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Every student is capable of great things. As educators, we’ve seen students across all walks of life tackle all sorts of challenges, academic or otherwise. We’ve seen some students face academic disappointment, find grit, and achieve; we’ve also seen some students achieve their dreams from the get-go. Regardless of their expectations—and sometimes despite them—we know every student can do great things.

This month, we’d like to celebrate students across the district. We contacted a few teachers for recommendations on students who achieve in any way, shape, or form. 

We quickly heard back from Provo High School teacher Lily Bueno. Bueno was the first DLI Portuguese teacher for these first graders in the state. Lily went on to earn her Masters and returned to teach those same students in the fourth grade. She moved, returned, and now calls Provo home, catching her old students again. It’s a teacher’s dream—seeing your students grow from the start, middle, and end of their academic lives through K–12. You know their strengths and weaknesses, and you can watch them grow.

Of the many students she’s known for years, she named Maddox Dansie.

Looking at Maddox, you see a broad-shouldered, tall—you might assume he’s a student-athlete. You’d be correct; he’s been a basketball player for three years, highly devoted to the sport, and uplifting his team. 

What you would miss at a stereotypical first glance, however, is how devotion to self-improvement and aiding others drives at the core of who Maddox is. It’s a theme rippling out and making itself seen in a thousand other aspects of his life: Maddox was a freshman class secretary and is a current student government member. Maddox is an Executive Ambassador for the Junior Class and a Seminary Ambassador who regularly takes time to teach mini lessons to his peers. He’s a Hope Squad member who hosts anti-suicide activities and engages in uplifting his peers. He is a Portuguese immersion student enrolled in the Portuguese BRIDGE program at BYU, completing 3000-level classes. 

Bueno said that when we emailed teachers around the district, “Maddox immediately came to mind.” She shared their history, from elementary school to now:

“I remember meeting a little boy going through a tough time, dealing with things in his personal life. But seeing him in high school, now and seeing his achievements—3000-level college courses, basketball, student government, helping other students—it’s so moving to me. He could be the boy who says, ‘Life isn’t fair. I don’t like what happened to me.’ But he’s here and tries every day. That’s a superpower to me. And the positive influence he has on his friends is fantastic.”

Speaking with Maddox, one gets a sense of heroism—not because of the feats, which are vast, impressive, and challenging, but by motivation. You understand that these acts are motivated by innate goodwill.

During this first semester, Maddox was a peer tutor for students with disabilities. He and other students would pick up students from their special education classes, visit with them about their lives, and help them set and accomplish academic goals.

At the time of our interview, Maddox had also just finished HOPE Week. Over HOPE week, members challenged students to take pictures with friends, delivered free lifesaver gummies to students and staff containing positive messages, and posted a shredder in the front office; visitors could write down a list of their stressors on paper, which the HOPE squad then shredded.

As a seminary ambassador, he does more than teach the occasional lesson. He and other ambassadors host occasional Friday school activities. To quote Maddox:

“We’ve hosted volleyball games, food and snacks, and mini-devotionals to give kids around the school a taste of what seminary can be like. I never do the cooking, truthfully, but I’ll bring snacks. I’ll be there, though,” he says behind a crooked smile. 

His favorite course is English; the reason why he’s gravitated towards the subject again speaks to his good-natured essence.

“Personal, creative writing is something I’ve always enjoyed,” he said. “I like more personal assignments, too. An assignment we did this year that I liked had us write three poems for people in our lives who would never read them. Writing something more personal to someone who deserves it—I loved that.”

Of the many tasks and projects that Maddox has tackled, one sticks out in his mind as one of which he’s most proud. In his Portuguese class with Bueno, students wrote about a family member who passed away, reflecting on how their lives impacted them. They then created a ten-minute slideshow and video they would present entirely in Portuguese. Maddox chose his grandfather. 

“I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to study my grandpa,” he said, “I’m glad I got to learn about his life and self-reflect about how he shaped who I am.”

Bueno nodded, pointing to Maddox. “That’s the type of boy he is,” she said. Bueno explained that Maddox was at a basketball tournament in Las Vegas when he messaged Bueno about the assignment. Despite being out of state at a busy school-sanctioned activity, he reached out to Bueno about resubmitting his work:

“He completed the first draft and reached out to me, saying, ‘That’s not my best. No. Please let me redo it.’ It was a huge project: there was a written piece, a presentational piece, and a video using information, pictures, and more. We were at the zoo between tournament games to work on his project. He redid the entire project because he felt it deserved to be better. It was marvelous. It was beautiful.”

Maddox has a lot on his plate. Yet the adversity has taught him a lot—about the world, his peers, and himself.

“It’s taught me how important discipline and hard work are. It does get difficult, and time management is hard, but it’s taught me how to strive to be the best I can be. I’ve learned that I’m not someone who gives up easily. Through hard classes and consecutive years, I know now that if I want something, I can get it.”

After high school, Maddox wants to serve a religious mission and find fulfilling work that lets him work with people.

“I think I work well with people. The HOPE squad has given me the experience of working with peers to better people’s mental health. And whether it’s physical or mental health, I’m not picky, but I’ve realized I like working on the well-being of people.”

It’s rare to find students as motivated as Maddox, and even rarer to find students motivated to improve themselves and help others improve. It is, as Bueno said earlier, a superpower. We’re excited to see what Maddox does next.

We’re proud to host Maddox and students like him, and we thank Bueno and our fellow teachers for helping our students reach their potential. 

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei