A Class to Remember
Cooper 1966-67 seventh grade ESG class to reunite this Saturday.
By Aranya Tomseth/The Connection
April 26, 2006
Miss Powell in 1966:
Steve Monroe will always remember his seventh grade English, Social Studies and Guidance (ESG) class at Cooper Middle School. From 1966-67, Monroe was one of about 30 students in Carolyn Powell's two and a half hour ESG period. Not only does Monroe have fond memories of his teacher, but he also remembers it as the last time that he was able to walk, run and move around just like the rest of his classmates.
"That was my last year that I was able to stand outside of a wheelchair," said Monroe, now in his 50's and living in Springfield. "I had really good friends in there. I had a good time."
Just a couple of weeks into the eighth grade, Monroe had an accident on the Riverbend golf course. "I had a friend that worked part-time as a caddie, and he took me for a ride in the golf cart," said Monroe, who grew up in Great Falls. "The way the golf course was structured from what I remember, is that the first nine holes were separated from the second nine holes by a creek, and they had a bridge for the carts to cross the creek, and I guess he didn't navigate the cart correctly." The golf cart overturned in the creek, and Monroe hit the rocks, fracturing his neck." The fracture is almost identical to Christopher Reeve's," said Monroe. "I am in the same condition as he was."
Suddenly a quadriplegic, Monroe was confined to a wheelchair and dependent on a ventilator. However, with the help of his parents, he learned to breathe on his own, and he was eventually able to go back to school. Herndon High School heard of Monroe's accident and offered to let him become a student. Since most of his friends from Cooper went on to Langley High School, Monroe lost touch with his ESG classmates.
Earlier this year, Monroe got a phone call at his home in Springfield. It was Sue Carrington, a girl who been in his seventh grade ESG class.
"I answered the phone and she told me her name, and I told her right away, you don't even have to tell me who you are — I remember," said Monroe.
Carrington informed Monroe that she had tracked down most of their classmates and their teacher Carolyn Powell — now Carolyn Piotrowski — and that she was hoping to have a seventh grade ESG reunion. Monroe was ecstatic.
FOR MANY PEOPLE, there is one teacher who stands out above the rest — one who leaves a lasting impression as someone who has made a profound impact on your life. For Sue Carrington, that teacher was Carolyn Powell.
"I got to thinking about Miss Powell one day and wondered whatever had become of her," said Carrington, who now lives in Alexandria.
Carrington decided that it could not hurt to investigate. She recalled that Powell had been dating someone named Bill in 1966, but she could not remember Bill's last name. Undeterred, Carrington used Google to run a search on her teacher's name and Mary Washington, "the college I believed was her alma mater."
"Up popped the Mary Washington alumni gazette with her name in the class notes section for the class of '62," said Carrington.
The notes listed her as Carolyn Powell Piotrowski, age 65, living in Annandale. Once Carrington had her former teacher's married name, she typed it into Peoplefinders.com, retrieved a phone number and hoped for the best. She was not disappointed.
"Sue contacted me out of the blue last August, and we got together for lunch shortly thereafter," said Piotrowski.
Over lunch, the two poured through the 1966-67 Cooper yearbook, piecing together the seventh grade ESG class. Inspired, Carrington continued to use Google, Peoplefinders.com and word of mouth to locate all but three of the original class members. The more people she located, the more a reunion seemed absolutely necessary.
"It only takes a spark to get a fire going," said Carrington.
On Saturday afternoon, April 29, Carolyn Powell's seventh grade ESG class will reunite in their old room at Cooper Middle School.
"This is a class who never forgot their class," said Carrington.
Following the ESG reunion, over 120 former Cooper students from that year, along with six teachers, the assistant principal and the school librarian, will meet on the Odyssey in Washington D.C.
CAROLYN POWELL'S former ESG students are coming from far and wide to see the teacher they revered 40 years ago. George Otott, who is currently project manager for Dolphin Energy Limited, lives in California with his wife but has been on temporary assignment in Abu Dhabi for the last year.
"I wanted to come so bad," said Otott. "I actually come home once a quarter and spend a couple of weeks at home, so I planned this trip around the reunion."
Otott said that Carolyn Powell was the most memorable teacher he ever had.
"She had a great presence in terms of her sense of calm, and I guess to me she just had this sort of sophisticated presence about her," said Otott.
At 26, Powell was also much younger than most of the other teachers, and Otott said that her age and attractiveness was not lost on the 12 and 13-year-old boys that she taught.
"She also had this great car — a yellow Chevy Malibu," he said.
However it was not just Powell's good looks and "sophisticated presence" that earned her a special place in Otott's heart. She left an academic impression as well.
"Our big project was this Civil War project," said Otott. "I remember it was the first time in my life that I put a lot of effort into a history project... I went on to have a lifelong interest in Civil War." Steve Monroe says he remembers Powell "vividly," and that he always thought she conducted the class in a really pleasant manner. Monroe is also looking forward to seeing George Otott.
"He was my best friend in the class and I haven't seen him since 1967," said Monroe.
Phil Culbertson, now a woodworker in Grass Valley, Calif., is another student who harbored a huge crush on his teacher.
"She was just one of the cutest teachers I ever had," said Culbertson. "I thought many, many times about Miss Powell over the years — more so than any other teacher. She is one of those rare teachers who really just sticks with you."
Culbertson said that Powell's popularity had a lot to do with her comfortable rapport with her students.
"She treated us like intelligent beings," said Culbertson. "Less like seventh graders and more like adults and individuals."
Culbertson can still recall Powell's interesting projects and assignments.
"One was tracing the stock market," he said. "I don't think any of us knew about the stock market going into it, but we picked a stock and followed it to see how it did."
Gwyneth Slocum Bailey, Carrington's best friend in the seventh grade, said that Powell created a congenial atmosphere that made her students willing participants in class discussions and projects.
"Everybody could say 'I was her favorite,'" said Bailey. "I think she had this ability to be friendly and fun with us, but we still respected her."
FOR HER PART, Carolyn Powell has equally fond recollections of her students.
"It was just a very special class," she said. "I absolutely loved it and I loved the seventh grade kids. It was one of those things where if they know you love what you are doing, then it spills over into them."
She said it will also be a treat for her former students to finally meet her husband Bill Piotrowski, a man whom they were very interested in knowing in 1966. According to Bailey, the class would frequently sing "Wedding Bell Blues" which had the catchy refrain "Won't you marry me Bill."
"I married my Bill," said Powell with a laugh. "At that time I was 26 years old and not married, and my students were very concerned. When they found out I had a boyfriend they were very happy."
Powell did not remain a teacher forever. After 15 years she took a break and then decided to work in retail.
"I guess I just always loved people," she said.
Powell partly attributes the success of her class to the setup of the curriculum.
"In those days we had a block of time that we covered English, Social Studies and Guidance and it was around two and a half hours long," she said. "The rest of the day they had different teachers for different subjects, so I think in my class they found their comfort zone because we had plenty of times to discuss things and have special reports and group projects. We never felt rushed."
Bailey said that the upcoming reunion is evidence of the power of good teaching.
"I am especially glad that Miss Powell will know the legacy she had left amongst us and the impact that she had," said Bailey. "This is such a testimony to the impact that a good teacher can have. I think there is a broader message here."