If in two decades a Hilliard Davidson High School graduate is part of a NASA mission to Mars, a local teacher will have played a significant role.

"He is a really rare teacher. If it wasn't for him I don't think I'd even be in school," said Davidson sophomore Elijah Flood, 17.

Nick Van Dyne was named Educator of the Year on April 26 by the Hilliard Alumni Association. He was selected from 21 Educators of Excellence, each representing a different school as part of an annual recognition program, co-sponsored by the Hilliard Education Foundation.

"It was a complete surprise -- I'm humbled and appreciative," said Van Dyne, a 2009 graduate of Davidson High School.

Educators of Excellence are named in advance, but the Educator of the Year is revealed at the recognition program.

Van Dyne, a social-studies teacher and intervention specialist, met Elijah when he came to Davidson as a freshman from Weaver Middle School.

"I was just used to the common teachers who say, 'Just do this,' " Elijah said.

But Van Dyne, who was aware of Elijah's academic and social struggles, reached deeper.

Elijah's mother, Amanda Hysell, said she quickly realized Van Dyne was no common teacher and credits him with instilling in her son a desire to go to school -- restoring his dream, which is working at NASA.

"I like science," Elijah said.

Hysell said she once was resigned that her son would not finish school.

At the end of eighth grade when he was 15, having been held back to address speech issues, Hysell said Elijah asked to drop out of school when he was 16.

"I was heartbroken," she said. "As a mom trying to be it all and do it all on your own, it hurt to see my son come home each night crying and laying in his bed feeling defeated."

A a single parent, Hysell said, she moved into the Hilliard City Schools because she felt he was not respected at other districts; still, it took Elijah meeting Van Dyne for him to achieve the success for which she hoped.

"Being told by a professional in elementary school that he 'wasn't like the other kids,' my son came home crying, (his) dreams and aspirations already broken in only the fifth grade," she said.

His struggles continued in middle school, she said, and she made Elijah promise to stay in school until he was at Davidson High School and at least 16.

There, Van Dyne changed "his perspective on school, trust and on life," Hysell said. "Mr. Van Dyne quickly figured Elijah out."

The defining evidence of Van Dyne's success, Hysell said, came at the end of Elijah's freshman year.

"Elijah came home his last day of school and announced, 'Mom, I can't quit school and I'm kind of excited to go back next year,' " she said.

Elijah next year plans to attend Tolles Career and Technical Center, which serves Hilliard and other local districts.

"He has grown a lot and has confidence," said Van Dyne, recalling a boy with low-esteem when he met him as a freshman. "I knew he liked science and we began talking about what he would like to do. ... I told him I would be disappointed if he didn't come back to school and it seemed that he did not want to disappoint me.

"I saw the light at the end of his tunnel."

Van Dyne credits his teachers at Davidson for being exemplary teachers and mentors.

He graduated from Wittenberg University and is in his fourth year on staff at Davidson.

"We are extremely fortunate to have a teacher of Nick's caliber as part of Davidson's staff," said principal Aaron Cookson. "Nick works tirelessly to support and meet the needs of all of his students."

He also connects with students as a baseball and basketball coach, Cookson said.

"Our lives would not be the same without the dedication, the passion, the support and the respect that Mr. Van Dyne has imparted to our lives and my son," Hysell said.