Her teaching career has staying power

Educator: Joan Lee-Powell learned her love of teaching kindergarten at Frostburg, and has been practicing it at Bryant Woods Elementary since the school opened.

September 19, 2001|By Laura Dreibelbis | Laura Dreibelbis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

On Sept. 7, it was a typical day in Joan Lee-Powell's kindergarten class at Bryant Woods Elementary. Pupils sat around low tables in child-size chairs, drawing three things they liked to smell after using that sense to identify mystery items in a bag.

Cole Batzler, 5, drew an orange, a grape-and-cherry pie, and a lollipop, proudly showing his work to his teacher. He started to run from the room but stopped short when she reminded him, "What kind of feet - walking feet," prompting Cole to put his hands to his side and stroll out to play in the September sun.

Lee-Powell has witnessed the exuberance, innocence and trusting nature of kindergartners at the Columbia school since it opened in 1968.

"She's an institution in the school," said Dinah Harrison parent of first- and third-graders who "adored Mrs. Powell."

The Baltimore native began her career teaching second grade and reached her 35-year milestone with Howard County public schools last year. She had discovered that kindergarten was her passion while earning her degree at Frostburg State University, and she switched to kindergarten for good when Bryant Woods opened.

"When they learn something new, they light up. You get to see that excitement," she said.

"You integrate the arts with language and math," added Lee-Powell, who injects creativity in academic pursuits and laments budget reductions for the arts.

Instructional assistant Dena Daniels has worked with Lee-Powell for three years and shares her enthusiasm about kindergartners while acknowledging the challenges of the age group. Hearing 20 or more 5-year-olds calling out at once can be daunting, but Lee-Powell never gets frazzled, Daniels said.

"I have never seen anybody who is so calm all the time. She always moves with the flow - one at a time," said Daniels, noting that Lee-Powell meets more than academic needs by teaching responsibility, friendship, caring and kindness.

Principal Jason McCoy, beginning his second year at Bryant Woods, values Lee-Powell's perspective about the history and traditions of the school.

"It's important to me to know the past of the school in order to move it into the future," McCoy said.

Lee-Powell boosts staff morale, McCoy said, by reporting on former pupils in the community who have succeeded - a bonus because many elementary school staff members often cannot witness the long-term fruits of their labor.

Bryant Woods was Columbia's first neighborhood, and the school had an atmosphere of excitement and promise in a close-knit community when she started teaching here, Lee-Powell recalled. Columbia founder James W. Rouse and many company executives lived in the neighborhood and had children in the school.

There were no village centers or restaurants. The only place to get food was down the hill at the 7-Eleven, but there was an abundance of positive energy associated with Columbia, Lee-Powell said. Rouse often visited and once brought the king of Sweden to the school to demonstrate his vision. "It was a very special time," she said.

Lee-Powell says academic expectations have changed for teachers and paperwork has increased, but she appreciates smaller classes and the variety of teaching material now available.

Her husband, Dick, whom she met at Frostburg, teaches band and orchestra at Severna Park High School, and the two spend their spare time fund raising and chaperoning field trips for high school students. Their cats, named Wolfgang and Phantom, reflect their interest in music and Broadway shows.

As for retirement - it's anybody's guess. Lee-Powell still gets involved with each class, having fun. Her pupils and peers keep her coming back.

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