They teach where they were taught — at Gainesville’s St. Mary Catholic School
GAINESVILLE — It has been said home is where the heart is, and for Rae Ann Gerken, Jacqueline Jones, and Christin Snider, “home” is how they describe St. Mary Catholic School in Gainesville.
Each walked a distinct path to their teaching jobs at St. Mary, but their first steps along that path were as students in the classrooms where they now educate a new generation.
Not surprisingly, similarities abound. All have familial connections to the school. Each values her role in giving students a faith-based education. They all believe they were academically and spiritually prepared for life after St. Mary, and as moms, they chose the school for their children.
As Gerken pointed out, “It says something about the caliber of education when you are willing to come back and put your children in the same school.”
For Gerken, who for the last ten years has taught junior high math and science, the path to teaching at St. Mary took a more circuitous route than her colleagues.
She graduated from Gainesville High School and went on to study chemistry at Texas A&M University. She wasn’t sure she wanted to teach but received a minor in education to give herself options. As it turned out, education became her first job, and she taught chemistry at high schools in Conroe and Georgetown.
She also married and gave birth to three daughters. Being a mom was her dedicated and chosen career while the girls were small.
In 2004, when her husband accepted a coaching job, she restarted her chemistry teaching career at Gainesville High School: the beginning of a full circle twist that ultimately led to an offer to teach at St. Mary.
According to Gerken, “I didn’t realize how fulfilling it would be to teach at the elementary school where I attended. It was God’s way of bringing me back home... to my roots and to my family.”
Her dad, brother, and daughters who are now adults all graduated from St. Mary.
Family ties were also the lure for Jones to teach at St. Mary. Her paternal grandparents, father, and brother attended the school, and she currently has two sons at St. Mary, with a daughter on the horizon for next year.
St. Mary was always part of Jones’ life plan. “I even told my parents when I went into education that I was meant to be where I can teach about God and my faith,” she reflected.
She never wavered from that vision. There were no openings for teachers at St. Mary when Jones graduated from the University of North Texas, so she worked in the area as a substitute teacher until there was an opportunity to apply for a full-time job at St. Mary. She was hired in 2009.
Jones views her role as a kindergarten teacher as a calling, emphasizing how she loves “teaching my students how to read and about religion. And carrying those lessons on religion throughout the day.”
She doesn’t shy away from sharing with her students her experiences when she was a St. Mary student. In fact, Jones created a picture book that lets the youngsters see her as a student in the school. She also points out some of the changes that have been made in the years since she and many of their parents walked the halls of the school.
“A lot of the students I have taught over the years have parents who went to school here with me,” she said.
This sense of community and continuity led to her decision to enroll her children in St. Mary.
“I love this school. It has been my home since I was a little girl,” Jones shared.
Like her colleagues, Snider’s role as a teacher at St. Mary comes with family ties.
“St. Mary has always been special to my family. My granddad was in the last high school graduating class [after which, St. Mary offered grades PK-8]. He sent his kids here and almost all of his grandkids attended school here,” she said. “It is my home, my comfort zone. When I went to college to become a teacher, this was the only place I imagined teaching.”
After graduation, Snider waited a year for an opening at St. Mary. In that year, Snider had her first son, so the career break gave her a chance to stay at home with him. She started teaching at St. Mary in 2017 and today has two sons in the school along with five nieces and nephews.
She is passionate about maintaining the school’s standards as a teacher.
“When I was a student here, I felt like there were always high expectations. It is still that way. We expect a lot from our students, and we try to push them to be the best they can be and to help them get to that level.”
About her choice to teach at St. Mary, she said “I always knew I wanted to give back to the community that gave me so much as a kid, and I really wanted to raise my children here so they would be raised with those same values.”
Gerken, Jones, and Snider are part of a team of teachers that Principal Kim Otto depends on to educate the 146 students at St. Mary.
An experienced educator, Otto accepted the position five years ago with a focus in balancing the school’s beloved traditions with innovative ideas to help the school flourish in preparing students for the future.
Her staff’s loyalty to the school, established in 1891, keeps Otto undaunted and confident in her team.
“We work like a family here,” she said. “And we are all committed to doing what’s best for our students.”