Math instructor’s nonlinear path to teaching

by Andrew Alonzo | aalonzo@claremont-courier.com

Photo by Scott Nichols/The Webb Schools

Despite being the daughter of a teacher, Vivian Webb School’s Dean of Students Sarah Lantz said she took a round about way to teaching.

Long before she began her career teaching math at the Claremont private school in 2010, Lantz recalled how she initially became intrigued by the subject that many seek to avoid at all costs. Between 1992 and 1996, she attended Saint Lucy’s Priory High School in Glendora where she played volleyball and also developed her affinity for numbers, thanks to her freshman algebra teacher, Mary Fowler.

“It was something that always came easily to me. It was something I found success with,” the now 43-year-old said about math. “I think probably my favorite classes were my math classes because I enjoyed the subject so much.”

After high school, Lantz attended Scripps College where she built up her social life and barista skills working at the student-run coffee shop, The Motley Coffeehouse. On the job, Lantz said she thoroughly enjoyed interacting with others and understanding the business, its practices and how to run it. The experience inspired her to pursue an economics degree at Scripps because she could “see how customer behavior would influence our business decisions.” After completing her undergraduate studies, Lantz graduated with degrees in both math and economics and began a career in number-crunching.

In 2000, Lantz accepted a job in Washington D.C. at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. There, she worked as an economic researcher for about 10 other economists, doing work that supported her colleagues’ findings.

“At the time, I mean there was not much going on in terms of … this topic in the United States,” she said, adding, however, that, “it wasn’t so interesting to me that I wanted to come back to Southern California.”

Lantz then worked as part of the risk assessment and internal process management team for the Capital Group Company, based in Los Angeles, between 2002 and 2004.

“Again, I was like this is not really what I wanted to do,” she explained before laughing. “As I kind of began my career I realized that I wanted to have a job where I had more of an impact on people’s daily lives.”

In 2006, a year after their wedding, she joined her husband Ray Lantz at his family’s business, The Diamond Center in Claremont. However, she only lasted one year as she didn’t see herself fitting into the retail environment.

“I didn’t find personal gratification in retail, I really wanted to be working in an academic setting,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lantz begin fundraising for local schools, including The Webb Schools, that she began to really find her passion for making an impact.

“I thought, you know fundraising, I can do this, I get along well with people, I don’t mind asking for money,” Lantz said. “I started fundraising and that’s how I came to Webb.”

In 2008, in conjunction with leading the school’s annual giving program, the La Verne native also started team teaching economics with current Head of Schools Taylor Stockdale. In 2010 after the Lantzes welcomed their first child, Lucy, Lantz was informed about a math teaching position and a dorm head position opening up at the school. She jumped at the opportunity and was hired for both jobs.

At Webb, Lantz currently teaches Integrated Math II, an advanced level math course open to freshman and juniors. As a math teacher in one of the most prestigious academic environments, she says there is no limit to the love she has for her job. “I do love teaching. I love impacting kids and seeing them grow from year to year.”

“As I become a more seasoned math teacher, our job is to help students think critically about math as they do a humanities text,” she said. “I love mathematics and problem solving and I think all students are capable of it if they give themselves patience and time to really grapple with the skills they have and how to apply them to a problem.”

“I think what inspires me to teach is that … it gives me an opportunity to connect with kids and for them to see that you don’t have to be a math wizard in order to study math, be good at math, and do something in your career with math,” she said.

While on maternity leave with the couple’s third child, Evelyn, in 2016, Lantz remembers interviewing for the dean of students position at the private school, to which she was appointed in the fall of 2017.

“It was a big honor for me. When I was promoted to dean of students, it was a nice way of the school recognizing my work up until that point and having faith and trust in me to lead the school in that way,” she said. “I want to believe my work is not for nothing. That the time I am away from my family, doing the work that I do, that it is impactful and meaningful.”

“People ask ‘how do you do it Sarah?’ And my number one thing is that I have an excellent partner that supports my growth not only as a person, but in my career. And we have really made it to that we are to each other [and] that we put our family first.”

Over the years, Lantz has accumulated quite a few titles. Aside from being a math teacher and dean of students, she’s also wife to husband Ray and mother to their three children, Lucy, 12, Annie, 9, and five-year-old Evelyn. All titles she cherishes deeply. She also received a master’s degree in education from Claremont Graduate University in 2020.

“I think women who chose to have a family and chose to work outside the home really, I feel, we’re all superheroes disguised as mothers,” she said. “I think of my mom [Judith Belanger] and everything that she did and I wanted to be like her which was a good mom, a good wife and partner for my husband, but also to have some success in the work that I was doing so that my time away from my children wasn’t for nothing.”

While some use the cliché ‘living at work’ as an exaggeration of their workload, Lantz and her family literally do live on the campus of The Webb Schools. Though she spends most of her days at work, outside of the classroom Lantz said she likes to spend her free time riding her bike around the City of Trees, gardening in her backyard or just spending time with her family.

“Really it’s an honor and a privilege to raise our children here at Webb among, you know, some of the world’s brightest students,” Lantz said. “We feel like we’re kind of living in a fairytale sometimes because it is a novel, different experience for so many people in Southern California to be living at a boarding school.”

So far for Lantz, life, in her words, has been a steady, enjoyable journey that she’s been able to celebrate with those around her.

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