Friday, 27 January 2012 by Matthew Girard
Middle school students of the Belton Independent School District had a special lesson in leadership this week as Tory Grant of the Peer Assistance and Leadership Students (PAL) Program visited all three middle schools on Monday and Tuesday.
Grant, who is based out of Austin, spoke with sixth, seventh and eighth graders from Lake Belton Middle School and South Belton Middle School on Monday, and finished off his tour at Belton Middle School on Tuesday.
Grant, who has seen his share of tragedy in his life, wanted to let students know that no matter what, they can overcome any obstacles.
"The main message I was trying to get to them is that you can bounce back from anything, and that nothing should keep you down if you keep moving forward," said Grant, who is the PALS Training Director.
The sessions were broken up into different age groups (sixth, seventh and eighth graders) with about 200 students listening to Grant's 40-minute speech.
Belton Middle School Assistant Principal Phil Johanson said Grant was a great motivational speaker.
"We are glad to have him speaking to our middle school kids about leadership," Johanson said. "No matter what they are going through or what's going on in their lives, they can still spend time helping others."
Grant spent seven years as a youth director doing outreach on the streets of Austin, helping gang members to overcome destructive lifestyles and to become positive role models for their communities. For the last 14 years, Grant has traveled throughout the U.S. training teachers and students on the PAL curriculum to help them utilize the potential of youth to create positive changes in their lives, schools and communities.
"I think it's good when someone else comes in. He brings with him credibility from working in different states and countries," Johanson said. "It's been fun to watch because they were listening to him and laughing with him, but then he changed to the serious part of his talk and they all were paying attention. I'm hoping that the message will hit home and that will carry over."
Grant said he tries to get his message across in a way that students will understand.
"I try to do it in a humorous way, but I do have some serious stories," Grant said. "I've had death and other tragedies in my family, but at the same time, I let them know that there is a way to prevent it."
The program begin in 1980 as a "peer helping" program, combining "peer assistance" and "peer leadership" strategies. Because of its reputation for effectiveness, more than 750 school districts in Texas have requested services from PAL.
"They are at that turning point in life and they have so much going on, but I wanted to let them know that it's not in the end of the world," Grant said. "One of the worst things is for kids to be harassed in a place that they are supposed to feel safe. If we can create a safe place for kids, then kids are going to want to come and learn."
Although Grant has given speeches all over the country, he said his audience in Belton was top notch.
"They were a great audience," Grant said. "They are the most mature kids I've seen. The maturity of them to sit and listen for me to speak for 40 minutes was unbelievable."
For more information about the PAL program, visit www.palusa.org.