By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — After 45 years of teaching, Julie Lacina has decided to retire. She spent her entire teaching career in Catholic education at one school — Regina Elementary and its predecessor, Iowa City Catholic Grade School.
“It was such a very hard decision because I truly love what I do. I know I will miss the kids, teachers and Regina families a lot, but I have three grandkids here at Regina, so I will still be around. I also have two granddaughters at All Saints Catholic School in Davenport and two more who are not in school yet.”
Lacina graduated from City High in Iowa City and attended the University of Iowa. Her career choice “was between nursing and education. After a brief volunteer job as a candy striper at Mercy Hospital (in Iowa City), I knew I would never be able to be a nurse. I knew I did love being around children and decided the education and psychology field would let me do what I loved the most.”
Sister Jean Marie Brady hired Lacina, then 21, to teach at Iowa City Catholic Grade School in 1972. “I was finishing up my elementary education and psychology degree,” Lacina said. She had student-taught first grade but was hired for the school’s first kindergarten class. The state did not require students to attend kindergarten at that point.
“So when I was hired, Sr. Jean Marie just told me to order what I needed. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I knew what I would need!’ But, we came up with an order and many people donated toys, book, games and materials their children had outgrown. I remember ordering an expensive set of wooden blocks from Childcraft, which the kids still use and love every day.”
Kindergarten was offered for a half-day, every week day, with an option for an afternoon “enrichment program” for families who chose the full-day option. “It was very popular, and when we eventually moved to our present location at Regina, we went to a full-day kindergarten program,” she said.
In her 45 years in Catholic education, Lacina has worked for three principals: Sr. Jean Marie, Ray Pechous and Celeste Vincent. “Their encouragement and support has meant a lot to me, and I feel lucky to have worked with each of them.”
Vincent said, “Julie Lacina has been a devoted Catholic school teacher for 45 years. This professional answered the call to share her love of learning with our youngest. We are forever grateful for the love, care, guidance and inspiration she has provided to our children over all these years. To teach in a Catholic school is to touch lives forever. You can only begin to imagine the impact this teacher has made on making our world a better place.”
Kindergarten has evolved over the years. Today it has become more like what first grade used to be. “The expectations are much greater, but we still have to meet every child where they are, and help them grow to where they need to be … in their own time,” Lacina said.
“When I first started teaching, I taught colors, letters and letter sounds, and numbers. The primary emphasis though was on social development, and learning how to learn in a group setting. Now, kindergartners are learning to read, write and do math in kindergarten. Some are ready, but some are not — and that is okay. They will be ready when it is their time to be.”
The highlight of her career is her students. “Every year, in those nine months of school, they become like your own, and it is so rewarding to watch them grow up. I am lucky enough to have taught children of a few past students. There is nothing like having a conference with a former kindergartner.”
Over the years Lacina earned a master’s degree in developmental reading from the University of Iowa.
In retirement, Lacina says she has a lot of books she wants to read and she may substitute teach after moving to a new house.
She praises the dedication and commitment of the faculty and staff at Regina, who she said offer high quality education for all students from preschool to 12th grade and do so with care and love. “There is no question that the friendships and close relationships that I have experienced at Regina are what kept me here for 45 years.”