Speaking Their Language: Tyrone Teacher Connects with Her Students

Language and learning have always been a constant presence in this Tyrone teacher's life


Photo courtesy of Ms. Olivia Grugan

Grugan directing a play with her Palestinian students in 2015.

The Tyrone High School Social Studies teacher Ms. Olivia Grugan joined the staff at the beginning of the 2016 school year.  In only her second year at Tyrone, she is already making a significant an impact on her students.

“She’s my favorite teacher,” said junior Lauren Taylor,  “She’s young, so she can relate to students, and she’s pretty too!”

Grugan, who teaches civics, Spanish, and psychology/sociology, speaks four languages: English, German, Spanish, and Arabic, as well as basic sign language.  Grugan’s vast knowledge of language helps her when teaching her students about different cultures because language is a key element of culture.

I love that teaching is both an intellectual challenge for me and an opportunity to encourage teenagers, a group of people I have a lot of faith in”

— Olivia Grugan

Growing up in a bilingual household in Alexandria and Huntingdon, learning languages has always been a part of Grugan’s life.  

“Language learning was almost a way of life for my family when I was younger. Obviously, I liked it and continued, taking Arabic classes when I started college,” said Grugan.

Her mother spoke German and her father spoke English, and when Grugan’s third sister was born deaf, her family learned sign language.  

When Grugan was twelve, she and her family traveled to Guatemala, and when she was 14 they adopted her brother from Guatemala.  This experience exposed Grugan to the Spanish language.

Each language has a certain significance to Grugan. German is closest to her heart because she associates it with her mother and her grandmother.  Spanish and English are very useful in Grugan’s daily life, and as for Arabic, she loves the way the Arabic writing looks.

Grugan always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up: a teacher.  

She would play teacher with her brothers and sisters, making them sit and listen to her teach.  In college, she entertained the idea of going to law school, but her heart was set on teaching.  

“I love that teaching is both an intellectual challenge for me and an opportunity to encourage teenagers, a group of people I have a lot of faith in,” said Grugan.

Grugan’s favorite part about teaching is when students come into her classroom curious about a topic, and then she is able to facilitate a discussion that the students are engaged in. She also enjoys when her students suggest something new they want to learn about.

“These are the moments that make me feel like students are standing up for their own education and like I’m doing the right thing,” said Grugan.

Grugan attended Middlebury College in Vermont where she majored in political science and minored in Spanish. 

After graduation, she spent three years teaching in Palestine, Grugan returned to the United States and went to grad school at the University of Pittsburgh.

Now at Tyrone, Grugan is able to apply her knowledge of language when teaching her students about different cultures.  Language is the most unifying element of culture, so it is vital to have a level of understanding in order to really comprehend and study a culture.

Grugan’s fiancé also recently joined the Tyrone Staff a couple of weeks ago as an in-school suspension Facilitator, and the couple is set to be married in July.