MINNEAPOLIS — His story is not far from an American fairytale.
“I guess a Cinderella story, a unicorn story,” said Aponte. “I was born on an island a long time ago and came to Wisconsin with very few financial resources.”
Coming from Puerto Rico as an eight-year-old, his love for baseball helped him fit in. He says the love from teachers and role models helped push him forward.
“In order to move anybody forward or resonate with somebody you have to understand their story,” said Aponte.
After college, he taught for ten years at MPS Hamilton and Northeast Middle School, before becoming principal at Waite Park Elementary School and eventually South High School.
Students like Claire Hennon, now a junior at South, have been with him since third grade.
“He's my pal. He's everybody's pal. He's South's pal,” said Hennon.
It's not just his story but his demeanor that’s attracts students. Every day he walks a delicate line between love, vulnerability, and high expectations.
His door is always open for anyone. He buys lunches for students who don’t have the money. He’s paid athletic fees for students who couldn’t afford it. He understands how brittle trust and comfort can be with some students.
“You got to understand the historical trauma that some of our students have gone through, because by you saying ‘no’ or by disciplining them in a way or maybe by calling their name funny in the wrong way, you may never see that student again. Called a drop out. And that’s something that is always present in my mind,” said Aponte.
After 34 years in Minneapolis Public Schools, with 24 years as a principal, Aponte is saying goodbye.
“I guess it's for other people too. It will come to an end soon,” said Aponte.
In a few days, he will retire as the longest serving principal in the district.
His students are saying thank you in their own ways.
The South High Pop Singers surprised Aponte in his office with an acapella version of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors.”
“They got me, they got me,” he said with a sniffle.
Others letting him know how he changed their lives.
“I've never had much of a father figure in my life, a male figure that cared,” a student told Aponte today. “Aponte was your role model. It's going to be hard when you leave.”
As school enters the last two hours, teens are buzzing in the halls. As the bell rings, Aponte tells kids with affection to ‘get to class’. When he talks, they listen, because he cares, and they know it.