Boulder Valley School District

Our People Are Our Strength Staff Profile: Julie Thompson

Julie Thompson
Erin Rain

En Español

Julie Thompson has been a science teacher in the Boulder Valley School District for an impressive 19 years, with the past 15 at Boulder High School, and before that at Angevine Middle School. Her path to education was a unique one, having made the decision to become an educator after her first career.

She not only impacts the community through her teaching, but also by participating in the district’s sustainability efforts, both at her school and by serving on the BVSD Sustainability Advisory Committee, whose mission is to act as a cross-sector advisory group to oversee the progress and continuous improvement related to all aspects of the greenBVSD Action Plan.

Changing careers, with a common thread of science
Thompson is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California. She earned a  bachelor’s degree in biology with  a minor in chemistry and started a career in the field of chemistry, working with instrumentation and chemical analyzers.  She accepted a job in Boulder with Sievers Instruments in 1998, after some friends invited her to visit and has called the city home since. However, an interest in teaching as a profession followed her throughout her early adulthood.

“I had been thinking about teaching since I was in my early twenties,” shared Thompson. “but I got quite a bit of negative feedback about teaching — the usual comments like ‘you won’t make any money, the profession is not respected, the challenges of working in schools’, etc.”

After growing restless and a little bored in her current job, around the age of 34 she decided to make a change. Thompson embraced the idea of a second career and went back to school to obtain her teacher certification and then a few years later, her master's degree in education, both from the University of Colorado Boulder.

“I decided to go for it, quit my job and go back to school, thanks to some good advice from my sister that was essentially ‘you’re gonna look back in 20 years and be glad you did it’ and now 19 years in, I can say I’ve never, ever regretted it,” said Thompson.

A beginning birder
Having taught biology and environmental science, among other science curricula at Boulder High, Thompson is excited to offer a new course to Boulder High students this upcoming fall on Ornithology, the study of birds.

“I’ve been interested in birds for a while,” said Thompson, while adding the disclaimer that she is a beginning ‘birder’. “I took a class through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology last summer and learned about their curriculum. It’s so tightly tied to both biology and environmental sciences as birds can be thought of as bioindicators — the heath of bird populations give us indications on how our environment is doing among lots of other ecological insights.”

Thompson tested out some of the lessons she learned last summer with her classes this year and saw enough student interest that she decided to create a course proposal for a stand alone ornithology course. The  course was approved by the board of education earlier this spring and so far 31 students have enrolled. In the upcoming new ornithology course at Boulder High, students will not only learn the basics of bird biology, but also about topics like climate change, plastic pollution, air pollution and land use as they relate to bird ecology.

A passion for sustainability
By finding ways to incorporate environmental science lessons into all of her courses, Thompson integrates her work as an educator and a sustainability advocate.

As a member of the BVSD Sustainability Advisory Committee, whose mission is to act as a cross-sector advisory group to oversee the progress and continuous improvement related to all aspects of the greenBVSD Action Plan, she gains a bigger picture of what sustainability programs are happening in the district as a whole.

Part of that work has been helping schools with the reintroduction of compost collection, after a brief pause of composting in all BVSD schools due to a change in collection rules by A1 Organics, the company that processes all compost from the Front Range. Thompson, who leads this charge at Boulder High School has advice for those in her position.

“First of all, the Eco-Cycle Schools Program is your number one advocate for getting compost collection started again in our schools; they do incredible work,” shared Thompson.

Once launched, the day-to-day work of checking the collection bins and continually educating all the people who use them begins.

“For anyone who is  going through that process or hasn't done it yet, I recommend they contact Eco-Cycle first and then a teacher who has, and I’m happy to be that resource. It’s so important to have compost collection in schools,” said Thompson. “This is our chance to model to our  students and staff that composting is important and this is how to do it correctly, so when they’re out in the community they can continue that practice.”

“Even though we’re not doing it perfectly by any means; the lessons and the messaging are there, and we are constantly working to improve,” she shared.

To celebrate and promote the reintroduction of compost, Thompson, the Environmental Club and the Eco-Cycle Staff organized a Valentine’s Day kickoff event at Boulder High School. As part of the celebration they created mini bouquets of flowers donated by a local florist, Petals Flower Farm, to give away to everyone who composted as a way of saying,  “Thank you for composting” and to celebrate Valentine's Day.

“It was a great reintroduction,” said Thompson. “Our immediate goal now is to make sure we don’t have contamination in the compost. Our secondary goal is to get more folks composting successfully.”

“I do spend a lot of time in the cafeteria, checking on the bins. I talk with students about how to make composting a habit,” she shared. “Those who care about it already are so happy to have it back, and those who don’t we keep working with.”

Climate-literate students
When asked how she finds ways to engage with or instruct students about environmental issues, specifically climate change, Thompson admits it's a challenge to feel like we are making a difference.

“When it comes to climate change, we don’t want students to lose hope and feel overwhelmed but we've got to be honest with students about the facts,” she shared. “It’s something I struggle with; how to approach the topic in a way that does not overwhelm”.

“Graduating climate-literate students is super important,” said Thompson. “Every student should know what is causing climate change, what it is, how the greenhouse effect works, who and what is putting CO2 and other greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, and what we can do as a society to solve the climate crisis. These topics and themes can be worked into most disciplines and should be.”

A voice for progress and innovation
Erin Greenwood, BVSD PK-12 Science Coordinator, echoed the value Thompson brings to the sustainability committee and the district as a whole. Greenwood partnered with Thompson on the writing of the  course proposal for the new Ornithology course.

“Julie Thompson is the kind of teacher who raises her hand first: to co-chair the greenBVSD Sustainability Committee, to motivate high school students to participate in zero waste efforts, to represent Boulder High School as a teacher leader, and to be a voice for progress and innovation,” said Greenwood.

She continued, “as a colleague for nearly twenty years in Boulder Valley School District, Julie has always been committed to active student participation in science and school life while modeling the bravery to try new things like proposing courses like Ornithology.”

A proud Boulderite
In her time outside of work, Thompson is a proud Boulder resident who enjoys spending her free time hiking, road biking, and swimming, preferably in mountain lakes (citing she is a summer person at heart). Her latest project over the past couple of years has been working on home improvement projects in her new home in Boulder. 

BVSD is grateful for all of the impactful work and efforts Thompson contributes to the improvement of our students' education and our district’s sustainability efforts.


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