By Crystal Hayduk
[Under Superintendent Mike Kapolka’s leadership, the Chelsea School District began awarding Portrait of a Graduate (POG) MVP awards last fall as one way district staff can commend each other and highlight the ongoing efforts to incorporate POG competencies into their work with students. Currently, nominations are made by district staff.]
When Laura Lutz, Chelsea High School (CHS) social studies teacher, was named the February Portrait of a Graduate MVP, it confirmed the high opinion colleagues and students have of her.
But for Lutz, it was a complete surprise.
“My mind went blank when they said my name,” said Lutz of the announcement made on Feb. 15 during a professional development meeting. The honor recognizes her work to help her students develop the skills of the 21st century learner: communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking.
In his nomination, CHS social studies teacher Matt Pedlow said Lutz displays mastery of POG competencies every day. Having worked with her for 17 of his 24 years as an educator (she has been teaching in Chelsea for 21 years), Pedlow commends Lutz for her skill, character, and positive impact on students.
“She encourages civil engagement, shows empathy to all students, and has become someone that most students feel excited to share their successes with,” he said. “She is the epitome of what new educators should aspire to be: kind, passionate about her subject matter, and friendly to all. I’ve never seen a teacher act with more integrity both inside and outside of the classroom. She maintains an unbiased way of teaching her government classes, and she makes sure that each student feels as though their voice matters and is heard.”
Lutz, who grew up in Minnesota, took a circuitous route to teaching. In her youth, she was a gymnast and enjoyed social studies classes at school, especially AP U.S. History and AP economics, which were taught by an inspiring educator.
She graduated from the University of Minnesota with majors in economics and history. She worked in the business world for two years, but wasn’t happy. As she considered switching career lanes, she acknowledged her joy coaching young people in gymnastics. She also had a zeal for her subject matter. Teaching seemed to be the next right thing.
Lutz made a huge move to attend the University of Michigan’s MAC (master of arts with certification) program, a 12-month course of study with a teaching internship. Graduate students spend the full school year in a classroom with a mentor teacher—one semester observing two days a week and one semester student teaching full-time.
While she was still in the MAC program, Lutz learned about a job opening in the Chelsea School District. She applied and was offered the position, starting in 2002.
Not only do the students call Lutz “teacher,” many also call her “coach.” She was the assistant middle school track coach for six years and the assistant middle school cross country coach for 10 years. This year, Lutz became the head coach for the varsity girls cross country team at CHS.
Pedlow said Lutz coaches her runners “… like they are part of her family, and the lessons that they and her [classroom] students receive are exactly what parents should wish for in a coach and teacher.”
Lutz leads by example as a coach, running five to six days a week. When she has free time, she also enjoys visiting with friends, reading, and traveling.
Lutz considers herself fortunate to teach in Chelsea, with connections at all grade levels through work, sports, and friendships. “It is amazing to watch the work being done and how great the kids are,” she said. “My colleagues are wonderful people who want good things for students.
“The community is supportive. Everybody wants the best for kids and comes with good intentions,” said Lutz.
CHS Principal Nick Angel said Lutz fills a variety of roles at CHS besides teacher and varsity coach. She is the chairperson of the social studies department and a member of several school improvement committees and initiatives. “She is an unwavering advocate for the [teaching] profession and her passion for students is evident whether she is teaching a ninth grade civics class or a 12th grade advanced placement government class,” he said. “She is a student favorite and we are lucky to have her here at CHS.”