Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

A quest for lifelong learning

Wisdom Quest teacher Deb Vroom to retire after 23 years
May 15, 2018
Photo by: Submitted Deb Vroom

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


For the past 23 years Deb Vroom has made it her mission to instill a love of learning in Mt. Pleasant students. This spring, she will retire. Her classroom walls, once adorned with pictures of former students, their spouses and their children, now are bare as Vroom begins a new chapter, where she will be the student to life’s lessons.

Vroom grew up in Fort Dodge and is the second eldest of six children. When she was in fourth grade, she enrolled in a summer acting class open for students in elementary through high school. She was the youngest one there. It was that summer she fell in love with theater. However, Vroom decided to go a different route for her career.

Although Vroom initially earned a degree in theater, in 1991, after getting married and having children, she went back to school and earned a degree in elementary education.

After finishing school, Vroom taught GED classes at Southeastern Community College. She was told the classes would be for people between the ages of 25 and 35.

“The first night I walked in, there wasn’t anybody over the age of 18,” she said.

“I just kind of looked at them and then started asking, ‘why are you here?” she said. She found out several students had family responsibilities that prevented them from being in school. “I thought, there’s got to be something else,” she said.

She presented the idea of an alternative school to SCC, who then began looking for examples in the area before entering negotiations with Mt. Pleasant. Once negotiations were completed, Vroom was hired immediately. “The very kids I thought I would never teach,” she said.

By the end of her first year, Vroom had an offer to teach at a different school, but turned it down. “I keep staying here for some reason,” she said. Thus began her 23-year journey at Wisdom Quest.

When she first started her teaching career, she helped students with independent studies. She then evolved into teaching English, history and assorted electives. Among the electives is a class she created, called Experiencing Iowa.

The class is comprised of three smaller classes that all rotate on a schedule throughout the school year. In the classes, Vroom takes the students on field trips throughout the state. “It was not just (to) tell them about it, but show them,” she said.

Last week, her class visited the Mason House Inn, in Bettensport and previously have visited a commercial fisherman in Muscatine and gone to the Mississippi River Museum in Dubuque. “It’s an opportunity most won’t (get) on their own,” she said.

On Saturday, May 12, former Widsom Quest graduates gathered at the Moose Lodge in Mt. Pleasant for a reunion, and a goodbye. Over 60 students and their families attended the celebration, to show their appreciation for Vroom.

Some remembered her constant support and the foundation of trust she laid. “She pushed me to be where I am now,” said Chelsea Boecker, a 2009 graduate. Boecker helped to organize the event and gave a speech in honor of Vroom.

“Without Deb, most of us would have not succeeded or searched for our future,” she said. “She never gave up on us no matter how much we pushed her back.”

“She taught me about being determined,” said Nick Norton. “She showed everybody respect and cared for everybody.”

Other students recalled their favorite classes with Vroom. “Experiencing Iowa was a good one,” said John Geiger, a recent graduate.

Many students accredited Vroom and her work in helping to found Wisdom Quest as the reason for their success. “Seventy percent of these people wouldn’t have graduated. They wouldn’t have had that chance without Wisdom Quest,” said Candi Crossett, a 2001 graduate.

Sarah Wilson is a 1999 graduate whose medical complications did not allow her to finish high school. At Wisdom Quest, Vroom helped her to get a computer and finish her homework from home. “I graduated on time because of her and Wisdom Quest,” she said.

Jordan Martin helped to organize the event and designed the reunion T-shirts. Martin valued her time at Wisdom Quest, but came to the reunion for one reason. “I came for Deb,” she said.

Because of the success and memories Vroom has made, retiring has been a difficult choice to make. Her two sons live in Montana and have been encouraging her to make the move as well. Although she may leave Wisdom Quest, she has memories she will take with her forever.

“It was really tough deciding to leave,” she said. “They’ve always been my kids since the beginning. I am just so proud of every single one of them.”

Vroom always found herself rooting for whom she calls, “the underdogs.” “I never wanted to know anything about them from high school,” she said. “Sometimes you hear rumors and I just have to laugh because 90 percent of the time, it’s not true.”

When students enter her classroom, she always welcomes them with a smile and warm greeting. One evening, she received a call from a parent whose son came home from school crying. The student told his mom, “Mom, that teacher was glad to see me. No teacher has ever been glad to see me,” she recalled tearfully. “It just broke my heart.”

Past students also carry memories of her class with them and have come back to visit. She tells the story of a young man showing up on her doorstep years after he graduated to apologize for his behavior in high school. They now communicate regularly. “Some of them grow up and learn some lessons,” she said.

Learning lessons is something she plans to do even into her retirement. Cooking and baking are among her favorite hobbies and she has a 600 page cookbook, she wrote herself, to prove it. “That ended up to be a four-year project, complete with (an) index,” she said. “I’m working on part two.”

She is not certain about her move to Montana but has a few ideas of things she would like to experience. Being a museum tour guide, working in a library and volunteering at the animal shelter are on her list. The only thing for certain is she is optimistic she will keep learning. “I just feel there will be opportunities to do something,” she said.

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