Joan Lee-Powell has been the face of Bryant Woods Elementary since the Columbia school opened in 1968.
She has seen 10 principals come and go and calculated that nearly 1,800 youngsters have called her their kindergarten teacher. But after teaching for 39 years, which recently included teaching the children of former pupils, Lee-Powell decided it's her time to take recess, once the school year ends tomorrow.
"I thought it was time," said Lee-Powell, 59. "When things are really good, that's when you should leave. It's been a great year."
Lee-Powell is one of 103 employees to retire from the system this year. Only David Clem, who worked as an adaptive physical education teacher at the County Diagnostic Center, has worked longer than Lee-Powell, with 40 years of service.
Lee-Powell said she plans to spend more time with her husband of 32 years, R. Thomas Powell, who works as a band and orchestra director in the Anne Arundel County school system. The Linthicum resident also plans to garden, travel and meet with other retired friends.
"We can take lots of day trips," she explained.
The Baltimore native came to Howard County in 1967 after graduating from Frostburg State University. She made $5,200 a year; starting teachers in the school system now make a little over $40,000.
Lee-Powell started as a second-grade teacher at St. John's Lane Elementary - kindergarten was not offered at the time. The following year, she went to Bryant Woods to teach kindergarten.
"We were excited," she said, referring to the staff that opened the school. "It seems like time has gone by so fast. Every year has been exciting. Every year has been a fresh new start."
During her tenure, Lee-Powell has seen the kindergarten curriculum change, as well as the county move to a full-day kindergarten program. Now, her students are learning to read, write, count money and work on computers.
"We are now teaching first-grade skills," said Lee-Powell, one of four kindergarten teachers at the school, a big difference from when she was the lone kindergarten teacher when the school opened.
Gay Cornwell, the principal's secretary who has been at the school for 27 years, said Lee-Powell has not changed "one iota" in all the time she has worked with her.
"She's just as competent and soft-spoken," Cornwell said. "We are losing a wonderful teacher. She's kind of the rock of the kindergarten program. She's the epitome of a kindergarten teacher."
Rebecca Allwang, a first-year kindergarten teacher, said she has been amazed by Lee-Powell's longevity.
"She's a very intelligent woman," Allwang said. "She comes to school ready for another day."
Allwang said she will remember all the lunches and dinners she shared with Lee-Powell.
"It's all the little things we've done throughout the year," she said.
Maria McNelis, the school's assistant principal who has worked with Lee-Powell for seven years, described her as a marvelous teacher.
"She's compassionate, wonderful and child-centered," McNelis said. "She's a wonderful staff member."
Dena Daniels, a teacher's assistant who has worked with Lee-Powell for eight years, said she will be lost when Lee-Powell retires.
"She's very energetic for all of the years that she's been doing this," Daniels said. "She's just incredible. She sets very high expectations. By the end of the year, [pupils] are meeting or exceeding them."
Daniels said that she has been asking Lee-Powell about her retirement for years, but that the teacher always had a reason to return.
"She loves [teaching] so much," Daniels said. "You have to love it to be doing it that long."
Lee-Powell said the Wilde Lake community has kept her coming back year after year.
"It is a tight-knit community," she said. "People who have gone to other schools, the school board office, have fond memories of Bryant Woods."
Kwame Yeboah, 6, said he has learned about animals and insects this year under Powell's watchful eyes.
"We learn about something else every day," he said. "She's a great teacher. She always brings a smile to school every day."
D'Vanya Hammond, 5, said she likes Lee-Powell because of all the toys and treats she shares with the class.
"She's funny," D'Vanya said yesterday while playing with letters in Lee-Powell's classroom. "She makes funny jokes."
Lee-Powell said what she'll miss most is working with the children.
"I love being around the kids, just working with them, the interaction with them," she said.
What will she miss least?
"The paperwork and report cards," Lee-Powell said immediately, with a laugh.
The school community surprised Lee-Powell last week when a 2-foot-tall tree was planted in her honor. Each of her pupils dumped a cup of soil to cover the tree's roots.
"It was really touching," Lee-Powell said. "I'll have to come back and check that and make sure it is watered."