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Old Navy Back to School

"What I'm about to tell you will change everything in an instant."

The last person you might expect to give a booming spoken-word performance is a seemingly soft-spoken teacher.

But Craig Duchemin, a special education teacher at Charles Hart Middle School in Washington, D.C., found that it was one of the best ways to reach his students — namely, those with autism.


He uses unique strategies to connect with kids of all backgrounds, and poetry set to music is his most recent approach.

Watch Craig's video below:

Duchemin joins other educators from across the country who partnered with Old Navy's cause platform ONward! to create an album of songs that encourage kids to let their unique selves shine through.

While students in his classroom face a number of challenges, ranging from mild behavioral problems to autism, Duchemin is able to forge special relationships with all of them and communicate with them so effectively that he was recognized for it with an Award for Excellence in Teaching.

All images via Old Navy.

His message, "I choose you," is loud and clear: Each of his students are special, unique, and valuable based on their individual merits as people, not outside factors like appearance or clothes.

"I care more about who you are than who you wear. I choose the brain that oozes creativity, not your hairstyle," he says in his performance piece. "I choose you being different because your difference is brilliance. You are more than a label, more than a definition."

Special educators are truly some of the hardest workers in teaching — and Duchemin is no exception.

In 2009, Teach for America brought him to teach at Hart Middle School, where students also face economic challenges: 100% of students there qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

That's why his work is so important. Duchemin strives to show kids that their individual challenges are part of what make them who they are — and that who they are is special.

His efforts reach beyond the lessons of the classroom, teaching kids to be confident in their own unique selves.

Duchemin's special relationships with his students is what keeps him going.

"That’s the easiest part, loving these students and really getting to know them and developing relationships with them," Duchemin told reporter Carolyn Phenicie in a 2016 interview.

For some of these children, communication can be their #1 barrier to a career, social life, and other opportunities, so a tireless advocate like him can help provide the resources and strategies they need to communicate messages of strength, hope, and self-confidence.

"You are fearless, and worthy, and valuable," he speaks. "You, my friend, matter. You are what this world needs."