For Mrs. Katie Curley, sometimes life intersects with curriculum


Mr. & Mrs. Curley pose with the pride and joy of their lives, their three children (Submitted Photo)

It started with a game of two truths & a lie, except she was the only one to share and she listed six things, all of which were true. Mrs. Katie Curley has been teaching chemistry and forensics at North Penn for nineteen years and uses facts about her life as an introduction to the forensic drug unit. Those truths being neither of her parents have college degrees, her younger brother was a drug addict, her cousin overdosed, her uncle was an alcoholic, her aunt was bipolar, and both parents experienced events that should have killed them; but she doesn’t share those truths to garner sympathy, rather more as insight to her life outside of teaching. 

“When I took it over and I saw there was a drug chapter, I was trying to figure out how I could kind of grab people’s attention and what I know about stereotypes or what kind of ideas people seem to have as they often have a very specific idea of what their teachers lives have been like or what they are like,” Curley remarked. “I was kind of trying to break that mold and also give an avenue to say hey, just because I have a job and I come to work every day doesn’t mean I don’t bring in baggage because I have a lot of students that come with a lot of things outside of school…I just wanted to kind of make a more genuine connection.” 

I was kind of trying to break that mold and also give an avenue to say hey, just because I have a job and I come to work every day doesn’t mean I don’t bring in baggage because I have a lot of students that come with a lot of things outside of school…I just wanted to kind of make a more genuine connection

Forensics here at the high school is primarily taken by seniors as a science elective, with prerequisites of Algebra 2 and Chemistry 5.0. Due to the fact that it’s mostly taken by seniors, Curley’s stories double as advice for those who are college bound, as that can be a drastic change of environment for some to handle. 

“Although I know there’s a lot of things that go on in this building, when you get out into that college world it’s so much more, and it’s so hard to make some of those choices if you don’t have information,” Curley stated. “People are just so easily swayed by what others are doing that just kind of having that hey look these are realities and I’ve lived them and it’s not something that you wanna get yourself wrapped up into because it is a whole lifestyle change and it’s going to dramatically affect your path moving forward.” 

When it came to college for herself, Curley is a first generation college graduate. Her dad had attended a semester but dropped out and joined a union for insulation and asbestos removal and her mom never attended. She is also the third oldest out of four children, and her one older brother as well as youngest brother found that college isn’t for them. Her other older brother attended college and, similar to her, has a chemistry degree but differentiates by working in pharmaceuticals.  

“My parents always talk about how they didn’t graduate college, so for them education was very important to us and I think being a teacher everyone goes oh you have a degree so must have come from a family where your parents went to school and they didn’t, they valued education but my dad didn’t want to spend a whole other semester when he didn’t pass his chemistry class and my mom, I don’t think she thought to go. She’s one of seven and she grew up fairly poor and so she would talk about the powdered milk and all the extra support they would get and things of that nature and now she looks back on it and is like man I could have went to college for free and missed out on that opportunity,” Curley shared.

In regards to her younger brother who struggled with addiction, Curley noted how he had also struggled with size because as a baseball player with small stature, he was never first picked and it ate away at him, leading him to fall into the wrong crowd. It started with marijuana but led to more experimenting in college and eventually cocaine, all of which her parents had suspicions about. 

“There was a lot of hiding of things and I think that’s fairly common because there’s a level of embarrassment that goes along with the fact that we didn’t know too many other families where their kids were struggling with drug abuse and we lived in a good neighborhood, my parents provided everything we needed and he just got kind of mixed up in things when he was a senior in high school,” Curley voiced.

Her brother’s addiction progressed as she was in college and he experienced multiple near death incidents caused by drugs. She talked about how one night he had been up all night the day before and had taken some pills and while out delivering pizzas, he ran over the curb, hit a tree and nearly missed a nearby creek. Unfortunately, the addiction did not stop there and another day, while Curley happened to be home from college, her brother had done cocaine. It hit his system so fast, causing him to have a grand mal seizure which led to lasting effects on his physical well-being. Not only did his addiction affect him, it also affected Curley and the rest of her family. 

“I think I was more annoyed that he was causing such problems. I always felt like he got a lot of attention when we were little because he was the baby and you know is this a factor of that, you feel like you need attention or you’re doing this to get attention…I was more angry with him for just causing these issues and also putting my parents in the position that he was putting them in,” Curley remarked. 

After his seizure, with the help of his parents, her brother got an apprentice job in her dad’s union and was sent to therapy, which he didn’t enjoy. His recovery process was as long as any and he struggles with the image of “once an addict always an addict,” but with unfaltering support from Curley’s parents she proudly stated that he’s been sober for more than a decade. 

“He used to come home from meetings and be like I’m not like that person and he would get very angry at my parents and my dad’s like go look in the mirror you are that person. You have to decide you want to change, we can’t do this for you. but they never gave up on him, which is something my parents have never done. You wanna talk about something incredibly positive and as a parent it’s incredible to me that they were able to kind of always do that unconditionally no matter what any of us did,” Curley expressed. “If I asked my brother why he stopped, I don’t think he knows exactly. It was just kind of that final decision that okay, this isn’t what I want to do, and thank god he had it because my cousin didn’t have that choice and he was only 24 when he died.”

As mentioned, her extended family also struggled with addictions. Her younger cousin on her mom’s side had been struggling with his parents divorce and had been visiting his mom in Maryland that had access to a variety of medications. This had raised suspicions for Curley and her family, and one day he had taken a pain patch that was supposed to be used over a month and injected the drug all at once, killing him instantly, quickly yet painless. Also on her mom’s side, her uncle was an alcoholic which is found to be genetic. Although it happened when she was quite young, she can remember her mom receiving a phone call and the painful reactions that came with it.

“I remember my mom getting a call from my uncles partner and he was like screaming hysterically because my uncle Tom wouldn’t wake up… but I might have been 12 when that happened and  I can remember things about him, but now that I’m my 40s its hard, but the movie Sister Act, anytime it’s on TV I have to watch it because the first time I saw it was when my uncle brought the VHS tape to our house… there are certain things, certain mementos that like when I see them, he’s the person I think about,” Curley stated.  

On her dad’s side, her aunt had struggled with mental health and as a psychologist, she could help with other people’s problems but couldn’t figure out her own. Curley’s grandparents were not big on mental health and thought that medicine could solve everything, which tends to be a common thinking with older generations. So her aunt, who was suspected of having bipolar disorder, had gone down the shore and purposely took a bunch of pills to never wake up. Because she was around 8 years old at the time Curley felt angry. She thought that suicide was a selfish act because she had seen the pain it put her dad in but as an adult, that mindset shifted and later as a parent she understands why her parents withheld information about the unfortunate events that occurred.  

I can understand now from a parent perspective that you don’t want to lay all the cards out because it’s almost too much but as I got older, I had to connect the dots myself and that at the time, was frustrating but I can see now they did to protect us

— Katie Curley

“I can understand now from a parent perspective that you don’t want to lay all the cards out because it’s almost too much but as I got older, I had to connect the dots myself and that at the time, was frustrating but I can see now they did to protect us,” Curley voiced. 

The tragic events Curley has experienced throughout her life reflect now on her life as a mom to three young children. Her daughter is at that very inquisitive age and it can be tough to answer the deep questions she asks that Curley doesn’t have all the answers to. Similarly to how Curley experienced sad things at a young age, her daughter has too and information has only been shared to settle the question asking. Especially being a high school teacher, she knows the highs and lows of teenagers and is ready to have those even deeper conversations when they arise. 

“Bigger kids, bigger problems… I think the one thing that I am at least prepared for is having those conversations because they know my brother, they know their uncle Billy and they know what he is now,” Curley mentioned.

As for her parents and their near death experiences, Curley is grateful that both survived and she feels very fortunate to have them in her life today. When Curley was a freshman in college, her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and Curley would accompany her to chemotherapy treatments. As for her dad, one day he was working on Curley’s brother’s car and forgot to put blocks behind the tires because he was in a rush. When he went under to fix the car, it shifted and he became trapped under it. Luckily, her brother was home and was able to lift the car and drag her dad out. He sustained over 100 hairline fractures in his skull which they believe is actually the reason for his survival; the fractures allowed the pressure and blood to dissipate and he now only has no sensation and poor vision on one side of his face.

“If my brother wasn’t there he would have died, he wouldn’t have been able to get himself out. he was pinned under the car and he couldn’t move his arms and why my brother was able to budge that car, I have no idea, he went out the next day and couldn’t even pick it up from off the ground and he’s a big guy it just goes to say what adrenaline can really do to you,” Curley shared. “I think from that I truly appreciate the fact that I am in my 40s and my parents are very much alive. I’m very lucky they have been around for all of my life events and my brothers and now my kids.”

Curley sharing these life events all connect back to her goal of forming that genuine connection with her students and others around her. She even expressed that being a teacher makes sharing her story worthwhile and how she wants her students to leave looking back on their science experience in a positive light, even if they hated the class and didn’t enjoy the topic they at least knew they had a teacher that cared. 

“If anything, the experiences that I’ve had humbled me in the sense that I know I’m not any better than anybody else, and that if there’s one kid that I tell my story to that can then have a connection and I watch when I talk about it…when I’m standing up front I can see the faces of everybody else that I’m talking to and the number of conversations I’ve had since that conversation have been incredible,” Curley concluded.