Fifth-grade teacher says she treats her students the way she would want someone to treat her own children.
When Grosse Pointe Academy 5th-grade teacher Holly Willson first arrived on campus six years ago, she was floored. She was floored because even though she’d been teaching already for a number of years in two different schools, she could not believe the level of aptitude, talent and poise that GPA students exhibited on a regular basis.
“I will never forget my first year at The Grosse Pointe Academy,” said Willson, who grew up in Sault Sainte Marie in Michigan’s upper peninsula. “I was blown away by the talent of the students on many occasions.”
One memorable occasion that came to mind for Willson was an assembly in which a young first grader at GPA stood up and made a presentation in front of the entire school and recited a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“At the time, I did not know who the student was, but I remember him standing behind the podium and looking so small,” she said. “However, when he began to speak, he was anything but small! He had so much passion, determination and confidence in his voice, and he had memorized the entire speech! I had never before witnessed such a young child speak so well and confidently in front of so many people. It truly was an awe-inspiring moment in my life.”
For Willson, her life in teaching began in Traverse City where she taught in a multi-age classroom of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders for two years at Grand Traverse Academy, a public pre K-12 charter school authorized by Lake Superior State University. Willson had attended college at LSSU and received a Bachelor of Science degree in elementary education and a Master’s Degree in curriculum and instruction.
While still teaching at Grand Traverse Academy, Willson said she moved back to her hometown after meeting her future husband there.
“I traveled home from Traverse City for Thanksgiving break and met my future husband, Alek,” she said. “We quickly fell in love, so I finished that second school year at GTA and moved back to Sault Sainte Marie, where I hired on at Joseph K. Lumsden Bahweting Anishnabe charter school, which serves elementary- and middle-school students in the city.”
At Bahweting, Willson held various positions, including teacher’s aid, gym teacher, art teacher and academic service provider. Ultimately, she had to move south again — much farther south — to metro Detroit because her husband, a captain in the Michigan Army National Guard, was transferred to the area.
“When it was time to move to Grosse Pointe, I was extremely sad to leave my ‘family’ at Bahweting school,” she said, “but I also knew I had many adventures ahead of me.”
Those adventures included a job at the Academy and a school perfect for Willson’s own kids, which became even more apparent for her after she witnessed her first graduation ceremony at GPA.
“I remember from my first year at The Grosse Pointe Academy that when I attended eighth-grade commencement, the graduates were all so very well-spoken, exhibited high moral standards, had many amazing achievements throughout their years at the Academy, and that they all were clearly beyond ready for high school,” Willson recalled. “I will never forget going home that night to tell my husband about the graduation ceremony. I said to him, ‘We really need to send our children to The Grosse Pointe Academy!’”
Hence, the next year, her son was enrolled in Kate Kingsley’s preschool class, and then her daughter began attending a few years later when she turned three. “It was one of the best decisions we could have ever made for our children!”
It seems that decision is working out just fine for mom as well.
“I feel truly blessed to have my teaching position at the Academy,” Willson said. “I look forward to going to school each day and contributing to the growth and development of my young students. I love them unconditionally and teach and encourage them to be active participants in their own education. When I look at them, I think to myself, ‘This is someone’s dear child.’ I treat them the way I would want someone to treat my own children, which really is to nurture, challenge and inspire.”
It also appears that Willson’s complete devotion to her students does not go unnoticed.
“Holly is a very dedicated and caring teacher who’s always willing to pitch in and try new things,” said Lawrence DeLuca, who is the Academy’s assistant head of school for instruction and principal of grades 1-8. “Her students love being in her class, and she always pushes them to do their best, particularly in their writing. Whenever I walk by her room, I find myself marveling over the essays her students write in her class.”
For Willson, as much as she loves teaching at the Academy, when she is not in class, she looks very much forward to her family time as well.
“I really enjoy spending my free time with my family, especially in the summer,” she said. “We often go fishing on the weekends and have nightly bonfires to make S’mores. We also enjoy biking, swimming, camping, rollerblading and walking. And, when the weather is not so favorable outside, my family and I play a lot of board games and cards, have dance parties in the basement and watch movies together.”
The Grosse Pointe Academy is an independent, coeducational day school serving children age 2-1/2 through Grade 8. We foster an inclusive environment that respects all cultures and religious beliefs. We seek to remain faithful to our heritage as a former Academy of the Sacred Heart and to those who through their Catholic faith and perseverance sought to preserve and enhance the legacy of this past for generations. Incorporated as a non-profit institution, The Grosse Pointe Academy is directed by a Board of Trustees working together to serve the Southeastern Michigan community.