When students saunter into Julie Bruey’s Peninsula High School class, they can’t help but feel awesome.
The third-year English teacher is a bona fide life-motivator.
And not only does Bruey encourage her students to follow the Seahawk “be awesome” mission statement, she’s a champion for creativity and challenges them to believe in themselves.
Teaching is more than just a job for the peppy 32-year-old. She is living her dream, bent on helping students find their potential –– just like other teachers did for her while she grew up on the Key Peninsula, she said.
Bruey lives in Minterwood with her husband, Joey.
She moved to the peninsula from Tacoma in the summer of 1988 and started her Peninsula School District journey in the third grade at Vaughn Elementary School.
“I remember when I came to Vaughn. There was just this natural community between the students, between the parents, and between the parents and teachers,” Bruey said.
Before transitioning to Key Peninsula Middle School, she fell in love with the learning environment and bonding of extracurricular activities of the community.
“School has always been a great place for me. I was excited to learn, fascinated by my teachers and always asking for homework,” she said. “They really helped me bring out my creative voice and become who I truly am.”
While growing up, she was thankful for having a mom who pushed for a balance of life. Bruey was into sports and the 4H Club, and loved attending the frequent events at the KP Civic Center with her friends.
She started Peninsula High School in 1994, and at times, life was difficult for her because her parents divorced, she said.
“It was tough outside of school, coping with that. I remember a lot of days going home where I felt a little fragmented,” she said.
But something pivotal happened in her junior year.
Going to school and feeling safe, and having the gumption to rise to newfound expectations within the campus walls helped with her home struggles.
The expectation “to always do your best” at school wasn’t a burden for the teen. It became a “reverence for learning” and a pathway to understanding her own wants, she said.
Bruey smiled and teared up as she reflected on the many teachers who affected her life.
She spoke of Judy Cromett, a former PHS English teacher, and how some students expressed an intimidation factor in her class because her expectations for them were so high. “It was a grateful intimidation. She taught us to be impeccable with our words, taught us to love language and taught us to be able to have a voice,” she said.
One day during Cromett’s class, something clicked for the young Bruey, and seeds of the future were sowed in an instant.
“I don’t know if she’s aware of the impact she had on me, but that’s what teachers do. They do their best and trust unconditionally that what they say matters. I decided to be a teacher right there and then,” she said.
Bruey went to a community college and then on to get her master’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University. She taught as a substitute teacher for a year, and then landed a job at PHS.
“I feel like this is a dream come true. I know that sounds cliché but it really is for me. It’s also amazing to live and work in the same community I grew up in,” she said, smiling.
Talk around campus says that Bruey is passing down similar learning and life values that were shared with her.
Sophomore Serenity Moberg said she feels happy and welcome, and has an urge to learn when she walks into Bruey’s class.
“She brings other things from the world into this environment and explains it so we can understand it as a teenager,” Moberg said. “She wants me to be there, to be awesome and to be excited about learning.”
Jonathan Bill has been teaching with the PSD for 21 years and had Bruey as a middle school student.
“Eighteen months ago, she shows up here at PHS looking exactly the same as she did when she was 13.
“It’s absolutely wonderful to have her here as a colleague,” Bill said. “Julie’s success is proof that this school system affords great opportunities to each and every kid in this community. All they have to do is show up every day like Julie did with a smile on their face, ready to learn, and the sky is the limit.”
Bruey said she sees every student as an individual full of skills, wants and dreams. It’s her mission to guide them inward to trust, to know and to believe in themselves.
“Teaching and growing up in this community has helped me realize that those ordinary things are really what matters. To have a job where I can help someone to focus and clarify who they are, is just the best,” she said.