Trey entered seventh grade the year I entered teaching. Unfortunately, Trey was not concerned with his grades. For his erratic behavior, Trey spent over 80 days in suspension. On Tennessee’s 2010 TCAP tests, he SCOREd basic and below basic in every subject. I was his geography teacher, and Trey was failing.

For many in education, failing is a four-letter word. A struggling student is typically referred to academic intervention programs, and red tape often inhibits behaviorally challenged students from getting help. Not to mention that failing a student requires paperwork that would make your taxes look simple. The solution? Teachers are reluctant to write F’s on report cards.

However, passing unprepared students to the next grade denies them the chance to fail, try again, and experience success. There is dignity in failure.

Trey discovered that truth in 2010. He arrived back in my classroom again with the same silly grin. But he was taller.

Recently, Trey told me about his experience while at Rocketown, a downtown ministry for at-risk kids. Kids like Trey.

“Somehow, I knew I was going to do better,” Trey said about his second year in the seventh grade, “I thought, I’m going to shine, everyone will be younger than me and I could be a leader.”

Trey’s second attempt at seventh grade was my second year with Teach for America. In those first months, Trey’s teachers did all we could to rebuild his confidence. I chose him for a prominent classroom job, read his excellent writing samples aloud in class, and met one-on-one with him to work on his reading. Over time, Trey became a trusted student among faculty. He SCOREd advanced on every 2011 TCAP and moved on to eighth grade with confidence.

In the fall of his eighth grade year, Trey visited Rocketown. This establishment began to reap the benefits of Trey’s transformation, because he didn’t come to play—he came to work. Rocketown’s Entertainment Director Reagan Thomas recalls that time with amazement.

“I remember thinking, who is this kid?” Thomas said.

She went on to explain the crucial role Trey has played in setting up chairs, breaking down events, cleaning, and volunteering. She explained a quality in Trey that his teachers never witnessed—Trey, she said, has grandpa syndrome.

“He calls his peers the kids,” she said with a chuckle, “and He likes to be active. You tell him to do something and he does it and sometimes he goes and does more. Thank God for Trey.”

When our conversation ended, Trey described his future.

“My goal is to get a scholarship. Sometimes I feel like I want to be a teacher. That’s one of the most important jobs—being a teacher.”

Trey credits his self-confidence to God, his mother, teachers, the school’s Principal, and the fact that he had a chance to fail. He’s right. Very few students are given the chance he received when his teachers reluctantly wrote F’s on his report card, and even fewer feel the care of teachers, family and the community all around in the midst of that failure.

Children across Nashville need this kind of multi-lateral support. That’s why I have followed Trey’s example. I’m volunteering at Rocketown too. Yes, I am still teaching, but now I know that school isn’t the only place that can inspire children to change.