Harper’s Unsung Heroes

April 2024

Written by Gale Fischer 

 

Fostering a Safe Environment

“I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples”

—Mother Teresa

 

As important as teaching a set academic curriculum and student performance on standardized tests are, there is so much more that schools are called to do today. Establishing positive relationships with students that help them to feel nurtured, loved, and safe is not a formal part of the job description for those working directly with students, but there is nothing more important. When looking at the hierarchy of needs, if children don’t feel a sense of belonging and if their basic needs are not met, then learning will likely not occur. How can we expect kids to learn if the brain is in a constant mode of staying on the right side of survival? I suppose that this has always been an important concept of education but it seems that more students are coming to us who lack basic needs than ever before. This month’s Harper Unsung Hero Lauren Crockett, has worked to advocate for the safety of our youth, one child at a time for the past two decades. This may have started as part of her job, but it quickly became her passion.

 

Lauren was born in Sturgis, Michigan in 1976 to Doug and Jan Burland. Their family was blessed two years later with Lauren’s younger brother, David. Lauren describes her childhood family dynamics. “My mom grew up in a military family and moved a lot as a kid. After graduating from high school she enrolled at Olivet College where she would meet Dad who was also a student there. Dad grew up in Battle Creek. He played football for Lakeview High School and would go on to play football at Olivet.” Jan was a stay-at-home mom and Doug started out working in education. “My dad started his teaching career for Sturgis. A few years after I was born he started teaching at Harper Creek as a middle school teacher in the late 1970s and1980s. He also coached varsity football at Harper Creek from 1977 to 1981. Due to layoffs, Dad moved from education to the financial industry taking a job as a financial advisor and continuing with this career until he retired.”

 

David and Lauren’s parents made up her nuclear family early on but fond childhood memories go beyond this for her. Lauren also has three step-siblings on her mom’s side of the family and three step-siblings on her father’s side. Lauren describes the importance of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins in her life.  “I was close with my extended family. We would spend holidays together in a house full of people, eating, playing games, and singing Christmas songs. My grandparents worked at Disney so we went there quite often. We would frequently vacation together as an extended family.” Later on in her childhood, Lauren’s grandfather moved in with her and her family, helping to fuel her desire to care for and nurture others. “When I was in fifth grade my grandma passed away. My grandfather had brain cancer so we took care of him in our home. He lived with us for almost a year. This gave me a passion for caring for the elderly.”

 

Lauren and David attended Lakeview starting in Kindergarten through high school. David followed in Doug’s footsteps, playing football in high school for Lakeview. Doug also was a football coach at Lakeview during this time. Lauren competed as a swimmer through middle school but her interest faded for swimming. She reflects on what kept her busy during her high school years. “My dad said that if I wasn’t going to participate in sports I had to work. I started working when I was fourteen, with my first job at Taco Bell. I also worked at the Limited, a women’s clothing store located in the mall.” 

 

Lauren graduated from Lakeview in 1994 and then enrolled at KCC. She reflects on this chapter in her life. “I attended KCC after I graduated from high school, seeking an associate degree in early childhood. I had always loved kids and felt it was important for kids to have early intervention and a safe environment. I developed a care-taking and nurturing attitude while growing up.”

 

Lauren had worked for the Altrusa Child Care Center, located in the Fort Custer Industrial Area while attending KCC and continued working there after earning her degree. She explains how her passion for kids and families led her to this job. “Altrusa was open twenty-four hours daily to provide care for children for whatever shift their parents worked. This drew me to them. I thought it was unique that they offered child care twenty-four hours a day.”

 

Lauren and her first husband Joe were married in 1998. At this time Lauren switched careers and started working at Mass Mutual. She enjoyed the change in pace of this new job and continued working there through 2001. Lauren reflects on becoming a mom. “Madison, our first child, was born in 2001. I became a stay-at-home mom. Joe was an electrician at Post so financially I was able to stay at home. I have always been grateful to be at home with my kids. I felt that this was my calling to be a wife and mom. I developed great friendships with other stay-at-home moms. We were always doing fun things with our kids.” Lauren joined a mom’s group called Moms of Preschoolers (MOPS). Spending time with other moms provided a network of friends for Lauren. “We would do things with our kids but would also do community outreach. I’m still friends with many of these moms.”

 

Three years after Madison was born Lauren and Joe were blessed with their second child, Tyler. Lauren continued as a stay-at-home mom for the majority of her week but did find part-time work at this time. “When Tyler was young I started working in the child care room a few mornings a week at the YMCA. I made friends with other moms through this job. I worked a few mornings a week with childcare but was there every day working out.”

 

After Tyler was born, Lauren also began volunteering for the elderly population. She describes how this helped to bolster her passion for nurturing those who are vulnerable. “After Tyler was a baby I started volunteering at Good Samaritan Hospice. I would visit with Hospice residents, just holding their hands and feeding them. I worked with their family members on being comfortable.” She was practicing the compassion that she had utilized when helping care for her grandfather as a child. This would help serve her well moving forward. “It was important to me to understand the process of dying and the holistic process of it. I felt that no one should be alone when they die. I was always drawn to the elderly or the young. I know that this was my calling. Volunteering for hospice was sad but a great learning experience.” Her experience volunteering at Good Samaritan sparked an interest in someday becoming a social worker. 

 

Lauren developed a mindset centered around the importance of healthy living and being physically active. Working at the YMCA helped to strengthen this mindset. Lauren talks about her next step in advocating for the welfare of children. “In 2008 I started teaching fitness classes with Twenty-First Century. My goal was healthy living through physical activity. Twenty-First Century was an after-school program for Battle Creek Public, hosted by the YMCA. This became a natural progression for me.”

 

Lauren established a routine of practicing what she preached staying physically active herself. Working at the YMCA, even part-time gave her access to free child-care while she was working out. She and Joe divorced in 2010. She would meet her current husband, Robbie Crockett, whose son participated in the Twenty-First Century. 

 

Working for child care at the YMCA, teaching fitness classes through Twenty-First Century, raising her two children, and volunteering at Good Samaritan were experiences that sharpened her skills and primed her passion for helping others, preparing her for what would come next. She was ready to take a big step, going back to school. “I started classes at Spring Arbor in 2011, earning my degree in Family Studies a year later. I wanted to be a counselor and I thought a Family Studies degree would help with this.”

 

Lauren’s experiences going back to helping care for her grandfather as a child and including her work with children as an adult helped to give her the confidence that she could make a difference for vulnerable individuals. After earning her Family Studies degree from Spring Arbor she would take these experiences to another level, providing support for society’s most vulnerable. “I became a foster care caseworker for City Linc.  Immediately, I developed a passion for children and parents in the foster care system.” 

 

Lauren’s work there was rewarding but it was also emotionally difficult. She talks about how the struggles of her job tugged at her heart. “I remember my first supervised parenting session was with a seventeen-year-old mom. It was obvious that the young mom loved and cared for her baby but at the same time, she lacked the skills to provide a safe environment for her baby. My heart went out to her but her baby needed more. Sometimes love isn’t enough for the welfare of a child.” 

 

Working in the foster care system opened her eyes. Lauren was faced with gut-wrenching decisions and tasks but she always understood the importance of her role. “My job was to help get kids to a place where they could be safe. I became passionate about kids born into difficult situations. I felt for the parents but also wanted the kids to be safe so bridging the two was always difficult. I felt a calling to be an advocate for kids. My theory is making a difference one starfish at a time. There can be hundreds of starfish on the beach and if I can save just one of them then I’ve done my job.”

 

Lauren remained in the foster care system, eventually taking a job with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) and moving into a supervisor role. Her new position involved testifying in court to determine child custody and advocating for children who would benefit from being placed in foster care. Testifying on behalf of these children and hearing their stories was never easy, but she never wavered from her goal to help children in need receive the support that they needed, one child at a time. 

 

Lauren loved the work that she had done in the foster care system. She was able to utilize her skills and it truly felt like she could make a difference. After almost a decade she felt it was it was time to move on. She talks about this transition. “I enjoyed my job with DHS, but I wanted to make a difference with a larger population of children and families. I longed to work more directly with kids. I started working at Marshall Middle School as a student support specialist in 2023.”

 

She loved her new role and felt at home in Marshall but her stay there was short. Lauren talks about how the opportunity to come to Harper Creek was too good to pass up. “I loved the kids at Marshall Middle School, but I had always heard great things about Harper Creek and knew that the community atmosphere there was special. My husband, Robbie, started coaching football at Harper Creek in 2023 which added to my interest in working for Harper Creek. When a posting came up at Beadle Lake for a student support specialist I felt that it was an opportunity that was calling me.” 

 

Lauren’s experiences with City Linc and with DHS allowed her to find her passion and hone her skills. She discusses how her opportunities while at the YMCA and with the foster care system blend with working in a school setting. “My experience with DHS and the understanding I have of trauma with kids I feel has helped me in working in public schools. I feel that part of my role is to advocate for kids. This involves everyone being accountable including school staff and parents. I find that communication piece with parents is important. Schools and families are a team and the best scenario for kids is when this team is working together.” In a perfect world, our students would show up each day with all of their needs met and we can certainly do things to try to improve situations outside of school, but at the end of the day, we still make our biggest impact during the school day. “We do what we can to hold parents accountable but still, there will sometimes be kids who come to us with many needs. In these situations, it is up to us to provide these basic necessities.” 

 

Part of Lauren’s job description as a student support specialist for Beadle Lake is being the homeless liaison. She reflects on this role. “Working closely with our school’s homeless population has been helpful. Knowing what kids are in this population helps me know which kids need a little more attention from me. I try to put these kids on my radar.” 

 

Lauren has put her heart and soul into her work but has still relished being a mom. “My kids both participated in sports in high school. I loved being a sports mom. There are lots of memories. The pandemic was a challenge for her as a mom of two teenagers.  “Madison graduated in 2020. It was a rough ending for her high school career on the heels of COVID. Getting through this transition required teamwork from our entire family. 

COVID was tough for Tyler as he entered his last two years of high school with many transitions between virtual and in-person school. We hired a tutor to help him get through this. Navigating teenage years is tough but adding something that society had never encountered before with COVID, added another element to parenting teens.”

 

Madison threw Lauren a curve ball as a mom after college. “Madison married her high school sweetheart, Adam just before he was assigned to go to Guam as a diver for the US Navy. I never anticipated or planned for my daughter to be living on the other side of the world. I have been able to deal with this fourteen-hour time difference for almost a year as a mom. I talk to her every morning, which is night to her, and every night, which is morning to her since she moved there.”

  

With both Madison and Tyler now having transitioned from high school to adults Lauren can take in more free time. She enjoys reading and traveling to warmer places. She also likes to cook and exercise as well as making the drive to the Great Lakes to listen to the waves. 

 

Lauren’s journey to working in public schools has occurred on a non-traditional path. She learned early on that she could make a difference for those in need through nurturing and care-giving as a child with her grandfather. Being a stay-at-home mom, volunteering for hospice patients, teaching youth about healthy habits, and advocating for our society’s most vulnerable in the foster care system have blessed her with a great foundation as a public educator. Her story is a reminder that although learning is important, it is based on multiple complexities. Building those relationships with kids and giving them a sense of belonging can help provide a great base for kids to grow and learn. 


 

Gale Fischer has spent most of his career as a special education teacher for Wattles Park Elementary dating back to 2001. He is an avid runner and began writing the stories of local runners twelve years ago. Many of these stories have appeared in the Battle Creek Shopper and the Battle Creek Scene Magazine. Recently he started capturing the stories of Harper Creek staff members. His column, Harper Unsung Heroes, features a different staff member each month. He believes that everyone has a story that can inspire others.



 

Harper's Unsung Hero - Ewald Heersema

Ewald was born and raised on the other side of the pond. His life experiences eventually led him to our bus garage. As a young adult he fell  in love with a Michigan girl and followed her across the Atlantic Ocean. His story that has led him to driving our students to school and back home each day in his retirement, is one I’m sure you’ll find interesting.

Harper Creek Middle School Teacher Grant Recipient

HCMS STEM teacher received the Guido A. and Elizabeth Binda Foundation, coordinated by the Calhoun Intermediate School District.

Harper's Unsung Hero - Justin King

Justin was born and raised in Small Town Michigan. He and his siblings enjoyed spending much of their free time exploring outdoors. Athletics was a big part of his high school experience and the support his teams received from the community added to the excitement. He knew early on that he wanted to spend his life helping others. His career in public safety eventually led him to Harper Creek.