In the Spotlight: Julie Thrower, Unity Art Teacher by Jack Postma

Throughout 2016 Unity continued its comprehensive 10th year teacher review— teachers who have served at Unity for 10 years. The process of the review begins with teachers submitting up-to-date bios, accompanied by reflections on personal, spiritual and professional growth, and a plan for continued professional growth. Each of these 10-year teachers then undergo a review by administrators, their peers, and finally by the Unity Board. This article—and the articles to come— feature these four 10th Year teachers who were found to be outstanding in faith, excellence and service in developing Unity students to be followers of Jesus.

It was a mid-morning in December, and I was sitting at a table in the commons area along the full-length windows looking out over the Courtyard of Patrons. When interviewing teachers and staff for this series, I imagine that the patrons whose names are inscribed on the courtyard bricks are listening in on the conversations…

Within minutes of taking a seat, Unity’s Art teacher (since 2006) Mrs. Julie Thrower came skipping down the stairway from her 2nd floor Art classroom to join me. As she sat down she breathed, “Whew! Thanks for waiting… I had to make sure everything is ready for my next class!” And so the conversation began with a question about her youth…

JP: Did you have any nicknames as you were growing up?

JT: Oh, my, does that bring back memories. I was known as “Boo-Boo” on the playfields—we didn’t have playgrounds where I grew up in Sierra Leone, Africa. My parents were missionaries. “Boo-Boo” was the name I got because I always had ‘owies’ that needed attention. One time I insisted they put my arm in a sling. I wore it for days. I’m glad I left that name behind when we moved back to the States, when I was 3 and a half years old.

JP: Answer two questions for me… ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Why are you here?’

JT: I am a child of God, unique—no one else like me. I am true to God and myself when I am reflecting who God created me to be. I have been called to Unity through art to help students know who they are, know why they are here and learn what their purpose is.

And, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. This is my passion. This is not a job. It is my calling. I love what I do. I’m inspired. I care. I love investing in my students.

I believe our art curriculum helps all students appreciate art-making as well as developing those who plan to pursue art as a career. My hope and my aim is they will then be able to appreciate how God has gifted people to be artists to serve in His kingdom, whether they are included in that specific calling or not.

Since most of my students will not use art in their careers, I also use art as a tool to create relationships that support the students in their journey to understanding what God wants them to do after graduation. I simply want to be a resource to my students helping them discover how their lives are being formed and directed by God.

I have developed specific devotions helping students in their relationship with God and all lessons integrating faith and learning. This includes students periodically assessing their faith. Most people assume I can simply have students draw their faith. If I were to do that, I would have 28 drawings of the cross. While that image—the cross—is an important aspect of being a follower of Christ, it doesn’t lead students deeper in understanding how God is integrated into all aspects of life and the work they do. Instead, I have students express their faith, or their questions about Christianity, in the context of art. In some cases, it may be a drawing, but it could also be an essay or a conversation.

As my faith has evolved and deepened, I have become comfortable sharing my faith journey—how faith has impacted my life, and how I try to continue to draw closer to God. Though many of my faith stories are not specific to art, my talent in art has been a tool God has used to develop my faith and guide me to my calling. Weaving my stories through teaching art helps students understand God’s will for their lives— specifically how their gifts can be used to further God’s kingdom.

Growing students in their faith is so intrinsically woven into how I operate my classroom and interact with the students that they feel it (growing in faith) happen over time, rather than one specific lesson that spells it out.

I believe my time and encouragement of what my students are capable of in art helps them see how God is working in their lives. I pray and I believe it helps my students answer the question of “Who am I?” with a confident, “I am a child of God. I am unique. He created no one else like me. I am learning why I am here and what my purpose is.”

From Student’s Viewpoint

At this point, we moved to her art room to learn more about who Art Teacher Julie Thrower is—as a teacher—from her students’ perspective. In the new 48th Avenue Unity, the second floor art room is a complex of one large room and a number of smaller rooms, with lots of natural light streaming through the wall of windows facing the south and offering the best view of the campus.

I moved around the art room visiting the 4-person tables where her students were seated. Soon the students were talking to me about their art and about art class with Mrs. Thrower. Without prompts (except to decide who would talk first!) they readily shared while others at their table nodded in agreement:

  • “Sleeping is not an option in her class. She’s the best. You don’t want to miss out.”
  • “She’s fun, doesn’t flip out, and helps me be good at something.”
  • “She’s chill. She is always enthused about me and my art. It’s the same for everyone.”
  • “She cares. Some call her ‘Momma Throw.’ I don’t… My mother wouldn’t like that!”
  • “Why am I taking art? She’s the best. I am making sure I take whatever she’s teaching until I graduate.”
  • “I transferred-in to Unity from a public school. Mrs. Thrower is such a great Christian… in everything. For the first time, I am growing in my faith in my classes. It is so different. It’s fun!”
  • “Mr. Postma, take a look around. This is Art Explorations—it’s a required class if you are not in band or choir. Look at all the students who are busy doing art. I plan to take all her classes even though I know I won’t be continuing art studies after high school.”

As I moved through the classroom, out the door and into the second floor commons area I couldn’t help but think, Wow! What a privilege to hear students express such appreciation for their teacher. The feeling those expressions generated reminded me of a Fredrick Buechner quote: “You know you are in the place God has called you when the deepest gladness of your heart meets the deep hunger of the world.” And that “deepest gladness” of a teacher’s heart meeting the “deep hunger” of her students is happening every day in the Unity art classes—Thank You, Lord!

From an Administrator’s Viewpoint

In the commons, I ran into Unity’s Director of Instruction Mr. Bill Postma. So, I stopped him and asked, “You have been working with Julie Thrower for the past 8 years; what can you tell me about her?”

Bill paused, seemingly deep in thought searching for just the right words for such an important question. Deliberately, he answered, making sure each word carried its weight:

“Julie Thrower loves kids. She has great relationships with kids, and the kids in her classes just like being in art—even if they feel they are not good at art.

“Julie is the consummate professional Christian teacher. Every summer she searches the latest art education literature and research to re-work and improve her art classes. She has developed a well thought out, coherent plan for nurturing kids’ faith in art-making.”

Sitting there in the commons, in full view of the Courtyard of Patrons, and hearing Julie talk “in the spotlight,” I imagined them listening and joining me with an “Amen!” to all God is blessing Julie to be and do.

Amen! And Thank you, God, for Unity and Julie Thrower.