Pupil in '64 is now principal of same school


Nadine Wellington knows about deja vu.

Flip back the calendar to 1964, and 10-year-old Nadine Haas is sitting in a classroom at the brand-new Joppatowne Elementary School.

Today, the married 40-year-old is sitting behind the principal's desk, getting ready to celebrate the school's 30th anniversary.

"You can come back home," said Mrs. Wellington, who has been principal of her grade-school alma mater since 1991. She's gotten used to being jolted back to the past as she walks through the familiar hallways. After all, the Abingdon resident is constantly running into former classmates whose children now attend the school.

She is still amused by the student who reminded her that she double-dated with his dad.

"I asked him, 'Did I have a good time?' " she said with a laugh.

Mrs. Wellington also went to Girl Scout meetings with the school's current PTA president, Sharon Cornelius. She likes to -- tell her students about her days at Joppatowne Elementary, recalling a tobacco-chewing teacher and playing eraser-head tag.

"We'd put an eraser on our heads," she told the fifth-grade students who now occupy her old classroom. If the eraser fell, that person was out of the game, she explained, much to the children's enjoyment.

The 1960s also were a time of sponge hair curlers, Barbie dolls and skateboards for the sixth-grader.

"We did not wear pants or shorts to school," Mrs. Wellington recalled. "We wore dresses and skirts. When it was cold, we could wear leggings, but then we had to take them off and put them in the coat closet."

And 1964 was the first year of integration in Harford County schools. "That was very exciting. It was a plus," said Mrs. Wellington, whose family was the 10th to move into the community of Joppatowne.

Her parents, Martin and Martha Haas, still live in the same house on Chatfield Road.

"I felt like I was already part of the community when I started working here," the enthusiastic principal said. "It gives me a chance to tune in to what's going on in people's lives."

She said one of her most important roles is being a cheerleader for the school. "I try to promote that we're family," she said. "Everyone has a voice."

The entire school will be taking part in Joppatowne's birthday celebration Saturday. Sue Dilworth, another alumnae and an instructional assistant at the school, is chairwoman of the event.

Ms. Dilworth was in the first class to go all the way through Joppatowne at a time when county elementary schools went from grades one to six. There were no required kindergarten classes then.

One of the activities being planned for the anniversary includes removing the building's original cornerstone. It is a stone that Mrs. Wellington has not forgotten.

"I accepted the school on behalf of the student body," she said about the 1964 dedication. "It was the first speech I ever made."

She's not sure why she was chosen as student spokeswoman, but she does remember how she felt when the principal at the time, Irv Wilkinson, asked to see her. "I thought I was in trouble," she said.

The contents of the old cornerstone remain a mystery to her, though. "I honestly don't remember what's in it," she said.

She does remember what she wore that day, though: "A red dress, black shoes and white socks."

Mrs. Wellington went from Joppatowne to Edgewood middle and high schools. There was no nearby Magnolia Middle or Joppatowne High School then. She subsequently attended Towson State University, then tried a stint as a legal secretary, but soon realized that "I'd make a greater impact on the lives of young people as a teacher."

So, that's what Mrs. Wellington has been doing since 1978. Picking up a master's degree from the Johns Hopkins University along the way, she has climbed the education ladder as a teacher, teaching assistant principal, assistant principal and now head of her own school.

"I'd like to put Joppatowne Elementary on the map," she said. "I'm going to do as much as I can to put Joppatowne in the limelight."

With that goal, the youthful-looking Mrs. Wellington was a little taken aback when the students in her old classroom asked her if she was going to retire.

"I'm here for a long time," she assured them.

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