LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Cory Witt

Position: Physical Education Teacher
School: Sonora High School
School District: Fullerton Joint Union High School District
City, State: La Habra, CA

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Cory Witt was nominated by a member of the community, Hawley Woods.

Mr. Witt and his team at Sonora High School in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District put together an amazing program for at-risk youth that is very successful and potentially a model for other schools. This program is called "iPaTh (Individual, Pathway Academic Thinkers), and it was initiated by a former principal, John Oldenberg. Dr. Adam Bailey, Sonora's current principal, has made iPaTh thrive. iPaTh was created when staff noticed students entering high school who weren't engaged with their classes. The staff wanted to figure out how to make those students successful and see the value in education.

iPaTh has been running for seven years. The goal of the program is to have every student that participates in iPaTh graduate from high school and attend some form of higher education (college, military, trade school, etc). Currently, the success rate of this program is 100% for students who stay at Sonora throughout their four years of high school.

iPaTH identifies kids in middle school - specifically, eighth graders from the feeder middle schools. Mr. Witt and his team work with teachers and counselors at the feeder middle schools to identify the kids that are the most likely to struggle in high school. By 8th grade, most of the signs are in place: falling or failing grades, poor attitudes and behavior, etc. Once the students have been identified (up to 120 students), they are invited to attend a summer bridge program, similar to an educational/motivational boot camp. They focus on English, Math and Writing skills, but Mr. Witt and his team work with the kids to give them so much more than academics. They help them develop an attitude for success and what it takes to be successful in high school.

The biggest win for iPaTH is that it gives students a place to belong and connect with one another. It teaches them that in high school, they are essentially starting over and becoming a whole new person on campus. Mr. Witt and his fellow iPaTH teachers, Howard Medrano and Joe D'Amelia, show students the value of an education and that school can be fun and engaging. A typical new school year will start with 90 students in the iPaTH program. If the kids are able to get plugged into another avenue to the school (e.g, a club, sport) at the end of freshman year, they can opt out of the program. However, those students are still monitored, and Mr. Witt and his team can see the impact they are having on the students that stay within the iPaTH program.

Another innovative component about this program is the classrooms. The teachers have turned their classrooms into a learning "Garage," with kid-friendly decorations like an amazing graffiti mural.

"When I asked Cory about the success stories from iPaTh, he said 'every student that graduates.'" said Woods. "He also shared a story of a girl who graduated high school as a mother of two. That doesn't happen in the general population of high school students. Dropout rates are especially high for girls that become mothers."

"The way I found out about this program was while I was doing a staff luncheon at Sonora. I had some chips left over, and Cory asked if I would like to donate those chips to his program. Of course, I said yes and wanted more information," said Woods. "As I learned more about this program, I continued to want to give, because I saw the tremendous help this program gives to the students who need support the most."

Mr. Witt and his team exemplify the criteria for LifeChanger of the Year. They certainly are changing students lives daily.  Additionally, their success rate, more funding and exposure could take this program beyond Fullerton Joint Union High School District and allow them to work with other teachers with a passion for helping struggling students.

Comments (2)

David Trentine Posted over a year ago

Cory has dedicated the past 20 plus years in education to not just teaching curriculum but helping students change the trajectory of their lives. Cory Witt is a leader in the underprivileged community at his school. The students respect this man for his way to connect to them and mentor each in an individual way. He is by far an amazing choice for this award.

Sammie Dabbs Posted over a year ago

Let me start by saying this...there is not a person more deserving of this nomination. I met Mr. Cory Witt when I was 15 years old. I remember that day more clearly than almost any of my high school experiences - okay so prom is pretty vivid still, but hell - I'm pushing 30. I was in math class and he was looking for students to join AVID. As I got pulled out of class I thought to my self 'yes, any chance to get pulled out of math class'. I know what you're thinking and you're correct, it is not my best subject to date. Well, my meeting with Mr. Witt went something like this, "Do you think you would like to join 0 period AVID?" I replied, "isn't that like 6 am?" "Yes, but our goal is to get you into college and give you the tools to succeed while you are there..." Well - college was definitely in my future as I was planning on playing softball in college and after hearing the passion in his voice and knowing how much I hated the idea of writing, studying, reading or almost anything else to do with school other than sports and friends...I was sold to join 0 period AVID. During my time in AVID with Mr. Witt I learned more about myself, the person I wanted to be and the basic tools I needed to be successful in further education, i.e. studying and stuff. I proceeded to go to Cal State Fullerton to become a Titan, (and yes be a part of their division one softball program). Being an athlete at this level - I had to keep my grades in check, go to class and YES still perform on the softball field. Witt was also a Titan, he and his family would come out to my games and support me through my college years. He was a valuable mentor in my 20's as I continued to stay close to him and his family. The lessons from Witt both in life and in AVID helped me throughout my undergrad, staying both tough on the field and in the classroom. I learned one of the most valuable lessons in college through my experience at CSUF and that is having a place to go to in times of adversity. Some people have a focal point in athletics when the game doesn't go their way, some have a routine or process...well in my life I've had some of those tools, but most importantly a huge support system. Cory Witt and his family have been a major role in that arena. People you go to - when you need advice, when you need to vent, when you need a clear path forward or when you really just want to laugh. After my undergrad, I proceeded to get my first job and 5 years later I went back to school to obtain my MBA. Again, Cory Witt and his family were there throughout my MBA program. He certainly didn't envy my full time job, work travel schedule and constant assignments or projects...but we would geek out on new TED talks or things like the Millennial divide in organizational behavior. He always had a way to correlate what I was learning into his job, which is what I believe what makes him great at what he does in his mentor-ship of these adolescent lives. He is constantly listening and applying lessons to his students. In my graduate years he would always say, "So tell me what you're learning". What a SOLID thing to ask! That question alone has made me a better boss and mentor to the staff I have looking to me for guidance and support. I'm sure you are all now well aware that my undergrad degree was in print journalism from the extent of this "comments" section but I couldn't pass this up (even with my email inbox climbing by the minute). I will leave you with this - I have learned a lot from Cory, but how he taught me the simplicity of learning from others, trying something new in my approach and how to pay it forward will forever be a part of me.