Legacy Graduate now teaches and coaches at his Alma mater
Alex Mills, who graduated in Legacy Early College High School’s first graduating class of 2014, said he came home when he returned to Legacy as the middle school’s basketball coach and a keyboard teacher of seventh and eighth graders. Teaching and coaching at Legacy, which fulfills his dream of combining academics and sports, is what he’s supposed to be doing, Mills, 27, said as he enters his second year as a teacher.
“I knew this is what I wanted to do,” he said. “I love what I do. I don’t look at it as a job. I look at it as a mentorship,” adding the scholars “need more positive role models.” Mills, who has taken classes on how to be a principal, said that reaching that position is his eventual goal in his education career. An aunt in Charlotte serves as a principal and “I think she influenced me.”
B.J. Jackson, head basketball coach and athletic director at Legacy, said Mills has the ability to reach that goal. “He’s a disciplinarian, and he’s fair with everybody,” Jackson said. Mills is where he wants to be now. “Legacy is family-oriented. The teachers show that love and care for you,” he said. The fact that he graduated from Legacy resonates with his students, he said.
“They do open to me more. I relate to these kids. They see the steps I took. They see it as they could be me one day,” he said.
Jackson said his former basketball player is a successful teacher. “He works with a lot of athletes, making them do better in the classroom and in sports.” Mills studied at Legacy for only his senior year, but he needed a school like Legacy, he said. He wanted to go to college but was having some troubles. “I needed a school like Legacy to get me college-ready, and struggled with the SATs.”
He said that while he was growing up in Laurens, his parents demanded that he keep his grades up to play sports, but he needed more. A friend of Jackson’s told the coach that he had a student who wanted something different, both academically and athletically. After a tour of Legacy, Mills was sold on the school. Jackson and William Brown, Legacy’s founder, set up a tremendous plan to get him ready for his higher education,” Mills said. That was a change because “to me, it was basketball first. Here it is academics,” he said.
Mills received what he needed from Legacy, “the ability for the teachers to work with him one-on-one,” Jackson said.
The coach even allowed him to miss practice if he needed to study, Mills said. “He always preached academics.” Also, staff helped him find and apply for scholarships and to colleges.
“In the end, it came down to me,” he said, adding “I needed that extra one-on-one time.” The hard work paid off because “I graduated with honors.”
After graduation, he attended McLennan Junior College in Waco, Texas, on a full academic scholarship plus a Legacy scholarship. After graduating with his Associate in Arts degree, he went to North Carolina Central University in Durham, majoring in mass communications with an emphasis in broadcasting. He also received a full athletic scholarship at that school.
But “you can’t play basketball forever,” he said. He then entered Texas A&M Kingsville to obtain a degree in education administration. “Before I got to Texas A&M, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and a coach.,” With a full athletic scholarship to Texas A&M Kingsville, he played basketball for a year. After hip surgery, he moved from playing to the school’s coaching staff.
Mills said he realizes he was lucky because “once I left one school, another coach recruited me.” He finished his college career debt-free, thanks to the scholarships.
Now his goal is to give back to Legacy and his community.
He said he would encourage anyone to attend Legacy. “You’re going to get challenged here,” Mills said. “You’re going to have to work.” But the school is so diverse and offers so much to scholars that it’s all worth the work. And graduates give back to the school and the scholars: Once a Lion, always a Lion, he said, referring to Legacy’s mascot.
Recently, two graduates from his class visited Jackson and his team. Jawun Evans, a former player for the Los Angeles Clippers and now a free agent, was one of those visitors. “He came back and talked to the kids. He got on the court and played with them,” Mills said. That is not unusual for Legacy graduates, he said. They give back in many ways. As a cheerleader for Legacy and its programs, he also said he’d encouraged teachers to apply for positions at the school. Besides helping students, teachers are supported and provided with professional development programs.
“Come join the family,” he said. “If you want to be challenged, come here.”
Legacy also needs donors because of its scholarship program available to all scholars who have an A-B average and who allow it Legacy personnel see their college grades. Mills said that donating to Legacy is an investment. “Investing in our school, you’re bettering the students’ future, helping their education.” The donor is receiving a good return on investment as “they’re investing in their future employees” and members of the community. Michael Knox, Legacy’s alumni director, agrees. Donors need to understand that many of Legacy’s scholarships are not continuing their family’s educational legacy but creating a new legacy.
“We have scholars whose parents didn’t graduate from high school, yet alone attend college. We have many scholars whose families made huge sacrifices and left their home country so that their scholars can have a better life than they did,” he said. “Legacy provides these scholars with that opportunity. From the perspective of my role, I love Legacy because from day one of pre-k, our scholars know that they are college-bound. No matter where you are on campus, you can’t escape the idea of going to and through college.”
The entire high school at times visits colleges, he said. When scholars graduate, they have been exposed to at least eight colleges. And once they enroll, he and their senior year mentors and other staff reach out to them with encouragement and support.
Alex Mills is an example of a Legacy success story. He graduated with honors from Legacy, finished his college career debt-free and has now returned to Legacy to give back as a teacher, coach and mentor.