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'I feel like a new person'

Brandon Groveland Youth Assistance Youth Recognition recognizes 135 outstanding area youth

June 02, 2010 - Brandon Twp.- Nathan Miller used to be sent to the principal's office nearly every day, beginning in kindergarten.

An angry child who lacked control over his emotions, he routinely had tantrums. He struggled with his academics, had no good friends, met with two different superintendents regarding his behavior and was close to being removed from the district.

Nathan himself admits he was "a really bad student."

"I wasn't very social and I didn't like being around people," he says. "I didn't like to ask for help, so I would get mad and throw chairs across the room."

He even believes he was responsible for H.T. Burt Principal Debbie Radar's retirement, but thinks she would be happy to see him now, especially as the winner of a "Top Seed Award."

Nathan, now a fourth grader at Oakwood Elementary, was honored with the award May 12 at the Brandon Groveland Youth Assistance Youth Recognition Night. He was one of 135 kids to receive recognition, the majority of which were for service to the community. Nathan, nominated by Oakwood Principal Kristy Spann, was the only one to be awarded for overcoming great personal difficulty.

"This has been a turning point year for him," said Spann. "He has really made a turnaround."

That turnaround began at the start of his third grade year, she said. There had been many meetings with Spann, Nathan's teacher Debbie Brauher, and Nathan's mom, Alison Miller, to get him to this point, with continual modifications to a behavior plan, preferential seating, visual schedules, and modified work.

It wasn't a quick fix, Spann noted, but with consistency and clear consequences, Nathan began taking responsibility for his actions and as he gained control over his emotions, his academics also improved. He engaged with his peers and began taking initiative. Because third and fourth grade are on a loop with students having the same teacher for both years, this year Nathan was again in the classroom of Bauher, who won the 2010 Oakland County Elementary Teacher of the Year.

While consistency with a teacher and a principal who Nathan says both knew how to calm and encourage him helped, the 10-year-old had many things working against him this year. In September, his grandmother died. A week later, his dog was hit by a car and died. He and his mother were evicted from their house and moved their belongings into Nathan's grandfather's home, which was destroyed in a fire in December. Several animals also perished in that fire.

"When you look at all of this devastation and what he's been through and where he came from, how many people would revert to their bad habits and what they have known most of their life?" asked Spann. "But he didn't. Just to overcome the emotional difficulties that he overcame was, in and of itself, very powerful and lifechanging. He changed his trajectory in life from failure to success, but then to be faced with one profound hardship after another and keep getting back up? It defies logic."

Now, Nathan is completing all his work, comfortably passing all his subjects, enjoys reading, and has lots of friends.

"I feel like a new person and it feels really good to do good things instead of bad things," said Nathan. "I feel like I achieved something big that I never thought I would be able to do."

Alison Miller is amazed at the progress her son has made.

"We had to find a different way to approach things," she said. "Nathan isn't as impulsive now and everyone loves him. He's happier, he likes school now, he's become a major reader, and I thank Ms. Brauher and Ms. Spann a lot. It's so awesome. He's growing up, he's a little man, and I'm so proud of him."

Nathan says he still gets mad sometimes, but now he doesn't do anything bad when he is angry. Instead, he takes deep breaths and thinks of positive things.

He recently advised a friend's sister, a kindergartener who was upset about her younger brother being in the hospital, to try not to think about it and instead think of happier things.

"I shared those words of wisdom," Nathan said. "I'm happy now. I just changed my life and turned myself around."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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