Mr. Rodney Carey grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans – one of the most affected neighborhoods by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. After getting shot five times as a teenager and being confined to a wheelchair for a few years, he turned to what used to be his least enticing option – school.
Turning into an exemplary student while also learning how to walk again, Carey graduated with a degree in criminal justice. This led him to become a bail bondsman in inner city New Orleans. His desire to help the young men that he constantly bailed out of jail stretched beyond the limits of his job as a bail bondsman; Carey wanted to do more than give these men a temporary fix.
Now, Carey works as a math teacher for the Youth Empowerment Project (YEP), a large GED program specifically for those who have dropped out of high school. Many times, students are referred to YEP via court after they have been tried for minor crimes. Students range in age from 16-24, but are often at about a 5th grade learning level.
Many of Carey’s methods – such as giving cash rewards for correct answers, or bringing takeout for the whole class – are extremely unconventional, and would not be allowed in the public school system.
Carey, or “Mr. Rodney” as his students call him, also gives out his personal phone number and regularly drives students home after class. The extra interest Carey takes in each student makes a lasting impact on the young men who have come from difficult upbringings and tough neighborhoods. Though the odds are stacked against many of them, Carey wishes for his students to continue their educations instead of ending up in the prison system.
Carey’s life story itself speaks to the young men that he works with every day, but what does the most good to his community is the fact that he treats each student with respect. He may not get to see every one of his students successfully graduate from school, but as Carey says in his interview with NPR, “I know that you cannot save everybody, but if one of them could just go along, complete his education, go to college, and I see him in the future doing something positive with his life, that makes me think that what I was doing is all worthwhile.”