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Laurel Highlands teacher 'humbled' by St. Vincent award

| Saturday, April 25, 2015, 3:21 p.m.
Julianne Gaster of Laurel Highlands High School is thrilled to be the recipient of a St. Vincent Great Teacher Award in a profession that she loves.
Julianne Gaster of Laurel Highlands High School is thrilled to be the recipient of a St. Vincent Great Teacher Award in a profession that she loves.

A great teacher can make a long-lasting impression on their students, and each year, St. Vincent College gives freshmen the opportunity to single out one special instructor who made a difference in their lives.

This year, 23 teachers were selected from schools around the area, and one of the honors was bestowed upon Laurel Highlands High School teacher Julianne Gaster, who teaches creative writing and literature at the school.

“I thoroughly enjoyed having Mrs. Gaster for two years in high school,” nominating student Natalie Kunkel said. “She taught me how to become a better writer, student and person. She truly cares about the success of her students and gives the utmost attention to them whenever they need her.”

Gaster said that she was honored by the award and very humbled when she received the announcement that she was named as one of the recipients of the St. Vincent Great Teacher Awards.

“I was deeply touched and a little surprised by receiving this award,” Gaster said. “It means so much to me personally to know that a student's experience in my class had such a positive impact.”

Gaster said that she fondly remembers Kunkle as a hardworking and very dedicated student.

“Natalie Kunkel was a student in my creative writing class when she was a junior, and as a senior, she took my AP Literature and Composition class,” Gaster said. “Natalie was always very diligent and dedicated. In my creative writing class, we publish a literary magazine, and Natalie was nominated by her peers to be an editor. She spent countless hours in and out of school working to help make the project a success. In her senior year, she remained actively involved with the magazine. Natalie loved writing, and even though the writing in our AP class was a different kind of writing, she strove to become a better writer in all aspects.”

Gaster said that being a teacher can be a difficult, but she embraces the every day challenges of the job and is both rewarding to her and to her students.

“I think that being a great teacher is a daily struggle for all teachers, one that I know I don't always win,” Gaster said. “But you keep trying new approaches and challenging yourself and your students. Recognition from students themselves is always really special.”

Gaster graduated from Albert Gallatin High School then attended California University of Pennsylvania, where she obtained her degree in secondary English education.

Always passionate about writing, Gaster said that pursing a career path in writing and in education seemed a natural choice.

“I have always been passionate about reading and writing, and I discovered that teaching was a career where I could pursue my passions and help students develop their own,” said Gaster, adding that she was raised with the love of the written word. It probably helped that my mom was an English teacher for 37 years, too.”

Gaster said that she has enjoyed teaching for the many years that she has been at the school, and feels strongly about the importance of education and those who choose the profession in order to foster the leaders of tomorrow.

“Literacy and the ability to think critically is the solution to so many problems,” Gaster said. “If students can read about a dilemma, form an opinion by thinking critically about it, research it, discuss it with others, and express that opinion in writing, then students can take those skills, perfect them and use them in everyday life. Teachers have the opportunity and responsibility to create an environment where this can flourish. Teaching creates independent thinkers and life-long learners, which is what society needs to thrive.”

Gaster, who lives in Fairchance, is married with two children.

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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