Kirsten Gehm knew from a young age that she wanted to be a teacher. But the self-proclaimed spitfire didn’t know what type of teacher until she experienced the best and worst of educators in high school. Coincidentally, it was the same person.
“I wanted to be the type of teacher he was when I was a junior, not when I was a freshman,” she says, looking back at the complicated yet ultimately affirming relationship she had with the math instructor. “I want to instill confidence in students even if they’re not confident. I want kids to feel comfortable coming to me with their problems. Experiencing, and later understanding, his negativity and positivity is why I am where I am today.”
Where Kirsten is today is North Warren Regional High School, where she teaches math and is the head cheerleading coach. It is not far from Phillipsburg High School, from which she graduated in 2009.
Phillipsburg is also where Kirsten first learned about BEST. She was working in the high school guidance department her senior year—the same time she was part of the dual enrollment program with Warren County Community College. Not wanting her parents to be overburdened with tuition for her and her younger siblings, she applied for a BEST scholarship.
“BEST definitely helped me with scholarship money,” she says. “But most important was knowing that someone was always rooting for me. They were proud of my accomplishments just as much as my family was.
“I knew if I ever slipped, Billy or Judy would be at my school in five minutes,” she says. “I also knew if I needed somebody, they would be right there too.”
Only she never expected she would need them even before she left for college.
Kirsten had been all prepared to attend West Virginia University, where she was going to be on the all-girls cheer team. But shortly before high school graduation, she learned her beloved cousin died in a car accident.
“I couldn’t go so far away to school anymore,” she says. “I didn’t want my family to lose another one of us.”
She wound up staying home and commuting to Moravian College in Bethlehem, which made it that much easier for BEST volunteers to keep tabs on her and swoop in when she needed it.
“Billy, Judy, Troy and Booper have had my back for the past six years,” Kirsten says. “I could not have gotten to where I am without them being as supportive as my own family. On the first anniversary of my cousin’s death, I was home, thinking and dreaming about the accident and having a difficult time. They called, made sure I was OK.”
Kirsten knows she has the intellect, organizational skills and self-confidence to have established her teaching career with or without BEST. “But it would’ve been much harder and would’ve taken much longer without the support from everyone at BEST,” she says. “BEST was a constant, and with so much going on in my life, it was a much-needed constant.”
Now that she’s graduated from college and well on her professional way, Kirsten has paid it forward by mentoring two students, helping with BEST fundraising and being a resource for BEST scholars interested in majoring in education in college.
“My mentoring is very sisterly,” she says, “making sure they’re comfortable with me and know they can come to me with anything. Just like the relationship I have with Billy and Judy.”