Alyson Schaefer: The Teacher-Turned-Changemaker

By Candice Wagener | Photography by Hillary Schave

Alyson Schaefer barely took a breath between retiring as a physical education and health teacher from the Waunakee School District to founding her own nonprofit, Mental Fitness 4 Teens, and launching a podcast and YouTube channel. That’s because she’s worried about what teens are up against, and she’s using these tools to educate on human trafficking, fentanyl poisoning, social media and mental wellbeing.

“After 34 years, I guess, I couldn’t stop teaching,” says Schaefer. “Teaching is in my heart and my soul.”

Starting her podcast — aptly named “Education Beyond the Classroom” — didn’t come without some trepidation. “I was nervous because this is something new,” says Schaefer. “I’m okay in front of a classroom but my podcast is a little bit different. I have to figure out how to attract people because I believe what I talk about is super important.”

She encourages parents and caregivers to be aware of what’s going on in their kids’ lives, what to look for and how to help. “A huge thing is that open line of communication,” says Schaefer. “And making sure you share, not to make them afraid, but to help them empower themselves with knowing what’s out there.”

Her business, Mental Fitness 4 Teens, supports teenagers through their mental fitness journey. In 2023, Schaefer will continue to hold mental resilience retreats for teenagers as well as book more speaking engagements at schools. She’s also launching an affiliate program in March called RISE (Respect, Inclusion, Support and Educate) for Mental Fitness that will expand their programming to grade-school kids (from fourth grade on up) as well as adults.

“That’s always one thing I led with my students on day one: your life’s not going to be easy but you will take away a lesson from every single obstacle. You have to look for it.”

Schaefer is also the marketing director and anti-human trafficking ambassador for Global 1nspiration, a nonprofit that advocates for, mentors, educates and supports survivors of human trafficking, and domestic and sexual abuse. As much as people want to “put on blinders [and pretend] it’s not happening here,” Schaefer says that’s a misguided perception.

“Alyson is an inspiration to everyone,” says Global 1nspiration founder Janette Jordee. “She has a very positive attitude and outlook that inspires people to look at life with a lot of hope.”

Jordee was also one of the early guests on “Education Beyond the Classroom,” sharing the story of a young woman who
was trafficked. Michelle Kullman, former BRAVA publisher, was also featured, speaking about her son’s tragic death due to fentanyl poisoning.

“One of my mantras for life is to make a difference in people’s lives,” says Schaefer. “Even when I am out in the community, I like to greet people genuinely and share a smile … People need to be seen and noticed as well as valued.”

What excites you about working with a younger generation of women?

“They’re passionate, they’re accepting of change, and they want what’s best for everybody … there’s definitely a generational difference in being more accepting of people’s differences and their lifestyles and what they choose/how they choose to live their life. I think our younger generation and our leaders are going to be more accepting of that, and compassionate about that, which opens the doors for a little bit more adversity, adjusting and acceptance.”

Read more about the 2023 Women to Watch here.

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