Sun Sentinel: After 20 years, Teacher Gets A Thank You To Remember
Kevin Dorival, 32, sat before his fifth grade teacher on Friday and handed her one final writing assignment – his first published book – and the biggest thank you a teacher could ask for.
It was the first time in more than 20 years that Sonji Wyche saw her student since he graduated from Park Ridge Elementary School in Deerfield Beach in 1992. But he said her lessons still inspire him, and he thanks her for that in his autobiography, “The Courage to Believe.”
“I’m elated that he thought of me. He didn’t have to remember me,” Wyche, 48, said. “I’ve been thanked before but not this big … I’m honored.”
Dorival said he found Wyche through Facebook. The pair decided to meet on Friday, before Dorival honors her during his book signing Saturday at 2 p.m. at the African-American Research Library in Fort Lauderdale.
Dorival, a mentor and inspirational speaker, “was always an ‘I can’ and ‘I will’ kid, a very hard worker … he hasn’t changed,” said Wyche, who now teaches at Parkway Middle School in Lauderhill. “Still looks the same, the same smile. He’s just taller, but he’s still shy.” When Dorival was in her class, a large number of students there were facing adversity, said Wyche. She said she taught them “you have to endure,” to always hold their heads up, even if they had to do homework by the moonlight when the lights would go out.
“I felt like I owed her so much. I was a young kid who had a speech impediment and despite my background, she believed in me,” Dorival said. An average student through middle and high school, he went to jail at 21 for attempted burglary and drug possession. During the eight months he spent behind bars, he said Wyche’s lessons really started to make sense to him.
“She was teaching us to take our minds out of our current environment and into somewhere greater … As an adult, it clicked on me what she was trying to do and I realized this wasn’t the way I wanted to live.”
The two reminisced about old teachers, misbehaving students and Wyche’s particular ways in the classroom – “you were stern, definitely, firm,” said Dorival. But he said her teaching stood out – in a good way. He remembers hearing the sounds of Bach and Mozart during class, sitting in high school desks and her surprise visits to his house to meet his parents and check if he was doing his homework.
“She wasn’t teaching for the paycheck, she was teaching to make sure we grew up responsible,” he said.