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Lakes Learning teacher hopes to inspire others to pursue dreams

Though Patti DeGroat didn't pursue a career in education immediately upon graduating from Waubun High School in 1977, "it's always been in my blood," she says.

"When my brother was 3 -- he's four years younger than me -- I used to make him all these flash cards, and taught him his letters and numbers," explains the White Earth native. "I was so proud of him when he went to school and knew all this stuff already."

A wife and mother of two, DeGroat decided to pursue a degree in social studies education in 1996, after 10 years of working as a paraprofessional at Waubun.

Her first full-time teaching job was at the Circle of Life School in White Earth -- former home of White Earth's now-defunct public school, where she herself had once attended classes.

"I never expected to be a teacher there -- or at Waubun," she says, noting that when she started at Waubun, most of her former teachers were still on staff.

"They treated me as an equal -- that was nice," DeGroat adds. It was just as strange to find herself walking through the halls at Circle of Life School as an instructor, but she enjoyed it.

After four years at Circle of Life, DeGroat recently began a new job as an instructor at Lakes Area Learning Center in Detroit Lakes, specializing in math.

Though her teaching degree is in social studies, DeGroat also has a minor in math -- something she now would like to reverse. Though she still enjoys social studies, DeGroat now finds that she prefers teaching math.

"I remember when I was in (high) school, I had bad grades in math," she says. "Now, I really enjoy teaching it, because there's always one answer. Social studies is more analytical."

DeGroat finds the most rewarding part of her job to be helping her students work their way through a difficult math formula or equation.

"I try to explain it to them in their terms, so they can understand it," she says.

DeGroat was particularly interested in working for Lakes Area Learning, because its GED program has a special place in her heart. Though she graduated from high school with her peers, her husband David did not.

"He quit (high) school, then went back and got his GED," she says. From there, he went on to complete college and law school, earning his juris doctor degree from the William Mitchell College of Law. Currently, he is employed as a prosecuting attorney in Mahnomen.

DeGroat also hopes that her own decision to begin college in her late 30s will be a source of inspiration to her students.

"I would encourage anyone to go on to college (after high school), because it's really rewarding," she says.

DeGroat's regular hours are 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 1 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays. The rest of her days are spent on the campus of Minnesota State University Moorhead, where she is pursuing a master's degree in math education.

"She's so encouraging to the people here... (by showing that) it's never too late," says Kathy Simison, lead instructor at Lakes Learning since January (replacing the recently retired Elaine Graf).

Simison says there are some non-staffing changes afoot at Lakes Learning as well.

"We have new hours," she says. "We will be open Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Tuesday, from 8 a.m. until 7 p.m."

In addition, DeGroat will soon begin teaching some classes at the Anishinaabe Center, through a cooperative learning program.

"GED classes are only part of what we do," Simison adds. "We offer refresher classes in basic math, reading, science, social studies and computer skills.

"We've also begun offering a free pre-CNA (certified nursing assistant) class... it's a really good prep class for anyone planning on going into nursing," Simison adds. "We'll be offering an evening class for the first time this year."

Those interested in learning more should contact Lakes Learning at 218-847-4818.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454