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Jerry Costello

McConaughey’s Mom Planted Seeds of Service

With the school year now under way in earnest, it seemed a good time to point out that movie star Matthew McConaughey gives a huge shout-out to America’s teachers in a recent issue of Parade magazine. Not only does he cite “gifted teachers” who have made a difference in his life and those of several others, but he provides details on a foundation he established that’s having an impact on the lives of some lucky young people across the country.

                McConaughey, a native of Longview, Texas, told writer Allison Ashton that he has especially warm memories of a favorite teacher: his mom, Kay, who taught kindergarten and was a sub in the area. He credits her with inspiring his desire to give back (and even do some teaching himself at his alma mater, the University of Texas at Austin).

                “She started us with Meals on Wheels, where you go take food to the elderly,” he said. “She made that a weekly ritual for us.” That, along with going to church regularly, established a pattern—a pattern he admits that he ignored at first but in time became a way of life, of doing good things for other people. “It planted a seed,” he said.

                He also recalls with a chuckle one vivid memory. “Mom was a bit of renegade.. She was always like ‘Let’s get out of this classroom! Why are we talking about trains when we could ride one?’ And she’d take us down to Amtrak—without asking permission.” (Everyone got back safely, he said.)

                Now, about that foundation. It’s called Just Keep Livin’ (JKL for short) and it’s for inner-city high schoolers living in Washington, D.C., and three other areas. So far it’s attracted 2,400 members. Designed as an after-school program, it focuses on fitness, nutrition, gratitude, and community service.

                McConaughey says of the JKL project: “Students who participate say it provides a safe haven from street violence and a respite from the isolation of sitting at home. It’s a place for kids who aren’t on a team to have a team.”

                The foundation is ringing up some impressive results, too. School attendance, grades and behavior all show a marked improvement, and JKL kids have an 88 percent graduation rate (as opposed to the typical dropout rate of 40 per cent for other students). All this is no accident, he insists, crediting exceptional teachers as the heart and soul of his foundation’s work.

                Writer Ashton cites other “favorite teachers” in her article, including a nun named by Ann Patchett, a bookstore owner and author. “My favorite teacher was Sister Nena, who taught me how to read and write,” Patchett says. “She’s 83 now and my best friend. Without reading and writing, it wouldn’t have been much of a life for me.”

                Professionally, McConaughey is riding high with the recent release of “Kubo and the Two Strings,” which features co-star Charlize Theron. She had some kind words about teachers, too, from her South African heritage.

                Great teachers, like great performers, know how to play to their audience, she told writer Ashton. “If you have the capability of bringing a few of those dynamics into a room,” she said, “you’re a very powerful teacher.”