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Finding focus and a fresh start through auto mechanics 

How a new beginning changed one student’s direction

Comstock Park — Junior Braydon Kavanagh said his heart just about stopped when a Kent Career Tech Center instructor pulled him out of class to have a “word with him.”

“I was like, I haven’t done anything bad,” Braydon said. “I hadn’t done anything. I was just sticking to myself and doing my school work.”

To his relief, the instructor informed Braydon that he had been selected as a school ambassador for the Tech Center auto collision program. Every year, students are picked from the center’s various programs to serve as school ambassadors. These students meet with teachers and provide tours of the facility to students and their families who are interested in attending the Tech Center.

“Braydon is always willing to help others in a team environment,” said auto collision instructor Jarrod Herman. Braydon is in Herman’s afternoon class. Coupled with Braydon’s hard work and dedication, along with his skills in welding and metal straightening, he seemed like a good candidate to serve as the program’s ambassador, Herman said.

Junior Braydon Kavanagh talks to Kent Career Tech Instructor Jarrod Herman

Being selected was a surprise, Braydon said, noting that two years ago he was crashing through life, not thinking about the consequences of his actions and very little about his future.

The Reality-check Light Comes On

Braydon started his school career at Kenowa Hills Public Schools, but left after sixth grade and moved up north with his dad for about a year. The two came back to West Michigan when Braydon was in eighth grade. Due to the pandemic, and the fact that Braydon was considered homeless because he lived in a campground at the time, he attended online school. 

Online courses left Braydon with some time on his hands and soon he fell into the wrong crowd and was getting into trouble, he said. His dad decided he needed to be in-person at school. So he attended Cedar Springs Public Schools and also landed a part-time job. But the bad influences followed Braydon and he got himself expelled, he said.

While Braydon was able to finish his ninth-grade year online and went through counseling so he could return to Cedar Springs, he decided he needed a fresh start. An older sister had attended Comstock Park, so Braydon decided to check the district out by meeting with school officials and teachers. 

It was recommended that Braydon enter the school’s Flex Academy, an alternative program that offers online courses. The flexibility of online learning meant Braydon would not have to make the half-hour drive to Comstock Park every day. 

At the Flex Academy, which is housed in the high school, the mindset is that it’s a fresh start for every student walking through its doors, said Cassie Bryant, a Flex Academy instructor along with Tim Olsen. Braydon was no different, Bryant said, adding that through conversations and watching him work, she and Olsen found him to be driven, polite and a genuinely caring person. 

Braydon holds himself to a high standard academically and in life while navigating home life, work and school, she said.

“Braydon has done the work, decided for himself what he wants and is making decisions accordingly,” said Comstock Park High School Principal Kendra Faustin. “Sometimes a reset or a fresh start is what a student needs, but that isn’t a guarantee for change and growth. 

“We have seen a shift in Braydon’s vision of himself and for his future. That’s the work that matters for Braydon and for (other) students.”

A U-Turn Onto a Different Direction

Braydon also did some research on a future career.

“I’m a big car guy,” he said. “I know a lot of money goes into (repairing) your car, just to have someone look at your car and tell you what’s wrong with it or if there’s something wrong with it. I would like to save that money and be able to keep it for myself. Not only that, but I can make money by working on other people’s cars. So I thought (a career in mechanics) would save me money and make me money, and then it’s something I enjoy doing.”

‘I could see myself working in a shop and hopefully making my way up to owning my own.’   

— student Braydon Kavanagh on establishing an auto-repair shop

He had heard of the Tech Center program through friends and had even tried getting in as a freshman, only to learn you have to be a junior or senior. Braydon made sure that by the end of his sophomore year he was signed up.

“My initial plan was I would attend KCTC to learn body work and frame work, and then come back next year to learn wiring or engine work (and) the other mechanics, because my plan is when I get older I’d like to be able to run my own shop,” Braydon said. “If I have a customer, I don’t want to have to tell them, ‘Oh, I only do oil changes or something here, you need to go down the road.’ I want you to come here and everything gets done here. … That’s how I want my shop to be.”

On a recent day in the Tech Center’s auto collision area, Braydon was trying to set up two pieces of metal so he could practice welding.

Braydon practices his welding skills.

“OK. I can’t get this to work because you are watching me,” he said to a reporter with a laugh. He finally got it done and took a break to walk around the space, pointing out how he started the year repainting car panels. 

He said he believes that the mistakes of his past gave him a reality check and more awareness of how fragile life can be.

“I’m just kind of surprised that I went from this careless, kind of selfish person who never really thought about consequences,” Braydon said, admitting that he tended to speed through life. “I’m a lot more self aware.”

Braydon said he does not know what life will bring, so he was hesitant about predicting his future.

“I think I could see myself working in a shop and hopefully making my way up to owning my own,” he said. “I know, at least for sure, I have a job and hopefully my own place. I’d be financially stable.”

Read more from Comstock Park: 
A rockstar resource officer
Food directors honored for enhancing school meals, student choices

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio

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