Teacher Feature - Kelly Olive, St. Thomas the Apostle

Teacher Kelly Olive

Please tell us about yourself. 

This is my third year teaching middle school math at Saint Thomas, though I've been involved in the school and parish in a myriad of ways for the last thirteen years. I have been married 32 years to my wonderful husband, Tom, and we have four children: Ian (22), Zachary (18), Jacob (16) and Mary Clare (12). I am a science/math geek pharmacist who also loves to read sad, sappy books, walk my dog Anakin, watch movies and cheesy singing/dancing shows, cheer on the Green Bay Packers and listen to all kinds of music (but especially Broadway showtunes and the 70s)! I have been a long-term sub for years in different schools and realized that God kept calling me back to teaching at Saint Thomas. My ministry is here in this beautiful place!

Describe your school. 

The word that comes to mind when I think of Saint Thomas is eclectic (in the best way!), composed of various elements drawn from different sources. We are unapologetically Catholic, with a diverse population drawn from the Eastown area where we reside, along with students from the outlying areas of Grand Rapids. We are a mix of old and new, in a building alive with the Holy Spirit and adorned with beautiful art. Our school is abuzz with all our parents and families, who fill our classrooms with joy! There is a palpable energy and a sense of Christ's light shining in every nook and cranny. Our faculty and staff are a diverse bunch with a mixture of ages, life experiences and faith journeys. This adds to the richness of our eclectic tapestry, woven together in one blanket of Catholic faith and love of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Catholic schools are different because... 

they are all about JESUS! We have the opportunity to bring Jesus Christ into every part of our day. In every story, every song and every lesson, we go back to the cross. Our faith is who we are, not something we teach. We walk the talk and have extremely high expectations for our students. We use the lens of our faith to see that every child is a unique child of God, and therefore their education reflects their own personal gifts and treasures they bring to the classroom. We aren't cookie-cutter about our teaching. We truly believe that God's plan is good and our role is to help our students fulfill God's plan and illuminate, redirect and walk hand-in-hand on their journey through our preschool-8 school. Our inclusive philosophy allows us to carve each student's unique learning experience while glorifying Jesus Christ and His miraculous works!

What drew you to teaching at a Catholic school? 

I attended public grade school and then paid my own way to attend a Catholic high school (while flipping burgers at McDonald’s). Two nuns, Sister Christie Ann and Sister Michelle, told me that Jesus designed me to go to college and that, even though I came from a poor, working class family in a tiny town of Wisconsin, Christ's light was shining bright in me and they believed that I should literally take that light and let it shine. They loved me, they encouraged me and they supported me every step of the way -- and I wasn't even Catholic at the time! My love of Christ was seeded by those two women, and my faith caught fire and has led me to riches beyond belief! I joined the Catholic Church, met my husband, adopted four beautiful children, lived in 16 cities before moving here and have become a soldier for Christ. I cannot imagine teaching without sharing Jesus. I would have no words, no thoughts and no life without Him!

What is your favorite part about teaching? What are your greatest rewards? 

My favorite part of teaching is when I sit one-on-one with a student and work hundreds of math problems together and they say, "OH MY GOSH, I get it now!" Their joy is so raw, and their surprise at their gifts is so genuine. I love this sense of awe. I want students to love loving math, and I want them to have fun with it in middle school, connect it to our Eastown community and see math as God's great gift to us all. When those connections happen, it is truly my favorite thing!

My greatest rewards are working with my colleagues at Saint Thomas, the students who are entrusted to me daily and my own family. My husband has the patience of a saint with me! My four beautiful children are all adopted from our journey around the world and have different learning styles and challenges. In them I see each of my students. Our mantra at home is to raise confident, independent, lifelong learners rooted in Jesus Christ. I bring this same goal to my classroom. Whether math is their "thing" or not, students leave Saint Thomas ready to let their Christ light shine brightly!

In your experience, what do Catholic schools do best? What does your school do best? 

As I said above, we create an environment where all learners are welcome, where Jesus is the center of our life, and where lifelong learners develop confidence to learn and wings to fly onto high school. With our resource specialist, Missy Meighan, we have become an inclusive school where we are truly catholic (as in the universal Church) and all learners are welcomed!

One of the things that we do really well is pray as a school five times a day and start our day with chapel. We start in the church at the foot of the cross and pray together, sing together, tell jokes, share stories and leave all our troubles of the morning at Jesus' feet. We then go to school with hearts ready to love, learn and shine bright. It sounds cliché, but it's true. Our chapel time is powerful and it allows us all to be the best version of ourselves daily as we go about being Christ's hands and feet on earth.

From the Principal:

She fills math lessons with Jesus like no one else can!

Learn more about Saint Thomas the Apostle Catholic School at this link.

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