Becoming a parent can change your whole perspective – just ask Gadsden County’s School-Related Employee of the Year, Gregory Williams.
An education paraprofessional at Carter-Parramore Academy in Quincy, Williams is heavily involved not only in his job-related duties, but in mentoring the students that walk the halls of CPA.
Now in his second year at the school, his duties behind the desk include answering the phones, records such as attendance and grades, as well as providing referrals to discipline. In addition, he assists the principal and teachers in any way he can. He also coached basketball last year.
But his favorite activity is talking with the young men who attend the school and teaching them how to behave and be the best they can be, not only in school but in life as well. He relates to them so well because he remembers what it was like to be a student himself, and he remembers all the people that made a difference in his life. Now he wants to do the same.
“I wanted to work in the same school system I was raised in because I remember how much fun it was for me,” he said. “I had teachers who cared and took the time to make sure I had everything I needed educationally. I want to do the same thing for others.”
Williams graduated from Havana Northside High School in 2001, and attended St. Johns River Community College on a basketball scholarship. After earning his associate’s degree, he came home and began working in the Office of Student Financial Services at Florida State University as a customer service representative.
But his desire to come home was strong, and he soon found his way to CPA.
Williams isn’t the only mentor at CPA; the other men on staff also work to provide positive role models for the school’s male population.
“We try to help them understand the importance of education and that life is not easy. We try to help them in any way possible,” he said. “(Students) come to us with situations and we try to help them before it escalates into something severe.”
Williams added that he often tells the young men, “Keep your pants up, tuck your shirt in. Be presentable. When you talk to someone, look them in the eye.”
“I give them practical life traits they need to learn,” he said.
When asked what those same students would say about him, Williams laughs.
“I’m a clown, and I love to see them having fun, and they know it. When I was coming up, I liked to have fun, but I knew I had to get the work done. It’s the same with them,” he said. “When I’m serious, they ask me what’s wrong.”
Williams has a 16-month-old son, Jayden, with his wife of 21 months, Chiquita. He says becoming a father has changed the way he deals with students.
“Before, when they did wrong, I asked them why they did it. Now, I tell them, ‘You know better than that.’ It’s changed how I look at them and what they do,” he said of his students.
A native of Havana, Williams is attending Florida A&M University, majoring in education. He says the positive influence of teachers and mentors he had growing up, combined with the professional experiences he’s had in recent years, led him to decide a career in education is for him.
Although he hasn’t decided on what grade level he wishes to teach, Williams is leaning towards teaching history, saying it’s fascinating to him, and it can teach not only about your past, but your present and future as well.
“It’s an adventure,” he said of his favorite subject.
The college junior plans to make his classroom as interactive as possible.
“If your’re serious all the time, students don’t listen,” he said. “I want them to work along with me. Class participation is paramount. I learned that from one of my teachers, and it made an impact on me. That’s how I want it to be in my class.”
As if being married with a child wasn’t enough to juggle with going to school, Williams very involved in the community and in his church. He is the youngest deacon ordained at New Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church in Havana. He’s also on several event committees in the town, and is a mentor with the Men of Distinction organization at East Gadsden High School. And he loves his Florida State Seminoles.
The Havana native is working on his college degree online at night, while his wife attends classes. She is also a junior, and is majoring in health information management.
The couple’s son is the light of his daddy’s life.
“We love him to death,” Williams said with a huge grin. “He has the most beautiful smile. The best thing about being a dad is when he runs to me when I come home from work at the end of the day. Just to see his smile is the thing I love the most.”
Williams said he wishes his mother, Geraldine Kelly, could have lived to see his son. She died in May last year, and Jayden was born in May.
“We found out we were having a boy the week she passed, and we didn’t tell her because she wanted it to be a girl,” he remembered, adding that his mother has also been a major influence in his life.
“She raised six kids on her own. She really did a good job with all of us,” he said, adding that his mother made sure he had all the skills she knew he’d need when he left home.
“I can sew, I can cook, I can clean,” he said. “My mother said, ‘You will learn everything you need to know before you leave my house.’ And she made sure of that.”
And that same attitude is what Williams tries to reflect to the students he encounters each day – he wants them to get more out of their educational experience than just a diploma.
“You give more love to kids in an alternative school than in a traditional school to help them get over whatever the bad is in their lives,” he said. “We have some of the best students in the county, I believe. All we do is talk to them, just like they’re our kids.
“The problems we used to deal with have gone down, and the kids are buying into what we tell them. There’s a new perspective and a new attitude at school this year.”