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 in the hallways of West are a common thing students experience once they get to know a staff member at the school. However, paraeducator Donald Doyle goes a step beyond, offering frequent check-ins on life. “My whole purpose in life is to spread love, to encourage, to motivate,” said Doyle. “To bring the best out of people.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Doyle’s high school experience was unique. After losing interest in traditional learning that consisted mainly of curriculum in an all boys Catholic school, Doyle convinced his mom to let him attend Dunbar Vocational High School where he had tried different skills and specialized in communication and graphic art. Doyle then started working in a music studio where 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 had volunteered at a school program called Safe Passage to guard over high crime corners that lead to schools to ensure their safety for the students, to create a safe passage. His volunteer work later on became a job, and it became his reason to enjoy 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 passion 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 with, and can identify with.”

However, he views his job as more than just a guide at school, and instead like 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?” said Doyle. “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 him can attest to that. “He is easy to talk to.” Mo Abdalla ‘24 said. “When I just need some advice in general, you know, he could be there on my mind.”

Doyle doesn’t just stop at helping one student, he helps every student he sees struggling, and he doesn’t 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.” English teacher Kerri Barnhouse said.

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 had influenced how he interacted 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 a Hip Hop club at West High this year with assistance from both English teacher Kerri Barnhouse as the sponsoring teacher 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.”

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…till I saw a hip hop club” Abdalla, a member of the club said.

Doyle’s burning passion for music had influenced 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 how small the club size is as of right now, Doyle is giving it everything.

“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 they have had a guest speaker from Chicago, Anthony Jordan, self-made entrepreneur in artist management with over a decade 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 that he can be the middle ground that connects both ends.
“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. “And 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 not question them themselves, nor give up.
“I’ve always looked at myself as a messenger. And if I can deliver a good thought in a good direction to a person. I’ve done my job for the day.”