BELMONT, Wis. (WMTV)--- We are kicking off Teacher Appreciation Week by honoring local educators.
For 24 years, NBC15 has handed out the Crystal Apple Award to recognize teachers who are impacting students’ lives in special ways.
This year, we received 533 nominations from 20 counties across southern Wisconsin.
Monday, we travel to Belmont to honor our first recipient who has spent all but about 10 years of his life in the school.
Jeff Crase taught math and science for about 34 years before becoming Dean of Students.
Now in his 37th year, he calls it an honor to build relationships with kids of all ages.
“To me it's more about developing that relationship with the student, knowing where they're coming from, if you have that relationship, they'll do and they'll rise far above what you ever expected them to,” explained Crase.
Lizzy Haag said, “He takes the time to make sure everybody's cared for, everybody feels important, everybody can become the best they can be, and that's not just students. That's faculty, students, everybody around him."
For the last 12 years, he’s taken his lessons on the road. Bringing busses of kids on mission trips from Texas to West Virginia to South Dakota.
“They're truly life changing trips. They've really opened my mind and changed who I am in a good way,” said Hailey Layer.
“The kids come back changed. Some of them come back from broken because of what they witnessed, and I think they realize wow, we've got it pretty good,” explained Crase.
For the Crases, it’s a family affair.
His grandmother taught in a one room school house in Illinois.
His father taught. His wife taught, and all three of their kids are teachers.
After 34 years, Mr. Crase and his wife retired, but their plans to travel quickly turned to treatment. Dany was diagnosed with cancer in August and passed away in October.
Crase said,” She was um a much better teacher than I ever can dream of being so yes, I've thought of her often."
“I think his second tour here is our chance to pick him up. He spent the first 34 years being everything to us and I think, in a way, he needs us as much as we need him right now, and that's a really good thing,” said Jeff Hodgson.
Mr. Crase returned to school the following year.
Crase explained, “My life changed, and it was the kids that were probably more compassionate, loving, understanding and accepting and just.. their heart broke as much as mine broke, so that's kind of neat to experience that."
“He makes everybody feel more confident in themselves each day and I think having him back from 2016, I think our school has really started to feel more positive and more confident,” said Layer.
Bringing back his message of love and understanding.
Crass added, “Be who you are, and don't let anybody change you, because you're made just the way you are, perfect.”
This summer Mr. Crase is taking 38 kids on a mission trip to West Virginia.
Right now, he’s teaching a lot of second generation students. He said he plans to retire for good before the third generation is ready to start school.
This week, we also recognize ten area teachers with an Honorable Mention.
Our first one is Kristen Moisson, principal of Jackson Elementary School in Janesville, for what she did to help out a struggling family this past year.
Our second one is Frederick “Fritz” Hammer, who teaches a combination fourth and fifth grade class at Endeavor Elementary School in Portage, for all of the extracurricular he runs including coaching football, basketball, and track. He also organizes the school’s field day, the school dance, and the graduation ceremony.