This story comes to us from NBC Latino.
Alvin Aureliano Davis greets more than 400 students to his band program and music classroom every day with a smile and strict expectations. More than just a music teacher in Florida’s Miramar High School, he’s an educator whose passion for music as an instrument to create academic success has, for the last twelve years, impacted thousands of students. Now, as the 2012 Florida Teacher of the Year, he’s the only Latino in the race of four finalists vying for the prestigious title of 2012 National Teacher of the Year.
It’s a far cry from Davis’ beginnings. Born on the south side of Chicago to a Mexican mother and African-American father, Davis was brought up with the mentality that through education and hard work, he could achieve his dreams.
“It wasn’t easy at all. I knew people who used drugs and were in gangs – I even had family members that were involved in that lifestyle,” recalled Davis. “My friend, he was maybe 9 or 10 at the time, was even shot dead on his porch next door to me because of gangs. But my parents knew that education was our way of not staying where we were, to achieve something better.”
So Davis’ parents assigned him nightly homework – like book reports – that supplemented the assignments that Davis received in his accelerated public school. His mom, Davis says, was particularly adamant when it came to academics, even making sure he and his sisters attended summer school with the goal of learning material that would be used in the forthcoming school year.
“My mom was an ESL learner, who came from Mexico City to Illinois when she was 6 years old,” said Davis. “And you know, my parents were poor, the type of poor I didn’t even realize until I was grown. They sacrificed everything for me.”
Davis – with his childhood involvement in the school chorus, band and euphonium trumpet lessons – quickly realized that music was his calling and passion. With the intention of studying music education, Davis packed his bags and moved to Florida A&M University. He was in his sophomore year when the money for his tuition ran out. He had left school and had headed back to Chicago to work when his father, Davis says, handed him a check for school. “He said not to come back to Chicago until I finished college,” said the 36-year-old. “My parents lost their house because of the second mortgage during that time, but what I’ve done is a testament to their sacrifices. All I’ve done, my award, is dedicated to my parents.”
Davis strives to provide his parent’s example to every one of the children that go through his programs each year at Miramar High School in Broward County, Fla. He’s constructed his music curriculum to teach his students – 98% of whom are Hispanic and African-American children from underprivileged backgrounds – that they too, can succeed in life, “regardless of where they come from.”
“I lead by example,” says Davis, who is at school before his students arrive in the morning and departs after the last kids leave at 9 or 10 at night. Davis is adamant about placing academics at the forefront of his music curriculum, making sure that students in his ever-popular band have report cards “that are where they need to be if they want to participate.”
Davis also makes sure that every single one of his students registers for college entrance exams and fills out the appropriate college financial aid forms on deadline. Perhaps most importantly, Davis carves out time with each of his students at the beginning of the school year to map out a plan for the future.
“I sit my students down and ask ‘what do you want to do in life?’ ‘How do we get there?’” explains Davis, whose school is in the 6th largest school district in the country. “It’s amazing how many students can go through without anybody asking about that. I had one gentleman in my class last year tell me that in twelve years of school, no one had ever asked him what he wanted to do in life.”
With 100 percent of Davis’ students pursuing post-secondary education, it’s clear that his formula works. From teaching ballet in his eurhythmics classes, instructing students on video production, to directing the band members who march on the football field under the Florida sun, Davis is passionate about making sure through music, children gain the confidence, guidance and mentorship they need to succeed.
And while Davis would be proud to be recognized by President Barack Obama as the National Teacher of the Year in April, he says that all he wants is the opportunity to continue to shape children’s lives.
“As a man who is Hispanic and African American, as a loving father and husband, I want to be a role model and educator who builds relationships that break down barriers based on race, creed, or color,” says Davis. “I care about kids and all I want is for them to succeed.”
Nina Terrero is a reporter with NBC Latino.
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