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Damon Qualls is helping others see that his students are worth an investment.

“I have always wanted to be a teacher – since the first grade,” he said.

Qualls even served as a tutor when he was in middle school.

“Ultimately, in my senior year, I learned about the Call Me Mister program to recruit 200 diverse men to elementary school classrooms,” he said. “I taught fifth grade all 11 years at Alexander Elementary School. I fell in love with the school and the community.”

Now in his second year as assistant principal at Berea Middle School, Qualls influences students in a wider role.

“I am able to impact more students, just having daily interaction with so many more students,” he said. “Middle schoolers have the perception of being rough and tough. Many of them face challenges that I as an adult can’t imagine. While they are under my care, I’m going to make their day and their experience the absolute best it can be. I don’t want to be an administrator that is totally a disciplinarian. I want teachers to send students to me when they make a 100 on an assessment. When you walk by my office, there are always students, but nine times out of 10, those students are sharing something positive that happened.”

Qualls started the Men Who Read program at Alexander Elementary when he saw some of his male students falling behind in reading. The program brings in local male role models who share how reading impacts their careers. He also secured grant funding for the Dress for Success program, which purchased blazers and ties for all young men in grades 3 – 5.

This year, Qualls started a new program at Berea Middle. “It exposes our young men to as many professional men and male role models as we can,” he said. “It’s all about building relationships and finding mentors who can share their stories.”

Qualls has funded several projects through DonorsChoose.org, a website that helps teachers fund classroom needs. He used it to secure more than $200,000 in funding for Alexander Elementary and was recognized at an event in New York by TV host and South Carolina native Stephen Colbert. And he is far from finished.

“At Berea, in less than two years, we’ve earned over $50,000 in grants,” he said.

Nomination excerpt

“Mr. Qualls has revived a sense of school pride, coining the hashtag #BelieveInBereaMiddle and ushering in a large social media following. Mr. Qualls rallied with our teachers to earn over $50,000 in grants in less than two years. These funds have been used to purchase our bulldog mascot costume, the painting of several murals that have brightened our building, neckties for our young men, field trips, and so much more!”

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