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The Perennial

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Ms. Ortmann’s Journey to Pinewood

Avery Hall

   Math teacher Lauren Ortmann’s desk is crowded with student creations from years prior. Even the walls and ceilings surrounding the [dimensions of the desk] wooden workspace cannot escape a centroid mobile or triangle transformation project being taped over its plaster. Each creation is a testament to her nature as a teacher and person: kind and empathetic to each student, but also ingenuitive, hardworking and purposeful.  

    To the students of a private school like Pinewood, not being able to afford food may seem unimaginable. But for one Pinewood faculty member, going to bed hungry was one of the harsh realities of her childhood. 

   “My family was very, very poor,” math teacher Lauren Ortmann said. “There were times when we were homeless, times when we didn’t have enough food to eat.”

   Growing up, Ortmann and her family were constantly on the move. From California to North Carolina, she has lived in seven different states throughout her life. With each state came a different school. 

   “[It was] very, very difficult,” Ortmann said. “I was always the new student, always the new person….I never had long childhood friends [nor] a lot of the same childhood memories that most people have.”

   Despite this, Ortmann always loved school. 

   “Because I grew up in a very tumultuous household, school was like a reprieve,” she said. 

   Ortmann was very close with her grandfather, more than anyone else in her family. Even though he wasn’t always able to accompany the family from place to place, Ortmann always wrote him letters. Together, through letters, fishing, and singing, she and her grandfather made some of the fondest memories of her childhood. 

   “We loved to make up songs together,” Ortmann said. “If we were fishing, we would sing to the fish. He would tell me, ‘you have to sing to them to get them to come to you.’” 

   As she entered her senior year of high school in Mobile, Alabama, Ortmann was confronted with a new challenge: college. 

   “I was actually the first person in my family to ever go to college or even think about college,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to apply.” 

   Nevertheless, Ortmann was able to navigate the college admissions process with guidance from her high school and eventually obtain a scholarship to the University of South Alabama. 

   “I was really proud of myself for not only getting in but going through with it,” she said. “I was very, very determined to graduate in four years.” 

   She began her college journey as a psychology major, but halfway through her freshman year, something else called out to her. A year before, Ortmann had started working at The Tutoring Center in Mobile and continued the job throughout college. One student left a particularly strong impression on her. 

   “Her name was Haley,” Ortmann said. “She had a lot of learning disabilities…[and] she was very down on herself about math. And I worked with her a lot.” 

   One day, Haley came into the facility crying from excitement after she passed a semester of math class for the first time in years. Not only was she ecstatic, but Ortmann felt gratified as well.

   “I felt like, this feels really good, it feels really rewarding, and also, I feel like I’m helping someone,” she said.

   That very same week, she changed her major to become a teacher.

   Since coming to Pinewood a year ago, Ortmann has gone from a part-time eighth grade geometry teacher to a full-time math teacher across multiple grades and subjects. Outside of teaching, she continues the hobby she and grandfather shared — creating music. 

   “It’s something I do all the time with my husband and just myself,” she said. “I very much enjoy music and singing and making fun songs.”

   Ortmann’s life now looks very different from the one she lived as a child. Aside from being able to afford food every night, she is also able to concentrate more on the hobbies she wasn’t able to financially support in the past — the hobbies that continue to bring her joy today.


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