Aspiring teacher Julia Tristine seeks Miss Rhode Island USA crown


When she was in kindergarten, Julia Tristine coaxed her little sister, Samantha, to play school with her for hours. Tristine was always the teacher, giving out assignments, then grading her sister’s worksheets.

“It was cool, because I would teach her what I was learning and I was years ahead,” Tristine recalled. “I like to think that’s why she’s so smart.”

Now age 22, the Monroe native graduated from Providence College last Sunday with a Bachelor’s degree in elementary and special education — and she is a contestant in the Miss Rhode Island USA pageant.

On what she likes most about teaching, Tristine said, “I would like to say all of it, but if I could narrow it down it would just be to see that ‘aha’ moment, especially with special needs kids.”

While student teaching at Sarah Dyer Barnes Elementary School in Johnston, R.I., Tristine worked with second graders.

“It’s a tough year,” she said. “They’re learning a bunch of new topics, so it’s really hard for them. I explain it in a different way and you can see the look in their eyes. The light sparkles in their eyes and they would say, ‘Mrs. Tristine, you’re the best teacher! Thank you so much.'”

Tristine, who graduated with Masuk High School’s Class of 2020, enjoys the strong support of her family, including parents, Faith and Ed, sister, Samantha (now a Masuk senior), and brother, Eddy, a Fairfield Prep alum who recently finished third overall in a marathon in Hartford.

“He’s a graduate student at SHU. I’m proud of him,” Tristine said of her brother.

Tristine’s mother encouraged her to apply for the Miss Rhode Island Pageant.

“My mom sent me the application and said, ‘you should do this. This is such a great opportunity for you,'” Tristine said. “I looked into it, and it seems really cool. I used to think pageants were about wearing pretty dresses and being judged on who looks the best, but this pageant is really focused on confidence and building self esteem among women.”

“I went to the pre-pageant orientation and everyone was sweet, building each other up,” she added. “Honestly it puts everything in perspective for me, especially as a senior in college. There’s so many more issues going on in the world, so I don’t want to focus on anything that isn’t going to make me happy. This pageant makes me happy and I’m meeting a lot of new people.”

Competing for a cause

Julia Tristine

Currently, Tristine is attempting to garner votes online. There are 48 contestants and the one with the most votes wins the People’s Choice Award and is guaranteed a spot in the semifinals. It is a dollar per vote and once can cast a minimum of five votes.

People can vote right up until the pageant, to be held at the Rhode Island Convention Center on Saturday, May 25.

Every Miss Rhode Island contestant advocates for a cause and the winner spends the following year getting as involved with it as she wants to. For instance, the previous winner is advocating for mental health awareness.

When people vote for their favorite contestant online, a portion of the proceeds will support the winner’s cause. Tristine’s cause is special education.

Tristine said each contestant must also raise a minimum of $1,000 worth of sponsorship donations to compete in the pageant. She said the funds are spent on pageant fees, meals for the weekend, hair, makeup, clothes and prizes for the winner.

Anyone wishing to make a donation can Venmo the money directly to Julia Tristine at @juliatristine and she will send it to pageant headquarters.

Tristine recalled one supporter who walked up to her at a Red Sox game during Senior Week, to tell her how proud he is of her and asking how to vote.

“That was really touching,” she said. “Even if it’s just one vote, it helps me so much. I’m so grateful. Not a lot of people would take the time.”

Another supporter is an 11-year-old girl Tristine babysits, who came to her during her graduation party last Sunday.

“She gave me $20 of her own money towards my sponsorship, because she believes in my cause,” Tristine said of the little girl. “Although I tried not to accept the money, she insisted.”

Tristine said she appreciates all the support she receives from her hometown, which she is proud to represent (To compete in the Rhode Island pageant, one has to have lived there for at least a year).

“Monroe’s pretty small and Monroe people go to cool places, but don’t necessarily advertise where they’re from,” she said, adding it is also important to her to bring light to special education.

Students Julia Tristine taught signed her sash.

Competing in the pageant includes a day of interviews, rehearsals, makeup, hair and photo shoots, according to Tristine. There is no talent portion of the pageant. However, all women practice for a dance number they perform together at the beginning of the event.

Tristine said the interviews are short with questions like: What’s your favorite quote? and Who are your heroes?

“Interviews are for the judges to see your personality and get to know you,” she said. “It’s definitely confidence they’re looking for, knowing yourself and speaking well in a clear voice. Posture is also important.”

There are also swimsuit and evening gown competitions.

“They say, ‘it’s not really about how you dress. It’s more the woman inside of the dress,'” Tristine said. “They’re really focusing on that — which I love.”

Connecting on a deeper level

Tristine, who will work at The Little Gan Preschool in Westport, has already gained a lot of experience as a student teacher in Rhode Island.

“I learned about patience,” she said. “I was never good with that. You never know what a student’s home situation is like, so I try to be very patient, to never raise my voice with them.”

Tristine had done her special education student teaching at Lippitt Elementary School in Warwick, R.I. “I worked in a co-taught classroom,” she said.

Tristine said half the class included students with learning disabilities who have IEPs (individualized education programs) and the other half were general education kids.

“I got to know all those kids, though I was technically responsible for half of them,” she said. “I got to see all different types of behaviors. My teacher was amazing — both of the teachers I worked with.”

“At my placement at Barnes, my special education teacher would pull kids out of the classroom and give them support,” Tristine said.

In Providence, all teachers must have dual certification in general and special education. Tristine said she learned a lot about special education at her first job at Times Squared Academy in Providence.

“I have ADHD and OCD, so I can relate to those kids,” she said. “A kid at Times Squared was struggling to focus and I could give her tips and connect with her on a deeper level.”

Tristine said a young girl told her she did not take her medicine for ADHD, so Tristine shared the strategies she herself had used to pay attention in class when she forgot her own medication growing up.

She told the girl, “this helps me when I struggle to pay attention. Sometimes it happens. You forget your medicine. But you still need to do your school work.”

“It was special to connect with her like that,” Tristine said.

One teacher Tristine worked with taught a girl with a rough home life, so she did the girl’s hair every day to make her feel special.

“I asked if it would it be okay if I did her hair,” Tristine said. “Every day I’d look up a different hairstyle, try it on me, then do it on her — so she always had great hair. I worked with her for a month. I could be across the recess yard and she would run as fast as she could and give me a hug.”

Tristine also remembers a little boy who was upset over having to get braces. Tristine told him how she had gotten so much attention when she got braces growing up, and how there were different colors to choose from.

“His mother said, ‘thank you. He didn’t want braces, but now he’s so happy about it,'” Tristine recalled.

Throughout her experience, Tristine said she has worked with “amazing teachers who care about their kids”.

“Education is so important, especially special education,” she said. “I will always advocate for it, even if I don’t end up going into special education. I’ll advocate for those students. They don’t always have the best home life. Sometimes parents won’t accept that they have autism.”

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