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#PREPpeople: Julie Relyea
Posted 04/11/2019 02:23PM

One in an occasional series of snapshots spotlighting the people of St. John’s Prep

Julie Reylea

HOMETOWN: Berlin, Connecticut

EDUCATION: Diploma, Berlin High School; B.A. education and religious studies, Saint Michael’s College; M.A, comparative studies and religion, Harvard Divinity School

YEARS AT ST. JOHN’S: 3

SUBJECT: High School World Religions, Relational Dynamics, Modern Church

WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO TEACH FOR A LIVING?: “Initially, I was drawn to teaching because of an interest in social justice and education’s capacity to be an equalizer in terms of opportunity and access. I was interested in the correlation between literacy, incarceration and socio-economic status. Having been very grateful for my own education, I wanted an opportunity to give back. I taught in China for a year, and while my desire to be an educator stayed the same, my focus shifted after being in a that role, where I did not talk with students about religion. I saw the stress they were under, and thought I was doing them a disservice in not engaging the spiritual side of their personhood. When I started looking for jobs back in the United States, I knew that I wanted to be in a place where conversations about religion were celebrated as being part of a whole person.”

WHAT DO YOU LOVE THE MOST ABOUT WORKING WITH YOUNG PEOPLE EVERY DAY?: “I love the age when students are transitioning from adolescence to adulthood because it’s when they really start to form a sense of their own identity. They’re developing their own perspectives and passions, but I think they’re more open to new ideas than we are later in life. It’s the sweet spot between having their own insights, maintaining a curiosity, and being open to developing themselves and their own ideas.”  

DESCRIBE A TEACHER WHO INSPIRED YOU GROWING UP:Mr. Warburton was a high school English teacher who brought his love for life right into the classroom. He was intelligent and witty, and he made us feel valued and appreciated. Being in his class was joyful. We were always laughing and having a great time, even when we were covering a text like Jane Eyre or Oliver Twist.”

WHAT EXPERIENCE OUTSIDE OF ST. JOHN’S INFORMS YOUR WORK WITH STUDENTS:I studied in Kathmandu, Nepal, as part of a Tibetan Himalayan studies program during my junior year in college. It was a turbulent time in Nepal, politically and socially. It was also a time when I was struggling spiritually and had a lot of questions. Studying the language and Tibetan Buddhism in monasteries while surrounded by the Himalayan mountains, I saw how Tibetans valued their faith, even when they were exiled from their homeland. It gave me a hopeful perspective on the capacity of religion to be transformational element of someone’s life. It allowed me to make the unknown known, and it helped me see my own faith with new eyes. As a result, when I am teaching, I try to remember that studying different cultures and different religions helps us go more deeply into our own perspectives and world view. Going on that journey with my students, and watching the transformation that took place in their perspectives, was a powerful experience for me. That’s my favorite thing about education—seeing the openness of our students.”

FUN FACT: “I enjoy the arts but I am not particularly good at any of them! But for some reason, I was inspired to try the ukulele because of one song: ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World,’ interpreted by Israel Kamakawiwo╩╗ole. Learning to play has been fun and life-giving. Our niece is three and a half, and the first thing she does when she comes to visit is get out the ukulele!
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