Dance teacher risks career to help neglected student

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by DAVID SCHECHTER / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on May 22, 2013 at 8:38 AM

DALLAS — His whole life, Rogelio Martinez wanted more love than his mother could give.

"I always saw her as a really strong woman. Strongest person I probably ever saw," Martinez said.

As his mother turned to alcohol, she also turned her back on Rogelio in high school, leaving a sister to raise him.

Soon, Rogelio says, his brother-in-law was beating him.

"I cried basically the whole night. I couldn't sleep. My whole body was sore; I was in pain,” he said.

Martinez was almost out of options, and he said he was worried about heading toward a life on the streets. However, in the back of his mind, he knew there was one last person he could call, but it was a call that would put everyone at risk: His dance teacher at Woodrow Wilson High School, Lisa Moya King.

“I care a lot about my kids. A lot,” King said.

Four years ago, King came to Woodrow Wilson to start a dance program.

"If you knew the deficits that they come with... the challenges they face at home,” King said.

Today, hers is the largest dance program in the Dallas school district, and her ambitious message to students like Rogelio Martinez goes beyond dance.

"You can't play it safe in life," King said.

In King's class, for the first time, Rogelio had something he was good at, and someone who might take a risk for him if he decided to run away from home.

“As soon as I knew it was okay, I just opened the window, went out, closed it, and ran,” Martinez recalled about the night he left his sister’s home.

“But when he made that call that night, I knew this wasn't about teaching any more. It was about helping this kid survive,” King said.

King had been reporting Martinez' family problems to school counselors. But now, as she and her husband drove to pick him up and drop Rogelio at a friend's house, they knew her career as a teacher could be in jeopardy.

The school stood by King, and King stood by Martinez, with both of them dancing through the difficulty of finding him safe places to sleep... and through the moment he learned his mother died in a drunk driving wreck.

Now, in two weeks, and against long odds, Rogelio Martinez graduates from high school and he has someone to celebrate with him.

“We are going to dinner after graduation," King said. "But before we go to dinner, he has one request, and I promised to fulfill it: He wants to go to the cemetery. He wants to see his mom, and show his mom, 'Look, I did it.'  So, that's what we're going to do. 'I did it, I made it, Mom.' Then we're going to go celebrate, just like normal families do."

In life, you may only get one mother. But like Martinez — if you take a risk and keep dancing, sometimes you can still get the love you deserve.

Lisa King's dancers are planning a trip to Spain next year, a once-in-a-lifetime cultural experience for many kids who've never been more than a few miles from home. If you'd like to help support that trip, please contact the Woodrow Wilson High School Community Foundation.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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