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Legal Studies Alumna Emphasizes the Importance of Compassion

legal studies alumAlready a successful educator with her master’s degree, Joan Brooks stepped out of her comfort zone and returned to school later in life to pursue her dream. She explains, “I certainly did not need another degree. I was established in my teaching career and well-respected within the education community. But, I had always dreamed of studying law and becoming an advocate for my students.”  

Joan has served with the Archdiocese of Baltimore for 39 years in several roles including her current one as the Assistant Principal at Saint Philip Neri Catholic School, which serves pre-kindergarten through eighth grade students. As a rare opportunity, she was able to work with the Superintendent of the Catholic Schools of the Archdiocese of Baltimore during her internship for her master’s degree. She reveals, “No one has or since completed their internship in the role of an Assistant to the Superintendent.” Before her current position, Joan taught at St. Pius X in Towson.

Although she was apprehensive about returning to school, Joan enrolled in Stevenson University Online’s Legal Studies bachelor’s program while she was teaching. She based her decision on Stevenson’s “reputation of excellence” and was not disappointed. Joan says, “Any school can provide an excellent education. Stevenson’s value exists within the faculty…My success was their success and when I did not seem to fully understand a concept, each went above and beyond to be sure that I got it.” Joan attributes her ability to overcome her fears to the Stevenson faculty, as they nurtured and helped her develop the excellence that was within her. She notes, “The afraid, older student was able to graduate with confidence.”

Joan always had an interest in law, particularly Constitutional law. She would find inventive avenues in the classroom to stress the impact the Constitution had on our history including holding mock trials – using fairy tales! She jokes, “I do not think my students will ever look at Goldie Locks in the same way ever again.” This passion for law drove her to pursue another degree, and Joan is thankful for the experience. Although she does not work directly in the law field, she is able to correlate every course she has taken into her current position. She explains, “There has not been a course taken at Stevenson that has not been put to use...Research and Writing has helped me with Federal programs, Arbitration and Mediation when working with students and parents, Contract Law when working with teachers, Mock Trial, and even Estates and Planning. More importantly, my coursework has given me what I need to advocate for the students within my school.”

As an administrator, Joan says she “wears many hats” and it can be demanding to balance all of her responsibilities. A typical day for her could include covering for a 4th grade teacher’s class, proctoring recess, accepting the delivery for the lunch program, and settling a playground dispute. Whatever the challenge, she takes it in stride due to the fulfilling nature of her position. She notes, “Every day is different and presents new challenges, but knowing that I have the opportunity each day to make a difference for the teachers, students, and families in my school keeps me coming back each day. Additionally, discipline is one of many parts of my job and I spend much of my time helping students see that there is another way to settle disputes that honor the dignity of the person.” Joan believes that compassion, faith, understanding, and discipline are the most important values to uphold. She says, “We live in a world that is broken. No one has the perfect life, we all come with battle scars. As a classroom teacher, I wanted my students to always feel safe and loved. Once that happened, learning could take place.” Joan was able to establish a safe environment for her students by providing a food basket for those who needed a snack, sharing her lunch, and listening first to why a student’s homework was not completed before disciplining them. 

She notes that not much has changed in her role as an administrator – there is still food in her basket in addition to a jar of chocolate kisses for teachers and students who need a reminder that they are cared for and important. Joan also holds a homework club and tutors students who need extra help. She explains, “I am the person that listens. My door is open to parents, teachers, and students who just need someone to listen. They need to be heard and feel that they have a voice.” Joan continues by saying that the most important lesson she has learned is that it is not about her. The advice she would impart to anyone considering teaching is that if you love what you teach more than the student you teach, you have chosen the wrong career.

In her downtime, Joan enjoys spending time in her garden and at the ocean. She would love to visit each state in addition to England and Ireland, and adds, “One day, I would like to return to the small town in Germany where I lived as a child.” Recently, she learned to screen paint and enjoys reading mysteries.

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