Eighth-grader recognized for assisting music teacher who inspired him as a child

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cody Grater, an eighth-grader at Cedar Park Middle School, rehearses for his school play, 'High School Musical Jr.,' on Tuesday. Grater was recognized during Monday's Beaverton School Board meeting for being named Oregon's top youth middle school volunteer.When Cody Grater came home from school one recent afternoon, his dad uttered the eight-word question that makes an adolescent boy’s blood run cold.

“When I came in the door, he said, ‘Cody, do you have something to tell me?’ — in this really ominous voice,” the 13-year-old recalls of his father, Greg. “A thousand things are going through my mind. What did he find out about?”

What dad “found out” was something he already knew: his son has a remarkable ability to give freely of himself to help others. Based on the ongoing assistance he’s provided his fourth-grade teacher — who inspired his life through music — Cody was named one of Oregon’s two top youth volunteers in the 18th annual Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

For the honor, the Meadow Park Middle School eighth-grader — along with his fellow winner Caroline Brown of Glide — will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., in early May. The two Oregon residents will join two honorees from each of the other 49 states and the District of Columbia for four days of events, including the awards ceremony at the Smithsonian Institution’s Rotunda. Ten students will be chosen as America’s top youth volunteers for 2013.

The Beaverton School Board recognized Cody — who is part of Meadow Park’s advanced Summa program — at its Monday night meeting, where he received a plaque for his volunteerism.

Harmonious help

To the soft-spoken, curly brown-haired Cody, it’s considerably more fuss than he ever intended when he started helping Clare Bourquein, his fourth-grade music teacher, organize and spruce up her Bonny Slope Elementary School classroom during the early summer downtime.

“For nine years I’ve been helping to put the music teacher’s room back together,” he says. “She had another student for years who helped with that. He went off to college, so I volunteered to help. It’s about moving all the instruments around, clearing off the floors, putting everything away. I would help her get the room back in order before school and after school ended.”

As far as he’s concerned, the ongoing gesture is the least he could do for the amount of inspiration he picked up from his musical mentor.

“She got me started on music. She realized I could apparently do something,” he says of Bourquein, who now splits her teaching time between Bonny Slope and William Walker elementary schools. “She encouraged me to keep going with music, which is such a large part of my life.”

A singer and thespian, the option-schooled student performs in the choir at Meadow Park and right now is busy rehearsing at Cedar Park Middle School for a stage role in “High School Musical Jr.,” an early-adolescent variation of the 2006 Disney movie.

“It’s my first musical,” he says. “I’ve done variety show productions over the summer. I wrote a lot of my own jokes.”

Family tradition

Cody’s mother, Pam, credits her sister, Amy Paterson, who conceived My Little Waiting Room, a volunteer-staffed play area for children of patients at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, with instilling the community spirit in her son.

“I think that inspired him to give back to the community,” Pam Grater says. “Of course, (our family’s) always made an effort to give back to individual families and offer support where we can.”

Still, mom had initial doubts when Cody — who has a twin sister, Emma, and younger sister Kyra, a Bonny Slope fifth-grader — first showed interest in helping his music teacher.

“That first year, he was so young. I think I wondered a bit about how much help he would be,” she says. “Then we touch bases with her and find out indeed he was really helpful. He would ride his bike and find a way to get back and forth (from school) because it was important to him.

“I just thought it was a one-time thing,” she adds, “because it was unusual for a 9-year-old to continue to do that.”

An elementary school general music teacher for 24 years — the past 14 spent in the Beaverton district — Bourquein says she remains grateful for Cody’s devotion to helping her keep the music classroom in tip-top shape for other students.

“He was always one who wanted to stay after class and put away my instruments in an organized fashion — in the fashion he knew I appreciated,” she says. “When I was preparing for a concert, he would offer to stay after school and help me set up. Even after Cody graduated, he would come back to many of my evening performances and help me put away chairs, choir risers, instruments and miscellaneous costumes and props.”

At the end of each school year, he volunteered to help her break down the room. Then in late August, “when most kids were getting the most out of their last days of summer vacation,” she says, “Cody would contact me to let me know he was available to help me set my room up again.”

Quiet consideration

Cody, who’s taking time away from the track team to concentrate on theater, singing and studies, says he has “really no clue” where his drive to volunteer comes from.

“I just enjoy doing it,” he says, admitting he’s not typically the attention-seeking type. “I don’t think I’ve ever been one to jump in front of a group. I’d rather lead from the shadows. I’m not exactly ‘Boom! Pow! Fireworks!’”

While he’s looking forward to visiting the nation’s capital for the first time and sharing ideas and camaraderie with his fellow recognized volunteers, Cody finds all the reward he needs when he completes his work routine in the music classrooms.

“It’s about the look on the kids’ faces in the classroom,” he says. “When they walk in, and the classroom is a bright place where they can move around and have fun.”by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Cody Grater, an eighth-grader at Cedar Park Middle School, was recognized during Monday's Beaverton School Board meeting after being named Oregon's top youth middle school volunteer as part of the national Prudential Spirit of Community Awards.

Teachers, principal recognize student's giving nature

Last year's drastic budget cuts in the Beaverton School District doubled Clare Bourquein's teaching load, which she now splits between two schools and 1,200 children she instructs once every eight days.

The 24-year music teaching veteran says help from Cody Grater, a student she taught when the 13-year-old was in fourth grade, is more crucial than ever before. Last summer, Cody made sure the music room she would be working in at William Walker Elementary School got cleaned out, painted and spruced up.

Aware of his efforts, Susan Duncan, Cody's science teacher at Meadow Park, and school Principal Toshiko Maurizio conspired to submit Cody's name to the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards nominating committee.

Despite the pressure of more than 10 short essays he was asked to write as part of his application, Cody didn't sweat the process too much.

“As a Summa student, I have one to three hours of homework every night,” he says. “So I'm used to writing — a lot of it.”

When he found out he was chosen as a top student volunteer for Oregon, no one was more pleased than Bourquein.

“I was thrilled that Cody was recognized for doing something good for his community,” she says. “Children his age typically spend more time thinking about 'self' and less about others. Cody already exhibits many qualities of a good leader. He takes initiative, has compassion, is a problem-solver, is alert to the needs around him, and wants to make a difference.”

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