This is the fifth of a 12-part series featuring young professionals in the Blue Water Area. Each month two to three individuals from different industries will be spotlighted.

Written by Audrey Sochor

The foundation of any great community is its educators. They enrich young minds, inspire creativity and lay the groundwork of the people who will build that community for generations to come.

For this reason it’s a vital passion of these featured young professionals to connect with and impact their students in a positive way well into the future.

“I just love working with students and figuring out what helps them, what makes them tick,” said Adrienne Koppinger, a Port Huron High School teacher who works with cognitively impaired students.

Adrienne Koppinger

Koppinger knew since she was a high schooler herself that she wanted to go into education and work with deaf students and others in special education.

She went to Bethel College for her degree, but came back to the Blue Water Area because she missed the water and her family. “I love the small town of Port Huron,” she said. “I love that you can go to the grocery store and see people you know.”

Koppinger was fortunate enough to get her job at PHHS right after her graduation from Bethel, where she teaches science, math and life skills to special needs students in preparation for future careers.

“In Port Huron High I work with four other teachers in the MICI program,” Koppinger said. “We have different ages but it’s so great to bounce ideas off of each other, like have the younger, fresher ideas, but the older, experienced ideas as well. It’s so great to collaborate with everybody
and have those perspectives in education.”

She loves being at the high school because it provides other opportunities she wouldn’t necessarily have in other grade levels, such as working with the tennis team or teaching sign language.

But she also likes working at the high school for the support she receives.

“Port Huron High is such a community school and all the staff is like family,” she said. The district pairs new teachers up with mentors, and teachers and administers stop by her classroom to make sure she has everything she needs or give her tips.

“It’s been so nice to have those helps when you’re trying to stay afloat and learn the career path,” she added.

The Blue Water Area also offers her a chance to grow more than just professionally, and Koppinger said others are starting to realize it as well.

“I would say that it’s such a fun area, a great opportunity to grow,” she said. “It’s kind of a hidden gem, Port Huron is. Many leave after graduation…but then it’s cool to see how many people have come back and realize they miss the small town of Port Huron.”

Craig Archer

Another Port Huron Schools educator who returned to the area is Marysville native Craig Archer.

Unlike Koppinger, Archer had no idea what he wanted to do after high school, so continued his athletic career at SC4 while he figured it out. He stayed at SC4 for two years and, after deciding to study education, transferred to Concordia University in Ann Arbor.

Archer was hired by Plainwell High right out of school, which is just north of Kalamazoo. So he and his new wife made the move, which they loved and enjoyed, but they always felt the pull to return home. Four years later they did.

“The water in West Michigan is different than the water here,” Archer said. “Mostly because the water in west Michigan fells on top of you all the time. I wasn’t living on the water in the community over there, so coming back over here and being that close to the water again was

Archer became the STEAM instructional coach for Port Huron Schools, which he said has two aspects.

The instructional coach side allows him to venture into the classroom with teachers and students. He works with teachers to show them the ways things used to be and the way they are now, and helps them work through those changes by enriching their curriculum.

“The STEAM side of it, the programming, this is just a response that Port Huron Schools recognizes the future and what our kids need as far as transportable skills,” he added. “Because of that recognition, we’ve made a significant investment in providing the opportunities that kids need in order to be successful not in the current world we have, but in the world that’s coming.

“We’ve trained kids to do school a certain way, and the game is gonna to change on them, and it’s gonna change on them real soon,” he added.

His new role allows him to live in a community that’s the right size for raising a family in a safe, healthy environment while still providing easy access to the rest of the state with the two nearby interstates.

Being there for his family is important to Archer, as his own father frequently traveled the world for work.

“I remember chanting ‘don’t go to work’ as a five year old, ‘stay home with us,’” he said. “I decided I wanted to be there for my family when they are young. I have a three-year-old and a one-year-old now, and I love the fact I can go home every day and see them, to be a part of those
milestones that maybe didn’t happen for my dad.”

Being here lets him be family focused while also growing and developing his career.

“I like young people,” Archer said. “I get this sense of energy from them. They very much want to conquer the world, and I want to help them do that.”

Kim DeLand

Like Archer, Smiths Creek native Kim DeLand loves sports, which comes in handy in her role as athletic director for Yale Public Schools.

“After graduating (college) I knew I wanted to work in a school but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure how to get my foot in since I wasn’t a teacher,” DeLand said. “It took me about a year to figure out that path.”

She got her start at SC4 playing volleyball and basketball after graduating from Marysville High in 2009. She then transferred to Michigan State and earned her degree in psychology.

“When you grow up in a small town it can be really, really easy to want to get away,” DeLand said. “And leave, and explore and do those things. I had an opportunity to do that with college.”

A year after graduating from Michigan State, she found her path and became a college advisor with the MSU College Advising Corps at Yale High, where she served for two years. DeLand’s
experience as a college advisor spurred her to pursue her master’s degree in school counseling from Oakland University. She’ll be graduating this spring.

Although she and her husband lived in “this great hustle, bustle town of Royal Oak” for four years, they found themselves travelling to Marysville every weekend, and DeLand also continued her relationship with Yale High as a volleyball coach.

Two years ago DeLand started searching for education careers here in St. Clair County when everything fell into place and she returned to Yale as the athletic director.

“I had been coaching volleyball there, got to know a lot of the administers and teachers, and the families. It was really just a great fit. They’ve really taken me in,” she said. “I’m not from Yale and it can sometimes be hard to break into small towns like that, but I think that just speaks to
how welcoming they are.”

DeLand wanted to work for a smaller school but not too small. Yale is big enough, but she still recognizes all the kids in the halls. “You’re there for the students and if you don’t know them and they don’t know who you are it’s
really hard to impact positive change.”

DeLand’s goal is to impact her students enough that when she’s 90 years old, her students will recognize her in public and feel comfortable saying hey, and that she’ll be able to recall their name and tidbits of their life from decades ago.

“Every time a student comes into my office, I’m just hoping I’m putting the seed in the ground at that point. That four years from now, five years from now, if they need something I’m here for them.”

Because of her past there as a college advisor and coach, she said that’s already starting to happen. She’d also like to see more young professionals join her in the schools.

“I think it’s really important to have young professionals in education because they have a lot energy and a lot of new ideas that they can bring to the table,” DeLand said. “I think you could say that in any profession, I don’t think that’s education specific, but it’s certainly true in education. To be a dynamic teacher, or counselor or whatever you’re going to be in a school, it
takes some ingenuity.”

Opportunities in local schools exist for young professionals. Archer said education is currently experiencing a shortage that DeLand said will become more pronounced as people retire. And all three of the individuals featured agree St. Clair County as a whole is a great school environment
to be a part of.

“Education is really larger than people think,” Archer said. “A lot of people think about teaching, and that’s a wonderful field, I’ve enjoyed my time in the classroom. It is absolutely rewarding when you can see a kid have those light bulb moments. But people sometimes forget about the
support that the teaching apparatus has.

“There are places you can be in education that doesn’t begin in the classroom,” he added.

Opportunities for young professionals exist not only in the schools themselves, but also with the collaboration across the business, nonprofit and religious communities.

DeLand received the Community Foundation’s Come Home Award, which helps recent college grads pay off their student loans if they move back to the county to live and work, bringing back talent acquired elsewhere and ultimately creating a more skilled workforce.

“I think it’s a good way to draw people back who have that mentality of these lifestyles that I want to achieve, these jobs that I want to find, I have to leave to get them. St. Clair County is saying that no, that’s not one hundred percent true.”

DeLand said things have changed, and if you don’t let a negative, preconceived notion of what the community has to offer stop you from looking, you will find opportunity.

“If you’re basing your decision off a mindset you had ten years ago, you’re kind of missing the ball on stuff. I think the Community Foundation has done a good job of trying to market those types of things and having different kinds of community conversations that draw young people it to help spread the word about all the different programs that are available.”

But as all good educators know, there is always room for improvement.

“This area we have the chamber of commerce, the groups that work to promote us, but it’s not so headline grabbing,” Archer said. “I mean, it’s just fair to say. We need to make sure young professionals look at this area as a place to develop. There is opportunity here, being that we sit right on the border, being that we’re at the intersection of two major highways that reach across this country. It’s an opportunity that if we seize it as a community we can turn this into a hub of innovation, of growth, of talent.”