iMoments: Student Voice, The Story of Leo

Life has a funny way of tugging on those memories that need revisiting, reflecting, and ultimately shared with the world. When the ADE application opened, my friend Sue Gorman gently nudged me to apply. Although my educational journey with Apple started long ago (2009, 1 to 1 high school English teacher), I had never applied for the honor of being named an Apple Distinguished Educator. Fear of rejection paralyzed my application submission each time. Fortunately, this year was different (thank you Don Goble) , and when an application question asked me to share how student learning was transformed in my classroom, one story kept rising to the top – This is the story of Leo.


Teaching in a small school allowed me the opportunity to have students as freshmen and again as seniors, and when Leo came through the door his final year of high school I could tell there had been many positive changes in his life. Leo shared with me that he had lost a considerable amount of weight, was looking forward to his final year of high school, and finally met a girl that he cared a great deal about. Things were good!

Enrolled in my Creative Writing class, and having recently implemented a 1 to 1 Laptop Initiative, Leo and his classmates experienced a different educational environment than those students from previous years. Students became a community of writers in the Apple environment. A digital writer’s workshop emerged, utilizing multimodal communication throughout the writing process. A blogging community evolved, connecting my students with peers in four other schools across the Midwest. The shift in audience wasn’t the only powerful impact on student learning. Student choice often dictated not only content of their writing, but mode in which it was shared.  Along with traditional text, Leo and his classmates used imovies to create multimedia productions to share their voice, and were in the process of finishing podcasts based off of NPR’s “This I Believe” when tragedy struck.

A car accident resulted in the untimely death of Leo.

The students and community were shocked. The next day, the students turned to their writing community for support and reflection. They reread pieces Leo had shared, comments he had left on their work, and then approached me about Leo’s “This I Believe” statement. Unfortunately, I did not possess a copy; but, Leo and I had conferenced earlier that week and I was able to share the happiness and joy that filled his life during this time.

 A few days later, at his funeral, when we opened the program there was an inserted sheet containing Leo’s “This I Believe” statement. You see, his writing, his words, a piece of him was left in the stories that were recovered on his Macbook, and his mother wanted all of us to have copy. Apple technologies helped to reimagine the writing classroom, provided students the ability to share their story, promotes student voice and self-expression in ways unimagined before now.

And as graduation approached, the senior class took a line from his writing and it became their class motto. I can’t imagine a more meaningful gesture, a fitting tribute to their friend.  Through Leo’s words, his legacy lives forever.


Permission and blessing given by Sue Barten, Leo’s mother

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