Family within the faculty

Sister teachers Julie Petersen, Erin Summerville find themselves on same campus after years in academia, connect over shared passion, profession
Summerville and Petersen lay on the couch in their childhood home. Photo courtesy of Summerville.
Summerville and Petersen lay on the couch in their childhood home. Photo courtesy of Summerville.

Every morning, around 8:30, you can find teachers Julie Petersen and Erin Summerville on the phone with each other. This short call, about five minutes, allows the sisters to catch up on all the happenings in their lives, along with sharing their plans for what is to come.

With Summerville teaching social studies and Petersen teaching math, the sisters spend most of their time on opposite sides of the school, making routines like an early-morning check in necessary.

“We’re both in our own little caves so we don’t cross paths,” Summerville said. “But if I park out on the other side of the school, I’ll stop by her room and chat.”

Both Petersen and Summerville said they enjoy working alongside each other. Having a sibling gives them someone to relate to on a more personal level, as well as making them seem more like real people to students.

“I love it because it means someone else really understands my day in a way that no one else does,” Petersen said. “I found it to be really humanizing because students, once they realize you have a sibling on campus, they remember that you’re a person. I think it’s just one more reminder that we’re all people, and we’re all trying to get through our days.”

I think it’s just one more reminder that we’re all people and we’re all trying to get through our days

— Julie Petersen

Though both have ended up at McCallum, only one knew her career path right from the start. Summerville knew she wanted to teach from a young age, but the subject matter changed as she grew.

“I knew pretty early on, I think in high school,” she said. “I always thought I would do math or science because when I was younger, I was a more of that person to be honest.”

After loving her own government teacher, though, Summerville  knew teaching that subject was her destiny. While Petersen’s inspiration to teach came later than her sister’s, both ultimately found that education was the path they were meant to follow.

“I think what’s interesting is who she’ll tell you is her influence and who was mine,” she said. “Mine was an elementary school teacher, [Summerville’s] was a high school government teacher.”

Just as Summerville found teaching first, she also found a home at McCallum before her sister. As soon as her career began, Summerville found McCallum, and hasn’t left since. Though she too had an influential teacher, Petersen didn’t realize his impact until much later. Instead, she tried her hand at a few different options before landing on teaching.

As this siblings portrait with a Dr. Seuss classic suggests, Summerville and Petersen shared a love of learning from a very early age. Photo courtesy of Summerville.

“I initially followed a path to law school, I spent some time working after college at a law firm, but it didn’t feel fulfilling in the way I had hoped, so I ended up changing paths and moving to teaching,” Petersen said. 

Following in her younger sister’s footsteps, Petersen made her way to McCallum as soon as she got her teaching certification. 

“[Summerville] had told me how great McCallum was, so when I was looking to teach, I really didn’t want to be anywhere but here,” she said.

As soon as a spot in the math department opened up, Summerville knew she had to let her sister know about the opportunity.

“When McCallum had an opening and she said she wanted to teach, there was no choice, [it was] clearly perfect for us,” she said. “It was barely a decision. We’re really close.”

Both sisters appreciate getting to work with each other, knowing that isn’t something available to most siblings. In addition to being colleagues, they’re also able unwind together, talk through their days and gripe about problems only they understand.

“We’re both pretty big on having structure and boundaries, but we can let our guards down at home in a way that we just can’t in school,” Petersen said. “It’s nice that we can connect and talk about things going on.”

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    Piper N.Jan 18, 2024 at 2:21 pm

    I love how you show’d them when they were little too show us what they were like before they became teachers.