(Published with permission from Summit Education Initiative.)
Devon McAfee can’t put a dollar value on his opportunity to benefit the lives of students.
“If I can help make a difference in the lives of future leaders, there’s no price I can put on that,” McAfee says.
As in-school suspension teacher, attendance coordinator and football, basketball and track coach at Coventry High School, McAfee encounters many students he may positively impact on a weekly basis. But coaching and mediating students on a regular basis was not always part of McAfee’s job description.
He spent the first 15 years of his career working in a corporate environment, traveling across the country and meeting many different people along the way.
“The skill sets I have learned working with many walks of life is priceless,” he says. “Although traveling was cumbersome sometimes, I met so many different inspiring people in several parts of the country I may never have seen otherwise. I got to experience different cultures and better understand issues facing other regions.”
For years, McAfee questioned whether his career was really something he was meant to do.
“I can recall pulling into the parking lot and realizing I was not happy with my career path,” he says. “‘It’s never too late’ is what I have always said to myself. It’s never too late to follow your dreams.”
As McAfee coached his oldest son in basketball, the father of one of his teammates noticed and admired McAfee’s coaching style and the discipline and intensity the team consistently demonstrated as a result.
“He asked me to take an open position at LEAP Program, which he currently owns,” McAfee explains. “As I contemplated leaving my corporate career to join LEAP, I was offered another position from a Fortune 500 company that works alongside NASA. I was taken aback by both opportunities that could change my life and, most importantly, the dynamics of my family.”
Although McAfee would be walking away from a career in which he had already invested 15 years, he knew working with kids who need mentors and helping them shape their futures was his true calling.
“To me, it was a no-brainer,” he says. “This was my opportunity to finally fulfill my dreams. I could listen to kids to better understand their feelings but also provide different perspectives for them to consider.”
As McAfee joined LEAP as a behavior specialist who worked with students with mental and behavior problems and issues with authority, he also became a full-time coach at the high school level.
Now, in his role at Coventry High School, McAfee enjoys taking special moments to simply listen to students. As someone who was one of the few minority students in school, McAfee empathizes with students in similar situations at Coventry.
“I tell them understanding one another makes us more appreciative,” McAfee says. “I also help students identify individuals they can trust; with some students I discuss issues they are not comfortable approaching their parents about.”
McAfee knew something was missing when he was working in the corporate world. “I wasn’t happy working those long hours,” he says. “I figured those hours could be more appreciated working with students.”
While McAfee has a great rapport with many of his students at school and on the field or court, he encourages them to take responsibility for their decisions and their consequences.
“I don’t want my students to make the same mistakes I did; yet, I always tell them, ‘To succeed you must fail,’” McAfee says. “After a severe arena football accident, I woke up from a coma that lasted one to two weeks and realized I had to make some changes in my life.”
McAfee is a firm believer that we live life once.
“When my students say they can’t wait to be an adult, I tell them, ‘You can’t get those years back. Embrace them. Take advantage of every opportunity.’”
Looking ahead, McAfee is pursuing a teaching certification in hopes of someday becoming an intervention specialist.
“I am also using my experience and mistakes I’ve made in the past as motivation to complete my own degree,” McAfee says. “Anyone who has a dream or desire to follow his or her heart should know it’s never too late; don’t let anything hold you back. I wouldn’t change my experience for the world.”