Big Sister of the Year
Waupaca teacher recognized for mentoring
By Angie Landsverk
Heather Frosch’s work as an elementary teacher involves teaching some of the youngest students.
Mentoring a student ready to start middle school was a new experience for her after she became involved in the Big Brother Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region program.
“I was a kindergarten teacher, so being with a fifth grader was different,” Frosch said.
Seven years ago the program matched her with a girl that age.
“I had seen articles in the paper. I thought I could do that. Then there would be another article in the paper,” she said of how she came to be a Big Sister.
Anne Collins-Reed, the Waupaca’s School District’s social worker, encouraged her to consider the idea.
Frosch is a 4K teacher at Waupaca Learning Center and taught kindergarten a total of 15 years in the school district prior to becoming a 4K teacher this school year.
She watched her Little Sister grow over the course of the last seven years.
The first months of their match involved outdoor activities.
During the academic year, Frosch’s Little Sister visited her after school.
She helped in the classroom and did her homework.
“For most of our time together, she has not lived in Waupaca, but in Stevens Point,” Frosch said.
After her Little Sister moved, Frosch drove to Stevens Point to spend time with her.
Sometimes, they ate a meal together. Other times, they went to a movie, played a game or simply talked.
“It was a lot different experience that I expected,” Frosch said. “She had lots of trauma. I was a sounding board. I tried to give encouragement about going to school, getting good grades.”
Her Little Sister is now 18.
Now, they meet about once a month.
“But she knows I’m always a phone call or text away,” Frosch said.
They may continue meeting, but after this year, her Little Sister will not longer be part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
Children may remain in the program until they turn 18 or graduate from high school.
Longevity is an important part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Frosch said.
“It was not always an easy match,” she said.
There were times Frosch sought advice from Lori Altraide, who is the program’s lead match specialist.
Frosch’s mentoring did not go unnoticed.
She was chosen as the 2016 Big Sister of the Year for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Fox Valley Region.
This marked the second consecutive year a Waupaca resident received such an honor.
Tim Gauerke was chosen as the 2015 Big Brother of the Year for the same region, which includes hundreds of volunteers in Calumet, Outagamie, Waupaca and Winnebago counties.
“It was a big surprise,” Frosch said of the honor. “I wasn’t aware there was such an award.”
In fact, Frosch wondered what was wrong when Altraide emailed her and told Frosch she needed to contact her.
Altraide, who nominated Frosch for the award, said the program’s entire staff chooses one Big Brother and one Big Sister to honor.
“Out of all the matches the program has, our staff chose Heather,” Altraide said. “There were times when she was challenged in her match and still persevered.”
Altraide describes Frosch as dedicated to her role as a mentor.
After her Little Sister moved, Frosh was willing to make the drive to support her match, Altraide said.
She said what makes the story interesting is the improvements they have seen in Frosch’s Little Sister.
“The bottom line is that she is dedicated, committed and truly the mentor we were looking for to set a good example to a struggling teen that is now on the right track to success,” Altraide said. “It thrills me to see someone so dedicated that will help this child for the rest of her life. It’s what we all strive to do and she gets it.”
When Frosch went to Appleton to receive the award, she received another surprise.
She expected three people to be there with her – her mother and two friends.
Quite a few members of the school’s kindergarten team attended as well.
“She sees the need of her own kids in the classroom,” Altraide said of Frosch.
Altraide would like to see more teachers and high school students consider being Big Brothers and Big Sisters.
Frosch said spending time with a child does not have to cost money.
The program offers free tickets for various events, which are often in the Fox Valley or Green Bay.
“I think we’re seeing more troubled children at school,” Frosch said. “Spending a few hours with them every month makes a whole difference, because they know you care about them.”
When this school year ends, she plans to take a break from the program.
“I will continue to check on her,” Frosch said of her Little Sister.
She is not ruling out being a mentor again in the future.
What Frosch learned about herself through he participation in the program is to not take things for granted.
“My experience is going to be different than her experience. A lot of times it is just to be there, to give advice as she deals with stress,” she said. “It was a lot of giving and not much receiving. But I think that is the program – a lot of giving and not expecting the thank you in return.”