A student's appreciation of Mr. Z Teen recognizes teacher with a personal tribute

June 18, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Two days into summer vacation, 14-year-old Stuart C. Campbell returned to MacArthur Middle School to complete one last assignment -- paying tribute to a teacher.

Stuart and his mother, Mary Campbell, singled out Leo Zerhusen, a special education inclusion teacher, for a personal tribute Friday at a PTSA-sponsored staff-appreciation luncheon in MacArthur's library.

Without "Mr. Z," said Stuart, who has attention deficit disorder, he would be repeating eighth grade instead of moving on to his freshman year at Meade Senior High School.

"He just tells me flat out, 'You can do,' " Stuart said. "So I'm going for it."

At the luncheon, the teen-ager read the plaque he and his mother presented to Zerhusen. "For your wonderful work and loving attitude towards children whom, while under your care and guidance, turn into young adults. You're the best! The Campbell Family."

"It's kind of a shock," Zerhusen said afterward.

Mrs. Campbell praised Zerhusen's commitment to her son and to other students.

The teacher attended an Easter play at the Campbells' church in which Stuart participated. He routinely stayed at school as late as 7 p.m. tutoring Stuart and sometimes drove him home if he did not have a ride. Zerhusen, 49, said he goes out of his way to help his students because of the values he developed as a teen-ager studying to become a Roman Catholic priest. "We have a life to live and a life to serve," he said. "I just feel that is what you should be doing with your life."

At 20, Zerhusen decided he wanted to experience more of life and left religious studies to become a teacher. He left teaching in 1974 to work in the oil industry and to run his own business, but after 13 years in the private sector, he returned to teaching.

"I just wasn't happy, satisfied," the Linthicum resident said.

After eight years at MacArthur, satisfaction comes from helping students achieve, Zerhusen said. "I get a lot from these kids," he said. "Just the satisfaction of knowing that they keep trying, keep striving."

Stuart said he never has had a teacher like Zerhusen, who took a personal interest in him and was willing to spend time outside the school day working with him.

He fondly remembers Zerhusen taking him to an Orioles game this year when he ran into girl trouble.

"She walked all over me," Stuart said, adding that he thought about giving up, including his interest in motorcross. "Then Mr. Z came along and said, 'Don't give up your dream.' That meant a lot."

Now Stuart hopes to gain corporate sponsorship as a motorcross racer and travel.

But Stuart's mother sees a more conventional path.

"You're going to graduate high school," she said firmly. "Mom says high school diploma first before anything else."

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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