ORFORDVILLE — For one area family, their workplace is their home and that home happens to be the Parkview School District.
This fall, Laura Neal Laursen became the fourth generation teacher in her family in the room her mom and first grade teacher Vicki Neal retired from last spring.
“Both of them are strong at building relationships with kids and families, and you see these family values passed on from generation to generation. They love this community and school and they give a lot,” said Parkview Elementary Principal Karen Strandt-Conroy.
A passion for educating started back with Laursen’s great grandmother, the late Mildred Olson who was a reading specialist and elementary teacher at Newark Elementary and who taught in a one-room school house called Randall School in the 1940s.
Mildred Olson’s son Dennis Olson started teaching at Barr, a one room-schoolhouse before working in Orfordville, the former Newark School and former Orfordville Elementary. His wife Sandy Olson taught first grade at the former Orfordville Elementary and Newark School.
Vicki Neal recalled growing up with her mom and dad at school, which inspired her to consider teaching.
“When I was little, we would sit around and talk about school,” Vicki Neal said. “When I was in first grade, I knew I wanted to be a teacher and would play school. It was the love of seeing kids learn, watching my parents and seeing how much fun they were having.”
Laura Neal Laursen was in her grandmother Sandy Olson’s first grade class and her sister Megan Neal had her grandfather Dennis Olson as a fourth grade teacher. At one point all three generations were at the former Newark School either as teachers or students in the late 1990s.
When Laura Neal Laursen was in kindergarten, she recalled going to school with mom everyday and hanging out in her room after class. When she transferred to Newark School, she was in her grandma’s room, watching grandma teach and helping her after school with correcting papers.
Vicki Neal even became Homecoming Queen in 1979, attending the dance with the man who would become her husband, Mark Neal. Her daughter would later follow in her footsteps, serving as Homecoming Queen in 2006.
Vicki Neal would teach at Newark, Orfordville, Footville and Parkview Elementary. In 2014, Newark closed. In her class at Parkview Elementary, she always kept a photograph of her nephew Ben Neal and a flag in his honor.
The son of Donald and Trisha (Ahrens) Neal, Neal lost his life in action on April 25, 2012, in Afghanistan. The decorated corporal served as an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
“When he passed away, we had a memorial service at the school,” Vicki Neal said.
Strandt-Conroy said Vicki Neal always had perseverance, prepping well after school hours right up to her retirement. She said Vicki Neal didn’t shy away from learning new technology, no matter how challenging.
Vicki Neal was looking forward to a special time with students and staff as her retirement neared in 2020, however, a lot of her plans were cut short with the COVID-19 pandemic and as school moved online. However she tried to connect as best she could.
“When kids came back to turn in their ipads, teachers were able to come out here and say ‘goodbye’ individually. We also went around to all the families’ homes and put signs in their yards and got to meet with families two weeks before school was out,” Vicki Neal said.
Meanwhile, fourth generation teacher Laura Neal Laursen had been teaching in the Janesville School District for eight years when the vacancy due to her mother’s retirement was posted.
Laura Neal Laursen said she was a bit nervous about the interview, knowing the pattern of her family and not wanting to break the winning streak. Living in Janesville, Laura Neal Laursen hoped if she got the job her children could also attend Parkview with her.
“She was the best quality teacher during the interview and came across as knowledgeable. She stands on her own as a teacher. Laura does well collaborating with others and is adaptable. She’s been flexible and very positive,” said Strandt-Conroy.
When Laura Neal Laursen got the job, she was elated. She set to making a colorful and fun classroom, while keeping the flag and picture of her cousin Cpl. Neal. This fall, Laura Neal Laursen has a lot of new challenges with in-person as well as virtual learning for her class. Children are donning masks, using hand sanitizer on the hour and seated in pods.
Her son Kamden Laursen is in kindergarten and her daughter Lainey Laursen is in 4K. One day Kamden delivered her a flower after recess.
“It kind of feels like home. I loved stepping into my mom’s classroom. It just felt right,” Laura Neal Laursen said.
Strandt-Conroy said a lot of families had requested Vicki Neal as a teacher and were a bit sad upon hearing she was retiring. However, as soon as they found out Laura Neal Laursen was there, they requested her.
“It’s fun having teachers like them,” Strandt-Conroy said.
Although retired, Vicki Neal hopes to one day return as a volunteer to the school when the pandemic has passed.
When Kamden and Lainey were asked what they would like to do when they grow up, Kamden said a paleontologist while his sister said she might be a teacher which would make her a fifth generation teacher in the Parkview School District.