From Para to Teacher to Friend by Robert Bates, Hungerford School Teacher

I was a 19-year-old substitute para-professional when I first met a young boy named Kyrillos. I was only working two days a week at this point because I was still a full-time student at Baruch College. Kyrillos was the most adorable 11-year-old I ever met. He was kind, gentle but most of all he was misunderstood. Kyrillos has Autism and had very limited speech. I went home after my first day of work and told my father, I now know what I want to do with my life. My father at the time was a principal at P25 and knew the population of my student all too well. My mind was made up and I transferred from Baruch to the College of Staten Island and began majoring in Education. I went to school at night, so I could be a full-time para professional with Kyrillos. I remember so many amazing moments over the past ten years, from birthdays, to school trips to our everyday walks around the campus. People often say to me “Rob you’re so good with Kyrillos.” I appreciate the accolades but Kyrillos is good with me not the other way around. I was his para for 4 years and then lucky enough to be his teacher for another 4 years.

Like everything in life, things change, and I was relocated to the main site for a tremendous opportunity. However, that opportunity, meant leaving Kyrillos, and I was devastated. Two months went by and his father told me he wasn’t getting off the bus and he wasn’t going into school. Our principal at the time was able to figure out a way Kyrillos could be relocated to the same site I was at. Even though we weren’t in the same class, I believe he felt comfortable knowing I was around, but little did he know, seeing his face again every day meant the world to me. So, on a daily basis I would be called down to escort Kyrillos off the bus, and every day I fell in love with him a little more.

People live in a world where social media has taken control of our lives and our sanity. We are judged by others, ridiculed by most and completely absorbed in everything around us. Even when things in my life weren’t going the way I planned or hoped, I took a step back and realized how lucky I really am to have the things I have. I would walk into work every single day, thinking to myself no one in this world knows what true courage and strength is until you meet students like I encounter on a daily basis. Kyrillos has not only changed my life, he has made me love my job and he will never ever realize how much I truly love him. Bonds between teachers and students are extremely common, but the bond Kyrillos and I have goes beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Watching him graduate today and walking across that stage as a young man, brought tears to my eyes and completely melted my heart. I like to think I taught Kyrillos many things over the past ten years but Kyrillos has taught me so much more. I chose this profession for moments just like today.

To all the students with disabilities, you are heroes to everyone you ever meet. Stay strong, be true to yourself and never give up. Congrats to the Hungerford Graduates. Congrats to Kyrillos for graduating but more importantly thank you for changing my life.