Twenty-five years ago, Life School was one of the first charter schools to begin operating in Texas. Shortly thereafter, in 1999, Randall Mays's parents determined that transferring the then 5th grader to Life School was the best option for their son.
Randall would go on to graduate from Life School Oak Cliff in 2007 and remain involved with the school. Today, the Dallas police sergeant serves as Life School’s first Board Member who is also an alumnus. Reflecting on his time at Life School, Randall tells us how he was positively influenced during his time there and how it contributes to his success today.
In 1999, Randall’s older sister was making her way through their family’s local school district. As her daughter began to enter the secondary school years, Randall’s mother became increasingly concerned about the young men she went to school with and their character and discipline.
As an involved parent, Randall’s mother wanted a different opportunity for her son. She discovered Life School and immediately fell in love with the small campus that reinforced the same qualities and traits that she and her husband, a DART police officer, taught at home.
Life School’s mission to develop leaders through strong academics, character training and partnerships with parents and the community created exactly the environment she was seeking for her son.
Moving schools was not ideal for Randall. But thanks to Life School’s warm and inviting environment, the transition was easier than expected.
“The teachers were super attentive and loving and made you feel comfortable. I didn’t feel out of place for long,” Mays remembers.
“I actually met my best friend in Mr. Brewster’s class on the first day.” In fact, Randall made two friends that first year. To this day, they are all close. Both will be standing next to Randall as the best men in his upcoming wedding.
While the culture was welcoming, it was the ideals that Life School was founded on – the same ideals his mother was looking for – that made the difference.
“Expectations were set early, and you were held accountable for your actions,” says Mays. Students were expected to be in their seats ready to learn each day. Having the right supplies and holding a posture that demonstrates preparedness are still habits Randall practices.
As he entered high school, he found he was strongly and positively influenced by the coaches. “I call it the Coach Thrush model,” says Mays of then coach, now Athletic Director, Scott Thrush. “Coach Thrush believed in accountability, but also love and affirmation.”
As it turns out, those three together are powerful. One coach, in particular, used affirmations in a way that changed Randall's course for the future.
Coach Lance Bray was one of those coaches who seemed tough on the surface. He was hard on his athletes, but Randall soon learned, there was intention in his intensity.
“I didn’t know it at the time, but leadership is one of my giftings. And he was the first one to affirm me in leadership,” says Mays. He helped Mays understand what a strong influence he was on others, specifically his teammates. “He let me know that I was a leader and that I can’t slouch in my seat during the game, because the whole team would slouch in their seat. Or I can’t show a bad attitude, or the whole team would then show a bad attitude.”
Today, that notion still translates with Mays in his career as a Dallas police officer. “When I go to a scene, guys are looking to me, asking, ‘Hey, Sarge, what do we do?’ It’s a level of influence that I believe God has gifted me with that was first affirmed by Coach Bray,” recalls Mays.
And this wasn’t just true for Mays. While he grew up in a very stable home environment with a loving mother and father, not everyone he went to school with was so fortunate. Even today, he can name many of his classmates who were positively influenced by the accountability-affirmation-love model. Many of those classmates are thriving in their careers and communities as a result of those influences.
Now serving as a board member, Mays understands the value that a school like Life School holds in students’ lives. “In larger school districts, I think it can be easy for a child to just become a number. At Life School, everyone has an opportunity to be seen…and for underlying issues to be seen and resolved in that environment.”
One of the most remarkable things Randall notes about Life School is that it is the same today as it was yesterday. From the 266-student, one-campus school that opened in 1998, to the now 5600-student, eight-campus school that Life School is today, the values and ideals remain.
While the district has grown tremendously, Life School still serves its students with the same care and personal attention that it did 25 years ago. Life School still boasts a 100% graduation rate and works tirelessly to ensure that all students graduate with a plan for life after Life. Its Career and Technology Education (CTE) program offers students the opportunity to earn college credits and/or career certifications, so whether they are college or career-bound, they are equipped with the skills and tools necessary to be successful.
Mays says that he will forever be grateful for the role Life School played in his life. In return, he feels honored and privileged to be able to continue to serve the same school that served him for so many years.
Life School is a tuition-free, public charter school with campuses in Carrollton, Cedar Hill, Lancaster, Mountain Creek, Red Oak, Oak Cliff and Waxahachie, TX. Life School develops leaders with life skills through strong academics, character training, and partnerships with parents and the community. Its mission is accomplished in part through the financial support of donors who provide scholarships and embrace making students ready to learn, ready to lead and ready for life.
Parents who are interested in enrollment can visit lifeschool.net/learn-about-life. Partners who would like to support Life School financially can give online at lifeschool.net/give.