Ms. Iona Popa CdeP 2010 — new teacher, coach, and advisor spotted frequently around campus with her husband, Mr. Popa, and golden retriever, Scout — is a Thacher graduate herself. She arrived at Thacher as a freshman from a small Catholic school in San Francisco after making the unusual decision to leave home for boarding school. When asked about this decision, she answered: “when I came for my second visit there was something about Thacher that made it seem like this was an opportunity that was so different from any other opportunity I would have at a different high school.”
And she certainly took advantage of that opportunity. Ms. Popa played volleyball and lacrosse, was a member of the Judicial Council, was a prefect for junior girls, and was involved in community service and the Christian Fellowship Club (CFC). In addition to volunteering weekly at the old folks home and homeless shelter, Ms. Popa worked with the Therapeutic Riding of Thacher (TROT) that brought special needs kids onto campus to ride on Wednesdays, saying, “I rode every winter, and after freshmen year I was so impressed with what the horse had been for me. It was such a gift to be able to share that with other students.” Ms. Popa continued to help others after Thacher, attending the University Notre Dame to pursue nursing but eventually discovering her love of teaching.
While at Notre Dame, Ms. Popa traveled to South Africa in the summers to work in a hospice and spent a year abroad at Oxford studying English literature. She said, “As I was figuring out my passion for literature and also trying to figure out how to turn that into service, teaching just made perfect sense.” Ms. Popa also discovered through nursing that “there was something more exciting to me about caring for the minds of people as opposed to caring for their bodies, so I care for the minds and souls now as a teacher.” Ms. Popa then committed to a Masters of Education program and, after considering joining the Peace Corps, began her teaching career. She taught English and art history at a large Catholic high school in Tampa, Florida. Afterwards, she continued teaching humanities but at Scottsdale Prep Academy, a day school in Phoenix, Arizona. Both were larger than Thacher, and Ms. Popa said, “I think both schools just left me hungering for boarding school…While they were academically really strong and taught me a lot about how to be a teacher, the student relationships could never be as strong.”
Ms. Popa, now returned to her high school alma mater, teaches AP English and Latin II alongside her previous teachers. She said that working with her high school teachers is “simultaneously the coolest and most bizarre thing ever. I think it’s part of why I came back to Thacher so early, was to be able to be mentored by the people who were my mentors.” Ms. Popa also coaches varsity volleyball, is involved in the CFC, advises sophomore girls, and will be the assistant varsity lacrosse coach in the spring. She wants to be more involved in the community and is inspired by her colleagues, saying, “These are the people that got me into teaching. These are the English teachers who made me want to be an English teacher, and here I am and I want to make the most of the opportunity to learn from them.” Ms. Popa is passionate about working to benefit the School and said, “Once you become an adult you understand how valuable Thacher is and you want to push it to its ultimate potential so that it can make as much of a difference as possible in these four short years.” She also mentioned a “greater interest in social activism in the world outside of Thacher’s walls,” and said, “I think part of current events demands that we be involved in that but I feel much more now that Thacher is responding to and in tune with what is going on outside of its gates. It’s less of a bubble.”