In 2014, twin brothers Tayte and Tyler Patton got into trouble at Henry Clay High School and were reassigned to Martin Luther King Jr. Academy for Excellence.
They had Ds and Fs when they entered the alternative program for middle and high school students whose conduct prevents them from succeeding in their regular school.
But the boys are graduating from high school this week with As and Bs. Tayte, who is valedictorian of their class, got a 30 out of 36 on his ACT and Tyler got a 26. The average score in Kentucky is 19.
They both have full-ride scholarships to the University of Kentucky.
Both are entering the College of Arts & Sciences with a neuroscience major, said UK spokesman Jay Blanton. They are moving into the dorm in a few days and enrolling in a summer program.
What made the difference, the boys said, is that their teachers at MLK kept reaching out, building relationships with them and not backing down from high academic expectations.
Also, the boys had started reading the Bible on their own outside of school when they got into trouble and that led to an interest in other ancient works, their English teacher Joshua Collins said.
About eight months ago, Collins said, “I was on my planning period. There was a knock at the door.”
Tayte had seen a book in class that Collins had written about ancient linguistics and began to ask questions about classical authors.
Collins gave them some books to read on their own.
“They were reading whole books in a day or two,” Collins said. “I couldn’t give it to them fast enough.”
They read the Bible and Plato first, said Tyler, because those works were easily accessible examples of ancient literature.
Then, “we started reading a lot of ancient literature; literature as a whole changed my perspective,” said Tayte.
The twins have figured out that “you can literally change your brain by reading,” said Tayte.
They began to have an interest in neuroscience. They started meeting with Collins on Saturdays.
Also, Collins gave them books by 19th-century author and orator Frederick Douglass, a human rights leader in the anti-slavery movement.
Then he showed them The Count of Monte Cristo movie and had them read the book. The story concerns a man who is unjustly imprisoned for 20 years for innocently delivering a letter entrusted to him. He showed them the movie Angels with Dirty Faces about a priest who tries to prevent a group of youths from falling under bad influences. He showed them other movies and gave them books about people who were able to transcend their circumstances because they learned to read and to write.
Collins said the boys, 17, could see that “they could transcend their surroundings, their environment, their past, through literature.”
“They got way into Machiavelli and read him alongside the Pope” Benedict XVI, said Collins.
They even listened to ancient philosophy while they exercised early mornings at school, the teacher said.
They learned on their own time, he said.
Collins introduced them to jazz music that was popular in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, and Tayte said they have been taking home CDs of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and others. “It’s massaging your brain,” Tayte said.
They have starting learning to read certain works in Greek. They read the philosopher Seneca in Latin, who, Tayte said, has taught them “how could you possibly be good if you haven’t been tested?”
The boys said they have rid their lives of bad influences.
Still, said Tyler, “there are a lot of distractions, there will always be a lot of distractions, but I am trying to put myself in a good situation.’
Collins said a friend of his, Leonard Heller, a retired vice president at UK, advised the boys on getting scholarships.
Churches and some individuals are donating money so they will have all the things they need to go to college. They have several mentors cheering them on as they graduate from both Martin Luther King Jr. Academy and with their class at Henry Clay High School on Thursday night.
Tayte said he might want to write books, regardless of the field he enters.
Said Don Witt, associate provost for enrollment management at UK, “I have had the honor of meeting both Tayte and Tyler Patton — two remarkable young men who are examples for us all. ... They have a true passion for learning and our goal has been to provide the opportunity to two extremely talented students. It’s exciting to be a part of this new chapter in their life and academic career.”
Ultimately, said Tyler, “I’m not sure where I’ll be in life. But wherever I am, I want to be able to help somebody, like somebody helped us. I want to be able to be that hand up.”
Principal Mark Sellers said he and others will continue mentoring the boys.
“I think we’ll be part of their lives for the rest of their lives,” said the principal.
“It was having those relationships with the teachers and positive relationships with people around them that helped them find their true selves.”
Fayette County graduation schedule
At Rupp Arena
4 p.m. – Bryan Station High School
7 p.m. – Henry Clay High School
1 p.m. – Lafayette High School
4 p.m. – Paul Laurence Dunbar High School
7 p.m. – Tates Creek High School