Presenting Challenge. Building Character. Instilling Confidence.
Schools are charged with the academic, social, and personal development of every student who walks through their doors, and we take that mission seriously at Westminster. We take our credo of presenting challenge, building character, and instilling confidence to heart, and today we shine a spotlight on Julia Elder, just one of our amazing teachers who embodies that spirit and mission.
Meet Julia Elder
Julia Elder is the first-grade math and science teacher at Westminster School. The 2020–2021 school year marks her sixth year with us, the first five of which she taught social studies and language arts to the kindergarteners.
Elder received her undergraduate degree in English and a master of education (MEd) from the University of Virginia.
Prior to her work at Westminster, Elder spent a year and a half teaching English to kindergartners in Seoul, South Korea. During that time, she earned a certification in teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL). She then spent another six months traveling through Asia, exploring Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.
Before teaching, Elder marketed video games for a gaming studio. “I have a passion for video games,” says Elder. “Like books, video games can help take you somewhere totally different. They’re another form of storytelling.”
To Westminster, Elder brings not only her experience in the classroom but her infectious love of teaching.
“What I love best about teaching is laughing with the children,” says Elder. “I always take time for the little moments that make you laugh and smile. To stop and to appreciate and to giggle when a student does or says something silly and unexpected.”
Moving from kindergarten to first grade has also presented some unique and rewarding opportunities.
“I love watching how the foundation I laid last year gets built upon this year. I went from teaching students how to read and to write in kindergarten to seeing students rely on these skills in all their first-grade subjects. You can so clearly see the fruits of your labor.”
The academic rigor of Westminster is one facet of “presenting challenge,” and Elder sees that as a key differentiator from other schools.
“Everyone who comes here has such a commitment to learning and to challenging themselves. They don’t come to Westminster because it’s easy; they come because they want to grow,” says Elder. “It’s a special kind of person who chooses to send his or her child to a place that’s going to challenge that student every single day.”
The Westminster Mind-Set
“Westminster does an incredible job of teaching grit. The children leave knowing they can do hard things because we’ve asked them to do hard things every day,” says Elder. “We provide the scaffolding to get them there, and we’re the safety net if they do fall down, but all Westminster students know they can be successful in the face of difficult tasks. Perseverance, toughness, and resilience are key takeaways from a Westminster education.”
Finding the Balance
While Westminster does present a challenging curriculum and ask a lot of its students, Elder is quick to point out how students thrive in this environment.
“We have so much fun every day. The students are thrilled to come in the morning, and they don’t want to leave in the afternoon. Yes, it’s hard, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
The Benefits of Self-Discipline
In an age of instant gratification, Westminster and the parents work together to reinforce the message that you have to work hard to achieve any goal worth pursuing.
“For students, that looks like doing your homework every night. Coming to school and taking good care of your uniform. Taking good care of your whole body, heart, and mind so you’re ready to give one hundred percent every day,” says Elder. “Self-discipline takes you so far, and it’s something we underscore at Westminster.”
Preparing the Leaders of Tomorrow
Westminster places a lot of emphasis on the arts, and that stems from the desire to encourage self-expression.
“A genuine interest in learning and the ability to express oneself are two fundamental skills you need in our economy, and that’s exactly what Westminster cultivates,” says Elder. “The proof is in the child-shaped pudding!”
A private school like Westminster offers many advantages—read here for a more detailed look at the specific benefits for very young students—but the school’s emphasis on independence and self-awareness provides real opportunities for growth.
“With our smaller class sizes, Westminster facilitates character development. We have the time and space for students to experience the natural consequences of their actions and to develop specific personal goals,” says Elder. “To share one recent example, one of my students was consistently taking a long time to get ready for recess and was slowing down her classmates. That child was able to formulate a goal—to get ready more quickly—and she used her reasoning to come to that goal herself. After that, she sped up like nobody’s business. It was so rewarding to see that process unfold and to be there to encourage that student, but mostly it was amazing to see the real change come from the child herself.”
Leading by Example
Staff members at Westminster strive to serve as examples for the children, and that commitment to excellence benefits students, parents, and teachers alike.
“I’m blown away by every single member of the lower school team, and I’m in awe of Ms. Jori Sapper in particular. She’s been my mentor from the day I walked into Westminster. Everything about the teacher I’ve become I owe to her,” says Elder. “Her nurturance. How much she gives. It’s a privilege to teach under her.”
For so many students, parents, and staff members, the dedication to instilling confidence is most embodied through the drama program.
“Every time I watch the children get up on stage, it’s priceless. At five years old, these students get up and speak in front of three hundred people,” says Elder. “Once you’ve done something that initially feels so impossible, you feel like you can do anything.”
Elder believes the annual play is not only a great way to give children confidence and poise but is also a nice representation of the Westminster philosophy.
“Bringing people together and giving them opportunities to dig deep and to do things they didn’t think they could do. That’s as Westminster-y as it gets.”
Interested in learning more about our staff members? Get to know Jori Sapper and Amy Bowab as well.
Ready to discover more about Westminster itself? Schedule your virtual visit today.