Gladiola Elementary fourth grader Brandon Koehn knows why Fritz Bowerman does “laps” at school, walking each hallway and saying hello to teachers and students. He’s checking in, checking things out and lending a hand where it’s needed.
“He’s helping a lot of kids. He helps me a lot. He helps me focus and do my job,” Brandon said.
Bowerman, or “Mr. B,” is a student advocate, a new role in the district this year. He’s a direct source of support for students, often serving as the first person to greet them when they get off the bus. He’s there when they go out to recess, when they need help with math or need a few moments to calm down in the office.
He’s meeting students’ needs in a positive way — so they can learn and teachers can teach, but it’s about more than that, he said. “I’m a grandpa to 310 kids.”
Bowerman began working in the district as a behavior interventionist five years ago, quickly becoming beloved at Gladiola. When Superintendent Craig Hoekstra decided to shift the focus of behavior interventionists district wide — renaming and reinterviewing candidates for this year — Bowerman was a prime example of how that could work.
Role Empowers Students
Rather than focusing on intervention, student advocates proactively help students before things become problematic. Students are taught strategies that empower them to own their behavior rather than just react.
The work aligns with the district’s Positive Behavior Support System, which sets common language and expectations school-wide concerning behavior, and Restorative Practices, a proactive approach to discipline that gets to the “why” of student behavior and focuses on righting wrongs and repairing harm rather than punishment that isolates students by removing them from school.
Bowerman spends a lot of time talking to students that have had behavioral issues in the past, helping them stay on track and have a person to trust. If there’s an immediate need he meets it. (For example, a student recently needed a fresh shirt, and Bowerman got him one from a pile of extras). If there’s evidence a student is having a bad day, he finds out why. If a student is wandering in the hallway, he leads them to class.
‘He gives everything’
Bowerman, of Hastings, served in the U.S. Army for six years as an artilleryman. He then majored in criminal justice at Ferris State University and went on to work as a probation officer in Ionia County. He returned to Grand Valley State University and earned his graduate teaching certification in secondary social studies. As a social worker, he worked with adults with mental illness. His school career began at Kelloggsville Public Schools before being hired in Wyoming.
Gladiola social worker Amy Hendrickson said Bowerman makes a huge difference in students’ lives. “He gives everything that he has to our kids,” she said. “He loves them and supports them in amazing ways but still holds high expectations for them.
“I wouldn’t be able to do my job without him. He wears so many different hats. One student might need a grandpa. Another might need someone that is more direct and stern.”
Big Heart Required
Principal Cheryl Corpus said Bowerman’s impact is hard to quantify because it’s about relationships.
“We get kids in their formative years, when they are trying to figure out who they are how they feel. To have that person they can trust every day to give them a fresh start and help them make sense has an immeasurable impact,” Corpus said.
He also forms solid relationships with families, building trust with parents, Hendrickson said. “He’s super relatable, and when parents have questions he’s able to answer them — not in an authoritative role, but by just explaining things.”
Hoekstra served as principal at Gladiola when Bowerman was first hired, and said he knew his approach was always proactive, both in celebrating successes and helping when students are struggling.
“I developed the utmost respect for him in regards to who he is as a person and how he addresses situation,” Hoekstra said, “He comes at it with a big heart. I always use the phrase, ‘Let’s recognize the situation for what it is, then bring it to a better place.’ When I say that, Fritz comes to mind right away.”
Third grader Axel Moreno has noticed that big heart. “He gives a lot of hugs.”
Bowerman described himself as a piece puzzle in a school of supportive people. “The people are here to work with kids, to support them not just in education, but in their lives… It’s an awesome place.”
Bowerman nudges students to stay on track with behavior and school rules, focusing on being safe, respectful and responsible, Gladiola’s mantra.
He’s a gentle enforcer, handing out Wolf tickets students earn for good behavior and can save up for prizes.
“It’s wonderful to see the glow on their face to see what a little purple piece of paper gives them,” Bowerman said.
After countless hugs, conversations and laps around the school buildings, Bowerman gets to know his students well. “My hardest day of every year is the last day,” he said. “It’s a big tear fest. It’s a joyous day but a sorrowful day.”