Staff at Southern Heights Elementary School were concerned about an 11-year-old boy. He wouldn't make eye contact with people and was disengaged from those around him.
Then the Young Artists Academy came to the Highline school. The class helps kids in 4th through 10th grades find their voices.
"It's been a complete 180," said Lindsey Durant, an education assistant at Southern Heights. "Now he often hangs out after school, holds the door open for people, and is interacting with others much more."
The Young Artists Academy is the brainchild of Toyia Taylor. The program teaches public speaking and just as importantly tries to instill confidence in students.
Taylor came up with the idea for the program after going through a lot of unhappiness herself when she was a teenager.
When Taylor was 14, she was feeling unheard. She had just moved back to Seattle with her single mother and was starting high school in Renton.
Writing in her journal helped express her angst but she didn't talk to anyone about how she felt. Then a school counselor asked if he could read her journal and encouraged her to be an orator.
That counselor opened the door for Taylor's career in public speaking. In fact, she took her skills to the Miss America Pageant in 2000 where oratory was her talent.
The Young Artists Academy was born in 2012 and is now offered in five schools in South Seattle and Tacoma that serve a diverse population with many low-income students.
Oscar Cortes, 16, (above) is in the program at Summit Sierra School in Seattle’s International District. He says that as a male, he’s grown up being taught not to express his feelings.
But his dad left the family six years ago and Cortes was feeling a lot of hurt. He needed to find an outlet for his emotions. The academy has helped him do that. He says he talks more now and is able to express how he feels.
Cortes is one of 40 students taking part in the Rising Voices Oratory Competition on Saturday at South Shore K-8 school, 4800 S. Henderson St., Seattle.
Taylor began the contest last year as a way to end the year. She says it takes a lot of work to be ready to get up in front of 200 people.