A copy of the letter is still in Robert Kerson’s desk drawer.
Part of it says, “I remember that talk we had in the hallway that time. You took the time to come out there when you could have been teaching your class, but you chose to have that talk with me because I was acting up in class.
“Now, being 14 and mature, going through those things I went through taught me not only to be a better student, but to be a better man.
“Thank you for that talk we had back in the hallway. I still remember it and always will.”
The ‘things” the student refers to include being put into an alternative school, going into foster care, failing and going to summer school.
Kerson, the Palmetto Bays Elementary School teacher of the year, keeps the letter, printed on fluorescent green cardstock, because it’s his motivation.
‘What motivates me to continue to teach is the students who come back and say ‘Thank you,’” he says.
The student who wrote that letter is an example of what Kerson calls “saving lives in a different way.”
Today he’s the lead reading interventionist and a math teacher at PBES where he’s taught for his entire 18-year-teaching career.
But what he calls his first career path was as an emergency medical technician and paramedic.
He’d seen life and death and everything in between. It was the 5-year-old little blonde boy who’d been accidently shot by his 11-year-old brother that turned things.
Kerson cracked the child’s ribs open and manually massaged his heart, and along with the others, did everything possible to save the child’s life.
The little boy died, and when he did, Kerson thought, “I have to be able to save a life a different way.
“And, “he explains, “That’s when my voyage to begin teaching started.”
So today, the teacher of the year saves lives by teaching children “to learn to read and to read to learn.”
When he started as a reading interventionist five years ago, “moving from the classroom to interventionist,” Palmetto Bays was a targeted assisted school.
“That means we were very close to being taken over by the state because our scores were extremely low and we needed to get them up,” he explains.
There were no reading intervention programs and he was, he says, “the Christopher Columbus of intervention.”
He got results, bringing the students up to grade level, and carved out a new job description for himself.
“Everyday is different and it’s fun,” he says.
“I can see how their little personalities change from year to year and I remember them from first grade.”
Kerson’s also been the force behind his students being accepted into the South Carolina Elementary Honor Choir.
A native South Carolinian, and one of five children, Kerson was the fourth born to a road construction worker father and a factory worker mother.
His husband of five years also works for Horry County Schools and together, they travel the world.
The educator’s been to Australia, New Zealand, South America, Canada, and on lots of Caribbean cruises.
His bucket list includes France, England, and most definitely South Africa.
Kerson’s best friend recently died from pancreatic cancer, before he had a chance to travel there, and Kerson will make that trip in his friend’s memory.
He sings, dances and acts with the Theatre of the Republic, recently joined Vocal Edition, and is involved with the North Myrtle Beach Community Band.
He stays busy with lots of out-of-school activities, but his first priority is “saving lives in a different way.”
And every once in a while, he takes out that florescent green letter and reads again, “I don’t want to be in jail, or join a gang, or end up in the streets.
“I don’t want that. I want to finish school, go to college, and live a good life.”