Paying it Forward: LaMarr Woodley
by Jim Gehman
Granted, it’s something the Super Bowl XLIII champion has done since he was a student-athlete at the University of Michigan, but now he has taken it to another level and has founded the Woodley Leadership Academy.
“For a long time I’ve done things in the community,” Woodley said. “Whether I was giving back as far as back-to-school events, Thanksgiving, Christmas, football camps, for me, being a student-athlete, you realize how important it is when you start going from high school to college and college to the pros because you see a lot of athletes start to fall off due to they didn’t have the grades to make it to the next level.
“And sometimes in college you see players fail and then in the league you see players lose a lot of their money. It’s not really because they’re bad guys, they just haven’t really been educated. Coming back to the city of Saginaw, I felt like sometimes we focus on sports, but we need to focus on being a student-athlete and being just a student, most importantly. Everybody’s not going to make it to the professional level, but everybody has the opportunity to go to college to get their degree and go out and get a job.
“I wanted to have more of an impact for the city year-round than just doing one day things.”
Tuition-free, the Woodley Leadership Academy will be a theme-based school, focusing on identifying and nurturing the leadership potential of its students. Expecting 300 students in K-5 when it opens in September, the school has been approved for K-8, and plan to add a grade each upcoming year.
Now in the process of hiring teachers and staff, Woodley is happy with the response he has gotten about the upstart academy.
“I’ve been getting great feedback because I’m just not the type of person that all of a sudden came out of nowhere and opened up a charter school,” he said. “I’ve been raising money and doing things in the city of Saginaw ever since I was in college. So people know that when I’m doing stuff it’s strictly from the heart.
“I just want to give kids another opportunity. Sometimes when people look at charter schools they think negatively. Charter schools are no different than public schools except with charter schools we have somebody who authorizes opening those doors. There’s more pressure on a charter school because you’ve got somebody to answer to. If you don’t meet those standards, they’ll shut you down. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do and I think the people in Saginaw would just love to have another outlet.”
What are Woodley’s goals for each student?
“Being a leader. Learning something new. Being held accountable for responsibilities,” he said. “That’s why we made the school uniforms. And then one day in the week, young men will have to wear suits and the young women are going to have to dress up. We’re teaching them about being professional.
“I don’t think you have to wait until you get to high school or college to learn how to be professional. You have to start training for that now. And the more reps you have at training to be professional as a young man and a young woman, it becomes natural.
“I’m working with a company called ACCEL (Schools). They have about 40 different schools around the country and a few outside the country. They had a few different models that I liked, but I also brought my own style to it with the whole leadership thing. I felt like being a leader is very important, getting a kid to be a leader and realizing everybody can be a leader. That’s the whole motto of the school.”
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