March 22, 2009 in Idaho Voices

A role model inside, outside the classroom

Patty Hutchens
 
Kathy Plonka photo

Skyway Elementary fifth grader Danni Payton helped out in the first-grade class Feb. 27 at the school in Coeur d’Alene.
(Full-size photo)

A teacher may never really know what influence he or she has on a child.

They do their best and hope that the students learn all that is required of them, whether it is reading, math, history or science. But for Danni Payton, a fifth-grade student at Coeur d’Alene’s Skyway Elementary School, this year her teacher has taught her much more than academics.

Each day her teacher, Paul Jones, writes a quote on the board. The students record the quotes – all referring to life lessons – in a notebook, and Jones’ hope is that his students hold onto these for years to come. For Danni, there is one quote that has become especially important.

“Mr. Jones gave us a quote that said ‘If you think you can do it or you think you can’t do it, then you are right,’ ” said Danni. “For me that means you are going to do the best you can if you believe in yourself.”

Danni, 11, obviously believes in herself. A soccer player, basketball player, ice skater, in-line skater and teacher’s helper, Danni has already earned the admiration of those who know her.

“Danni is a leader not only in our classroom but also within our school. She is always respectful, friendly, willing to help, and always has a smile on her face. Danni is one of those kids who has intrinsic values and motivation,” said Jones.

A soccer player since she was about 5, Danni said that is her favorite sport. She enjoys playing all positions, but says that sweeper, which is the defensive position nearest the goalkeeper, provides relief after running a lot.

“Sweeper is fun when your battery is dead,” said Danni.

She has also played basketball since she was 8 and this year has participated in two AAU tournaments so far, winning two out of four games at each one.

“We took a big jump from park and rec (to AAU),” said Danni.

Danni has one sister, Ryanne, who is in third grade. Danni eagerly offers information about her sister’s true age.

“She was born on leap year so although she is 9, she is really only 2 ¼,” said Danni.

Danni is an exceptional student and is in the Advanced Learning Program for reading. “It’s called ALP but we like to call it Apes Love Pizza or Aliens Love Parties,” said Danni with a giggle.

Although the sports and high academic achievements are wonderful, it is what Danni does to help out in school that makes her really stand out among her peers. She serves as a volunteer in the first-grade class of Sarah Lilyquist nearly every day and also helps out in the kindergarten class from time to time.

It is clear that not only Lilyquist enjoys the help, but so do the first-grade students.

“She’s an amazing girl. The kids love working with her,” said Lilyquist. “She’s so mature and responsible. I can only hope one day my daughter is like Danni.”

Her responsibilities include helping with writing workshop and reading with the first-grade students. The kids enthusiastically seek her attention raising their hand hoping they will be the next to receive the attention of the older student.

She encourages the younger students and asks them questions, giving them confidence to come up with the correct answer on their own.

One student, Hailey, said she enjoys the help that Danni offers. “It is fun to have her (in our class) because she helps us so we can get our work done,” said Hailey.

Another young girl, Reyna, said that Danni helps her think of topics to write about.

But for as much as the teachers and younger students receive from the help that Danni offers, it is clear that Danni receives just as much in return.

“I like kids,” said Danni. “They’re really sweet and a lot of fun. Sometimes I can’t imagine how it is to not be able to spell, but I remember that I was their age once and I was like that.”

She admits that sometimes it is challenging to work with kids when they are misbehaving. “Then I just take a breath and know they are just kids. I just act calmly,” said Danni, whose teacher agrees that she has what it takes to be a wonderful role model to the younger kids.

Although now Danni focuses on teaching writing and reading to the first-grade kids, she said if she could teach the younger kids one thing, it would be that life does not have to be difficult.

“You can do anything if you believe in yourself,” said Danni.

Contact correspondent Patty Hutchens by e-mail at pattyhutchens@yahoo.com.

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