Carolina Moment: Teacher who makes learning fun draws on one more lesson

Chad Rohl has been drawing for more than 20 years. Photo credit: WLOS

YANCEY COUNTY, N.C. -- A Yancey County teacher who brings fun to learning hasn't given up on his dream of being a book illustrator.

When so many distractions surround you, tuning out the world is an art form.

"It takes you to another place, you know," Chad Rohl says, sketching a dragon at his home. "I do like to put my thoughts on paper."

For Rohl, the audio of a pencil scribbling on paper is the sound of solace.

"If you can teach a first grader how to teach a dragon, they think that's pretty cool," Chad says.

That's his metaphor for slaying life's obstacles.

"You mess up, you just flip the page and draw something on the corner," he advises his students.

"The googly eyes also lend themselves to the younger kids," he explains, drawing a character with bulging eyes.

Before you "Google" the word "googly," it might help to see Rohl's portfolio. "As soon as they get into my classroom, I just start drawing," he says.

Rohl's a teacher at Yancey County Learning Academy, where he teaches at-risk students.

Sometimes he's known to draw up a cartoony looking "Homework Pass."

"You give 'em a certificate to not do homework," he explains. "What kid doesn't like that, right?"

"It makes learning fun, is I guess what I would say," Rohl tells us. "And I think that's why a lot of the kids like it because it's something they can aspire to be."

Along the way, Rohl put his dream of illustrating children's books on the back burner. Now, at 45, he's giving it a go one more time.

"It's not gonna happen if I don't put some effort in and try a little harder," he's decided.

Rohl's crammed some of his best characters into a graphic novel called "Heavy Sketches," geared toward middle-school-aged kids.

He's launched a Kickstarter campaign online to raise money.

Behind the scenes, "Heavy Sketches" is a story of redemption.

Twelve years ago, he thought the character he dubbed '"Crazy Grandpa" was his golden ticket.

"We all say he's crazy, but he's doing things we should all be doing," Chad says. "Being kind and nice."

He thought he found a publisher, but that fell through when the company went out of business.

"I mean, I was excited, this was the book," he says, leafing through the dream that became a nightmare. "It kind of tainted me and made me think, I'm not gonna do this anymore," he says.

After more than a decade he's finally turned the page. "I need to pursue it a little harder and not give up on the dream just yet," he tells us.

Maybe students can draw from his example. What seems like the end is sometimes just the beginning.

"And if I can use my talent to inspire them," says Chad. "If you've got something and you believe in it, you've gotta keep going."

If "Heavy Sketches" takes off, he hopes to give back by helping at-risk kids.

There's no shortage of ideas or optimism. In fact, Chad's already got the sequel ready to go.

Click here to access Rolle's KickStarter campaign.

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