After 31 years in education, AVID and business teacher Lori Larsen retires to pursue dream of fixing up house in South Carolina

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Lori Larsen is the only Sunny Hills teacher who will retire at the end of the 2019-2020 school year next week. Larsen was instrumental in setting up on campus the Advancement Via Individual Determination program, which started in 2006.

Lira Jeong

For 14 years, Lori Larsen has encouraged her students to pursue their dreams of getting admitted into a four-year college through the Advancement Via Individual Determination [AVID] program.

And after the spring semester is over, Larsen has decided to follow her own dreams — retiring as a teacher after 31 years in education and moving to the South. Although her original plan was to move back to her native Brooklyn, New York, she and her husband did not want to deal with the harsh winters. 

“I am ecstatic about starting a new adventure,” said Larsen, the AVID site coordinator and the AVID district coordinator for the Fullerton Joint Union High School District. “I have so many things I would like to do, but for now the future remains a blank canvas, and the possibilities are exciting.” 

Her new adventure revolves around moving July 7 to South Carolina, where a new project awaits her — fixing up a home she and her husband bought two years ago.

“It was built in the ‘70s and needs a total renovation, so my first job is going to be a house designer,” Larsen said. “We bought the house for the location on the water, but it needs to be totally gutted. Everything will be torn out, and we will start designing from basically a foundation and four walls.”

She is anticipating that this will take six months. After, Larsen plans on volunteering for some revolutionary war historical sites, but beyond that, she has no other plans. 

“I know I want to do something, but it will not be in education,” she said. “I have so many other interests, and I just need to figure out what I really want to do once I am situated back east.”

After obtaining her teaching credential in social science and business, Larsen earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from California State University, Fullerton, in 1989. 

Later that fall, Larsen first graced the halls of Sunny Hills where she chose the teaching profession because of her love for working with teenagers and building relationships as a mentor to guide teenagers as they figure out their future.

“Helping students grow as individuals and turn their passions into a future is the best thing about education,” she said. 

A few years after being hired to teach Accounting, Computer Applications and Keyboarding classes at Sunny Hills, Larsen accepted an offer to be a project manager for grants at the FJUHSD office. She taught at school for periods 1-3 and went to the district office for the rest of the day.

In 2002, Larsen left Sunny Hills for a few years to teach at nearby California State University, Fullerton, in its Administrator for the Business Education Preparation Program.

In 2004, she came back to Sunny Hills as the dean of student services in the Guidance Office for a year and helped set up the AVID program here two years later. While AVID was in its infancy, Larsen also taught Business & Personal Law and Senior Internship. By 2014, the district tapped her to oversee the AVID programs at all district high schools. 

Since 2014, Larsen has also been an AVID trainer for the Orange County Department of Education and the AVID Center, a non-profit program that started AVID and runs it across the nation.

Because of the COVID-19 situation that has resulted in school closure, Larsen said she and her AVID team are working on ways to celebrate AVID seniors, but it is not the same as celebrating in person.

“I am a people person and thrive off of being with people, not staring at them through a computer,” she said. “We traditionally do a lot of end-of-the-year activities with them, and it makes me sad to not be able to do those things in person.”

Senior Mia Lobito, who’s in Larsen’s AVID class, describes her as determined, strong and resilient and learned that it’s OK to change plans and pursue different things. 

“I’m sad about her retirement [because] she’s a great teacher, and she has guided me through a lot,” Lobito said. “But it feels like we’re graduating together.” 

Another of Larsen’s AVID students this year, senior Grace Stout, said she is always delighted to be in her class because Larsen always greets her and her classmates with a smile and celebrates their accomplishments, no matter how small they are. 

“I learned that it’s important to have a job you’re passionate about even if it takes a few tries to find out what that is,” Stout said. “You can tell that [Mrs. Larsen] believes in every one of her students and sees the best in them.” 

Larsen said she doesn’t plan on coming back to California once she has settled in at South Carolina, where she plans to have a lot of guests to come visit her.  

“[I will remember] the people and the numerous opportunities the district gave me to grow as a professional,” she said. 

Having one class of AVID seniors this year, Larsen has not been using the Zoom application with her students but saw the AVID seniors May 8 when they came to pick up their graduation-related items upon turning in their textbooks and chromebooks as part of the drive-through event that the school organized. She was also there to hand out their AVID graduation stoles and their AVID certificates of completion. 

“I am OK with ending [my teaching career] this way; I don’t like to be the center of attention and do not like any hoopla made about me,” she said. “I would just like to fade out and not have anyone really know.”

Larsen’s job also taught her to be patient and as the cliche goes, not judge a book by its cover.

“You can’t make assumptions about people; you need to get to know them and see what makes them tick; this takes patience and the ability to look past what is on the outside,” she said. “Everyone has a unique story, and when you learn what they are passionate about, you can motivate them.”

Larsen’s last piece of advice is what she has been saying for years: follow your heart and dreams but always look for unexpected opportunities. 

“Set goals and work toward them, but always look for unexpected opportunities.” she said. “Be present in your life and be present for others; give without expecting anything in return in order to make someone’s day.”