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John Courtney knows a little something about dedication. Following service in the Air Force, he came to Spartanburg District 7 as a counselor. He’s been on the job for 45 years, and at McCracken Middle School since 1981.

“I absolutely love it,” he said. “I love middle school students. I love them. That’s the only age I’ve ever worked with.”

Courtney’s responsibilities include helping students work on graduation plans and spurring them to think about the future. He builds relationships with them by spending time with them.

“In my opinion, you’ve got to be out there where they are,” he said. “I try to make it a point to be at every lunch. You hope they see something about you that encourages them.”

Courtney, along with others at the school, often help students with basic needs, something he says happens quietly and in a way that preserves each child’s dignity.

“We try to be in the building where the kids are but when we do things that could be embarrassing, we stay below the radar,” he said. “Middle schoolers appreciate that.”

In addition to working on the school’s annual Veterans Day program, Courtney, along with others, is promoting a yearlong focus on kindness, in part through students’ reading of the book “Wonder.”

“We’ve just really bought into that,” he said.

It’s no surprise that kindness is a message Courtney wants to spread.

“I do genuinely like middle schoolers,” he said. “I like the excitement they bring to the building. At this stage of my career, they let me be grandpa. They know I’m strict, but in a low-key kind of way.”

Nomination excerpt:

“I have never known anyone who loves students more than he does. He gets to know every child in our building and especially the ones that are in his grade level. He is in their classes working shoulder to shoulder with students, he is at every lunch and before school talking with children, he works on graduation plans, he counsels, buys clothes, shoes, supplies and food when needed — very quietly without seeking attention.”

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