When Julie Wilson graduated from Seabreeze High School, she thought she would become a counselor or even a performer due to her background in the arts.
“I didn’t graduate high school thinking I was going to be a teacher, or ever coming back here—ever," Wilson said. "It wasn’t what I planned."
After a journey that led her all the way to Hawaii and back, Wilson has been teaching for 25 years, 18 of which she's spent at her alma mater. Now, she's also one of the top five finalists for the Volusia County School District's 2019 Teacher of the Year.
Wilson teaches American Sign Language at Seabreeze. She said she first started learning ASL when she three years old thanks to Sesame Street and Linda Bove, a deaf actress who appeared in the children's series. Having interned at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine while in school at Flagler College and having a deaf roommate, ASL has played a big role in Wilson's life, even though she is not deaf herself.
“I just loved the language my whole life," Wilson said.
She said ASL is a beautiful language, one that is concrete in nature and carries a rich culture, which she tries to expose her students to as much as possible, whether it be through retellings of her own memorable experiences with the deaf community, or bringing guest speakers in.
But her favorite part about teaching is the relationship she gets to build with each of her students.Wilson said she takes that opportunity to show them that their parents are probably just like her. It's not unusual for her to act goofy in her classroom or break out into song and dance.
“I teach them that people my age are decent humans,” she said laughing. “And that they could share with them."
She also hopes to teach her students to care about others globally.
“I want to teach the kids empathy and I want to teach them to understand that everybody is the same," Wilson said. "We all have thoughts, we all have feelings, we all have goals.”