Meet a World Savvy Educator: Julie Lovie, Valley Oak High School
June 29th 2012
I have had the pleasure of working with Julie Lovie, an amazing high school educator from Valley Oak High School in Napa, California for the past two school years. Julie has been teaching for 18 years, and has spent her entire career at Valley Oak High School, which she describes as “the best kept secret” of schools in Napa County. Valley Oak is a continuation high school, which serves students who have struggled in the traditional high school system. Julie teaches math, health, and science. Her passion lies in environmental science- she loves teaching this subject because she finds it engages students as it helps them connect science to their world, and provides them with opportunities to take action. I had a chance to interview Julie about her experience participating in the World Savvy Challenge over the past two years.
This year, your students examined the theme of Sustainable Communities through their participation in the World Savvy Challenge. How did you feel about this theme?
I felt like it was really relevant, the students could relate to it easily. My students need to feel like they can make a difference by taking action, and I need that feeling as an educator as well. My students were really excited about the theme this year. When you’re working on a project in school, it can feel like that work is happening in isolation. It’s great to feel validated in your work—when we were listening to the keynote speaker Bryant Terry at the Challenge this year, my students looked at me to say, “did you bring him here?” They loved hearing him speak, and it was energizing to hear him talk about (and validate) the hard work that they did around food issues.
Could you talk more about the topic your students focused on?
Our school in general has been pretty focused on the theme of food for the past few years. I like to rotate my topics each year (I will be focusing on water issues next year), but students tend to connect with the topic of food. We have a garden at our school, and it has become a central part of what we do. We’re also very active with composting and recycling- they like to think about things that they can take action on.
What have been the results of your students participating in the World Savvy Challenge?
In general, the lessons that my students have learned are so much bigger than the topics that are covered. Beyond gaining new knowledge about the theme, they learn how to work well as a group. Through participating in the Challenge, my students have realized that they are capable of stepping up and competing with other schools that are not continuations high schools. Prior to the Challenge, they were fearful of competing. That’s what keeps me doing this- once I get them to the Challenge, the outcomes are amazing. They are so proud of themselves and feel so competent in their abilities. My husband got to hear all about the struggles as we prepared of the event, and then he got to see my students perform on that day. He was incredibly proud of them as an outsider—it was a great thing to see. This is much bigger than an academic program for me and my students.
What are the differences between a continuation high school and a mainstream high school?
Students come to us because they are very behind in credits, or they are failing in high school. Generally their self-esteem is low, and a high percentage of them are coming from difficult family backgrounds with economic issues. These are kids who have fallen through the cracks. Because of this, we are more than just a school; we are much more like a family. For example, summer vacation isn’t always a cause for celebration among the students, since they are so connected to the community at school.
What do you see being the benefits of project-based learning?
Project-based learning helps my students see a real life connection to what they are studying, and it allows them to have a voice. When students engage in a project, they are required to take more ownership over their work. It also helps change the dynamic in the classroom when we are learning together. I learn so much from my students’ projects that they have completed with the World Savvy Challenge. I think it is also important to note the stresses that can be a factor of having deadlines for a project as well- I like finding the balance between project-based work, and other ways of learning. It’s like nature- we need biodiversity to survive, and we need diversity in education for the students to survive.
Anything else you would like to add?
My students told me that they enjoyed the creative expression they experienced by participating in the Challenge. The whole process opened my eyes to the importance of making something with your hands. We want our students to have strong computer skills, but that is not the be all and end all. It’s also about playing—when you’re playing, you’re learning.