Once a troubled teen, young man found hope in faith and now is teacher

IMAGE: CNS photo/Gina Christian, catholicphilly.com

By Gina Christian

AUDUBON, Pa. (CNS) — When he
arrived at St. Gabriel’s Hall in Audubon nine years ago, Quamiir Trice was in

Arrested for dealing crack, the
15-year-old had been sent to a residential treatment program for at-risk youth
offered by St. Gabriel’s, part of the Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Catholic
Social Services.

On June 27, Trice returned to
St. Gabriel’s — this time, as a Pennsylvania state certified educator, fresh
from his fourth-grade classroom and ready to teach mathematics at summer

“They took the handcuffs off as
soon as my feet hit the ground here,” Trice said, recalling his first moments
at St. Gabriel’s as a troubled teenager. “Everything here was so green and
beautiful and peaceful. It definitely made me feel like I was in a good place.”

During his time at the Middle
States accredited school, Trice earned his GED while displaying a gift for
mathematics. Through intensive counseling sessions, he learned to manage his
emotions and to make more constructive life choices.

And he discovered that the
variables in his life added up to something new: hope through faith in God.

“I became spiritually grounded
when I came to St. Gabe’s,” Trice told CatholicPhilly.com, Philadelphia’s
archdiocesan news outlet. “That was vital.”

“We can’t preach or proselytize
a specific faith because we’re publicly funded,” said John Mulroney, principal
of St. Gabriel’s. “But we’re allowed to let the students explore their own faith
traditions, and we seize every opportunity to help them do just that.”

Mulroney said that Trice, who
had been raised as a Christian, embraced the 12-step program directive to “let
go and let God” often heard in the school’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation
unit, where he recovered from addiction. In doing so, Trice had to confront his
pent-up rage, frustration and grief — the legacy of life on the street, where
drugs and guns claim a disproportionate number of minority youth.

“I actually remember my best
friend getting killed while I was here,” he said. “My social worker called me
to his office that day; we had a great relationship and he knew that something
was off about me. And of course there was. My best friend was dead.”

Trice said that having a safe
space in which to process his harrowing experiences — which included an
unstable home life, substance abuse, truancy, drug dealing and lost
relationships — was “pivotal.”

Mulroney cites the school’s
trauma-informed care treatment as the key to reaching its students. By
addressing the core reasons why youth engage in at-risk behavior, staff can
foster communication skills, emotional intelligence, nonviolence and a sense of
social responsibility among students.

“These kids are wounded human
beings, not damaged goods,” said Mulroney. “There’s a difference, and our first
step is making these young men feel safe and cared for in this environment,” he

Once students are assured of
their protection, they can work through their anger and sorrow, often through
what Mulroney describes as “cleansing tears” that unclench both fists and
hearts. During the grieving process, students participate in multiple therapy
groups, meeting even on weekends to share their stories and to support each
other’s growth.

As they come to terms with their
losses, students can then begin to focus on the future, developing the talents
and skills buried under their scars. Mulroney noted that Trice’s mathematical
aptitude, masked by a straight-F report card at his former high school, emerged
at St. Gabriel’s.

“He was our top GED math student
when he was here,” Mulroney said, adding that Trice quickly rose to the head of
his class, graduating as salutatorian in 2011 and then enrolling in Community
College of Philadelphia.

After obtaining his associate’s
degree, Trice completed his undergraduate studies at Howard University in
Washington, majoring in elementary education. His leadership roles in several
education initiatives have led Mulroney to tease Trice for “hobnobbing with

“He’s met President (Barack) Obama
several times, along with the president of the MacArthur Foundation,” said
Mulroney. “Actually, in one photograph, it looked like he had Obama’s ear,
rather than the other way around.”

Because of his academic credentials
and a need for greater diversity in educational staffing, Trice was heavily
recruited by several school districts and graduate schools throughout the
country. He chose to return to his hometown, accepting a position as a
fourth-grade instructor at Bethune Elementary School in North Philadelphia.

As he was wrapping up the school
year, Trice approached Mulroney about returning to teach at St. Gabriel’s
during the summer.

“We have a quote all through St.
Gabe’s that says, ‘Enter to learn, leave to serve,'” Trice said. “Coming back
here is a dream come true.”

In a sense, Trice had never
completely left St. Gabriel’s, which reintegrates its graduates through an
after-care program. A counselor with Catholic Social Services, assigned by the
city’s family court, follows up regularly with former students for
approximately six months after they leave St. Gabriel’s to ensure their

Trice needed that safety net
when he hit a rough spot after his St. Gabriel’s graduation and got kicked out
of his grandparent’s house. Distraught, he called a former dean at the school
for guidance.

“I knew my goal was to still
stay on track and stay focused, but I needed help,” Trice said. “He listened
and encouraged me, and he said, ‘You have our support.’ And just knowing that
really made me feel a lot more confident moving forward.”

As a new teacher, Trice
continued to consult his mentors at St. Gabriel’s for advice on classroom
management and teaching strategies.

Trice is passionate about
cultivating math skills in his students, especially since urban youth are
underrepresented in scientific disciplines. He relishes the clarity of
mathematics, which hones students’ analytical skills while building confidence,
and he weaves life lessons into his lectures.

“I tell my students that
whenever you have a variable in an equation that you’re solving for, that is
your goal,” Trice explained. “You focus on that goal, and all of the other
numbers, all those distractions, don’t really matter.”

For Trice, who plans to attend
law school and to develop educational policy, faith in God is the ultimate

“I came to the conclusion that I
don’t teach for my students any more — I teach for God,” said. “I don’t feel
like I’m doing any of this on my own. It feels like a movie script, and God is
writing this story to give himself the glory.”

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is senior content producer at CatholicPhilly.com, the news outlet of the
Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

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