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How one bond turned into meaningful mentorship

Kurt DeVries says he knows a lot about students by the way they act on the bus he drives for Nooksack Valley Schools. Some students sit calmly, while others bounce around. It was in the simple act of trying to calm one kindergarten boy a bit bouncier than the rest that DeVries has formed a meaningful mentorship relationship that has that kindergartner, Jamisen, now in fourth grade, clinging to Kurt’s every direction.

“Kurt has been a lifesaver for my son,” says Karen Tillman, Jamisen’s mother. “They always had a bond, but this year he has really gotten to work with Kurt and just hang out with Kurt.”

DeVries, who also works as a custodian for Sumas Elementary School, has brought Jamisen along with him during the start of the school day to work on projects around the building. Whether painting signs, fixing stools, making objects that will get used in the special needs classroom or even playing checkers, DeVries says he is helping keep the student busy, but also teaching him at the same time.

Megan Vigre, Sumas principal, sees it too. “Kurt is so much more than (a bus driver and custodian) for us at Sumas,” she says. “Kurt has gone out of his way to be there for this student who lost his dad at an early age.” It started by Kurt developing a relationship and now starting the day to get Jamisen going on the right path and has expanded into the projects and making the school a better place for everyone.

“He doesn’t know I throw math into it,” DeVries says. “We just made a welcome sign and he had to paint it and take apart boards so they would fit. I made him measure it out, figure out how much paint we would need in white and brown. He didn’t realize he was doing math.”

Karen says that while Jamisen enjoys working with tools and paint, she knows it is all about hanging out with Kurt.

DeVries says that early bond in kindergarten, as a way to help calm a young student, created the attachment. “He needs a man to talk to in his life right now and I have assumed that spot,” Kurt says. “I think it is helping.”

“He has created a real positive place to be,” Vigre says. Whether allowing Jamisen to call Kurt when things get tough, Kurt bringing the fourth-grader lunch at school so he feels special or simply providing that male role model, Vigre says Kurt has gone above and beyond and impacted both Jamisen and other students along the way.

“He has a genuine friendliness and you can tell there is a love for him at school,” Vigre says. “He is someone asking about how their life is going, checking in and talking with their parents. He creates a triangle between the school, home and students.”

For Kurt, it is just all part of why he works in the Nooskack Valley Schools. “If I can help a kid or two out,” he says, “that’s what we’re all here for.”