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Planting Seeds for the Future: The Gift of Reading

Georgian Court University 2024 Student Spotlight Julie Matthew

Julie Matthew was born to be a teacher. “I was that little girl who lined up my stuffed animals and played school before I could even attend. I loved learning, loved the teachers, and I would even cry if I couldn’t go to school.” She added, “I felt like teaching was my passion, I loved children and this aligned perfectly with what I wanted to do.”

She grew up and went to school in Edison, N.J., and now she holds her dream job as a General Education teacher in the Inclusion Classroom at Lincoln Elementary School – in the same town — working for the principal she had as a child in middle school.

Her first position as a kindergarten teacher taught her she needed to do more than be a great teacher who helps students “love school.” She explained, “Reading is such a high focus area in kindergarten, and reading is the biggest gift I can give my students—and finding ways to improve reading equity is extremely important. Seeing the discrepancies between different ethnic groups and socioeconomic status regarding access to reading, libraries, and even books, I realized this was where I could make the most impact.”

The pathway to this new goal led her to enroll at Georgian Court University, where she has just earned a Master of Education degree with a Reading/Literacy Specialization. “The Mercy core values were embedded in every assignment I was given, and the staff at Georgian Court really embody those values,” said Julie. “Because of that, all the work we had to do for the program was purposeful and meaningful; everything could be aligned directly to what I was doing with my own students.”

Julie noted that although the program was online, the faculty support was phenomenal. “The respect and mutual rapport we had, and the compassion that they showed us, allowed me to add to my plate while still being effective in the classroom and my personal life.”

That compassion made a huge difference when she had to suddenly pivot focus from the graduate program to becoming the primary caregiver for her sick father, who sadly passed away, and then when her aunt passed unexpectedly.

“I was hard on myself and wanted to push through, but my wonderful angel of an advisor, Dr. Denise Furlong, said ‘You put so much into this program – don’t give up, just take this time for yourself and be compassionate with yourself.’”  And she took that advice. “I did go through a lot of loss in my personal life, but believe it or not, this program allowed me to cope. It gave me something to pour my passion into. It was my saving grace.”

According to Julie, completing her practicum with Dr. Furlong, Assistant Professor/Director of Advanced Programs for Reading Specialist & ESL (English as a Second Language), was “one of the most enlightening experiences I have had as an educator.” She said, “I got to really double down on my equity work, making those connections with reading and families.”

She noted that it was uplifting to be able to support a family that had just come to this country and to see the difference her work made. “As a teacher, you plant a seed that may not grow until 20 years later, but seeing how the impact of reading and the love of reading can literally change not only a child but an entire family makes it worth it.”

Julie applied what she learned in the graduate program and practicum to help make a difference in her school, expanding and creating new reading and equity initiatives and improving communications with ESL families.

“We created a community,” she said, offering resources, translation services, programs, and events at the school that helped families get library cards, share cultural experiences, and, of course, improve reading. “We also developed a family reading log so they could read together as a family and talk about the stories, and parents could help their kids with comprehension questions in their home language.”

Her work with Dr. Furlong and time at GCU also helped inspire a new program “A Night at the Lincoln Museum,” which included an evening filled with culturally diverse history displays, musical performances, literature, and student presentations.

“My teachers at Georgian Court pushed me to be the best student, which made me an even more effective educator,” remarked Julie, who was selected as the graduate student speaker for the GCU 2024 Commencement Ceremonies.

“I never expected to have the opportunity to do this and speak during graduation about my experiences. I think this reaffirms that we never really know what a dream can become.” She added, “There are so many things that kids can’t control at this age, but If I can give them the power of reading and the power to dream, then they can control where they go in the future.”

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.