Les Lairson '99: Field of Dreams
“I don’t want to be that paper bag where you only see the outside and never see the inside. If you try to hide certain things, you only hide from yourself,” said Les Lairson ’99.
Lairson is open about his challenges as a young adult. Over coffee, he will tell you that he is a product of non-traditional home life. He witnessed his single-mother struggle to make ends meet monthly and recalls being in school, but having his mind wander to whether there would be enough money to pay the bills or to get groceries for the week. Les couldn’t imagine a future much different than what was around him; and education, well; it wasn’t something he was going to invest in. After all, he was going to work in a factory because, as Lairson puts it, “All I knew was that I didn’t have money and I wanted to make money; as quick as possible. I thought the factory was going to make that happen.”
It wasn’t until he moved in with his grandparents during middle school, Ken and Ruth Lairson of Vandalia, Ohio, that he had structure and a male role model who pushed him to be active in sports, with the knowledge that if Lairson didn’t find a constructive outlet, that a life of trouble was looming in his future.
Yes. He’s comfortable in his own skin and Lairson allows his story to unfold like a blanket on a cold night. He owns his story and tells it with unabashed ease.
But, what is most remarkable about his level of authenticity is that he’s not just a “what you see is what you get” kind of a guy with adults. It’s what he brings into the fourth grade classroom, where he serves as “Coach” or Mr. Lairson to more than 40 nine and ten year olds.
For 14 years, Lairson has taught fourth grade at Fairborn Intermediate Schools in Fairborn, Ohio. The school is a No Excuses University, a program which actively promotes college readiness to all students the moment they begin elementary school. Lairson is one of two males and one of fourteen fourth grade teachers at a school focusing on kids who are transitioning and, in some cases, considered high-risk. As Lairson puts it, “Some go home and they don’t have anything. It’s a job that is 24/7. These kids have roadblocks that I have to knock down.”
The school is the perfect fit. He teaches his students the “three R’s” for responsibility, respect, and reliability. It’s a constant process, but he feels good about what he does. “In college, I stopped looking at the dollar value of a career. Through soul-searching, I wanted a career that incorporated my own beliefs and gave me lifelong experiences.”
Sue Brackenhoff, principal of Fairborn Intermediate Schools said, “Les is so passionate about his work and students. He goes the extra mile, especially with those hard to reach students. Overcoming obstacles rings true in his own experiences; Les had to work very hard to earn his education and, because of that, he holds his students to high expectations. He also works as hard as they do to see them succeed. “
As a first-generation college student, Lairson used his athletic ability to help win a baseball scholarship to Sinclair Community College, where he completed two years of education before being recruited to play at Urbana.
At Urbana, Lairson played under former head baseball coach Al Faulk, who instilled in him drive, determination, and the will that comes along with success and dedication. Playing collegiate baseball really opened his eyes. This goal-setting is something that has stayed with him throughout his teaching and coaching career.
Sure there were challenges. Like being a commuter and having midnight practices with an 8:20 a.m. class, for example. But, he’s always had a fondness for Urbana. “Urbana adopted me and vice versa.” This is why his classroom has adopted Urbana University for several years. Through a partnership with Admissions, they visit campus, experience a college classroom, and invite admissions staff to visit their fourth grade classroom.
“I want my students to see my roots. They need to see that college is accessible for everyone who works hard to fulfill a dream. My classroom has a theme: Mr. Lairson’s Field of Dreams. It’s even decorated like the movie. Looking at where I’ve been and who I am now, there are days when I think to myself, I really am living the dream.”
Lairson also believes if you give back to your community, you’re building the future. He has been a contracted coach since college; now he volunteers for little league and for the last few years has volunteered at the Vandalia Rec Center.
In 2000, Lairson married his high school sweetheart Kerry. Together they are raising their two children, Grace, 8, and Lance, 7. Also, in 2002 Lairson received his MEd from Mary Grove College, Michigan.
Lairson is pictured in his “Field Of Dreams” fourth grade classroom at Fairborn Intermediate Schools in Fairborn, Ohio.