Josh Paul began his first year as an Assistant Principal in August of 2017. As the school year began, there was a small group of eight students consistently sent to his office for their behavior in the classrooms. Every day, he would remind these students that their behavior today didn’t define their entire future; and that they could try again tomorrow to seize the day. They returned still, and he continued to share his positive reminders.
Wanting better for these young men, an idea was born in Josh Paul’s heart and mind. He connected with the on-campus officer, Bobby Brown. He shared that he wanted to start a program specifically for this group; something that would make them feel seen and heard, valued and worthy. It was his goal to change their perspective of themselves, and hopefully in the eyes and hearts of others. A simple plan was formed. Josh Paul and Officer Brown would reserve a table in the cafeteria every day, just for this group.
On the first day, the boys were directed to get their lunch and be seated. Once seated, they would all wait for every member invited to the table to have their food in front of them before anyone began eating. Officer Brown blessed the food, and the group, with a simple prayer, and their lunch began. They connected with one another, laughed, shared stories, and felt included in something great. This was the start of seeing great value in each other, and themselves! Every day, the boys, Josh Paul, and Officer Brown returned to the table for lunch. Other students saw the reserved table as a special treat for the group seated there. This was the start of being seen and valued by others. Before long, many other students were interested in how to get a seat at the table as well.
Josh Paul and Officer Brown named the small group the Leo’s, in honor of the school’s mascot; a lion! Brainstorming led to ideas to take The Leo’s program further; to teach the group simple lessons that may be missing at home for various reasons. They set up local partnerships to teach the students budgeting and saving, proper etiquette, and ordered ties for the entire group. Josh Paul told the students, “Wear your polo shirts on Tuesday! We’re going to learn how to tie a tie!” And, they did! These were all simple tasks, but so important to know, and carry, throughout their lives.
The boys’ behavior was changing. Their perspectives were changing. They were changing. There were fewer and fewer visits to the office for bad behavior. Before long, each Leo wanted to bless the food, and the group, at lunch. So, they did. Every young man took their turn, and then lunch began. This was the start of them being heard, and feeling worthy.
Then, Josh Paul got the news. It was cancer. He worried that the group would lose its spark while he was away for surgery and treatment. Officer Brown assured him he would take care of the group, solidify Josh Paul’s brilliant idea with a firm foundation, create a code of conduct, and parameters to join The Leo’s program (including an essay assignment). By this time, there was great demand from both straight-A students, and those that may be struggling, to join the Leo’s. So, developing The Leo’s program further was a must!
Josh Paul stepped away to battle cancer, and Officer Brown kept his word. The group continued on, and stayed in touch with Josh Paul through letters, cards and messages shared via Officer Brown and other administrators. Josh Paul fought cancer for many months before returning to campus. The program was going very well, and local businesses began to take notice. Donations were made to continue supporting this group as it grew. Both boys and girls enjoyed the inclusion, new knowledge, new and unexpected friendships, and the new perspectives The Leo’s program provided. Josh Paul was so happy to see the group grow, the community support it, and the positive changes in the students. He was so proud!
The new school year began and Josh Paul was in remission. He was so excited to get the program going again with Officer Brown. The fall semester was a success! When the spring semester began, Josh Paul got the heartbreaking news that the cancer had returned. He would have to step away again to fight it. But, he knew the students were in great hands with Officer Brown, school faculty, and the community’s support. At the end of February 2019, he began his second round of surgery and treatments. He fought for many months, and returned to campus for the last few weeks of the school year. He was weak from ongoing treatments, but bound and determined to be there for his students.
Shortly after the 2019-2020 school year began (September 2019), he received news that the cancer had spread throughout his body. There was nothing more doctors could do. It was time to get his affairs in order and rest.
Countless students wrote him letters, made beautiful cards, sent promises of good behavior if he ‘could just get better and return to school’, and sent thoughtful gifts of gratitude to him at home. He had no idea that he had made such an incredible impact on so many with one simple idea. It was overwhelming to receive them all, and he was so grateful.
Josh Paul passed away at home, on October 18, 2019. By this time, The Leo’s program had been enacted in all middle schools in his district, and over 200 students were members. Because of The Leo’s program, 200+ students, were feeling seen and heard, valued and worthy, learning how to tie a tie, how to save and budget, and proper etiquette, among many other things. The Leo’s program continues today! Officer Brown recently shared that some of Josh Paul’s original Leo’s are now straight-A students, and one is student body president! Josh Paul had a part in changing their perspectives, behavior, and possibly the trajectory of their futures. He saw the good in everyone and wanted others to see it too.
Josh Paul’s development of The Leo’s program is the significance of the tie in The Josh Paul Foundation’s logo. It is our hope to continue helping children feel seen and heard, valued and worthy, and continuing their education, even through adversity! We do this in memory of him.