St. Joseph School is magnet for alumni who become teachers

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Nearly thirty-percent of the faculty and staff at St. Joseph School in Madison is made up of proud alumni from as far back as the class of 1973 to as recent as the class of 2013. Twelve teachers and one substitute teacher are part of the faculty. Pictured front row, from left, kindergarten teacher Alicia Hatchett, class of 1994; fifth-grade teacher Angie Douglas, class of 1990; pre-kindergarten aide Megan Huy, class of 2000; third-grade teacher Olivia Nivison, class of 2013; 4-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher Ginger Dubose, class of 1982; and 2-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher Tara Smith, class of 1986. Back row, from left, third-grade teacher Christine Holcomb, class of 1988; first-grade teacher Jackie Sullenbarger, class of 1980; 2- and 3-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher Ashlea Stephens, class of 1991; fifth-grade teacher Lori Patton, class of 1997; substitute teacher Joseph Swisher, class of 2002; and 4-year-old pre-kindergarten aide Leta McCaslin; class of 1987. Not pictured is computer science, 3D printing and coding teacher Karen Sneed, class of 1977. Photo by Katie Peterson

Of the 50 members that make up the faculty and staff of St. Joseph School in Madison, 30 percent are alumni of the school. And it’s for simply one reason: they love St. Joseph.

Having so many alumni on staff “speaks to the loving family environment that St. Joseph can provide,” said St. Joseph principal Amy Lavender. “St. Joseph is just a special place for so many people, and I think it’s really amazing that people are educated here for so long and then they want to come back and be a part of it, so it continues for the next generation.”

The alumni on the St. Joseph faculty and staff graduated between the years 1973 and 2013, and include teachers, cafeteria workers, teachers’ aides, and substitutes. Here is more information about St. Joseph alumni at the school:

• Karen Sneed

Graduation Year: 1977

Years attended: K-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 8 years

Current position: Computer science, STREAM (Science, Technology, Religion, Engineering, Arts, and Math), robotics, and 3D printing teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Kindergarten teacher, librarian, STREAM coordinator

Previous positions in the diocese: Teacher at St. Ann School for four years, and St. John Vianney School in Gallatin for 11 years.

Sneed’s journey back to St. Joseph began with an opportunity to be a long-term substitute teacher for kindergarten.

“When I attended St. Joseph School, I experienced a supportive, loving, and faith-filled learning environment. I believe this kind of environment is essential for the development of students today,” Sneed said. “I wanted to be part of a community that could offer students this and give back to the school that gave so much to me.

“Growing up in the St. Joseph School community gave me a sense of family and spiritual faith that has made me want to pay it forward to the next generation,” she added. “Catholic education is so important because students are taught to be productive and loving members of the Church, their community, and their faith.”

• Jackie Sullenbarger

Graduation Year: 1980

Years attended: K-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 31.5 years

Current position: First-grade teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Second grade teacher and resource teacher.

Sullenbarger said St. Joseph is a large part of her family history, her mom having served as one of its first lay teachers before becoming the cafeteria manager, while her father became head of maintenance.

When her journey back to St. Joseph began in 1992, eventually leading to her starting her main teaching career with second-grade students, “I said, ‘Yes,’ because I love my Catholic faith. I was given the opportunity to teach children about my faith and help them prepare for first penance and first Holy Communion,” Sullenbarger said. “St. Joseph will always be a huge part of my life and my family.

“St. Joseph is a close community. We are always there for each other. When I attended St. Joseph, I felt loved, and the teachers knew me. I was happy and felt important,” she said. “I wanted that same feeling as an adult, and I wanted to share that feeling with my students. I love being able to talk about God and our faith and be able to share my stories of being a student here at St. Joseph.”

• Ginger Dubose

Graduation Year: 1982

Years attended: 1-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 23 years

Current position: 4-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher and program director

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Kindergarten teacher, and long-term third grade substitute teacher

“God truly led me back to St. Joseph. Even though I applied to teach at other schools after completing graduate school, all roads continued to lead back to St. Joseph,” Dubose explained. “My mother was teaching at St. Joseph, and I was beginning the process of adopting my daughter. The St. Joseph community felt like home.

“It drew me back into the memories I had here as a child. It was such a nurturing, engaging, faith-filled place to spend a large part of my childhood,” she continued. “I wanted to be part of passing on the St. Joseph School traditions and joy to other children. Also, I knew I wanted my child to have the same loving, Catholic experience that I had at St. Joseph. I’ve always said, ‘St. Joseph is a great place to grow up!’”

• Tara Hall-Smith

Graduation Year: 1986

Years attended: 2-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 11 years

Current position: 2-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Fifth grade teacher and middle school teacher.

Smith’s return to St. Joseph came about when her former teacher, Judy Pass, decided to retire.

“She told me her prayer was that a former student would fill her position and that she thought I would be a perfect fit. I was overjoyed,” she said. “At the time, I was living in Murfreesboro, however, to give my children the opportunity to receive a Catholic education and for me to teach in a Catholic school was worth the 90-minute drive.

“God created us for community. As a child, this community showed me compassion, encouragement, joy, and a sense of belonging,” she added. “There is a rich history rooted in Christ’s love that echoes in the hallowed hallways of this school. Those roots run deep and give us stability in this ever changing world. These connections do not stop at the front doors. They continue to grow throughout our lives.”  

• Christine Holcomb

Graduation Year: 1988

Years attended: 5-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 7 years

Current position: Third grade teacher and fourth grade science teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Pre-kindergarten aide; 3-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher; fourth grade math, science, and religion teacher

“Family and faith are what attract us all to work at St. Joseph. We have the motto, ‘Once a Bulldog, Always a Bulldog’, and we all take that to heart,” Holcomb said. “Our families in the classroom are an extension of our personal family. I share with each of my families that I will love their child like my own, and I will treat them with the respect and love as if they were a part of my family.”

“It is so special to celebrate and highlight our Catholic schools because we are disciples of Christ, and we have the ability to share our faith with our students whereas if we worked in schools outside of the faith, we would not be able to talk about Christ,” she added. “We have the ability to share in the Eucharist with our students twice a week and build our faith families and community.”

• Leta McCaslin

Graduation Year: 1987

Years attended: 2-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 1 year

Current position: 4-year-old pre-kindergarten aide

When she found out the position was available, “I knew it would be a great environment to be working in,” McCaslin said. “The love and closeness you feel to God in this welcoming, nurturing environment brings you back.”

By celebrating Catholic Schools Week, “it promotes the need for education being Christ-centered, which is incredibly needed.”

• Angie Douglas

Graduation Year: 1990

Years attended: K-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 21.5 years

Current position: Fifth grade teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: kindergarten teacher and sixth-grade teacher

“I never considered teaching anywhere else. It just wasn’t an option for me,” Douglas said. “I was student teaching at St. Joseph School in December 2002 when I signed my contract to begin teaching kindergarten there in January 2003.

“Inside these walls has always been a safe place for me. As a child, this was my home away from home,” she said. “I always felt loved and supported. All of the lessons that my parents instilled in me from a young age were continued by my teachers at St. Joseph School. Now, my son attends St. Joseph School, and I am blessed to get to pass those traditions on to him.”

• Ashlea Stephens

Graduation Year: 1991

Years attended: 3-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 2 years

Current position: 2- and 3-year-old pre-kindergarten teacher

Stephens said she came back to teach at St. Joseph in honor of her late father, who died the summer of 2021.

“Both my parents have been parishioners at St. Joseph Church for many, many years, and it was a wish he had for all of his children to send their children to Catholic schools as he sent all of us,” Stephens explained. “Due to financial hardship, my husband and I never could seem to make that wish come true for him. With many prayers and sacrifices, we are trying to make one of his last wishes come true.

“I feel that one of the many reasons that alumni return to St. Joseph is that it holds many wonderful memories. I had an amazing education at this school, and it also has very strong Catholic principles that are important to me both as a parent and as faculty,” she said. “Faith and prayer are an integral part of leading a solid, balanced life. When you teach academics but infuse your faith at the same time, it builds a better person. St. Joseph School and other Catholic schools in the diocese are raising and educating children to see how God is the most important part of their world.”

• Alicia Hatchett

Graduation Year: 1994

Years attended: 1-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 17 years

Current position: Kindergarten teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Third grade teacher and computer science teacher

Hatchett described the reason she and so many other alumni return with one word: traditions.

“St. Joseph has many old traditions and several new traditions that are very important to our school community,” Hatchett said. “I remember taking part in many of the ceremonies and rites of passage that I now witness my own children experience.

“We are blessed to have a unique school community where Christ is at the center of everything we do,” she said. “I believe it is important that we celebrate this opportunity and share our excitement with each other, our families, and our local community.”

• Lori Patton

Graduation year: 1997

Years attended: K-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 2 years

Current position: Fifth grade language arts and social studies teacher

Previous positions at St. Joseph: Fifth grade math, science, and religion teacher

Previous positions in the diocese: Teacher and principal of St. Pius X Classical Academy for 16 years

“When I decided that I wanted to return full-time to the classroom after being in administration and would need to relocate, it only felt natural to come back to St. Joseph where I began my journey as a lifelong learner,” Patton said. “I think that we were so inspired by the sense of community that our teachers established and portrayed while we attended that we wanted to experience the same and continue in that tradition.

“To be able to teach through the lens of our faith is such a gift as an educator, and I hope it resonates in our students’ experience,” she said. “The combination of rigor and genuine care for every student and the empathy they develop is unmatched.”

• Olivia Nivison

Graduation Year: 2013

Years attended: K-8

Years teaching at St. Joseph: 2 years

Current position: Third grade English language arts, math, and social studies teacher, and fourth grade social studies teacher

St. Joseph “is such a tight-knit community where everyone knows and loves each other. The teachers here treat the students as their own, and I wanted to make my own class feel that love, too,” Nivison said. “I couldn’t have been part of a better, more supportive community for my first years teaching.

“At this school, all are known, and all are loved,” she said. “It is a comfortable environment with a Christ-like center that brings us all back with the intention to continue that legacy.”

Other alumni on staff include: Goldie Ursery, a 1973 graduate who has been working in the cafeteria for 30 years; Sylvia Meadows, a 1976 graduate who has been working in the cafeteria for 14 years; Megan Huy, a 2000 graduate who has been on staff for more than three years and currently works as a teacher’s aide for pre-kindergarten; and Joseph Swisher, a 2006 graduate, who has been a substitute teacher at St. Joseph for six years. 

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