"There's very much that feeling of us against the world," he says. "If one kid's having a hard time and another kid has been through that, we'll take time away from English class to talk about it and see how others dealt with the problem, or I'll take them somewhere and we'll talk about it. My philosophy is, if you're having problems, come on down here and talk about it. Let's not have an explosive situation; you don't have to figure it out on your own. We've had amazing success with kids who come down here and open up about stuff that's going on in their lives."
Huddlestone's experience is not all warm and fuzzy Hallmark moments, of course. There have been times when he has packed a pistol at school (he has a concealed-weapons permit), mostly when he heard that street gangs were looking for one of his students.
"I work with some kids who have committed serious crimes," says Huddlestone. "At one point I decided that occasionally having that (gun) backup would be an advantage. I didn't do it all the time, just in situations where gangs were looking for a student. We're out there by ourselves in portables. I wanted to be able to defend kids in my class. We did have a situation when two gangs were looking for a student. I brought a gun that time. But I've never had to pull a gun out at school. I've never had to get physical with a student either. My rapport with students is such that it never gets that far."
Apparently, Huddlestone will never go to law school, which is where he was headed three decades ago. While serving overseas in the Army, he oversaw a GED program and liked it so much that he returned to school to get a degree in education. He moved from Detroit to Salt Lake City and heard about the Youth in Custody Program.
"A lot of people didn't want anything to do with it," he recalls. "I thought it sounded interesting."
He devoted the next 32 years of his life to it.
"Tom will be hard to replace," says Todd Bird, who oversees the program for Canyons School District. "He's a great mentor who builds an unconditional relationship with his students."
Looking back, Huddlestone says, "When someone graduates or they come tell you they are going to college or getting married, that's your pay raise."
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