The Story of a Remarkable Overcomer
Panola Early College High School principal Bryan Tarjick is a perfect living example of two things: the old adage, “Never say never!” and the amazing ability of the human body and the human spirit to be an overcomer.
When he graduated from CHS in 1981, Bryan swore he would never go to school again. Fifteen years later, he began a very difficult educational journey that has since afforded him an associates, a bachelors, and a masters degree, and he is now engaged in a two-year ministry education program. “I thought college was only for really brilliant people,” he says. “No one in my family had ever gone before, and all I wanted to do was find a good job and make some money. My brother Yogi had been working in the mining area at Texas Utilities for a couple of years and encouraged me to apply as an electrician helper. After four years, I completed my apprenticeship and became a journeyman electrician.”
He continues, “Then on May 19, 1994, life as I knew it changed forever when my skull was crushed as I was about to go into a building to disconnect a lignite crusher motor. In the split second it took me to take off my hard hat and put on the respirator I was required to wear to enter the building, a huge load of lignite chunks, many weighing around 10 pounds apiece, fell from a three-story height on my head. The main thing I recall is the sound I was hearing in my brain; it sounded like I was wearing a metal helmet that someone was striking with a hammer. I was starting to lose consciousness, and I could see the pool of blood I was lying in, and all of a sudden I was on my feet without meaning to be and could see myself starting to walk into the building. It was like an out of body experience; I could see people in the building with their backs to me, and I could see my hand reaching out to tap one of them on the back. I truly believe these were my guardian angels guiding me supernaturally. They turned around and saw my whole head and face and body covered in blood and were horrified! I was quickly transported to the power plant safety office, then to a clinic in Tatum, then by ambulance to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview. There I underwent a six-hour operation in which the surgeon removed my skull, pieced it back together with titanium clips and screws, and put it back in.”
Bryan’s wife Karen was at the baseball park in Carthage with their children Scarlett and Grant, ages 9 and 8, when the accident happened. Of course this was before cell phones, so the friend who was staying with them for the week drove out to the park to tell Karen there had been a phone call at home from Texas Utilities with the message that Bryan had been injured and she needed to go to Good Shepherd. Karen says, “I was just praying out loud for a long while, and I suddenly heard this very audible voice directing me to stop praying and be silent, then saying, ‘When you arrive at the hospital, you will not be given any hope, but I give you hope.’ I knew without a doubt that it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me, and I cannot even describe the supernatural peace and complete calm that came over me and remained with me. Sure enough, the neurosurgeon told me before the surgery that he could not offer me much hope, that Bryan’s pupils were fixed, but as I signed the surgical permission papers, I just knew without doubt that he was going to be all right. By that time many of our Texas Utilities friends and family had come to support and comfort me, but I was really doing most of the comforting myself!”
Bryan only stayed in the hospital after surgery for six days. He says, “On the drive home, I was struck with how green the grass was and how blue the sky, and this overwhelming assurance came over me that God was not finished with me and that my life still had purpose. But I couldn’t walk in a straight line and had no equilibrium, walking into walls if Karen didn’t hold me up and guide me. I couldn’t make a chord on the guitar I had loved playing for years and lost nearly all the fine motor skills in my left hand, and had great difficulty remembering anyone’s name. I just called everyone Brother or Sister for quite some time. I was in physical therapy for two years at the Kilgore Treatment Center, chosen because it was the only place with a pool for the hydrotherapy I needed. I also continued working on restoration of my guitar skills and singing in church as part of my therapy.”
“However,” he continues, “in 1996 I really hit rock bottom. I was having some seizures and terrific body thermostat problems, unable to tell when my body was getting overheated and thereby needing to be monitored closely. I also still had equilibrium problems, especially at higher altitudes. I realized that I was never going to be able to return to my old job and struggled with a lot of mental anguish over my loss of identity as the provider for my family. I guess I had been so busy trying to recover physically that I had ignored the emotional trauma of the accident and had fallen into pretty significant clinical depression, requiring the services of a psychiatrist for extensive psychotherapy. I lost about 50 pounds and was having the frequent emotional outbursts often associated with brain injuries. I remember standing in the pool on several occasions in physical therapy beating at the water in frustration. I just got lost!”
During this time, Karen had graduated from the RN program at Panola College and convinced Bryan that, despite his inability to see himself as “college material,” it was time for him to go to college and find a new career. He finally agreed to begin a basic course of study at Panola. “I had no clue what I would major in,” he says, “but I remember hearing that same small still voice that Karen had heard, and it was clearly saying to me, ‘Computers!’ So I followed that direction and enrolled in the Computer Information Systems degree program.”
He continues, “I had passed the reading and writing portion of the TASP (now the TSI), the test you had to pass to be enrolled in regular classes, but I had to take the remedial math class five times before finally being able to pass the math portion! I started with one class, then two the next semester, then three the next, and I finally got that two-year associates degree four years later in 2001! I owe such a debt of gratitude to Dwayne Ferguson and many of those other teachers in the Gullette Building who took me under their wings and got me through. I felt so great; it was like a shot of adrenaline, and I felt like I was finally on my way to something!”
Bryan began looking for any kind of job in the computer field, and the Panola Charter School called him two days before school started saying he had been highly recommended by Dwayne Ferguson to be their new technology director. Two years later the school needed him to teach career and technology courses in addition to serving as technology director, but that required a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification, so he began studies at LeTourneau University, earning a BBA and a teaching certificate in Business Administration. Then in 2007, our superintendent and business manager asked him to consider going to SFA to get a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership so that he could become an administrator. He says, “I felt like God was saying, ‘Go for it!’so I did. I definitely can’t call myself a non-student anymore, and honestly, I think going to college is about the best thing I’ve ever done. It pulled things out of me that would have remained dormant if the accident had not forced me to make a change.”
Bryan thoroughly enjoys his work as principal of the Panola Early College High School, which is located on the Panola College campus and receives students from 20 different school districts. It is one of three programs offered through the Panola Schools organization. The others are the Panola Charter School located in Carthage, and the Texas Early College High School, which is located in Marshall and also serves students from many different districts closer to that area. Bryan explains that the schools are for anybody, but they are not for everybody. Each school has students from grades 8 through 12, and the students in each school are there for many different reasons.
At the charter school, many are there for credit recovery and dropout prevention, but some are there because they are able to accelerate their high school graduation by taking their required classes through Edgenuity, an online program that allows students to work at an accelerated pace. Most of the students in the early college high schools are ones who are not interested in typical high school activities like sports or UIL competitions or school organizations and prefer to just focus on their academics. Some prefer a very small setting for their studies. Others are ones who want or need to have after-school jobs; the regular school day is from 7:45 to 12:05, with afternoon tutoring available until 2:45 daily, and this schedule works well with work schedules.
These students take their high school classes (all of which offer dual credit with an aligned college class) through Edgenuity and also take actual Panola College classes after they pass the TSI. Many of them earn an associates degree at the same time they earn their high school diploma. The current valedictorian and salutatorian at Bryan’s school each earned about 87 hours of college credit along with their high school credits in their four years there and are headed to major universities as almost-second-semester-juniors in chemical engineering and mathematics. The remarkable thing about early colleges is the fact that all college tuition and textbooks are paid for by our school. This helps alleviate any financial burden on the student’s family.
Karen is a teacher at the Texas Early College campus in Marshall, although she explains that teachers in these schools are more like “facilitators, helpers, and encouragers” than subject instructors because of the online nature of the courses. She works with students primarily in science and health science-related courses but also, like the other teachers, helps students with time management, organization, and general life management skills. “We want to get to know them well, to figure out what makes them tick, to help prepare them for as many life experiences as possible. We want them to take more away from our school than a diploma or a degree. We want them to believe in themselves, to see that they can have a whole wonderful new life through what they are doing. We want them to look at their talents and interests and find a career path in something they absolutely love!”
Bryan adds that their students are tasked intensely in three major “A’s,” which include Attitude, submitting to Authority, and mandatory Attendance, and that he is delighted to be able to share his faith with them if that door is opened. “I ask God every day to teach me how to best teach them,” he says. “I am really not so much a ‘Master Teacher’ as ‘The Master’s Teacher!’” Bryan encourages any student that may be interested in applying to go online at www.panolaschools.net and click on Apply Now or call (903) 693-6355 to schedule an appointment.
Bryan and Karen worship at Word of Life Center in Shreveport, which has its own ministry school, and both of them have attended for a year, earning a Certification in Biblical Studies. After another year of study, they will earn an Associates in Ministry designation. They both enjoy going to class and studying together and are very happy with the personal growth they have seen in themselves. “We have a much deeper understanding of what it truly means to serve,” says Bryan. “Of course all believers are called to be ministers of the Gospel even if not as pastors. And being with high school students all the time is definitely a ministry! It’s exciting to know that God is leading us each day guiding us by His Spirit and is preparing us for all He has purposed us to be. We believe that for now God has placed us to be light in our work place, that people are watching and listening and wanting to see authenticity, and we want to offer that.”
Daughter Scarlett Rivera and her husband Edwin live in Carthage with their four-year-old son Knox and six-month-old daughter Willow. Scarlett has been teaching kindergarten and first grade in Marshall for three years and has been hired to teach second grade in Carthage in the fall. Son Grant and his wife April live in Fairview, North Carolina with their two-year-old son Forest. Grant is an auditor for an inventory management company, and the couple owns two Air B&B cabins in the Smoky Mountains that they rent out.
Bryan and Karen both emphasize how grateful they are for the loving and caring parents who raised them and have always been there for them, especially during Bryan’s long recovery. Bryan claims to have been a rebel and a prodigal during much of his youth. “My father became a minister at age 42,” he says, “but it wasn’t until after marriage and having children that I began to turn my life around and start living for God. I truly hope my dad can look down from the portals of heaven and see and smile at the spiritual renewal in my life because he said many a prayer and preached many a sermon over me! I believe the seeds that were sown through his ministry had a major impact of where God has brought me to today. I believe the whole story of my accident, recovery, and the hard road to my education and career is a story of what God has done. We walked through it, but it was only through His grace and strength!”