Virginia Teacher Gives Up His Shoes to Student Whose Footwear Broke Before Graduation

Teacher Vohn Lewis gave his shoes to a graduating student.
Vohn Lewis helped a student in need. Courtesy of Bradley Cook Kopelove

Vohn Lewis happily gave up the shoes on his feet.

Substitute teacher Vohn Lewis is the kind of man who would give you the shirt off his back and the shoes off his feet. 

He did the latter last week when a fifth-grade student's shoe came apart just as his class was heading into its graduation ceremony.

The footwear flop caused a bit of a commotion as teachers and counselors tried to become instant cobblers. Art teacher Bradley Cook Kopelove was enlisted to glue the shoe back together, but even that failed.

The boy has big feet for a child and wears a size 10. "I said, 'One of the teachers must have a size 10 shoe,''' Kopelove told Tuesday. Then she spotted Mr. Lewis, watching the children assemble for the festivities.

"I said, 'Hey, Mr. Lewis. I've got a huge favor to ask.'"

The instructor took in the view — the nervous student, the flapping shoe, the huddle of adults — and realized the solution.

"I said, 'Just take my shoes,''' Lewis said. And off the child went, looking resplendent in his black suit and Lewis' shoes.

"At first I tried to go back to class," Lewis said. But he didn't get far with the boy's broken shoe. "I just sat on a bench until the graduation was done," he said. 

Lewis takes his job at George Mason Elementary School very seriously. He has lived in the community of Richmond, Virginia, his entire life. He believes in setting an example for his students, and in being a lifeline for them.

"It's better to build a strong child than to rebuild a broken man," he said, paraphrasing Frederick Douglass. "Children are sponges, they need to be shown how to be a good person."

Being a good person, he said, entails paying it forward and taking care in your appearance.

Kopelove said Lewis is "always around in the halls, tying shoes, trying to help our young people look their best."

The 32-year-old instructor is "a very caring, loving person."

Lewis has wanted to be a teacher since he was a child. He excelled in wrestling, and coaches that sport as well. "I just want kids to be mindful of their value," he said. Growing up in the Richmond area can "be a distraction," he said because of poverty and high crime. "A lot of kids come out of their house in the morning without getting a balanced meal. So you've got a kid sitting in school for hours thinking only about food."

He also volunteers with Brothers United, working to help young people learn responsibility and life lessons. At a recent gathering, he had them wash his car. He gave them each $10 and then took them out to eat. "They expected me to pay," he said. "And I said, 'No, you've just worked and you've got money.'''

To him, being a teacher means "you're always on stage. That's an important responsibility."

So when a fifth grader with a busted shoe was faced with walking onstage in front of his entire class, Lewis said, "Just take my shoes."

And Lewis sat on that bench throughout the graduation service, patiently waiting. Afterward, the boy came hurrying back to give back the loaned footwear.

Lewis told him to go have some fun. "Go have some cake and enjoy the festivities," he told the child and his mother. "I'm OK. I'll be right here."

He sat for about two hours, he said, laughing, "there in my socks, with one shoe and one broken heel."