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Heights Teacher Works with Favorite Teacher
May 17, 2024 -- Everyone who’s ever spent time in a school building knows that at their core, they are all about relationships. 
Relationships between student and teacher, between colleagues, and between classmates. Sometimes those relationships last from the fall until the spring, when a particular child is in a particular teacher’s classroom with a particular set of classmates. Sometimes the relationships last several years, when a high school athlete plays for a coach or a musician plays for an orchestra director. Sometimes those relationships last for a decade when teachers work in the same building.

And every once in a rare while, that relationship may span an entire career. Which is just what has happened with Betsy Race and Julie Walker.

Halfway through Julie DeViney’s kindergarten year at Oxford Elementary in the early 1980s, her class welcomed a new student teacher, who quickly became a beloved member of their classroom. The next fall, when Julie reported back to school for 1st grade, she was delighted to find that Ms. Race had been hired fulltime and even more delighted when she heard her name called as one of Ms. Race’s students. 

“When she said my name, I was so happy I almost peed my pants,” Julie, now Ms. Walker said from Ms. Race’s office at Boulevard Elementary, where they’ve both been teaching for the past nine years.

They both agree that that first year at Oxford was an extra special one. “The whole class cried when the final bell rang that year,” said Ms. Race. 

As for Ms. Walker’s part, as a struggling reader, she always felt “loved and supported and never shamed. That’s something that sticks with you.”

Just a few years into Ms. Race’s career, she decided that she wanted to get her school counseling license and intentionally moved up to 5th grade in her final year at Oxford so that she’d have necessary experience with older kids. And lo and behold, Julie DeViney was in her class again. 

They saw each other occasionally over the years, but Julie went to college in Hawaii before finally returning to the Heights married, with two children. About a decade ago, Ms. Race was hoping to get placed in one of the district middle schools and Ms. Walker was vying for a job at Fairfax, where both her children were students when, instead, they both ended up at Boulevard. Just a year after Ms. Walker lost her mother, the 4th grade teacher said, “it felt like fate.”

Now, they are “each other’s person. Everybody in the building knows it, everybody in our families knows it,” said Ms. Race. 

According to Ms. Walker, “we make each other better at our jobs and have a similar spirit of reflection. What I admire most about Betsy is that she has the same enthusiasm now that she had on Day One in 1984. She’s always trying to learn.”

Ms. Race replied, “What I see in Julie is awe-inspiring. She lives and breathes black and gold, is just so committed.”

They check in regularly throughout the school day and “process together almost nightly” and always challenge one another to do better. But they also socialize and have fun together and, as witnessed that day in Ms. Race’s office, are quick to finish each other’s sentences.

About to retire after 42 years in the district, it is not lost on Ms. Race that this relationship has bookended her career. “I would have been proud of Julie no matter what she chose to do, but to have a student choose this profession, to get to witness her building these relationships, helping these little minds grow … I didn’t realize the impact I was having back then.”

Ms. Walker says her choice of career was all about the relationships she had being educated in Heights schools: “My two favorite teachers were Ms. Race, who taught me to read and Denise Eckles (Thompson), now at Options, who taught me to love to read. Both were people who saw me as a whole person. The only reason I picked education was because of the relationships.”

As Ms. Race embraces the next phase of her life, she plans to travel the west coast with her sister this fall and spend more time volunteering at the Food Bank. But her abiding friendship with Julie DeViney Walker – one they both described as “the longest relationship I’ve had in my life with anyone outside of my family” – will stand.