All her friends were going off to all-black high schools and having fun. She was a lonely black face among a sea of not-very-welcoming white girls, one of 17 girls hand-picked by teachers around Baltimore to integrate Eastern High School in 1955.
Patricia L. Welch was supposed to think of it as an honor, but all she felt was separate and responsible.
"As 10th-graders, we had a lot of weight on our shoulders," Welch said. "Always in the back of your mind was that you were doing this for a whole race of people."
The load on her shoulders has shifted, but it is larger today than it was decades ago. Elected as chairwoman of the nine-member Baltimore school board Tuesday night, Welch, 59, is in a position to influence the education of 100,000 children.
She will have to continue to direct the multimillion-dollar reform of city schools begun in 1997, when the schools chief described the system as "academically bankrupt."
Welch, a warm, loquacious woman who seems always at ease - unless her picture is being taken - has served on the school board for the past four years. In an interview in her office yesterday at Morgan State University, she noted the significant gains in test scores made in the elementary grades across the city, but said the system must turn its attention to improving middle and high schools.
She still uses her long-ago experiences from Eastern. She had been an honor student in her all-black junior high school, but at Eastern she realized there had been different standards and a different curriculum at her schools. "The students there had learned more than we had been exposed to," she said.
"I want to make sure that the children of Baltimore don't find themselves the way I did when I went to Eastern: behind - and it wasn't my fault," Welch said.
From the time she was 6 years old and ran warily through a white neighborhood to get to her beloved books in a St. Paul Street public library, Welch has chosen to ignore boundaries. The daughter of a domestic worker and a truck driver, she graduated from Coppin State College in 1964 with the intention of teaching in city schools. She told her interviewers she wanted to be sent to a neighborhood where she had never been. She landed at Thomas Johnson Elementary School in South Baltimore, a predominantly white neighborhood.
Alarmed that a third black teacher had joined the school's staff, parents asked to have their children taken out of her classroom.
But Welch said she persevered, got to know her pupils' families and visited their homes. "Soon race was not an issue at all," she said.
She moved on in 1976 and spent 11 years teaching reading at Calverton Middle School, a West Baltimore school whose test scores have now slipped to become some of the worst in the city.
Ruth N. Bukatman, principal of Booker T. Washington Middle School, taught at Calverton as well. "She was held in high esteem in the building ... a very vibrant, energetic, highly literate person who was respected by her peers," Bukatman said of Welch.
She describes Welch as "innately skilled" at relating to children.
Welch, a Sandtown-Winchester resident who is married to Arthur K. Welch Jr., a construction consultant, earned her doctorate in 1986 from the University of Maryland at College Park. She worked for the State Department of Education before moving to Morgan as an assistant dean.
Welch is now helping shape teachers as dean of the School of Education and Urban Studies at Morgan. That is her paying job.
The school board assignment is volunteer. When the board unanimously elected her to lead it for the next two years, it chose a person with a very different style than her predecessor, J. Tyson Tildon.
Tildon, who will remain on the school board, is known for his straight-talking approach that has sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Welch, on the other hand, is more a voice of compromise.
"They are different kinds of people," said former school board member Edward J. Brody. "I think he was effective. Pat will be effective as well, but in a different way. She will do a super job."