Lynette Gasper grew up in the small town of Morrice, located midway between Lansing and Flint. She attended Grand Valley State University, fell in love with West Michigan and decided this is where she was meant to be.
As a new graduate, she started teaching in 1989 and worked in Grand Rapids Public Schools at Harrison Park Math and Science Academy and Stocking Elementary. While she liked working within the Grand Rapids school system, she wasn’t a fan of city life. A move to the country would change everything.
It would bring her to St. Patrick Parish where she would find her husband in the pews and, eventually, a job next door. Now in her seventh year as a middle school teacher at St. Patrick School, Lynette can’t imagine being anywhere else. “If I knew middle school was this fun, I would have started here,” she says.
Lynette brings to the classroom a personal love for the Lord and a commitment to academic excellence. Along with her fellow teachers at St. Patrick School, she exemplifies the very best of the teaching profession and Catholic education.
Finding a Family and a Job at St. Patrick
In 1996, Lynette joined St. Patrick Parish after moving to the area. As a single woman in her 30s, she attended Mass alone but soon noticed another single person in the pews. He was Tim Gasper and would later become her husband.
“I saw Tim at church every week so I started sitting next to him,” Lynette explains. When asked if the two were chatting before or after Mass at that time, Lynette laughs and says, “Nope. I was just sitting there.”
After two years of praying side-by-side on Sundays, Tim invited her to coffee. That eventually led to him passing a note after a homily asking if Lynette might want to marry him. The answer was yes, and the two said vows in 2003. Daughter Lydia followed in 2005.
During this time, Lynette’s involvement at St. Patrick Parish began to evolve. Another parishioner noticed her in church and asked if she would like to help out as part of a church cleaning crew. When Lydia was born, Lynette ended her position with Grand Rapids Public Schools but later began substitute teaching at St. Patrick School and elsewhere.
Fr. Mark Peacock invited her to join the parish staff in a part-time administrative position and when a teaching job opened at the school, Principal Scott Czarnopys asked if she would like to return to teaching full-time.
Today, Lynette is the 8th grade homeroom teacher. She teaches 8th grade religion and formation instruction for the Sacrament of Confirmation. She also teaches science to the 6th -8th grades as well as 6th grade social studies.
Helping Kids in Transition
While Lynette enjoyed teaching in the upper elementary grades in Grand Rapids Public School, she says there is something special about working with kids in the 6th -8th grades.
“Middle school is such a time for kids finding out who they are in the world,” she explains. As both a parent and an educator, Lynette sees value in having children surrounded by others with shared values during this time.
She also thinks the relatively small size of St. Patrick School ensures kids don’t get overlooked or lost while navigating these formative years. “I worry that in a bigger setting, it’s easy to get missed,” Lynette says.
There are 14 students in her 8th grade class this year, and the St. Patrick middle school grades have a total enrollment of 49 students for 2018-2019. For comparison, the nearby Lowell Middle School enrolls approximately 870 students. Faith and school size are two reasons Lynette chose to send her daughter Lydia, now in 8th grade, to St. Patrick School.
Although she sees the small size as a benefit, Lynette knows some parents may be concerned about the transition from a class of less than 15 to a high school of hundreds. “I think sometimes they worry kids will struggle going from a small atmosphere to a large atmosphere,” she says. “[but] I don’t hear that from the kids.” Her former pupils tell her it’s an adjustment but one they are able to successfully make.
When asked what she likes best about teaching at St. Patrick, Lynette is quick to say, “Putting my faith into everything we do.” Although her time in the public school system was positive, she appreciates being able to integrate religion into her lessons.
“The academics are important, and we do a good job at it,” this veteran teacher says, “[but] faith is the number one, most important part of our school.”
One of the joys of her job is guiding 8 th graders through their preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation. Throughout the process, students keep a personal journal and write a reflective essay after receiving the sacrament. “Every single one of the kids has something [in their essay] that shows their faith has deepened,” Lynette says. “I love that.”
She’s quick to note that she can’t take credit for her students’ faith formation. Instead, she says it’s a product of being in an environment in which God is valued and prayer is emphasized on a daily basis.
The Rewards of Teaching
Within her science curriculum, Lynette strives to incorporate plenty of hands-on activities. From building roller coasters to study elements of physics to conducting experiments while exploring chemistry, her lessons are designed to take science out of the textbook and make it come alive.
“I want to engage kids and make them excited about this wonderful world that God created,” she says. And her reward is watching when a difficult lesson finally clicks for a student. Even better is when parents tell her their children come home talking enthusiastically about the day’s class.
However, the best part of working at St. Patrick School is that it feels less like an institution and more like a family. “We are not just a school,” Lynette says. “We are a community that cares about one another.”
It’s an atmosphere that gives a sense of belonging to students, teachers and parents alike. Lynette hopes the school will continue to grow as it lives out its mission to “To Know God, To Love God and To Serve All,” and she looks forward to guiding and teaching your child during those important middle school years.