Julie Lay, Vandalia native and 2004 alum, is one of the many fantastic educators in the Vandalia Community Unit School District who is working hard to make a positive impact on students. Julie wears many hats; she’s a wife, mother to a nine- and 12-year-old, the Technology Integration Special for the district, and a Business teacher.
I’m learning something new every day.
The Power of Potential
Julie said she always knew she wanted to be a teacher - her mom taught fourth grade, and served as an inspiration for her future as an educator. “I played teacher, my mom was a teacher here, [and] we played teacher every day after school, like my [daughters] do now, and they are in fourth and seventh grade,” she said. She shared with us her memory of the moment when she first thought about teaching business. “[In] seventh grade I had a typing class, … [and] that was kind of one of those first … sparks of, ‘Maybe I could do that.’,” she recalled.
If you’ve lived in Vandalia for a while, you might remember seeing Julie working at one of the family businesses. Her grandparents owned the skating rink, and she worked there when she was still a youngster. “That’s how I learned to count change back, and got free candy,” she said with a laugh. Julie also worked for her dad’s HVAC business. “I worked for my dad’s business throughout high school as well. So that’s where I got my business background,” she explained.
Working for her family was her first taste of the world of business, and being a larger part of the community as a whole. “It was a lot of fun. You have to know a lot of people in town. I mean, Vandalia is small, but it’s big [enough] that you don’t know everybody. So that was always fun to me, … getting to know [new people], and then still having those relationships now, lots of years later. And getting to know kids and knowing connections and how people are related. And it’s truly a gift. It’s a very interesting dynamic that I’ve gotten to grow up with,” she said with a smile.
After Julie graduated from Vandalia Community High School, she attended Eastern Illinois University in pursuit of her teaching degree. Once complete, she taught at the South Central Middle School for three years, teaching computers to the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, before making the move to the Vandalia school district in 2010. Since she’s been at VCUSD, she’s educated the students in the nearly full spectrum of computers and business. “I’ve taught accounting, … computers, … marketing, … entrepreneurship, …I taught at OKAW for a while. I feel like I’ve taught almost every level of business class,” she chuckled.
Business is a fast-paced area that is constantly changing and evolving, so Julie, in turn, must do the same. But she said she loves, “all of it,” and wouldn’t have it any other way. “Oh my goodness, I’m learning something [new] every day,” she said. Her goal has always been, she said, to make sure students, including her own children, have the tools in their bag to, “grow through technology,” and use it to its greatest benefit, “from kindergarten all the way up until they’re ready to leave.” Another factor in the world of technology is safety, and that’s something Julie is adamant about. “I feel like that is a very important aspect that we get to bring in through all of our classes, as well,” she said.
In her mind, Vandalia is a special school district. “We’ve talked about curriculum. We have given students all the tools they need. … I feel like we have the ability to make some well-rounded students,” she said with pride. Julie loves seeing former students out and about in the community, and finding out what they’ve been doing since they graduated.
“One of my biggest hopes is just that they are doing, working, to the best of their potential. Whether that’s being a stay-at-home mom, …working in the technology field, [or] working down the street. I mean, there’s so many ways to be a contributing member of our community, and even outside our community, too. I feel like it’s really cool to see when there’s people states away, and you see them on social media or on weekends when they’re back home, or you talk to their parents, and you know that a small part of what you’ve taught them, they’re using every day,” Julie said.