–Sept. 30, 2016


Not all coaches wear whistles and shout from the sidelines.
Danny Graham Jr., the Parent Involvement Educator (PIE) at Washington Irving School 14
who’s also known as Coach D.J., motivates his families in a different way.Danny Graham


Coach D.J. earned his nickname during his first year at
Washington Irving when he was employed by AmeriCorps to work as the program coordinator
for Playworks, which facilitates safe
and inclusive recess for students. After his yearlong commitment to Playworks
ended, Coach D.J. accepted the PIE job. Though his responsibilities changed,
the nickname stuck. Now, he doesn’t coach students at recess, he coaches
parents instead.


For two years, Coach D.J. has shared the role of PIE with Charisse
McGill. While McGill focuses on building relationships with community parents,
he focuses on building parent engagement. It’s an unexpected career change for
someone who spent decades working in an industrial field.


“This is a new career for me,” said Coach D.J. “I was a
welder for 20 years. I was at the point where I had outgrown that line of work.”


He graduated from George Washington Community High School’s
vocational program. He also earned an industrial technology certificate from
Ivy Tech Community College. While he earned a living as a welder, he also
supported the youth ministry at his church for 10 years. But one day, he had a


“There would be times I would go to my ministry commitments
after work totally exhausted, Coach D.J. recalled. “But when I got to youth
ministry, I would have a burst of energy like, ‘Wow this is what I should be
doing.’ The lightbulb went off.”


“I’m motivated by wanting to be that mentor that I needed as
a kid. I had my mom, dad and uncles, but a mentor is always following up with
me and going the extra mile and leading by example,” said Coach D.J. “This is
my oxygen. This is my purpose. This is why I’m here – to be of service to
children, to pour into children, to speak life into them.”


Coach D.J. serves students by building strong relationships
with their parents. His office, housed in the Parent Center, is the hub for
resources including a computer lab, parent newsletters, workshop schedules, and
employment and educational resources.


His approach is hands-on, proven by the genuine exchanges he
has with parents who need advice about job searches, housing assistance and GED
guidance. Giving support to parents allows parents to give more support to their


“Statistics show that when parents are engaged, students’ grades
improve. Their outlook on school improves, and behavior and attendance.
Everyone wins,” he said.


As the school year gets underway, Coach D.J. has three
simple goals:


  • Increase parent engagement.
  • Improve supports provided through home visits by
    personalizing informational packets to better meet each students’ needs.
  • Host quarterly “Chat and Chew” sessions so that
    parents and the school’s principal (Karen Hastings) can connect and build
    stronger relationships.



“Parents and students are similar in that they will produce
for you, once they get to know you,” said Coach DJ.


To many people at Washington Irving, Coach DJ has become what
he wanted a mentor to be for him. He’s leading by example and showing students
and their parents that it’s never too late to pursue new dreams.