- Associated Press - Friday, December 25, 2015

MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) - During one of his last classes at Burris Laboratory School, Shon Byrum asked his students to share their favorite memory.

“Air guitar of knowledge” and “Yak man” were a few of their answers, reflecting a semester’s worth of inside jokes.

Some were easier to decipher: that time he threw a marker at the board to wake everyone up, when he danced around during class and his surprisingly well-executed cartwheel.

It’s pretty obvious the middle school students like their social studies teacher. Before his class began, a group of 15 or so former students, now in high school, chose to spend their open lunch hour playing video games in his room.

“It might be easier to stay here, where I’m loved,” Byrum said. “But life is a series of challenges.”

And his next challenge is being the mayor of Winchester, starting Jan 1.

An unlikely teacher

Byrum quickly admits that he wasn’t that into school while growing up in Winchester. He was into wrestling, and he ended up going to college on a wrestling scholarship. After one year of wrestling in South Dakota, he returned to Ball State University and studied religious studies and sociology.

It was never in his plans to be a teacher, much less a middle school teacher. He decided to get his license largely because he wanted to be a wrestling coach. But during his year-long internship at Driver Middle School, it clicked.

“Part of me is a kid at that age,” he said.

He also has a personal connection with the seventh grade. That’s how old he was when his first son was born.

“Maybe a part of me understands that age group,” he said. “Seventh graders are not immune to consequential life choices… It’s not just about social studies for me.”

Seven years ago, a job opened up at Burris, and he jumped on it. At the time he was fresh out of school, a single dad with a son was going into sixth grade.

They made the 37-minute drive together twice a day. That is, until his son turned 17 and saved enough to buy a car. Then, Byrum drove behind him. In May, Byrum’s son graduated.

“I think that was what I was holding on for,” he said.

During his tenure, Byrum found it was best to steer students. He set guidelines, but let students decide how to get there. Recently, some students used the computer game Minecraft to build a 3-D replica of the Nile River for a project on Egypt.

“I hope that I was able to still push them and challenge them, but still demonstrate respect,” he said. Respect is important to Bryum, because one day these students could be his boss.

He continued to make the 37-minute drive from Winchester, never having moved. And now he is married and has three children in the car, one in kindergarten, one in first grade and one in third. Starting in January, his children will switch over to Randolph Central Schools, with a welcome shorter commute.

Political aspirations

Recently, an administrator challenged Byrum’s political aspirations. According to Byrum, she asked, “Can’t you change education through your classroom?”

His response was, “Yes I can, but I don’t know if I’m patient enough.”

As mayor, Byrum said he hopes to work with the school system, which already has a close relationship with the city. Winchester helped fund a large chunk of the high school’s industrial classes and the required technology. Byrum said he’d like to expand that partnership to other subjects, like using parks for biology labs.

More generally, he wants to make sure students in Winchester continue to get a quality education, and have the opportunity to continue it, but also are able to come back and work within that profession. And that means jobs.

Unfortunately, he’s walking into the position months before the city’s largest employer, and one of East Central Indiana’s biggest remaining automotive parts manufacturers, Indiana Marujun, closes, leaving 765 people out of work.

Byrum’s reaction is that’s “hard to talk about until a decision is made.” There’s still time for a change; maybe another company will buy the 30-acre property. But it’s more likely the area’s economy will take a big hit.

While this is his first big move into politics, it’s not the first time Byrum has shown interest. Last year he ran unsuccessfully for state representative of District 33 against Greg Beumer. He was also part of the Standards Revision Committee, and as such helped create the seventh- and eighth-grade curriculum standards that were implemented in 2014.

Byrum joked that he will be too busy to miss Burris. But in reality, he said, he will still keep an eye on what’s going on, and hopefully be invited to a few graduations.

“What I truly want is … that I am forgotten because they’ve fallen in love with the new teacher,” he said. But those are some big shoes to fill.

During class Dec. 17 a student dropped off a present. It was a small book called, “Great Quotes from Great Leaders.” On the card the student wrote, “In my book, you are on one of these pages.”

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Source: The (Muncie) Star Press, https://tspne.ws/1PeUulX

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Information from: The Star Press, https://www.thestarpress.com


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