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#PREPpeople: Deanna Keevan

#PREPpeople is one in an occasional series of snapshots spotlighting the people of St. John's Prep.

Hometown: Mystic, Conn.
Education: BA English and Religious Studies from Sacred Heart University; Masters in Religion and the Arts from Yale Divinity School
Years at St. John’s: 8
Subject: Religious Studies

What brought you to St. John's? I came in when we founded the middle school. The opportunity to open a new branch of the school while playing an integral role in developing the 6-8 religious studies curriculum in a way that was accessible to all students was exciting.

Describe a teacher who inspired you growing up: My seventh grade social studies teacher, Mr. Bartick, taught us how to take notes and keep a field journal, look at the world with a sense of curiosity, and how to use chopsticks. The note-taking tip sheet I give my students today is essentially what he gave me in seventh grade. He also used artifacts as a starting point for a unit—a piece of the Berlin Wall, a necklace from Egypt. Religious studies can be very abstract, so I also try to incorporate objects or video experiences into my lessons. It helps make what we’re learning more real and tangible for students.

What's your favorite thing about teaching? Favorite thing about teaching at the Prep? Watching my students grow over the years and come into their own sense of self is incredibly rewarding. It is such a joy when they come back to visit to share with me how they've "figured things out" and still use some of the things I taught them. At the Prep in particular, I’m grateful for access to robust professional development offerings so that I can continue to improve as a teacher and a person.
Have you always been a teacher? If you could do anything other than teach, what would you do? Other than teaching, I've been a library technician and most likely would pursue a role as a teen services librarian if I needed to do anything other than teach. That age group is in so much flux; there’s so much uncertainty in their lives. If I can be someone who affirms who they are and can help nudge them in a healthy direction, that is exciting to me.

What's one the funniest, most touching, or most memorable moments you've witnessed in the classroom?  When my husband's grandfather passed away and I had to miss school to attend the funeral, I came back to campus the next day to find a note from a student tucked under my classroom door. In the note, this student talked about how they had recently lost a grandparent too and would keep me in their thoughts. I still have that note stored in my desk at school. The heartfelt notes from students truly are the best. I keep a collection of them to read on harder days.

What’s a fun fact, hidden talent, or hobby you have that most people wouldn’t know about? I used to train in Okinawan Goju-Ryu Karate Do from fourth grade up through my senior year of high school. When you enter the dojo, we say, “Onegaishimasu,” which is meant to be a polite request to our teacher and peers, or to convey gratitude, especially for the lesson we are about to be taught for the day. When you leave, you thank those who taught and trained with you by saying, “arigato gozaimasu.” Practicing karate helped me find grounding in myself. It taught me discipline, and to be mindful, collaborative, and respectful. Those years of training with Sensei Ralph were extremely formative for me.
Extra fun fact:
We see a fictionalized depiction of this particular practice (Okinawan Goju-Ryu) in the original Karate Kid Movies.

If you could describe SJP in one word, what would it be and why? Energized. There is always something going on here at the Prep and the energy of the students and my colleagues can be infectious. It is so easy to find myself pulled into all of the different things happening here on campus and I'm always in awe at what we accomplish each day.