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Washington Voices

A good act to follow

Thu., March 12, 2009

Student credits grandfather for changing his life

Mountain View Middle School seventh-grader Leo Shollenberger has undergone a behavioral transformation in the last year that his principal and teachers call “miraculous.”

Shollenberger himself gives all the credit to his grandfather, also named Leo Shollenberger, who is raising him.

Shollenberger, 13, recently competed in his school’s Guiding Light essay competition and wrote about his grandfather’s influence. His was one of six grand prize winning essays selected to be read during a special Guiding Light evening at the school. “I just pretty much poured everything I had into it,” he said. “He’s always there for me.”

Shollenberger calls his grandfather an extraordinary person. “He is always pushing me to be a better person,” he wrote in his essay. “He has always shown me the value of hard work and trying my best.”

“I always know there is a lot of love in his heart for me. Thank you, Grandpa.”

His grandfather has been widowed for 30 years and took over raising his grandson when his mother became incapable of doing it and an aunt became too ill to help out. “He’s lived at my home all his life,” he said. “I raised four daughters by myself. I have some experience, I guess.”

Last year the younger Shollenberger was frequently in Principal Jim McAdam’s office. He spent a lot of that time shouting and swearing at the top of his lungs, McAdam said. “You could hear him through the walls,” he said.

But something clicked over the summer, and a new Leo Shollenberger walked through the door on the first day of school. “He had a goal that he wanted to be an all-star,” McAdam said. A student must have good behavior and not show any disrespect in order to get the recognition. “He’s working real hard at it.”

Security guard Rob Layne, who had a lot of contact with Shollenberger last year, is amazed at the transformation. “The change in Leo has been phenomenal,” he said. “He’s come a long way.”

The new Leo Shollenberger is kind and helpful to other kids, said school counselor Carla Bagby. “I don’t think he had confidence,” she said. “He can talk to anybody now. He’s a star.”

Now Shollenberger volunteers to help out in the kitchen and the library every day. He will do any task, whether it’s shelving books in the library or washing dishes in the kitchen. “I pretty much do it because I want to,” Shollenberger said. “Anything to help the community is what I do.”

Librarian Rikki Dorsh said Shollenberger is a huge help. “He just does tons of duties,” she said. “He’s just wonderful. He does whatever I need.”

His acceptance of his grandfather’s work ethic came in handy last fall when Shollenberger had to raise $2,000 to go on a school trip to Washington, D.C., this summer. He did odd jobs for neighbors and got a couple scholarships. He’s excited about seeing the White House. “I’ve never been anywhere that far,” he said.

Shollenberger’s grandfather is pleased with the boy’s progress. “His grades are just unbelievable,” he said. “I really don’t think he had an A before, and he had four or five. He’s grown up and become more mature.”

Shollenberger doesn’t like to dwell on how he used to behave. “It’s better now than it ever was,” he said. “Grandpa’s been helping me. A lot of people have been helping me.”

Nina Culver can be reached at (509) 927-2158 or via e-mail at

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