The change IS possible

Kaylie McConnell

Then: “I am a regular visitor to the ISS room and lunch detention.”

Now: “I’m going to college next fall.”

These two quotes sound like they came from two very different people. Wrong. Meet Felix Payan.

    In elementary school, he felt like one of the outsiders, because he couldn’t speak English very well. This barrier continued to stand in front of him through middle school. Despite his effort to climb to the top of the sand dune, he found himself sliding back down to the bottom every time.

    Payan eventually went through a phase where he had almost given up on himself. “As I progressed in school, I felt like I was stuck in the middle – no one really noticed me and no one really knew what I did. I was failing every class, and I didn’t really care,” Payan said.

    But, he did not let this phase overcome him. In about 5th grade, he started to integrate himself with the school kids and get into cliques with kids in his neighborhood. When middle school started, he began to hang out with the cool kids, because he wanted to be cool and have friends just like everyone else. This ended with him making some poor choices. “I started skipping class and doing all of these little mean things to people, which progressed a lot more,” Payan said.

    The little thing in life that Payan was missing was attention, and he did almost anything to get it. “All I wanted as a kid was attention because I didn’t really get that at home. Whether it was attention from doing bad things, or good things, it didn’t really matter to me as long as I got that attention,” Payan said.

    All it took was one suspension for Payan to realize that he needed to change for the better. “What really made me change my ways was my mom, because she means a lot to me. I realized what I was doing here and I realized that I was causing pain in her life, and it made me rethink my choices. I thought that I could …  and cause my mom to have sleepless nights, or I could change myself and improve my life,” Payan said. That’s what kickstarted him to do better.

    “I’m glad that the school put up with me and my behavior, so I could have that wake up call and still realize that my teachers are there to help me change,” Payan said. One of those teachers was Amy Wilson, an English teacher at West Ottawa High School. She helped pave the road for Payan to go to college.   

    “She made me change my mindset from being another street kid to being a kid who wants to go to college, pursue a career, and do good things in this world, and that’s what I want to do. I love helping people, and I feel like that’s my passion, that’s my drive,” Payan said.

    Wilson first met Felix when he was a freshman in her English 1. “I was immediately impressed with his intellect and ability to really dig deep and analyze literature,” Wilson said.

    When he told her that he had never really taken school seriously in middle school, she was surprised. “He was such a natural leader and so inquisitive and interested in whatever we were studying. He was always so open and honest about his experiences and I remember a few times where we all got a little emotional after he would share something about his life,” Wilson said.

    At the end of the year, Wilson told Felix he should be in Honors English 2. “He was pretty surprised and initially didn’t want to do it. In hindsight, I’m not really sure I gave him an option. I remember talking to his counselor and making sure he was placed in my Honors class,” Wilson said.  

   Payan continued to grow as a student that year. “I think that was the first time where ‘going to college’ really seemed like something that might be possible. I don’t think he had ever really entertained the thought. I told Felix he was going to college. End of story,” Wilson said.

   And, that’s what he will do. Payan plans to go to Ferris State University to study either teaching or social work. Either one of these options will bring him close to work with kids who need his guidance and willpower. His first-hand knowledge and experience of what some kids are going through will be one of the keys to the meaningful career that Payan is striving for.

    “Watching Felix grow as a person the last few years has absolutely been one of the highlights of my teaching career. Felix is special. He is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever encountered, and I have no doubt he will do something great with his life,” Wilson said.

    Payan proved that a student can go from being a bit of a troublemaker, to a college bound student who will surely succeed in the future. And there are more students out there just like Payan, who just need a little guidance to find their real passion.