May 14, 2018 -- Julie Lustic's reach extends far beyond the four walls of the gymnasium at Canterbury Elementary, where she has taught physical education for nearly 20 years. Her energy, her eagerness to keep learning, and her creative approach to interdisciplinary instruction have touched every student and teacher in the Canterbury community.
Ms. Lustic will leave behind a legacy of innovation and collaboration when she retires from the district this spring. Because she’s always believed in the value of teaching across multiple disciplines, Ms. Lustic and her longtime colleague, art teacher Ida Bergson, began collaborating nearly two decades ago. Along with other staff, they formed COSMIC: Canterbury Organization Supporting Multicultural Interdisciplinary Curriculum, which managed three separate school-wide units over as many years.
With the visual arts, music, physical education and media specialists all working together around a central theme, COSMIC “was able to teach so much more material, so much more in-depth,” said Ms. Lustic. She secured additional grant funding to bring in experts to teach students to swing dance during their study of the Harlem Renaissance and to stilt walk while studying Elizabethan England, infusing PE class with a unique excitement.
The success of COSMIC led to the more recent establishment of the Creative Arts Team, comprised of Ms. Lustic, Ms. Bergson, music teacher Karly Bowman and Spanish teacher Jessica Artman. “The Creative Arts Team is why I’m here,” said Ms. Artman. “It’s what drew me to Canterbury. It’s a unique program, and so important to the way we educate the whole child.”
The four specialists work together to support classroom teachers, figuring out how to tie their own content material into the International Baccalaureate units, or Big Ideas, that drive classroom instruction. They also co-teach every Friday, gathering each grade level in the gym for a joint lesson and seeing all 400+ students over the course of the day. Sometimes one particular teacher leads, while the others support; other times, they rotate the students through stations. But the very fact that the four teachers come together to see every single student in the building every single Friday underscores their joint commitment to transdisciplinary instruction.
“We’re not bound by the constraints of our own subject areas,” said Ms. Artman, who finds it rewarding to learn as an adult alongside the kids.
“We all have different mindsets and different approaches,” aid Ms. Lustic. “But that’s what makes it work.”
That focus on collaboration and innovation drove Ms. Lustic and Ms. Bergson to embrace the use of technology long before it was the accepted norm in elementary classrooms. Nearly a decade ago, they secured $40,000 in grant funding from Hewlett-Packard for what was then high-tech equipment to enhance teaching and learning across the building. Ms. Lustic continues to use technology to support her P.E. instruction, whether by having students analyze slow motion video of themselves learning specific skills or by measuring and tracking their growth data.
Ms. Lustic appreciates the fact that she, too, is always learning. “You have to stay relevant when you’re teaching young kids,” she said. “There’s never been a time when I’m not learning something new. That’s one of the things I’m worried about with retiring. I’m afraid I’ll get old.”
Her friends and colleagues highly doubt she’d let happen. “Julie is always moving, always learning, always involved,” said Ms. Bergson. “From volunteering with the Cedar Lee streetscape to helping manage the Coventry PEACE Park, Julie is the first to step up and take on a new project.”
Ms. Lustic’s commitment to her students and their school is evident in all she does. “She watches out for everyone in this building,” said Ms. Bergson. “She’s very aware of fairness.”
Ms. Artman enthusiastically agreed. “Julie advocates for the kids, the teachers, the entire community. That word advocate needs to be in there underlined 12,000 times!”
From the four walls of the Canterbury gym to the far corners of Tiger Nation, from being on the vanguard of instructional technology to coming up with innovative ways to collaborate, from acting as an advocate to being a friend, Julie Lustic will be missed.