Educator Spotlight: LHS’s Deb Follrath.

November 21, 2021

Educator Spotlight: LHS’s Deb Follrath.

By Kate Krieger-Watkins, Staff Writer.

Educator Spotlight is a presentation of is a presentation of Smith & Eddy Insurance, with offices in Scottville and Manistee, offering discounts for MEA members and school employees.

LUDINGTON – With the most seniority with Ludington Area Schools, high school physical education teacher, Deb Follrath is in her 38th year at Ludington High School, with a total 40 1/2 years served, counting 2 1/2 years at Houghton Lake Schools before moving to Ludington.

“After graduating from Houghton Lake High School, I decided to go to Central Michigan University,” Follrath said. “CMU had a brand new physical education and sports facility. It also had a new athletic training program and I was interested along with physical education. I participated in the travel gymnastics program and was a cheerleader my freshmen year for CMU. 

“When going into education a student needs to acquire ‘lab hours’ so I started to work at my former high school helping with the gymnastics team and club program in my sophomore year. I was driving back and forth and when the competition season began the current coach quit and I was asked to take over in which I did. I thought it was a great experience and I enjoyed it, but my time was limited and I knew getting lab hours for athletic training would be extremely difficult. I decided to stick with a K-12 physical education degree and picked up minors in dance, geography, health and reading certifications. I thought I could be more marketable for a job somewhere.”

Before landing a full time job as a teacher, Follrath decided to move back to Houghton Lake to do some substitute teaching while looking for employment.

“After graduating from CMU, I went back home and continued to coach and sub,” she said. “I subbed for area school districts for five years. It was a great experience as I subbed in all age levels and in all areas. I learned what it was like to teach elementary music, high school metals. I subbed in the severely impaired classes and high school typing and shorthand classes. I saw what other teachers did, what students liked and disliked and what I liked and disliked. I think everyone should observe or sub if they think they would like to give education a try.”

Follrath said she knew a teacher at Houghton Lake who told her about Ludington and a job that had opened up there.

“I was looking for full time work and decided to give it a try, although I had never been to Ludington before. I have a lot of respect and admiration for two people I met on day one of my interview, (the late) Larry Sholtey and Mark Boon. I was offered the job and have never left.”

While at Ludington, Follrath has taught solely middle school or high school classes and she has enjoyed every minute.

“I have taught the majority of my time at the high school level,” she said. “In the 90s, I did teach some sections of seventh and eighth grade physical education. I have also taught water aerobics for 10 years and chair aerobics for Ludington Recreation Department. I coached gymnastics and softball here at Ludington. I am a retired EMT and worked for Life Ambulance in Mason County. I have been an American Red Cross first aid instructor since 1978. I continue to teach for Ludington Area Schools the medical first responders and athletic coaches.”

Enjoying being active her entire life, Follrath said that teaching P.E. was kind of a no brained for her.

“I have always been active,” she said. “I have a photo of myself when I was 3-years-old holding a tennis racquet. My uncle used to take me hunting, fishing and playing endless games of catch. I think my family knew I needed to be moving and playing the piano was not going to work for me. I love all kinds of sports and activities.”

While involved in so many things at LHS, Follrath said the students are what keep her wanting to return back every school year.

“I enjoy the relationships you build with each student,” she said. “I have always tried my best to learn their names by the end of the first week. I average 125-150 students each trimester, so I am glad when I have repeat students. I try to learn something about each student and what they enjoy. I want them to know I am interested in what is important to them.”

Since working at LASD for 38 years, Follrath has had the opportunity to create new classes and curriculum for students with her fellow P.E. staff. She said this has been a really great thing because not every student enjoys the same type of physical activities and this has given the school and the students an opportunity explore different ways to reaching common P.E. goals.

“Back in 2002, I was attending a state physical education and health conference,” Follrath said. “After listening to many sessions, I decided to put together a new class that might reach students who were not typical team sports oriented, but may like walking activities. I created fitness walking. In the past five years, I have had many teachers around the nation ask for my curriculum covering fitness walking. I shared the class on a physical education site back in 2006. There are schools today that have fitness walking built into their regular physical education course. Many have tracks that students walk on near their building. Our track is a mile down the road, so we have been fortunate our school has allowed us to walk off campus. I have high expectations and rules with the class. Our students have been great. I include hiking and basic survival information in this course. Students build survival camps out at the school forest and if you drive by now, you will see approximately 17 of them. We will be taking them down before the trimester ends unless the weather encourages us to do it sooner. I am proud that we are able to offer this course. I always say, ‘not everybody likes broccoli.’

“I also wrote a curriculum at the high school for water sports. We teach swimming at the middle school levels, but when students get to high school there wasn’t really any thing for them involving the pool. Besides swimming, why not try different water activities. Ludington is surrounded by beautiful lakes and rivers. It made sense to me. In this course, students can learn water safety, how to kayak, canoe, sailing, and paddle boarding. We have a cardboard boat regatta and students make their own skimboards that we try out at the beach. A lot of fun. I think we have one of the best physical education curriculum offerings where students can choose which type of class they like. We offer six different types and they can be repeated if they want. 

“My co-worker, Rich Kirby and I, constantly update the courses we offer. No participation days by students rarely exists. By giving students a variety of choices has been the best move for us.”

Like many educators, Follrath advises anyone looking to enter the educational field to get experience before diving in fully.

“My advice for students who are thinking about an education career, ‘try before you buy,’” she said. “Go observe as many areas of education that you can. See what you like and what you would do different. I first thought I would like to teach elementary P.E., during my student teaching I enjoyed teaching at the middle school level and thought that is where I wanted to teach. Now 40-plus years later, I have been at the high school level and I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Whether walking, running, swimming or playing a sport, Follrath said movement is one of the best ways to keep up one’s quality of life.

“How to move, breathe, get stronger, relax and have fun is the best prescription for a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “I believe a good physical education program can help you become your own personal fitness trainer. I am proud of who I work and worked with at Ludington Area Schools. I’m still having fun.”

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