Godwin Heights — For the past five years, Lindsay Visser has been a familiar face in West Godwin’s main office, greeting students and families and helping to answer questions.
But the West Godwin family will see a little less of her in the office this winter, as she will be spending a couple of hours a day in Holly Vostad’s kindergarten room as part of her work toward a teaching certification.
Visser is one of three staff members — which includes former TEAM 21 site coordinator-turned-teacher Ellen Veenkant and autism spectrum disorder paraprofessional Jenna Prewitt — who are part of West Godwin’s own effort to encourage support staff to pursue teaching certifications.
“Empowering our school staff to pursue further education and become teachers not only enhances their professional growth but also enriches the educational environment for our students,” said West Godwin Principal Mary Lang.
The district does not have a formal “grow your own” program, said Michelle Krynicki, assistant superintendent of instruction and human resources. But they try to be flexible with those interested in working to become teachers.
“We hope to continue to support each staff member to pursue professional learning,” Krynicki said. “The first step is gaining an understanding of the desired path, oftentimes connecting them with resources to get the ball rolling.”
That’s exactly what the district did for her, Visser said, adding that district officials such as Krynicki and Lang have been supportive by providing letters and flexibility so she could complete classroom requirements such as observations and her upcoming teaching internship.
Veenkant said she appreciated that the West Godwin staff were willing to help by covering when she needed to attend university classes or observe elementary classrooms as she was earning her certification.
Re-igniting the Spark
Visser had plans for a teaching career when she was younger and attended Grand Rapids Community College with that goal in mind. But “life happened,” she said.
After earning an associate degree in 2006, Visser put off a teaching career to raise her family. When her children started school, she decided to get a job, landing a secretary position at West Godwin five years ago.
Being back in a school re-ignited her passion to become a teacher.
“I really wanted to be in the classroom,” Visser said. “I love seeing everyone when they visit the office — the students and the staff — but I just wanted to have my own classroom.”
Visser got her bachelor’s degree in education from Aquinas College and is now in its Accelerated Master in Education program. She said she chose that program because it was more flexible for working adults, with classes in the evenings and on Saturdays. With Krynicki’s help, Visser also received the John F. Donnelly Scholarship, a continuing education and graduate partnership between Aquinas, several West Michigan school districts such as Godwin Heights, and area businesses.
She plans to student teach next fall and pursue a master’s degree in education. The goal is to teach at West Godwin, but Visser said she recognizes it depends on the district’s needs.
Deciding on a Path
Prewitt admitted that she did not have any idea what she wanted to do after high school. She attended GRCC and earned an associate degree, and about five years ago came to West Godwin as an ASD parapro. She liked being in the classroom, but wanted more.
“I felt like I wanted to be a teacher,” Prewitt said. “I wanted to be the one in charge, and I wanted to do the things with the students that I wanted to do.”
Prewitt signed up for the University of Phoenix’s Bachelor of Science in Education/Elementary Education program.
“(Working) in a school has been really helpful,” Prewitt said. “I have been able to talk to Lang, and during my lunch periods I have been able to observe classrooms and interview teachers.”
On non-work days, Prewitt has visited other districts to help complete the required 100 hours of observation time. This winter, she will leave her parapro position to student teach in Christina VelderVelde’s kindergarten class.
“I am just really grateful to the district for the support,” Prewitt said, adding that, like Visser, she too hopes to return to teach at West Godwin.
Achieving the Dream
Part of West Godwin’s teaching staff for two years, Veenkant came from a family of teachers and decided at first to do something different, earning a degree in psychology from Grand Valley State University.
She landed a site coordinator position with TEAM 21, an after-school and summer program that serves Godfrey-Lee and Godwin Heights school districts, where she realized she wanted to be a teacher. She returned to GVSU to earn a secondary graduate teacher certification. In 2021, she student taught at West Godwin, and the following year was hired by the district.
“I like the challenge of it, of being able to make changes for more students to help them,” Veenkant said. “We are like a little community. I also like the aspect of learning how to teach children, especially how to teach them to read.”
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