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Bilingual secretary: ‘They’re all my kids’

Strong bonds built over more than two decades 

Kenowa Hills — One of Mickey Mouse’s biggest fans, Heather Blase, arrived at Alpine Elementary on her 50th birthday Dec. 14 thinking it would be an ordinary day. 

Little did she know, her day would be filled with a little Disney magic.

Principal Jason Snyder led a ruse, with help from staff and students dressed in homemade paper Mickey Mouse ears, to surprise their beloved secretary of 21 years with a birthday sing-along in the gym.

After applause welcomed Blase’s entrance, fourth-grade teacher Melissa Gates led everyone in singing “You’re Welcome” from the movie “Moana,” “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen” and a few rounds of “Happy Birthday.” 

Blase said she had no idea about the surprise, and that although she doesn’t love being in the spotlight, said she greatly appreciated the lengths staff and students went to celebrate her.  

“My favorite part of my job is the kids and people I work with,” she said. “It’s a community where all of the kids are all of our kids.” 

Within a few minutes of returning to her desk, several students visited her with handmade cards and birthday gifts.

“You got me something?” Blase said while opening one student’s gift. “Is this an ornament for my Christmas tree? You know how much I love Mickey Mouse.” 

Servant Heart, Caring Personality 

Before serving students and families from the front office, Blase was the school’s EL paraprofessional and assisted non-English speaking and migrant families and their transitions in and out of the district. 

She later applied for the bilingual secretary position, after hearing about the opening from her now mother-in-law, who worked at Alpine while Blase was dating her now husband. 

As an English Language Learner Services site, Alpine provides support to give Hispanic students equal access, said Jason Snyder, principal and Kenowa Hills’ ELLS program coordinator, in a previous interview

Blase explained how connecting with families, especially those who are non-native English speakers, is one of the most important aspects of her job.

“I’m one of the few people (at Alpine) who are bilingual, and a lot of the parents don’t ever learn English, so listening and making connections is important,” she said.

Gregoria Lemmen, EL Migrant Education Program contractor and former co-worker said Blase goes above and beyond and is a blessing to have at Alpine.

Alpine Elementary staff and students stayed quiet in the gym while waiting to surprise secretary Heather Blase on her 50th birthday

“Heather has always been very supportive and families really enjoy working with her,” she said. “I hear from the families, ‘We trust her to do the right thing,’ and ‘We know if we go to Heather, she will take care of us.’”

Lemmen explained how Blase helps facilitate communication between non-English speaking and migrant families and their childrens’ education. 

“Usually families have to go through several different people to answer their questions. Those are barriers we need to break down for families and that’s exactly what Heather does,” Lemmen said. “I’ve worked with her for over 20 years and I only hear positive things from families.” 

‘They’re all my kids’

As the eyes and ears of Alpine, Blase said she sees and hears everything, which aids in her abilities to connect with teachers and students. 

“I think that (secretaries) do so much more than you see,” Blase said. “Most people know us, they say we do everything and ‘run the school.’ We are ready and willing to jump in and help wherever we’re needed, and we really love the kids.” 

Additionally, as Alpine’s homeless liaison, Blase is responsible to reach out to students’ families and connect them with community resources. 

“It’s important to listen to families,” she said. “A lot of times we have parents come in upset or frustrated, but it’s important to hear them out and not judge them. We build relationships over time.” 

In 21 years, Blase has formed countless relationships and now sees children of former students in kindergarten classrooms at Alpine. Her co-secretary, Heather Woy, was in fourth grade at Alpine when she started. 

“I love this building and I love working here,” Blase said. “I’ve always wanted to stay here and never leave.”

Alpine Elementary secretary Heather Blase enjoying her surprise sing-along with staff and students on her birthday

Blase said she does not have kids of her own, but has learned a lot about them through her role. 

“It’s the same kids and staff, but every day is completely different and you never know what to expect,” she said. “I’ve learned so much about how to have relationships with kids, and now they’re all my kids.”

Read more from Kenowa Hills: 
Cafeteria becomes one-stop holiday shop
A veteran superintendent looks back on 10 eventful years

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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