"I’m always going to be their cheerleader," Barry White tells PEOPLE
Walking into Barry White’s reading class in Charlotte, North Carolina, is a little unusual. As the Ashley Park K-8 students line up outside the room, they each receive a special handshake as they make their way to their desks.
“I had a simple handshake with one student last year who wasn’t even in my class, but every day she would wait for me in the morning so we could do our handshake and I saw how powerful it was,” White tells PEOPLE.
And so did his other students. One by one, they each started asking for their very own handshake. Almost all of his 58 fifth graders have a five-second greeting, tailored just for them.
“I saw they became more invested in me because I took time to do a five-second handshake with them,” he says. “They could see that I care about them.”
The 26-year-old second-year teacher says it’s easy to remember the specific moves for each student because he does it every day.
“They’re geared towards who they are,” he says. “The students come up with part of it and then I fine-tune it.”
White says he got the idea from one of his sports icons.
“I saw LeBron James and the Cavaliers and how tight the team is and they all do special handshakes. I wanted to bring that concept and that feeling into my classroom,” he shares.
- Need a little inspiration? Click here to subscribe to the Daily Smile Newsletter for uplifting, feel-good stories that brighten up your inbox.
Ten-year-old Zhyir Williams says Mr. White’s handshakes help put him at ease.
“I like that if I’m not having a good day, I can come to his class and I know I’ll have the opportunity to turn my day around.” Williams tells PEOPLE. “He can make you feel better with a handshake.”
Video of the unusual greetings has gone viral, with people across the country enjoying the young teacher’s special efforts. And his principal couldn’t be prouder.
“He’s building a special and authentic relationship with each and every student,” Ashley Park Principal Meghan Loftus tells PEOPLE. “This strong relationship makes it possible for him to hold his students to high expectations, and have them respond with determination and hard work.”
White has 58 students in all and says so far, 42 of them have a routine. The rest are a little shy, he admits, but he’s hoping to get them all involved by the end of the school year.
“Some of my students come from tough things at home and they may be down, but when they get to my class they know I’m always going to be their cheerleader,” White says. “They know we’re going to do a lot of learning, but we’re going to have fun do.”