Our community is filled with resources intended to support our youth. One of the largest resources lies within our schools. I have been blessed and challenged to work as a school principal for more than ten years in Sioux City. Over the years, I have worked with thousands of students who presented a variety of needs that reached beyond the classroom. Educators know that basic human needs trump academic achievement and must become proficient in navigating community resources. Caring for a whole child often requires more than what a classroom teacher or, in my case, a school administrator, can provide. Nothing is more satisfying than watching a student who once needed these resources move into a role where they can return the favor.
In 2015 I met Austin Hilton. Austin was a squirrely 6th-grade student who was not always armed with the tools he needed to be ready to learn. He enjoyed the social aspect of school but admittedly struggled to like school. He did just enough to get by academically. Socially, he was a helper, but sometimes his intentions were misguided. He was the first to volunteer to help me clean up the lunchroom, but only if it included missing some class time. From the moment I met Austin; it was clear that he had potential and just needed to find the right place to see the success he so desired.
Fast forward a few years. Austin had grown and started high school, and my job as a principal had taken me to the Sioux City Career Academy. I was quite pleased to see Austin entering my campus for classes one day. Austin told me he was exploring both the police science and fire science pathways during our initial conversation. He wasn’t sure where he would land, but again, the helper in him shone. Over time Austin found his passion in fire science.
Because of passionate teachers, the fire science course came to life for Austin. Not only does he now like school, but he also loves it. Austin chooses to spend time teaching younger students about the fire science pathway outside of class. He shared his story and how his experiences in high school have changed his path. But this isn’t where Austin’s story ends. In addition to working towards a college degree and a high school degree simultaneously, Austin is now a volunteer with the North Sioux City Fire Department. He shared with me that he always thought being a firefighter might be a cool job, but he had no idea how to get there. Now, not only is he on his way, he is giving back to his community in the process.
Because of the resources found in school, Austin found a place for his helping heart. He found academics that he could be passionate about and he found himself as a leader and a contributor. Our community is better served because of him.
By Katie Towler