It’s not unusual for high school seniors to receive money from friends or family upon graduation. But for 2014 Carroll County High School graduate Chet Perdue, one particular graduation gift was different.
As promised over four years ago when he was a student in Greg Bolen’s eighth grade class at Carroll County Middle School, Perdue fulfilled his pledge to Bolen, now Hillsville’s Police Chief, to graduate. In return, Bolen attended Perdue’s graduation and fulfilled his own promise of $100 to Perdue if he stuck to his word.
“That’s the best $100 I will ever spend in my life. It was just a great moment for me to be able to be there at his graduation,” Bolen said. “He walked across the stage, came running up and gave me a hug. I told him, ‘Boy, I am proud of you.’ I gave him that money, and I’m not going to lie, there were tears in my eyes.”
Bolen and Perdue first came to know each other in 2009 when Bolen was a teacher in the Cavalier Alternative Learning Lab (CALL Lab), basically an in-school suspension program for kids who had gotten into trouble with discipline problems or for not doing their work. Perdue entered the class as an eighth grader and stayed in Bolen’s class until the end of his ninth grade year.
“He was like a lot of students in that he had a few bumps in the road,” Bolen said. “He was having problems with attendance and doing his work when he was in the mainstream classes.”
The CALL Lab was focused on giving students one-and-one attention with the goal of helping them return to mainstream classes. Some students just need the extra attention and someone to encourage them. That’s not always possible in a class setting of 20-25 students, but Bolen could provide that focus with just six to eight students at a time.
“Chet thrived in there. He was in my class his whole eighth and ninth grade year,” Bolen said. “We developed a bond because Chet and I were similar. He was pretty much me when I was back in intermediate school. If there had been a CALL program them, I would have been in it.”
One day during an assembly, students were given pledge cards asking them to promise to stay in school, stay out of trouble, and to graduate. Bolen’s six students handed their cards in, but Perdue took a different approach.
“Meeting Chet, I knew he was different. You could just look at him and see he had a desire. I recognized a lot of potential in him that just needed directed,” Bolen said. “The kids handed their cards in, but Chet said, “I am giving you this, I am pledging this. What do I get out of you?’ I said, ‘I promise you the best education you will ever get.’ He started laughing about it, then I told him, ‘Chet, you are full of potential and have what it takes to make it. If you stick to this pledge, come graduation I will give you $100.’ His eyes light up and you would have thought it was a million dollars, so he told me he would do it.”
By the time Perdue reached the ninth grade, his grades had started to improve and he was taking the time to do his work, Bolen said. He continued on that path until another slight bump in the road his senior year.
“Bless his heart, he got into a little trouble and had to go to the RAE (Regional Alternative Education) Center this past year, but I made good on my promise. He wasn’t my own son, but I was just as proud as I could be of him,” Bolen said. “My whole family knew who Chet was because I talked about him all the time. He would call me and I would call him. We developed a friendship and it was just really good to watch him grow up from an eighth grade kid to a young man. He really made me proud.”
But now that Perdue has graduated, Bolen said he is glad to know the RAE Center will continue to help out students in need of a little extra attention.
“I can’t say enough about that bunch at the RAE Center. Those teachers there, they are so awesome. They are so good and kind and patient with those kids and they help them out tremendously,” said Bolen. “I can’t say enough good things about them. Being in it behind the scenes, you see how much the teachers and principals care for these kids. Sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve. And it’s like Chet, he did all the work. It’s nothing I did. He stuck with his word and did the heavy lifting, I just spotted for him.”