Teacher lives and laughs it up despite lackluster childhood
by Nick Falgout
Name: Julia Smrek
Subjects: Psychology, Leadership class
Education: Bachelor's Degree of Science and Psychology, Masters of Education (in progress)
Previous Jobs: 6th grade social studies teacher in Prince George's County
Came to Blair: 2000
Hobbies: Reading, taking care of pets
Extracurricular activities: SGA
Miss Smrek sits at her desk amid the hectic, almost crazed noise fest that is a birthday celebration in the Social Studies office at Blair. She is decked out in jeans, a comfortable looking pink sweatshirt and an easy, enthusiastic smile, a trend pleasingly common among educators today. She looks like a perfect fit for a teacher of psychology, a seemingly casual and hopefully fun subject. And if it isn't fun, she'll make it fun.
Apparently, Smrek knew she wanted to be an educator fairly early into her college career. "At first, I wanted to be a veterinarian. But I realized in my first year of college, after my dog died, that that wasn't for me," she says, laughing despite the relative seriousness of the subject. After that incident, she just knew that she "wanted to work with kids, mainly older kids."
She pursued her education in psychology and graduated; after which she somehow ended up teaching sixth grade social studies. "That was the bottom of the barrel," she says, laughing her cheery laugh once again.
But it hasn't always been all smiles for Smrek; her father died when she was just two years old. Her mother was forced to raise her and her older brother and sister in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where the family lived comfortably but warily. "I've always wanted to travel, because we never had the money to go on vacation when I was a kid," she says, albeit without any trace of remorse or sadness at all. "I was pretty isolated…where I grew up."
But Smrek's current routine seems to be working to make up for lost time. "I like to shop," says Smrek, a grin creeping up on her face and spreading suddenly and almost involuntarily. "I like to walk the dog, we have this big lake thing across from our house and we love to walk around that." Her eyes almost glisten with excitement as she undoubtedly recalls the many evenings she's spent on this particular activity. She also enjoys doing the various "touristy" things in DC. "The museums, the monuments, just the whole scene. We haven't lived here very long," she says reflectively, "and, believe it or not, I actually enjoy working on my Master's Degree."
Evidently, it's not really all work and no play. But still, where does Smrek find all the energy to be as enthusiastic and as generally happy as she appears to be? "I've been to Jamaica for three years [straight]," she says, grinning her contagious grin again. So that's a start. "Well, we were in Montego Bay, and being outside the resorts is very very different, and Jamaicans to me were very nice, and they kept insisting we try their marijuana, insisting pretty strongly, actually." She begins to laugh, and rightfully so. "We didn't, of course!" she says vehemently through laughter. Maybe it's experiences like these that can make a person just love her life. Maybe that's her secret.