- Sponsorship -

From struggling to role model, thanks to strong teacher support 

Grad with Grit: Kenny Dysard 

Lowell — There’s irony in the fact that Kenny Dysard spent time each Friday afternoon for three months reading to Alto Elementary kindergartners.

The Unity High School senior would settle in on the rocking chair in front of the energetic 5- and 6-year-olds, pull out a children’s book of his choice  — “We Will Rock Our Classmates” was a favorite of the music lover — and read to them.

“It definitely was interesting trying to learn how to grab the attention of kindergartners, being someone that’s so much older. I think that elementary teachers definitely know something I don’t,” he said with a laugh.  

Unity High School senior Kenny Dysard recently finished up credits to graduate

The irony of Kenny’s volunteering is in the fact that two years ago, nothing school-related was grabbing his attention. He slept through many classes at Lowell High School and didn’t complete assignments. He fell way behind, especially in math. 

“If you had asked me two years ago if I thought I was graduating I would have told you ‘(heck) no’ … I never cared because at the time I had a pretty serious mental health struggle. I didn’t care at all. I didn’t think about the consequences … I was like ‘That is a problem for future Kenny.’”

It wasn’t until Kenny received treatment for his depression and enrolled at Unity, the district’s alternative high school, that he started to focus. Last school year, he split his time between Unity and the automotive program at Kent Career Tech Center

After a full-time schedule as a fifth-year senior at Unity, he completed credits in late March to graduate. Goal-setting and being held accountable by teacher Sue Sweet and administrative assistant Britney Altoft helped him thrive.

“It was mostly the encouragement from (Sweet and Altoft) that really, really set me on the right path,” he said. “Unity is an absolutely amazing opportunity for people like me to have a much less distracting environment and have access to much more personalized help,” he said.

A Wordsmith & Heavy Metal Lover

Kenny always attended Lowell Area Schools and was an Alto Elementary student himself. He said he has ADHD and has always been very easily distracted.

Rather than sit through school lectures, he prefers to delve into his own interests, including heavy metal music. He loves the thrash metal genre and taught himself to play guitar.  

He also likes words, and began practicing Membean a couple years ago to grow his vocabulary. On various other topics, he educates himself online and through conversations.

His interest in learning and trying new things led to volunteering. Kenny began reading at Alto upon invitation from Altoft, a volunteer reader herself in her daughter’s classroom. He enjoyed his first time reading to students in December and wanted to make it a regular thing.  

He’s had fun reconnecting with some of his former teachers, and learning to navigate the many questions kindergartners throw his way. 

While it wasn’t long ago Kenny would have never seen himself becoming a role model, he recognizes he is one to Alto students. He also walked kindergartners to the bus and helped find stray items like missing mittens and hats.

For Altoft, it’s been a joy to see Kenny overcome challenges and get to where he is now.

“What I admire most, is that Kenny can reflect on any mistakes, be brave enough to take accountability, stubborn enough to avoid them in the future and guided by his foresightfulness to reach the level of success he is starving for,” she said. “His sagacious outlook on life and his future are grandiose and one hundred percent obtainable because Kenny looks forward to challenging the hard stuff. He’s bright, tenacious, adventurous and adaptive.”

Unity High School senior Kenny Dysard reads to Alto Elementary kindergartners (courtesy)

Kenny said he hopes to soon work for the Kent County Road Commission, and is interested in volunteer firefighting, photography and working in conservation services.

Sweet is thrilled to see Kenny cross the proverbial finish line.

“I am elated to watch him achieve more than he thought he could by finishing his graduation requirements before Spring Break, which for him included several math courses. There were times I’m sure he didn’t want to return the next day, but he kept coming to school, tackling polynomials and more, until the courses were passed. His perseverance is what brings me joy.”

Read more from Lowell: 
A voice for others, he inspires and educates
Outdoor classroom serves as 150-acre sanctuary for learning

- Sponsorship -
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


Related Articles

- Sponsorship -

Issues in Education

Making Headlines

- Sponsorship -


Maranda Where You Live WGVU