Profile and photos by Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor
Colleen Rose Creal was born in Lima, Ohio on January 13, 1966, the fifth of six children of James (a salesman) and Rosemarie (an educator) Furlong.
Creal was five when her parents divorced. The family then moved to Ann Arbor, where her mother remarried. Her father, who also later remarried, remained very involved in his children’s lives.
Creal attended Abbot and Newport elementary schools, Forsythe Junior High School and Pioneer High School, from which she graduated in 1984. At Pioneer, she was president of her class, a member of the homecoming court, captain of the gymnastics team, and recipient of the Alice Porter Citizenship award for outstanding leadership and contributions to her school.
Inspired by history teacher Robin Franklin to pursue a career teaching history, Creal attended Eastern Michigan University from 1984 to 1988. She earned a degree in social studies and history, as well as a secondary education endorsement. She was also captain of the Eastern Michigan gymnastics team.
Creal began coaching gymnastics at Pioneer High School 1989 and started her teaching career in 1990. In 1998, she completed her master’s degree in guidance and counseling at EMU. Except for one year at Huron High School, she has been a guidance counselor at Pioneer ever since.
She is married to Michael Creal, who also graduated from Pioneer High School in 1984. This July they will celebrate their 27th anniversary.
The couple have three children. Andy, 24, is in his second year of Law School at Wayne State University; Kelly Rose, 21, will graduate from the University of Michigan Nursing School in April; and John, 18, will graduate from Pioneer in June with plans to attend Michigan State University next fall to pursue a career in teaching. All three made significant contributions to Pioneer High through student-led organizations and were all on the homecoming courts—as were their parents. John was the homecoming king this school year.
Creal’s free time is often spent at large family gatherings that are filled with a lot of laughter, love, and chaos. She believes her large Italian family prepared her well for a life of patience and service in public education.
Why did you decide to switch from teaching history to become a counselor? I loved teaching history, but would often get distracted by the students who had their head down or did not seem to care that there were 435 members in the House of Representatives or 100 senators. I would ask them what was wrong but never had the time during a busy school day to really understand what was going on in a student’s personal life. After I completed my master’s degree and became a counselor, I was able to spend the time with these students and provide them with more support and encouragement to help them succeed.
When you were nominated for LifeChanger of the Year in 2016, you were described as “another mother” to many students. Do you ever feel that way? I am nurturing. So consequently, I have a lot of students in the hallways call me “Mama Creal.” This is a title I wear proudly. I am always concerned if students are getting enough to eat, or if they have warm clothes or a bed to sleep in. Students simply cannot learn if their basic needs are not met. I treat these kids like I would my own children with compassion, patience and if need be, a good kick in the butt when they screw up and need to get back on track!
Describe an average workday. I am an extremely positive person who comes to work with a smile on my face and a willingness to help out wherever I am needed. There is no typical workday in my job, so I come to work prepared for just about anything.
This past year I have taken on a new role in the counseling department. Along with being the Counseling Department chair, I am now the new ninth grade transition counselor. I work mainly with students who have difficulty making the proper adjustments from middle school to high school. Many people think that Ann Arbor does not have students who are struggling with homelessness, abuse or neglect. While many of our kids come to school prepared and ready to learn, there are still students who need additional support, either academically or when dealing with social and emotional issues. I’m excited to focus on these students and I know with a lot of patience and hard work we can help these kids get what they need in order to be successful at Pioneer and after they graduate from high school.
Also, I’m part of the PTSO, and our Pioneer parents are very generous with the donated funds that families provide for our school. Every year they vote to provide food and supplies for needy families over the holidays and throughout the year. The PTSO also provides funds for staff to use for supplies for their classrooms or field trips or for other student needs.
The incidence of depression among teens is climbing across the country. Some claim it’s particularly hard to be a teenager now in light of social media and the pressure to keep up appearances. I’ve seen a lot of changes in teenagers and how they interact with their peers and with adults. Social media has certainly been a blessing and a curse to young people. On the one hand, students have access to information and ideas that I would have never even thought about when I was their age. This is a good thing as long as everyone has the same access and they use it appropriately. However, on the hand it has made them more anxious when it comes time to post their latest and greatest accomplishments, and it has also made them less engaged with the person sitting right next to them.
My daughter is always telling me to get on Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat so I can be a part of the conversation. I tell her I am part of the before and after generation when it comes to technology. I was around before technology was so influential, and I have seen first hand in my profession some of the negative effects it has had on young people. I do not have any of those accounts. I frankly do not think my life is that interesting that I would want to post everything I am doing. Besides that, I still like establishing my relationships the old fashioned way, which is face to face.
What does AAPS do best to combat teen depression? For the past six years, Ann Arbor Public Schools has partnered with the University of Michigan Rachel Upjohn Depression Center to educate students on depression. The U-M staff train our students to identify symptoms of depression and help them organize campaigns to raise awareness and reduce the stigma that is associated with mental health issues. Students are the ones who see the kids on a regular basis in their classrooms or in clubs and sports. They know if they are struggling and they know how to get their friends access to adults who can help them. I am very proud to help lead this group and I have found the students I work with to be very thoughtful and proactive when it comes to helping their classmates cope with depression and anxiety.
Can you talk about what Pioneer is doing for students dealing with grief? I’m in charge of several groups at Pioneer that I find very important to our school climate and culture. For the past 12 years, I have run a Grief Group for students who have lost parents and siblings. This group allows students to sit across the table from their peers and talk about how that feels. It is a safe place to express their anger and sadness and to be with people who really understand the significance of going through high school without one of the most important people in their lives. One in 20 students will lose a parent or sibling before they graduate – that is a staggering number. I know there are a lot of kids walking around Pioneer High School who are grieving and need an outlet for that grief. It is not something we talk about, but it is essential that we find supports for these kids. I meet with them weekly and we have organized grief awareness campaigns and provide hand-outs and resources to our school community.
Why do you make room in your busy life to run Pioneer’s School Spirit Committee? If there is one area that I think has really declined since I was a student at Pioneer is the school spirit for both our staff and our students. I help organize dress-up days, parades, pep rallies, teacher appreciation activities, picnics, and luncheons, for our staff and students. Our committee works really hard to get people involved in these activities, but many times they are not well attended. I think kids are so over scheduled that they do not have the time to come out and support their classmates or participate in fun events like we used to. They do a lot more than we ever did, but I often wonder if they really enjoy the hectic pace. I realize that everyone is busy, and the current climate and lack of resources makes it difficult to celebrate sometimes. But I just love when people get together and simply have fun. I know the teachers and students appreciate these activities so I will continue to try increase school spirit and positive energy whenever and wherever I can.
You say you admire your five siblings and five step-siblings, who work in the fields of law, business, English education, psychology, and faith. Yes, they all have a passion for teaching others and get great joy out of helping people succeed. I’m convinced that this desire to teach was instilled in us by our mother, Rosemarie Rothe, who was a teacher and a principal who earned her Ph.D. in organizational communications. Before she passed away in 2013, she was a lover of learning and had the expectation that all of her children would attend college and give back to society in some meaningful way.
My immediate family, extended family, and high school and childhood friends continue to be a source of great inspiration. I’m especially proud of my 20 nieces and nephews who are growing up to be strong, creative, kind people who I’m certain will make a difference in the world.