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News > Teacher Perspective > Mrs Zelia Pereira

Mrs Zelia Pereira

Mrs Zelia Pereira served for 27 years as a teacher and member of the School Management. She was the IB Diploma Coordinator at St. Julian's for 14 years.
Mrs. Pereira is photographed by the memorial bench dedicated to João Alberto da Fonseca Aguiar Jr.
Mrs. Pereira is photographed by the memorial bench dedicated to João Alberto da Fonseca Aguiar Jr.

Mrs Zelia Pereira served for 27 years as a teacher and member of the School Management.
Zelia, who is of Goan origin, was born in Kenya. After completing her secondary education in Mombasa, she was awarded a scholarship to study in the UK, where she pursued a Joint Honours Degree in History and Economics. She was teaching at St Mary’s in Nairobi, one of Kenya’s leading schools when she was recruited by St. Julian’s in 1986. Her experience implementing the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme at St Mary’s was especially significant to St. Julian’s, as it then had plans to launch the IBDP.
She began her teaching career at St. Julian’s as an Economics teacher and was appointed Head of Humanities shortly after. This was followed by a two-year tenure as the Pastoral Head of the IB and then the IB Diploma Coordinator. During the 14 years that she was in charge of the IB, she introduced several new subject options, including Business Management, Philosophy, Information Technology in a Global Society and Sports Science, as well as features such as the Carnation Distribution on Valentine's Day, International Dinner and CAS afternoon. She will be well remembered by students for her help and support with their university applications and placements. Zelia was also the driving force behind the legendary trips to Russia/Ukraine, Kenya, and India, as well as organising educational visits to Expo (Barcelona, Spain), Greece, Italy, and the UK. Since her retirement in 2013, she has continued her involvement in academia, tutoring in business and economics and providing guidance to students navigating applications to universities in the UK, Europe, USA, and Canada.

Can you tell us about your journey to Portugal and St Julian’s?

I was teaching at St. Mary’s in Nairobi, a leading international school and the first IB school in the whole of East Africa. I played a leading role in launching their IB programme. It was at an IB Diploma Conference hosted by St Mary’s and attended by educators from across East Africa, Seychelles and Mauritius, as well as by a large delegation from the IB Head Office in Geneva, that St. Julians came up in a conversation because of its interest in the IB Programme. This led to a lengthy telex correspondence between Mr Bull and myself (in those days, there was no fax or email) and discussions about potential career moves. The prospect of uprooting was rather daunting, but I accepted the position after much consideration. Mr Bull’s kindness extended to meeting us at the airport and offering support as we navigated through the challenges of the initial year, marked by unfamiliarity and the harshness of winter. However, with the arrival of spring, our outlook brightened, and a sense of optimism prevailed.

What makes St. Julian’s special?

First and foremost, it is the ethos of the school. It is an institution that has a sense of commitment towards its students. It fosters an environment where students are encouraged to give their best and, where possible, excel, supported by a friendly and dedicated staff. The institution boasts of a sterling reputation and prestige. I remember calling a Cambridge professor to talk to him about a student’s application. When I informed him I was calling from St. Julian’s, he immediately replied that he knew of the school’s reputation. It made me feel so proud. Top Russell Group Universities in the U.K., including Oxford, LSE, UCL, Imperial, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews, amongst others and even those far afield as McGill in Montreal, were familiar with the singularly high academic standards and prestige of St Julian’s, which made our student placements that much more straightforward.
St. Julian’s also holds an enviable, much-respected position with both the local and international community in Portugal, which made it a much sought-after school by way of applications. I always looked forward to coming to school in the mornings, as the ambience was so vibrant and welcoming – it always felt like family.

Is there a memory you hold dear from your time at SJS?

Many memories linger in my mind. One that often comes to me is J.J. (João Alberto da Fonseca Aguiar Jr.), a wonderful endearing young lad who tragically perished in the  September 11 Twin Towers tragedy. He was a precious student to me, with a lively and friendly demeanour that left an indelible mark on his fellow students. Just weeks before September 11, he visited the school with his fiancée. Despite a busy afternoon, I set everything aside to show him around the campus. I have since visited the Twin Towers site in his memory.
There are so many other students I fondly recall. I cherish the memories of students enjoying themselves at the Queen’s Building, which was at the heart of the IB programme. Lunchtimes were filled with laughter and songs around the piano. It was a very warm and congenial atmosphere.
I remember colleagues who have passed away and headmasters, namely Mr Bull, a towering paternalistic personality; Mr Styan, whose very innovative ideas and encouragement uplifted us and Mr Smith, a young headmaster who had a democratic approach and valued staff input in decision-making.
Later, during Mr Monaghan’s tenure, a beautiful moment happened when he generously offered the school as a venue for my son's wedding. Classmates from around the world gathered to celebrate the occasion and reminisce about their good old days. For most present, it was a ‘trip down memory lane’.

What do you miss the most about St. Julian’s?

I miss everything about St. Julian’s. - the happy, caring atmosphere, the warm relationship among the staff, and the rapport with the students, who were always so respectful and appreciative. Quite a lot of them still keep in touch with me. What was so motivating was the shared goal between staff, students, and parents, which was very much aligned with the school's mission statement: to maintain academic excellence alongside character building and lifelong values. I was glad and proud to have been part of that guiding force, and it will be something that I will always cherish - these are treasured memories.

What was the most rewarding part of being a teacher?

The most rewarding part was working with the students, monitoring their achievements, having their aspirations fulfilled and seeing them embark, with a sense of pride, on to a promising future. It felt like a shared mission, a collective endeavour to nurture their dreams as a build-up for their university years and careers. Their appreciation was immensely gratifying. So many have since met up with me again, and it is always such a wholesome feeling to have been valued.
During a difficult time in my life, following the unexpected demise of my husband, I found a sense of comfort within the St. Julian’s community. David Smith, Sallie Simões, Ormond Fannon and several colleagues, as well as parents, were so kind and supportive. The whole school community was truly sympathetic and helped us, as a family, to cope with our loss and pain. The memorial service for my husband, held on June 9, his birthday, was so well attended by parents, teachers, students and alumni. It truly touched us immensely as a family.

Do you think life is more difficult for students now?

It's evident that the world has grown increasingly competitive, particularly in the realm of university admissions. The landscape has shifted, with placements becoming more challenging and universities implementing stricter examination standards, especially post-Brexit. However, amidst these changes, technology has emerged that has streamlined the application process and alleviated some of the more tedious aspects. I am confident that St. Julian’s is doing an excellent job with university applications and placements globally.

What would you share if you could pass on any wisdom from your career?

I firmly believe that children thrive on encouragement rather than constant criticism or condemnation. Within the school community, children see their teachers as an extension of their family, often seeking support during their formative years. A simple gesture like a pat on the shoulder accompanied by words of encouragement can have a profound impact.
As the former IB coordinator, I emphasised to my colleagues the importance of a supportive approach, especially when approaching exams or guiding students through the university application process. Balancing optimism with realism is key. My message is that motivation is rewarding, and children need that. It is the school years that shape their lives and personalities. St. Julian’s should ‘Aim for the Best’.


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