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VIGO COUNTY, Ind. (WTHI) – To say the pandemic has thrown us all sorts of curveballs would probably be an understatement.

For instance, we didn’t get to present our Gold Apple Awards last April, like we normally do. Schools were shut down.

We are presenting them this week…but going about it a little differently. We weren’t allowed in the schools to get video of our winners teaching and interacting with their students.

Instead of that being a problem though, one of our outstanding educators made it a challenge.

Terre Haute South teacher Patrick Killeen made it a class project to tell us his story.

His classroom is called the ‘Southside Media Cafe.’ It is set up like a 50’s diner with all kinds of media memorabilia.

You’ll find things like 8-track players and digital recorders. A live DJ booth, tv news set, and a photography studio.

Killeen has been a friend to the students there for nearly 30 years.

“A place to maybe form some new dreams about what they might want to do in the future,” Killeen said.

He teaches radio, television, graphic design, and yearbook layout at South. It’s a place where some students literally find their voice.

Many others find a safe, calm environment where they feel loved.

“I had a girl a couple of years ago come in and tell me ya know Mr. Killeen this is the only room where I feel loved. Gosh, that broke my heart. But it’s important work that we do,” Killeen told us.

That positive reinforcement is evident from the very entrance of the classroom.

A big screen says “Welcome to the Southside Cafe, Where Everyone is Brilliant.”

“I honestly believe every student that comes in here is brilliant in one way or another. Sad part is that some of them may never have heard that about themselves over the years…In here, it’s not how smart you are that’s important but how you’re smart that’s important,” Killeen said.

He told us all of his classes stress a team atmosphere. Students work together to put on the school newscast. And his graphic design class works as a team to put together the yearbook.

Every student does every aspect of the journalistic process. Taking pictures, writing stories, and even selling ads.

It’s an atmosphere that has students at South taking his class year after year.

It’s evident Mr. Killeen has had an impact on the young lives there. You’ll find several pictures with his students, and personal letters thanking him for making a difference.

Perhaps the awards he’s most fond of are his Golden Apples.

“Back in the late 1990’s, I had a student that was very special to me and my family. He nominated me and well when I didn’t get it he was so upset he personally handcrafted this one for me. So I think I’ll always cherish this Golden Apple as well…they’ll both have a special place in my home,” Killeen said.

A very special thank you to South student Max Schoffstall and Mr. Killeen’s entire class for helping us with this project.