March 10, 2017—When he was a teenager at Hazen High School back in 2006, Kyle Calhoun was doing what some teens do: getting into trouble, and not paying a lot of attention to school. Kyle had the added burden of a difficult family upbringing; often living on his own.
When you’re a teenager, you never really see yourself at a crossroads. But it’s an age where bad decisions can make for a life full of bad consequences, instead of a life full of reaching your potential, and pursuing dreams.
But Kyle, like other young men at Hazen High, were never really on their own; they had a role model in the school’s assistant principal, Damien Pattenaude. While a part of Damien’s responsibilities was to dole out discipline to students who got into trouble, his real purpose was to help them make good decisions, keep them connected to learning, and help them shape a better future for themselves. He took that responsibility to heart, and helped boys like Kyle feel they had an ally in school, and in life.
“I was sixteen years old, living by myself, getting myself to school every day on my own,” said Kyle. “I was getting into a lot of trouble. And while some people were fed up with me, Mr. Pattenaude never gave up on me. I think he realized that I just needed guidance. I think he instinctively knew, ‘hey, this kid wants to be here.’ And that’s what made him great. He had the ability to look at students for who they are as individuals, and not at just their behaviors.”
Kyle remembers getting into trouble and ending up in Mr. Pattenaude’s office at least once a week, sometimes more. “He never let me off the hook, whatever the punishment was, I faced it,” said Kyle. “Mr. Pattenaude had a way of teaching me accountability. I could tell he really cared about me and wanted to help me get my act together.”
Sometimes though, says Kyle, he didn’t need to be in trouble to seek Mr. Pattenaude’s help; sometimes he just wanted to find solace in Mr. Pattenaude’s office. “Anytime I needed advice or just someone to talk to, Mr. Pattenaude would listen. I feel like he understood and cared about me and my situation.”
With Mr. Pattenaude’s help, Kyle learned the lessons of accountability. After graduating from Hazen High, Kyle went on to accomplish great things: He was granted a full-ride scholarship and played basketball at Evergreen State College, where he graduated with honors while also setting school records (All-Conference player and the all-time 3-point leader in a single season in school history). He recently graduated from Drexel University School of Law in Philadelphia. And he is currently working in the legal department at Amazon in Seattle. Kyle is also considering applying to the University of Washington’s Doctoral program.
“Now that I am grown up I have a better understanding of how much Mr. Pattenaude’s guidance helped shape my future,” says Kyle.
Damien Pattenaude also has accomplished a few things since his days as assistant principal at Hazen High. He went on to become principal at Renton High; moved on to Chief of Schools in the Renton School District; on to Assistant Superintendent of Learning and Teaching in the district. He received his doctorate degree from Washington State University. And in July, Dr. Pattenaude will become the youngest superintendent in the history of the Renton School District.
Kyle recently reached out to Dr. Pattenaude to thank him and let him know that his tough love and guidance worked. “I feel it’s important that he knows his work and compassion really does changes lives,” said Kyle. “It certainly changed mine.”