized that from my own personal experiences and when I did some of the things that they can connect and identify with,” Doyle said.

However, he views his job not as just a guide at school, but a guide in life.

“You spend eight hours with me a day; you see me more than you see your own parents, so why can’t I be more nurturing, as well as motivating, to you?” Doyle said. “Why can’t I be the one that not only helps educate you, but motivates you and lets you know ‘Hey you are cared for, you are loved’?” 

Why can’t I be the one that not only helps educate you, but motivates you and lets you know ‘Hey you are cared for, you are loved’?

— Donald Doyle

Students that have interacted with Doyle can attest to his philosophy. 

“He is easy to talk to,” said Mo Abdalla ’24. “When I just need some advice in general, he could be there on my mind.”

Doyle does not just stop at helping one student; he helps every student he sees struggling, and he does not just check on school work, he checks on how they are doing in life. 

“He really cares, he just really cares about what he does. He cares about kids. He cares about having an impact,” said English teacher Kerri Barnhouse

He really cares, he just really cares about what he does. He cares about kids. He cares about having an impact,”

— Kerri Barnhouse, English teacher

His experience from Chicago influenced how he interacts with students. 

“There are times where in Chicago I’ve lost students because of the violence. And so that’s when crisis prevention comes in,” Doyle said. 

For that reason, Doyle had decided to start Hip-Hop Club at West High this year with assistance from Barnhouse as the sponsor and music teacher David Haas.

“I started [the hip-hop club] to create a bridge of communication in regards to mental awareness, mental health, giving the kids the opportunity to be heard and not judged,” Doyle said.

Donald Doyle watching over a student trying the piano during hip hop club meeting. (Sophie Richardson)

The club is meant to assist students interested in hip-hop to learn more about the industry and have the opportunity to produce their own music within the genre.

“I wanted something involving music because I like writing lyrics. All the other clubs just didn’t strike a nerve for me … ’til I saw a hip-hop club,” Abdalla, a member of the club, said. 

Doyle’s passion for music inspired the students that he works with to join the club.  

“A couple of kids came to the hip-hop club that didn’t know a lot about hip hop but they came because of him,” Barnhouse said. “I remember one girl saying, ‘Well, Don loves it, and I loved Don, and so that’s why I’m here.’”

Regardless of the club size, Doyle is giving it his all. 

“He could have one person in this club, and that would be enough for him, he shows up every day for that club so committed and so prepared,” Barnhouse said. 

Recently, the club hosted a guest speaker from Chicago, Anthony Jordan, a self-made entrepreneur in artist management with over a decade of experience in the entertainment industry.

some members of the hip hop club posing for picture during a meeting with Donald Doyle. (Sophie Richardson)

He spoke for a while about the work he does with artists and companies along with why he is doing it. Students then later got the chance to ask him for advice on where to start, how to improve and what it takes to get into the industry. 

Doyle hopes for the club to grow over time and to become a space that students find comfort in. “Hopefully we can get this documented to where it can be pushed to the point where hip-hop can be a class as an elective. I feel it would be imperative to teach what hip-hop is about, versus just let them get out there say and do whatever it is that they do,” Doyle said. 

When conflicts arise between students and their peers or teacher, Doyle prefers to step in because he believes he can be the middle ground that connects both sides.

“I’m not going to take the teacher’s side; I’m not going to take your side, because I was raised by three sides to every story: your side, his side and then there’s the truth,” Doyle said. 

I’m not going to take the teacher’s side; I’m not going to take your side, because I was raised by three sides to every story: your side, his side, and then there’s the truth,”

— Donald Doyle

He keeps that in mind while roaming the halls to see how students are doing and how he can help. 

“You definitely need somebody to talk to you. Your parents are not going to stand up because your parents are not in the school, seeing how you interacted with that individual, but I will because I saw it,” Doyle said. 

However Doyle doesn’t do what he does because of his job, he does it because he was raised that way. 

“My mama never told me to look down on people,” Doyle said. “The only time I look down on them is when I am reaching my hand to help them.” 

Doyle always provides advice for those he encounters and encourages them to neither question themselves nor give up.

“I’ve always looked at myself as a messenger,” Doyle said. ”If I can deliver a good thought in a good direction to a person, I’ve done my job for the day.”