Legendary teacher and coach Pat Hartsoe announces her retirement

Legendary teacher and coach Pat Hartsoe announces her retirement

Abby Scutch, Editor in Chief

36 years. 432 months. 13,140 days. 315,360 hours. 18,921,600 minutes. That is the amount of time that Patrice Hartsoe spent teaching in the Forest Hills School District.  From a physical education teacher, to a volleyball coach, and finally a health teacher, Hartsoe leaves a lasting impression not only on her students, but on the rest the Forest Hills community as well.

Today, after 36 years, Hartsoe announced her retirement.

Hartsoe’s announcement was made at approximately 10 p.m. in an email to the FHC staff and faculty.  For many, it was out of the blue; however, an unfortunate event triggered the thought of leaving FHC, as Hartsoe unexpectedly lost one of her three sisters.

“This situation rocked me and tore my whole world up,” Hartsoe said.  “Thinking about it, I knew that I wanted to retire, but up until then, I was not sure about it.  Soon after my sister passed, I made my final decision.”

Hartsoe continued to explain that emotional events such as the Candlelight Ceremony and the graduation of the the Class of 2016  brought her back to the time of her sister’s death in April.  She decided to keep her retirement secret for the final few weeks of school as she has tried to focus on her teaching and to keep it together until the end of the school year.

Unexpectedly, rumors leaked of Hartsoe’s retirement, so she decided to write a thoughtful email to the staff and faculty of FHC.  In her opinion, she felt that it was necessary for her to personally announce her retirement rather than from stories rumblings through the rumor mill.

Thirty-six years ago, Hartsoe began her career as a physical education teacher at Central Middle School.  She explained that the classes were very large and filled with fun activities such as archery, aerobics, basketball,  tumbling, and many others.

“At the time, there was five physical education teachers,” Hartsoe explained.  “Everyone I worked with was really cool and really into it.  It was a great feeling because [the physical education teachers] worked well together.”

Along with being a physical education teacher for nearly 27 years, Hartsoe served as a volleyball coach for 15 years.

“Mrs. Hartsoe was an incredible volleyball coach,” said Dave Mills, who is currently a physical education teacher.

Knowing Hartsoe for nearly 26 years, Mills believes that Hartsoe’s teachings  have positively impacted FHC all throughout her career.

“She has been a great teacher and a very passionate person,” he said.  “She always sets great examples with preaching the benefits of eating healthy, exercising, and living a true, healthy style.”

During Hartsoe’s time coaching volleyball, she did her best to organize a very competitive team because she wanted the best for her players.

“Coaching has very long hours and is very loud and physical education is noisy fun.  That was the easy part,” Hartsoe said. “But later, I had the chance to start yoga.”

For Hartsoe, teaching yoga was a very unique experience.  Explaining that she enjoys trying to new things, she gave the idea of being a yoga teacher a go.  After taking lessons, watching numerous videos, and joining clinics, Hartsoe was able to have a new perspective on physical education.

Up until then, the physical education careers that Hartsoe held were very competitive.

“In yoga, you wanted everyone to fit in and everyone to cooperate.  You don’t want to compare one person to another because it is very individual,” Hartsoe said. “At first, it was a total mindset switch, but once I did it, it was very enjoyable.”

After beginning yoga, she realized that many students hated physical education and understood how it was too competitive for some.  Not everyone has the right kind of skills for a gym class.  She understands that not everyone always gets picked for a team or feels comfortable in gym clothes, so when yoga was introduced, the teaching was just the opposite as that of a gym class. In yoga, all are welcome to work on poses and stretches at their own pace.

After becoming a yoga teacher, Hartsoe was offered the health teaching position.  She explained that this transition was very extreme.

“All of the sudden, I was in a classroom,” said Hartsoe, slightly chuckling.  “Everyone was in their street clothes and the classes were much smaller.  When everyone comes into class, there is not much noise, so this was a big switch for me.”

Learning to be quick on her feet as a health teacher, Hartsoe would have to come up with a lesson plan constantly as all of her students were watching.  She did not have much to prepare class as opposed to when she did as a PE teacher.

“There is never a break,” Hartsoe said.  “I always have a lot of papers to correct, paragraphs to read, and lesson plans to come up with.”

At first, Hartsoe was not too fond of the class.   However, once she got really into it, she began to love the curriculum as much of it was based off of her previous knowledge of nutrition, exercise, and mental health.

“When students first come into class, they usually do not want to be there because it is a requirement,” Hartsoe said.  “They think it’s all about eating right and exercising, but we cover everything from dating violence, mental health issues, bullying, social health, internet safety, not sharing passwords, how to date safely, and how to look out for friends.”

Hartsoe said that this class has given her the opportunity to expand her own knowledge and make things interesting while letting people know the importance of good health.

Principal Steve Passinault has had the opportunity to get to know Hartsoe very well, and he developed an immediate appreciation for her as a teaching professional.

“Mrs. Hartsoe is very professional in the way she has approached her job,” he said.  “She is very careful in planning the health curriculum in a way that is meaningful to the students she has had.  The thoughtfulness and concern that she has in teaching students how to live healthy lives and how important that really is in our society.”

Passinault explained that Hartsoe practices what she preaches through her own physical fitness.  She he was the perfect example of a teacher that lives by her own word.

“To me, that is incredibly impressive,” he said.  “With the dedication of doing so for so many years, that is what really stands out to me.”

Hartsoe explained her favorite moment at FHC was over three years ago when a fundraiser was held for moonbears in Asia.  She explained that the school sold donuts, tee shirts, and had a dunk tank that nearly 20 teachers were dunked in by students.

“For one dollar, you could have three throws,” said Hartsoe,  smiling as she was sharing the story. “Kids were out there firing away and trying to make us fall in the water.  Everybody was happy and trying to make a difference for the moonbears.  My favorite memory was sitting in the dunk tank, taunting the kids, and splashing the water.  Finally, one of the kids hit the dunk and I fell into the water.”

Hartsoe’s number one goal for students to understand is that their health is within their own power.  She explained that people do not have to wait, get sick, depend on a doctor and then worry about their health.

“It is what I like to say is the most empowering feeling,” Hartsoe said.  “There is nothing better than knowing that you are perfectly healthy, strong, and have the ability to do whatever you want with no restrictions.”

In high school, Hartsoe began taking care of her own health.  She believes that that is the reason why she is not ill and she hopes that she has passed this on to her students.

“People can steal your money, steal your car, and you can lose your job,” Hartsoe explained.  “But if you have invested in your health from a young age, no one can take that way.  When you feel that, it gives you a lot of confidence and that is what I want students to understand.”

Along with that, Hartsoe also wants people to understand that not a single person is the center of the universe.  She believes that everybody fits in somewhere and every choice affects someone.

“When you choose to do things that are harmful, mean, and self destructive, you may think that you’re only making the choice for yourself, but you are actually affecting your friends, family, community, team, club, group, or whatever because we are  all connected and we all need to raise each other up and help each other, or we can make choices that tear up ourselves and bring people down,” Hartsoe said.

For the past nine years, FHC science teacher Chad Scholten worked with Hartsoe through school fundraisers and the environmental club.

“Mrs. Hartsoe is always a bundle of energy,” he said.  “She always has a cause or campaign that she is all in for one-hundred percent of the time. In school we have had the Water for Flint, the moonbear fundraiser, and now she is currently involved in campaigns to ban fracking.  Not only in school is she passionate, but also outside of school, especially with the environment.”

Scholten continued to explain that although the two of them never taught together, they both shared moments in organizing events that would impact the environment positively.

When Hartsoe is gone, she expects that the high energy will be the biggest thing that she will miss.  She is always happy to be in the crowd of an assembly, sporting event, theatre event, or anything else that the school has to offer.

“From the minute you walk into a high school, there is a high energy level and it never stops.  There will always be an assembly or an amended schedule because of a special activity,” Hartsoe said.  “There is always something going on FHC that makes the day go by very fast.  Teenagers are always very energetic; way more than adults.  There is an energy in the building that helps you keep going and it is way more interesting than just being in an office building with people my own age.”

In Hartsoe’s retirement, she plans to do a lot of sleeping, resting, and biking.  This summer she plans to be a part of a few bike tours and in the next year, she and her husband plan to camp and go to New England during the Fall to see the colors.

Along with doing outdoorsy activities such as canoeing, hiking, camping, bicycling, and going to both national and state parks, Hartsoe plans to do a lot of volunteering through environmental groups as well as volunteering at Kids Food Basket.

“I want to have a few days a week where I do not feel like I am sitting around wasting my time because I am very high-energized and need to do something,” Hartsoe said.  “I would like to help out with kids, animals, and the environment.”

For many students, the most memorable moment of health class will be what Hartsoe called the “Wand of Wellness.”  When it was a student’s birthday, Hartsoe would close the lights of her classroom and everyone in class would clap for the recognized student.  When the wand lights up and the “Star of Strength” is pressed, the student would have mentally wished for themselves, a friend, family member, or someone else good health.

“It’s goofy and funny,” Hartsoe explained.  “It allows people to be young at heart, laugh, and have a good time in health class.”

Along with this activity, which Hartsoe is most proud of, many physical labs of testing blood pressure and heart rates were held throughout the year.

“Overall, I wanted to make others feel like they wanted to come to health class. I wanted people to leave with a good impression with health and not thanking God that it is over,” Hartsoe said.  “Health will always be important until the day you die.  So, if you hated the class, you’re going to detach and not think that health is important.  But if you think it is enjoyable and blend health with fun, you’re more likely to take care of yourself.  That is the psychological angle that I took with this class.”

The second Hartsoe officially leaves FHC, she wants people to understand that her intention in class was real  She wants to be looked at as an honest, passionate, real person who does not just talks the talk, but walks the walk.

“If you are saying something, you have to do it yourself if you want others to do it, too,” Hartsoe said.  “I want to be the person that was sincere and honest who also did things that I am telling others to do and not being hypocritical.”

Hartsoe is forever grateful that she ended up working in the Forest Hills Public School District.  At another school district, she is sure that she and her teachings would not have been taken seriously.  Beginning as a substitute in both Kent and Ottawa counties, Hartsoe believes that she is fortunate that she landed at FHC.  However, Hartsoe knows that in her heart, it is her time to retire.

“With my sister dying unexpectedly, I realized that nobody ever really has an idea when our time is done,” she said.  “Something could happen any moment and I have worked long and hard. I am still really healthy, so why not have fun as much as I can before it is my time?”