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Former LaVergne Middle Students Return to School as Educators

Former LaVergne Middle students return to school as educators
The LMS Five: Collin Etheridge, Malaikia Woodfork, Taylor Lawton, Joshua Cartwright, and Allison Etheridge (not pictured)

Five former LaVergne Middle school students are back home.

After graduating high school, college and traveling on different paths – the fabulous five have reunited at LaVergne with the intent to positively impact the lives of middle school students. Once receivers of education, they are now educational providers.

In this Q&A, Taylor Lawton, Collin Etheridge, Joshua Cartwright, and Malaikia Woodfork answer questions about their return. Alllison Etheridge was unable to attend the interview.

Q: Why are you back at LaVergne Middle?

A: (Malaikia) I came back because this was a job opportunity. Taylor was here first, she told me about it, and I loved coming here as a student. So, coming here to work as a teacher was just eye opening. I can help the younger kids and be like the teachers that were here for me.

A: (Joshua) It was a great job opportunity. I’ve always wanted to be someone who can be looked up to or a role model. And I feel like this would be a good place because a lot of kids do need someone to look up to.

Q: What is unique about LaVergne Middle?

A: (Collin) I would say the environment and the vibe that LaVergne Middle gives off. It’s just a safe environment. It feels like everybody here is a family and that’s what I love most about it.

A: (Taylor) The diversity here. I used to be a substitute teacher the past two years and a lot of schools around here aren’t that diverse, but you walk into La Vergne Middle, and we have everyone. All languages. I think that makes kids here more comfortable in the school.

Q: What’s important about working with students?

A: (Malaikia) No kid is a bad kid. If a student acts up, they’re acting up for a reason. Teach them educational things, but at the same time, teach them life skills. They’re about to go to high school and that’s when things get real — you’re setting them up to be an adult.

A: (Collin) This is the newer generation that is growing up to be the working adults of the world. We want to build them up to the point they’re ready for everyday life and whatever they’re doing on their own or wherever they’re furthering their education. Everything is just building up those life skills.

Q: How do you use your alumni status to connect with students?

A: (Malaikia) They relate to us naturally because we are young, but the things they talk about in general — I’ve been through those things before. I think my perspective is different now as an adult and I want to try to help talk to them or help solve those problems.

A: (Collin) I think it’s mainly we have had those experiences and can mentor them and give them advice. It’s kind of like when kids come up to us and ask what it was like for us in High School and Middle School or what things were like when we were their age and everything. We relate to them a lot more because of us being younger and experiencing it.

Q: What challenges have arisen since coming back, things that are difficult?

A: (Collin) We had to build up a lot of patience. Coming back and dealing with kids and everything you realize you need a lot more patience because they’re going through different things or personal things going on in their life.

A: (Malaikia) We must remind ourselves that we are adults. Whether it’s something small they come to us about, we have to think, OK, this small thing could turn into a big thing. So, what can we do to solve it instead of laughing it off or not paying attention to it. We’re not the students. We’re adults now and we need to step up and do what we need to.

Q: What has it been like working with your former teachers.

A: (Malaikia) Whenever they see me, my former teachers, they are like ‘I can’t call you Malaikia anymore! I must call you Ms. Woodfork’. The last time they saw me I was 13, 15 years old. It’s a different environment since you’ve been here and now, you’re back as a teacher helping other kids. I had spring formal in the same cafeteria. Danced in the same gym. IT’s crazy to see how things are different and how things are the same.

A: (Taylor) I was sitting in their class and now I’m working here. I was the first out of the group to come back. When everyone else came, I told them everything had changed. But also – it’s still like home to me. I’m back at my home base. I just feel like things would be different if we were at a school other than LaVergne.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

A: (ALL) Go hawks.

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