BYRON — Thursday morning inside Byron Middle School’s main office, things were relatively calm: The only sounds were the occasional keystrokes of middle school Secretary Debra Murray.
Every once in a while, the phone rang.
Shortly after 10:30 a.m., however, the quiet disappeared when students rushed into the hallways in between third and fourth period. In a matter of seconds, many surrounded Murray’s desk, each with a story to tell, a favor to ask, a concern to address.
Murray quickly navigated from student to student, handing out a book from her desk to one, retrieving a cell phone from another, distributing candy to many, all while asking each how his or her day was going.
“Middle schoolers need love,” Murray said. “It’s a weird age, you know, and we forget that when we were in middle school things were rough, too.
“You came from an elementary setting and you’re headed to a high school setting,” she continued. “You’re coming from where they had birthday parties and cake and everything’s great and fun, and you’re headed to where you need to be serious and you need to have your stuff done. You need your credits. In between, they need a little bit of help.”
In recognition of the care and compassion she shows the entire school community, Murray recently was nominated for the 2019-20 national LifeChanger of the Year Award by High School/Middle School Principal Mark Dobson.
The annual award, sponsored by the National Life Group Foundation, recognizes and rewards K-12 educators and school district employees throughout the U.S. for making a difference in the lives of students.
Murray — now in her third year as middle school secretary — helps students and staff, wherever needed, fulfilling clerical duties for the middle school, the athletic deparment and the bus garage, while also volunteering her time with the high school’s drama program.
Each morning, middle school students are greeted by Murray’s voice as she reads the morning announcements, which often feature a fact of the day and/or a cheesy joke, as well as her signature sign-off: “I hope you all have an amazing day.”
“I try to incorporate something fun in there (each time),” Murray said. “It’s getting them engaged and having fun; it’s important to me. I want to make a difference in their lives.”
“Debi Murray has had an incredible impact on our school, and more importantly, on the children of the Byron school system,” Joelle McGuire, a parent, said in a press release. “She makes the students feel cared for and cared about. We are blessed to have this incredibly kind, caring, efficient, talented woman working with our children.”
Seventeen LifeChanger of the Year awards will be given during the 2019-20 academic year, according to the press release, with award presentations beginning in February. In addition to the awards, recipients will also receive money for their school district.
In his nomination letter, Dobson highlighted Murray’s innate ability to connect with all students, regardless of background.
“The students who are drawn to Murray are as diverse as the backgrounds they come from, from students with all As, to those who are struggling academically, to social butterflies, to those new to school,” Dobson wrote. “Whether they’d like to share an accomplishment or receive mentorship while facing struggles, every student leaves with a positive message and a smile.”
Murray was informed of her nomination via email in early December. She initially though the email was spam.
A few days later, though, she received confirmation via Dobson’s nomination letter, and within days, a number of community members began posting positive messages on her nomination profile online (LifeChangeroftheYear.com).
“It’s amazing. I’m overwhelmed…Overwhelmed with things people wrote online,” Murray said, holding back tears. “I’m already a winner, I don’t even care (if I win the award).”
For Murray, who previously worked as an insurance agent in Howell and Grand Blanc, it’s not about the accolades, but rather, it’s about making an impact in students’ lives.
“I never knew that I belonged in this spot, but I feel like I do,” Murray said. “Middle school is such a rough time. I think we do a good job as a team here of getting them through that. I think they become stronger people and better people when they have a little bit of guidance to get them to the next level.”