Hellstern teacher is namesake and first-ever award recipient

A Springdale Public Schools’ educator is the namesake and first-ever recipient of the Jeremy Butler True GRIT Award.

Butler, a Hellstern Middle School special education teacher, was surprised with the award Feb. 13 at a presentation in the rotunda of the Arkansas Capitol.

The educator said it took him some time to process he was both a recipient and the namesake for the True GRIT award, which recognizes youth for their achievements and overcoming adversity.

“That's really what it boils down to,” he said. “I'm more than honored to use my name to that end.”

Butler, 35, exemplifies what the award was created to recognize, said Shannon WarrenArkansas Association of Alternative Educators president.

“For many years, I have heard his story and been so impressed with his grit, determination and his ability to overcome and become successful,” Warren said of Butler.

A capitol citation signed by Arkansas Secretary of State John Thurston notes the Jeremy Butler True GRIT Award recognizes recipients who exemplify “generosity,” “resilience,” “integrity” and “tenacity.”

Butler said he has made decisions as a teenager that contributed to poor grades and falling behind in school until he decided that wasn’t the future he wanted for himself.

“I had been to the juvenile detention center a couple times, and so I was not on a good path,” he said.

The Springdale Alternative Education staff helped Butler receive the support he needed to get back on track, said Lori Lamb, past president of the National Alternative Education Association. An aspect of that support included enrolling the teen in the Springdale Public Schools Alternative Education program.

The Office of Alternative Education's works with schools to ensure students who require a non-traditional educational environment have opportunities to learn at high levels, according to the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education website. ALE’s mission is to provide leadership, support and service to schools, districts and communities so every student graduates prepared for college, career and community engagement.

“He was challenged and struggling, and he was determined he was going to graduate,” Lamb said of Butler. “He was going to finish school.”

Although Butler lost focus on the goal of graduation more than once, Lamb said he became determined to serve in the military, earned his GED in 2005 and enlisted in the Army as a sniper when he was still a junior in high school.

“The military was just really the way to get away from everything, start fresh and have a little money for college,” he said.

Butler remained in contact with Lamb throughout his military career and visited ALE schools in as many as 30 Arkansas school districts when he was in the state on leave from the military, she said.

“He asked me to always set up times for him to visit ALE schools, to encourage kids to not give up—to stay focused so that they could accomplish their dreams,” Lamb said.

Butler went on to served more than eight years in the Army, which included deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan, according to his service record. He was medically discharged as a staff sergeant in 2017 following an injury sustained while on deployment.

Butler said he’s proud of the numerous awards and recognitions he received as a soldier, but he’s most proud of receiving the Expert Infantryman Badge, which is awarded to those who’ve demonstrated a mastery of critical soldier skills.

The soldier became an educator following his military service and began working with Springdale Schools in 2019.

“I really want to help students,” Butler said of becoming a teacher. “My path is just one out of many stories.”

Dr. Jared Cleveland, Springdale Public Schools superintendent, praised Butler for the five years he’s served as an educator, four of which have been at Hellstern and one at Central Junior High School.

“Jeremy Butler role models the generosity, resilience, integrity and tenacity of the Springdale Schools community,” Cleveland, said. “I can’t think of a better namesake for such an inspirational and meaningful award.”

Butler was surprised with the award at the presentation, understanding he was presenting the first-ever True GRIT Award to Arkadelphia student Romello Lawson.

“Presenting the first-ever student True GRIT Award means recognizing a student who has overcome obstacles in life to achieve success,” Butler said, prior to knowing he was receiving the award as well. “It is an honor to highlight the courage and determination of Romello Lawson in facing challenges and triumphing despite adversities.”

Lawson is enrolled in an ALE program at Arkadelphia High School designed to help students catchup on school credits, according to the award nomination. The teen fell behind in school after moving with his family several times as a high school student.

“Romello follows through on what is expected of him, whether it be school assignments, attendance, etc.,” according to the nomination. “He completes his coursework while working full time at a local restaurant. Romello is the model hybrid student. He has taken advantage of the opportunity that has been given to him. He is a very respectful young man who has a bright future ahead of him!”

Butler lives in Tontitown with his wife, Erin Butler, son, Wyatt and daughter, Abigail. Erin Butler also works as a teacher with Springdale Schools at Shaw Elementary School.