Reception this Saturday at Antioch School—Chris Powell to retire
- Published: May 19, 2016
After 28 years at The Antioch School, beloved Older Group teacher Chris Powell will retire at the end of this school year.
In recognition of this significant transition, the school community will celebrate the formative role Powell has played in the lives of her students and their families with a public celebration from 2–4 p.m. Saturday, May 14, on the school grounds, 1160 Corry St. Dessert and light refreshments will be provided, and the program is set to begin at 2:45 p.m.
Guests are invited to bring a memory to write or share during the program as well as a single flower to create “a collective bouquet representing the beautiful variety of students Chris has taught over the years,” according to a school flier.
If every one of Powell’s students from the past 28 years were represented, the bouquet would include close to 200 flowers.
“And the amazing thing about Chris is that she remembers every student,” said Sally Dennis, who has been the Older Group’s classroom assistant for the past three years and will move into Powell’s position as lead teacher next year. “She remembers all their names, their siblings and their parents.”
Dennis, who worked on her master’s degree and teaching certification while assisting the OG class, said that Powell served as an inspiration and guide. “She’s been an excellent mentor.”
For one thing, “she knows the children incredibly well.” And after 28 years at Antioch School and about a decade in other schools before that, “she has a huge store of knowledge and experience to draw from. She understands what’s happening with these kids — educationally and emotionally. And she cares so much about them.”
At the same time, “she’s firm,” Dennis said. She sets clear boundaries and keeps the classroom running effectively. “She creates a very, very safe environment.”
Ben Green, now an undergraduate at The Ohio State University, was in Powell’s class from fall 2005 to spring 2008.
“The way the class was set up, you would get assigned work for the day, and you could decide when to do it. She encouraged you to really monitor yourself. If you were able to get your stuff done, the rest of the day was free time. We were able to do a lot of cool stuff.” Students explored personal interests, but with instructional guidance. “There were times that I didn’t know if it was free time or class,” he said.
“It was all about being self-directed. Chris really cultivated that.” Green said he is seeing the effects of that nurturing now as he pursues personal research, having been awarded a research fellowship for the summer to study the viral transmission of honey bee viruses from honey bees to native bees.
“Chris really, really trusted the kids,” Green said. She trusted them to learn and to treat each other well. “Being in her class felt like being part of a team.”
The parent of an Antioch School alumna and a former school board member, Krista Magaw echoed the “team” aspect of Powell’s work.
“The board and staff were a team, and Chris was a long-term leader as well as member of that team. Students and all parents were team members as well, and Chris always wanted them all to be heard,” Magaw said.
Magaw’s daughter, Anna Carlson, was in Powell’s class from fall 2002 to spring 2005. “Chris had amazing integrity and ownership of the Antioch School program,” Magaw said. “I marveled at the teacher-directed education at Antioch [School]. Student-directed too — that’s their hallmark.”
After nearly four decades total in the teaching profession, Powell says she didn’t set out to become a teacher. Having grown up in New York state, where she attended high school in Nyack, N.Y., she came to Ohio in 1968 to study anthropology at Wilmington College, but soon discovered that anthropology wasn’t a good fit. Powell switched her focus to psychology, but that, too, didn’t suit her. She doesn’t feel that the time was wasted, however, because both fields helped inform her work as a teacher.
While Powell says she came to teaching “through the back door,” looking back on her life, she was consistently involved in teaching in one way or another. While still in high school, she worked at a Head Start program in Harlem. While a student at Wilmington College, she co-taught second grade and coordinated activities for preteens at a school on the Navajo reservation.
Powell came to Yellow Springs in the early 1970s with her young family and enrolled at Antioch College in 1979 to complete her education. She got her bachelor’s degree in elementary education there in 1981, and then went on to earn a master’s degree, with honors, from Wright State University, in teaching children with learning disabilities and behavioral challenges.
Before coming to the Antioch School, she had stints teaching fourth- and fifth-grade learning disabilities resource classes at Mills Lawn and learning disabilities resource classes at Springfield’s South High School.
“I had loved Antioch School long before I started teaching here,” Powell recalled. “In 1973, I volunteered to help Hannah Northway with the Antioch School swimming program at Antioch College. At that time, I knew that this was the school I wanted my children to attend, but I never dared to hope that I would actually be able to teach at Antioch School myself.”
The staff inspired her.
“Bev Price, Bill Mullins, Pat Dell and Faith Patterson were the pillars of Antioch School with long, illustrious teaching careers,” she said.
She started in the 1987-88 school year.
“Bill was not an easy act to follow,” she said. “His unique teaching style was part of Antioch School tradition for more than two decades, and it was hard for all of us to adapt to the change — children, parents and teachers alike.”
Despite the challenges, she was thrilled to be part of the school.
“It was so refreshing to teach in a school where the children are part of the curriculum development and actively involved in their own learning,” she said. “The very structure of the building, the curriculum, the sequences of the day melded the outside world with the world within the classroom. The freedom of expression, choices and physical movement kept the classroom charged and vibrant. I knew that this was going to be my most exciting, energizing and challenging teaching experience. And it has been.”
While Powell is retiring from full-time teaching, she intends to stay close at hand. She anticipates coming in as a substitute teacher and for “special projects with the children as a volunteer.”
She also will continue her work not only with the local chapter of Days for Girls, which makes personal hygiene kits for school girls in underprivileged countries, but also an organization that makes prosthetic breasts. She said she also plans to spend more time gardening, making music, traveling and “doing things put on hold.”
Powell said she knows she faces a big adjustment.
“Teaching at Antioch School is not just a profession, it is really a lifestyle, which I have enthusiastically dedicated almost three decades to,” she said. “There have been many joyous moments teaching here, and some profoundly sad ones. This school community, which we deliberately keep small and intimate, is like an extended family, even in the years beyond graduation.”