The Student News Site of Marshfield High School

The Marshfield Times

The Student News Site of Marshfield High School

The Marshfield Times

The Student News Site of Marshfield High School

The Marshfield Times

Social studies teacher provides education and a loving home

By Beau Hunter | Reporter

Deb Larsen has been teaching in the Coos Bay School District for 32 years; however, her contributions to the community lie not only in the education of her students, but in some cases, their parental care as well. Together with her husband, Mike Lehman, Larsen has taken on the job of providing a permanent foster home.

When Larsen began teaching at Marshfield’s CE2 in 1992, she and Lehman discovered that certain high school students were in need of additional care they were not receiving at home. Larsen and Lehman decided to take some of these students into their home and make themselves available in a parental role.

“When I taught at CE2, those were kids who had a lot of trouble at that time, and I ended up taking some of those kids home,” Larsen said.

Larsen and Lehman have had several students from foster care in their home, even individuals who simply needed a place to stay for a night or short time. Most of the individuals Larsen took in had endured various struggles in their life.

“One kid’s mother had been married eight times, and one weekend she decided to move, and he had two months left of school so my husband and I said he could live with us,” Larsen said. “He lived with us for a year and then went to Portland, and I still see him.”

In 2007 Larsen and Lehman added a teenage girl to their family who had a big impact on their future decisions. Vanessa Wilson moved into their home and began living with them. She had many struggles at home and had to testify against her own father while living with Lehman and Larsen. During the testimony, Wilson told the whole court that she had a real family now, referring to Larsen and Lehman.

“In a way, she adopted us,” Larsen said. “She is still very much our daughter.”

Wilson lived with Larsen and Lehman until she graduated from MHS in 2010 and went to college. Larsen and Lehman were inspired by Wilson to continue to provide foster care for children, and have continued doing so along with raising their two biological sons, Matt and Brad.

“She also encouraged us to foster more kids,” Larsen said.  “She felt she was ready to help others and after we talked to Matt and Brad, our other children, we decided to continue on.”

Larsen and Lehman are currently the guardians of four youths: senior Jennifer Scott, sophomore Christa Jackson, Millicoma seventh grader Kelsey Jackson and Millicoma fourth grader Jamie Foster.

All four came into Larsen’s home in emergency situations, and she and Lehman were there to provide for them.

Scott, the oldest daughter, has lived with Larsen and Lehman for two years now and said the time she has spent with her guardians has impacted her life significantly, including an improvement in grades. The possibilities of what Scott could be doing if she was not living with Larsen are uncertain, but she is sure of one thing.

“I probably would’ve been dead or in jail if she [Larsen] wouldn’t have brought me in,” Scott said.

Scott is 18, but she plans to continue living with Larsen and Lehman while finishing up her senior year.

Christa Jackson, who has lived with Larsen for three years, appreciates her immensely, but said their relationship, like many parent-child relationships, has its rough patches.

“It used to be when Deb was mad I would get in her face, but now that we have a more adult relationship, I am the most calm when Deb is mad,” Christa Jackson said.

Though Larsen’s actions have positively impacted many students, she has been influenced by them as well.

“I have learned more about parenting in the last three years than I ever had,” Larsen said.

Though they are the permanent parents of the four children currently living with them, Larsen and Lehman receive funding for a limited amount of the children’s needs. The state standard compensation rate in Oregon is much less than that of what Larsen expects she spends, but it is still helpful.

“They [incomes for the children] are to help us to do things for the kids. We’re able to give them lessons, braces, and all the things that we probably couldn’t totally afford without that extra income,” Larsen said. “We use that money to benefit them.”

Larsen and Lehman take their responsibility seriously. They do not view their four daughters at home as temporary family members and are even saving money for them for future use, such as college.

“We consider them our kids forever,” Larsen said.

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Social studies teacher provides education and a loving home