By Ivey McDaniel | Staff Writer
Maybe you’ve seen them. Maybe you’ve passed them on your way to math class. Or maybe they wait outside one of your classrooms. Perhaps you haven’t even noticed them, but, quite frankly, that’s the point.
They’re an interesting quartet, composed of three senior football players, and freshman, Juan Heeren. Heeren’s recent move to San Antonio proved difficult. Not only was he in a new town, but he made the transition from private to public school. The change of pace and eclectic mix of students at this new school was extremely overwhelming for Herren.
“I did not very much like public school. Here, there’s every single type of people. So you have variation, and that variation allows a lot of disorganization. All of our classes were slower; here, it’s fast, there were big changes, it was a big change. I was unhappy here,” said Heeren.
Unfortunately, his confusion manifested into a reason for others to tease, and Heeren began finding it difficult to make friends. So much so, he sought help from school guidance counselor Carri Elliot.
“She was really helpful. I’m glad I told her. She set up many appointments. First, she told me about a few options I had, different bullying organizations, and then she told me about the guys,” Heeren said.
‘The guys’ are Cohner Mokry, Rider Burke, and Austin Carson – names usually recognized out on the football field on Friday nights. The boys now get out of class five minutes early, and come in a little late, just to walk with Heeren from class to class.
“We want everybody to have a great experience at Johnson like [the boys] did. Our goal was to make sure Juan had a great time at Johnson too. We just thought, You know what, we just want to make his duration here really good,” Elliot said.
The plan, or as the guys call it “The Big Brother Program”, consisted of walking with Heeren not just to intimidate those thinking of harassing him, but to render a role model, a friend, someone to talk to – an older sibling.
“They started asking him questions, and they thought It doesn’t sound like he’s having such a good time here, and we were freshman once, and we just want to give back . Juan’s an athlete too, and he just seemed to be struggling the first few weeks of school,” Elliot said.
The seniors made the commitment to take Heeren under their wing.
“It was a little of we knew of him thing. Some coaches had recommended us to help Mrs. Elliot out, and we had the grades,” Burke said.
“At first, we were like, we didn’t really know what to think about it, nobody had really done this before. It kind of seemed second nature. He got so excited when we started walking him. No, literally we took our first step out of the door, and he was talking about the steal at the play off game. By the second week, we walk out of Mrs. Elliot’s office and we just couldn’t stop talking, and we got into the routine of it,” Burke said. They joke, “Sometimes I can’t even get a word in with Juan,” Carson said.
The program was only meant to last for three weeks, but the guys want to continue walking. To them, it is no longer an organized agreement, it’s an opportunity to befriend someone in need.
“I feel like they enjoy Juan so much and they really are making a difference when it comes to his experience at Johnson. At first, he couldn’t stand Johnson. I remember him saying ‘All I want is just one good day.’ It broke my heart.” Elliot said.
Now Heeren has a lot of good days.
“Things at Johnson have gotten better. It’s changed. People are less cruel to me knowing that I have them. Everything they say or do about me isn’t in the open. Everyone thinks they’re my body guards,” Heeren said.
“I think we definitely helped him out with a little confidence. He’s got a little flight in his step now,” Burke said, “We get out of a classroom, and he walk out so fast and we’re like, hold on now. We also got him talking to a couple ladies now.”
“His demeanor has completely changed. The way he carries himself- now we got to run to catch up with him. We’re working on his confidence, but compared to the start of the program, it’s just skyrocketed,” Mokry said.
The boys are excited about the idea of more freshman getting help, but are weary of expansion. It is important to have underclassmen that really need help, and seniors that are willing to sacrifice the time and effort needed. Basically, they are worried of the program losing importance if too many people became involved. It’s a “pilot program”, and might not work for all students.
“I think it would’ve been cool if something like this was around- not necessarily for us, when we were freshmen, but I’m definitely proud of being part of the first trial. We eat lunch with another student, but we talk to Mrs. Elliot about everything we do. She doesn’t want us to over do it, to ruin the purpose of it. But we think talk about things. We’re starting something. You know, whenever we see other friends in the hallway, they’ll come up and we’ll introduce them to Juan. It’s just naturally a big brother thing. I think it’s cool to set an example, and it’s rubbing off on everybody,” Burke said.
Elliot feels the boys serve as an advertisement- there is help.
“So if kids are feeling like Juan felt, hey, come to me, because I have seniors who want to give back, and really like the idea of having a little brother or sister here at Johnson,” Elliot said.
Elliot thinks now, Heeren has a different out look on students and Johnson as a whole.
“I think Juan now sees people do care about underclassmen, I think he see’s the compassion, and that kids are good. Athletes really are role models, and I think Juan now has respect for athletes. He realizes all these kids are in AP classes, and they’re on the ball, and they do care, and want to give back. Those three have been going above and beyond. I’m really proud of them. I wish I had a daughter I could marry them off to,” Elliot said.
Not only is Heeren getting companions to walk with, but the boys seem to reap a few benefits as well.
“Well, we are his friends. We get to hang out, and walk around with Juan, and he’s become our buddy now. At first you hear about bullying and you’re like ‘That really exists? It’s not just in movies?’ And when you see it every day it just kind of seems normal. We just kind of want to help out, show leadership out of the football room.
The boys feel as if they’re blazing the trail for many more Big Brothers to come.
“It just feels good to know that you’re helping out. We had someone come and talk to us a couple weeks ago about this, and we were all sitting in a room and Juan was with us, and he said “It makes my day just to see them,” and I had never heard anybody say that before. And I thought that was so cool, so we rebound some personal benefit from this,” Burke said.
“We’re not all just big bad dudes,” Mokry jokes nudging Carson, “But we’re all easy to talk to and be around. Definitely breaks the stereotype of a pure jock.”
The boys realize that, no matter what, bullies still exist. But to make a difference in one person’s life in high school, to them, is golden.
“It’s not just three guys trying to solve a problem. We can try and set an example for other people on their own, if they see people getting bullied, they’ll tell them to quit. Maybe this was an organized thing, but were also just educating everybody else,” Burke said.