Some things can’t be taught

Roncalli teacher gives back to Southside students

By Stephanie Dolan

The world is full of teachers. We come across them in coffee shops, in churches… even on street corners.  Those teachers found in the classroom, though? The best ones will inevitably say that they get as much from their students as they try to give during class time.

One of those teachers would be Julie Albertson, journalism teacher at Roncalli High School and youth minister for St. Mark’s parish.

“I am from Missouri originally,” she said. “My family has a farm in northwest Missouri. I grew up there and went to the University of Missouri where I studied journalism. I was then a freelance writer for about 15 years after my husband Rusty and I were married. I worked as the Midwest field editor for a trade publication.”

Albertson was recently awarded the Youth Ministry Servant Leader of the Year award. (Submitted photo.)

While Albertson’s work as a freelancer supplemented the household income, she readily admits it was also something she could do from home as she took care of her four children.

Albertson’s husband, Rusty, is originally from Johnson County and is now the principal at St. Mark’s.

“His family also has a farm in southern Johnson County,” she said. “We decided to move back here so he could teach and coach basketball. This was back in 1990. We’ve lived in different areas of the state. Our most recent move was in the early 2000s when we decided to move to the Southside of Indy – mostly so our kids could go to Roncalli. We were familiar with the school through my in-laws. We decided to move close so my kids could enjoy their education there.”

New ideas

Just a couple of years later, Roncalli principal Chuck Weisenbach learned of Albertson’s background in journalism.

“In 2008, he asked if I’d come in and talk about teaching,” she said. “He needed someone to teach journalism and newspaper. That all kind of came about very organically. We were living at McFarland and Thompson at that time, and in 2012 we moved to Whiteland.”

How did Albertson feel about going from freelancer to the classroom?

“I’m sure I was terrified the first day, but my mom taught me a long time ago that you have to at least act like you’re confident. People can’t generally tell the difference. I’m blessed by the kids who came through my door. They wanted to be there. It’s an elective class. It’s a chance for them to decompress from the other more academic courses and maybe plug into a talent they may not have known they had. I was able to develop my content in a way that the kids responded well to, but I know I was probably pretty rough at the beginning.”

That was 12 years ago, and Albertson has been going full steam ahead ever since.

Julie Albertson with her husband, Rusty. (Submitted photo)

“I’m also part-time staff at St. Mark’s,” she said. “Five years ago, our priest at the time approached me about taking on the role of Director of Youth Ministry. That’s something else I never expected to consider, but I trusted and respected him a lot, so I gave it some though and decided to try it. Luckily, my kids are grown or at an age where this was possible. I couldn’t have done it if I had small children just because there wouldn’t be time I needed to devote to it.”

Albertson said that her time as a teacher at Roncalli really prepared her for her role as youth minister.

Life’s mission

“I’m so comfortable with kids,” she said. “I’m with them all day. In a youth ministry setting I think I can communicate a little easier with them since I’m so comfortable.”

Albertson said that her role as a youth minister means a lot of time spent with event planning.

“I also serve as the coordinator of our confirmation program,” she said. “Half of my time is devoted to preparing our confirmation students, which are mostly high school sophomores. We begin in the fall, meet monthly and have a retreat. I put a lot of my focus there because the kids put a lot of focus on confirmation. It’s a really good opportunity for them to focus on their faith and learn about their faith. When they were baptized as infants, that was the parents’ or grandparents’ decision. Confirmation is all about the kids making the decision.”

Albertson said her students are mature enough to understand and ask great questions.

“I don’t always know the answers,” she said. “That really helps me stretch my faith as well as I try to find the answers that will resonate with them. It’s a different kind of generation and society that these kids are growing up in than I did. I try as much as I can to shed some light on the faith side of that experience for them.”

As a result of so much work with youth on the Southside, Albertson was recently awarded the Youth Ministry Servant Leader of the Year award.

Julie Albertson. (Photo by Stephanie Davis.)

Humble spirit

“My initial reaction was knowing that there were so many others who were just as worthy,” she said. “I so appreciated it. It was a huge honor, but I know the kind of work that people are doing. I work with amazing youth ministers from our Southside catholic churches. Every one of them would have been just as deserving as I. I’m just so honored.”

On top of all this, Albertson also spends time volunteering every Tuesday with Hope for Tomorrow, an after-school nonprofit that offers tutoring along with a citizenship program to the Southside Burmese population.

“Nearly 70 students attend three times a week,” she said. “I go on Tuesdays and tutor elementary school-age students.”

Perhaps one day some of those children will end up in Albertson’s journalism class.

“As I think about what I do – both at Roncalli and at St. Mark’s – it really does relate to my career as a journalist,” she said. “What I really loved about writing was the opportunity to learn about and tell people’s stories. I love learning about other people. I have that same kind of curiosity with my students. They all also have really fascinating stories, and not always do they have an opportunity to share those stories with people. I try my best to be really curious with the young people who cross my path, and I’m always better for having known them.”

Five questions with Julie Albertson

  1. Do you remember any Thanksgiving traditions from childhood that you still practice? When I was little, we would sometimes create little place cards for the family, and my children and I have done that. When we have guests coming, we’ll make a place card for each guest.
  1. Are you a good cook? Yes
  2. 3. What’s your specialty at Thanksgiving? It’s called a pumpkin crisp, and it’s the one thing – if I didn’t make it – my kids would really complain.
  3. 4. How will you be celebrating Thanksgiving this year? We’ll be having two Thanksgivings actually. One for our immediate family and then one for our daughter’s friends. Grace is a sophomore at Marian College, and she has a large group of great friends who are Burmese. They don’t traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving. Last year was the first time we invited them over, and they really enjoyed having Thanksgiving dinner. This year we’re going to invite them over the night before or the night of depending on their schedules.
  4. Who or what are you most thankful for? I would definitely say I’m most thankful for my family, particularly for my husband who has been, since the time we married, supportive of any kind of ideas I might have. Especially now in this time of life when I’m so busy he’s been particularly supportive.