Arbutus Middle teacher trades tennis shoes for combat boots

Chris Schepers, who began the school year as a physical education teacher at Arbutus Middle School, will be deployed to Afghanistan with fellow members of the National Guard Nov. 10.
Chris Schepers, who began the school year as a physical education teacher at Arbutus Middle School, will be deployed to Afghanistan with fellow members of the National Guard Nov. 10. (Noah Scialom)

The school year ended last month for a physical education teacher at Arbutus Middle School.

Chris Schepers left the school, which has an enrollment of students from Catonsville and Arbutus, early in order to prepare for his deployment to Fort Dix, N.J., on Nov. 12.


Sometime in December, the 30-year-old will be in Kabul, Afghanistan, serving as a member of the National Guard.

Schepers, who came to Arbutus Middle in 2006, will stay in Kabul until June, likely in a public affairs role, he said.


"I was told to take camera equipment and be ready to do photography," Schepers said.

Schepers joined the National Guard after high school to help pay for his college education and has never been deployed overseas, he said.

"(I was) shocked," Schepers said of being informed of his new assignment. "I've been in since 1999 and this has never happened before."

Schepers recalled an earlier deployment during which he helped clean up after Hurricane Katrina battered Louisiana in 2005.

"That's one of the better things I've done with the Guard," Schepers said.

Schepers, who lived in Owings Mills before having to move in preparation for his deployment, said the weeks leading up to his departure were filled with "a lot of stress."

"The anticipation of having to go over there and not knowing what to expect," Schepers said. "It's tough to leave something that you're used to and the routine of having a full-time job and switch and go do something else.

"The only thing I can do is make sure I have everything taken care of here."

The only other teaching job he held was for a couple of months as an assistant instructor at Lansdowne High School after he graduated from Towson University in January 2006, he said.

Since joining the Arbutus Middle staff, he has made an impression on his fellow faculty members, the school and especially the students, said the school's principal, Michelle Feeney.

"Mostly (the students) are proud of him," Feeney said. "They voice their concerns. They're going to miss him."

That feeling extends beyond those students in the building on Shelbourne Road now.


Feeney said she has heard from Arbutus Middle graduates who have also asked her to send along their well wishes to Schepers.

"Our hearts are going to be with him while he's gone," she said.

To Feeney, Schepers has set a great example for the students.

"He's following through with that responsibility, and that really is a model for the student," Feeney said. "We know he has this responsibility to fulfill, but we want him to be safe and come home soon."

Schepers said he plans to return to Arbutus Middle School at the start of the next school year.

While in Afghanistan, Schepers will likely have a lot of reminders of Arbutus Middle.

Jennifer Gower, the president of the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department Auxiliary, said the department plans to focus on sending care packages to overseas soldiers through its Shoe Box Project.

The department on 5200 Southwestern Boulevard will collect travel size toiletries, calling cards, candy, beef jerky, coffee and other small items to send to soldiers.

"Anything that will remind (the soldiers) a little bit of home and that will meet their needs," Gower said of what they are collecting.

The goal, Gower said, is to collect enough items to fill 100 shoe boxes.

"We definitely want to send shoe boxes to Mr. Schepers and as many of the people of the group that he's with," Gower said, noting the boxes will be shipped Dec. 1.

The remainder will be sent to two others close to the fire department who also recently deployed overseas, Gower said.

Feeney said it's likely that Arbutus Middle will pitch in to Gower's project.

When Schepers heard of all the people ready to support him, he said, "It just makes you feel good because you know that people back here are thinking about you and care about you."

The project is personal for Gower.

When Ascension School closed in 2010, Gower's daughter, Kiera, then entering seventh grade, transferred to Arbutus Middle.

Suddenly Kiera was thrust into a school with 705 students after spending the last year in a school with 146.

"I was so nervous with her making the transition from private to public school," Gower said, noting her daughter shared her butterflies.

Gower recalled walking into the gymnasium with Kiera for orientation before the start of the school year and meeting Schepers.

"He sticks out in my mind as one of the ones who really welcomed her," Gower said. "He was joking with her and trying to relax the tension.

"I think (Kiera) felt comfortable with him."

Perhaps Schepers' experience can be like any of the many lessons he has taught at the school over the past five years, and the students will learn from him.

"Things aren't always going to go the way you plan them," Schepers said of what he hopes the students learn. "Stay focused and do the best you can at what you're doing."

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