Seen and Heard: Soon to graduate, her passion remains in the classroom

July 29, 2018

Century High School graduate Lauren Koster is a public service scholar in Massachusetts.

Lauren Koster began advocating for students and education as a freshman at Century High School in 2004.

With pending budget cuts in the district, Koster saw this as a “turning point in my potential future.”

She and fellow students formed Rochester Students for Education Funding; they began speaking out about the need for adequate program funding in the district.

By the time Lauren graduated from Century in 2008, Rochester Students for Education Funding had more than 50 members.

“Showing our community that we care” remains a tenet in Koster’s professional work. She went from Century to Yale University, earning a degree in political science. After graduation in 2012, Lauren served as a classroom teacher with Teach for America in New Haven, Conn., the same community where she had studied for four years.

Not only did she witness the dichotomy between Yale and an urban elementary school, but her time in a fourth-grade classroom also gave her a “better grasp of what classroom teachers experience.”

Today Koster is entering her third year in law school at Boston College. This summer she became a Rappaport Fellow, a prestigious fellowship from the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy at Boston College Law School.

Her summer internship with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education fits perfectly with her passion for education policy. Koster describes her work as an “intersection of law and policy,” which benefits all children and their futures.

As a Public Service Scholar, Koster is committed to five years of service. She plans to work in New Hampshire after graduation. However, she hasn’t ruled out a return to Minnesota.

Good to the last stroke

Rochester’s own “swimming whisperer,” 84-year-old Jan Larson will retire next month. After 65 years of teaching youngsters how to swim, Larson will be hanging up her swimsuit.

Growing up in Minneapolis in an era with few athletic opportunities for young women, Larson earned her Red Cross swimming certificate during her freshman year in college. That summer, 1953, at age 19, she began her swim instructor career, serving as the waterfront director at a Girl Scout camp. And she hasn’t missed a summer of teaching since.

Larson and her late husband, Dean, arrived in Rochester in 1965, and Jan began teaching swimming at the Y. When the couple bought a house with a pool, she started teaching lessons at home.

Every summer nearly 500 children went to Mrs. Larson’s house to learn to swim. Her following just “grew and grew and grew,” she said.

When the Larsons moved 10 miles out of town, her students went with her. She told the parents, “Don’t wash your car until the end of the week because I have a gravel driveway.”

Dirty cars and a few extra miles did not deter her swim families. When her house burned down in 1985, she commuted to her own pool while the house was rebuilt. For the last 20 years, Larson has taught lessons at the Rochester Athletic Club.

Larson’s goal was never to develop Olympic athletes but instead she aimed to make water “safe and fun,” teaching children life-saving skills. Many children arrived at swim lessons afraid of the water. Larson told them, “We don’t say, ‘I can’t.’ We say, ‘I will try.’”

She hopes her lessons in the pool will carry over into children’s lives.

When she wasn’t teaching private lessons, Jan’s generous spirit led her to serve our community as a volunteer swim teacher. For many years, she volunteered at the Y, teaching children with physical challenges to swim. Larson recalled the joy she felt after empowering a young blind child to jump off a diving board.

Several years ago, while delivering a birthday cookie (one of her special traditions) to a swim student, Larson slipped, fell, and broke her femur. Her first concern was notifying her afternoon swim students that she would need to cancel lessons.

Her surgery (performed by a former swim student) kept her out of the pool for a few weeks, but Larson was back in the water as soon as she had the go-ahead from her doctor.

After the death of her husband in 2015, Larson continued with her teaching, as “swimming was my second love.” She estimates that over the years she has taught over 10,000 children how to swim.

But now, Jan believes it is time to retire. She has three grandchildren heading off to college next year and wants to devote more time to her family. She also plans to work on family genealogy and volunteer with the Red Cross. However, she “will miss it deeply.”

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