BERLIN – Buckingham Elementary School will lose one of its best known educators with the retirement of media specialist Debbie Wooten this spring.
After more than 40 years at Buckingham, Wooten, the familiar face that’s greeted generation after generation of children in the school’s library, will step down at the end of the school year.
“When I think of the years of experience Ms. Wooten has, as well as the number of children she has inspired, I am in awe,” said Karen Marx, principal at Buckingham. “Her love of reading, nurturing nature, exuberance and enthusiasm have been wonderful staples at our school. She will be missed.”
Wooten, who grew up in Howard County, decided as a child she wanted to be a first-grade teacher. Her desire never wavered, and when she was approached by officials from Worcester County public schools upon graduation from Pfeiffer University, she jumped at the chance to take over a teaching position at Buckingham Elementary.
“In 1970, Worcester County was the lowest paying county in Maryland for teachers but it was higher than North Carolina,” she said.
She started her career in the old Buckingham Elementary School — a building that dated back to the last century — during Worcester County’s first year of total integration.
“It was one of the last places in Maryland [to do so],” Wooten recalled. “There was a real blending of the community. It seemed natural.”
Though the integration went smoothly, Wooten, nervous as a first-year teacher in a place where she knew no one, says if it hadn’t been for her aides she would have been gone.
She gradually settled in though and went on to teach first grade for nine years. During that time, she watched what’s now known as Buckingham Elementary be built and the historic building she had started her career in be torn down.
“It was sad to see,” she said, adding that at the same time it was exciting to be one of the teachers forming the new school. She still remembers admiring the bright green and yellow walls of the new building and helping her students choose a mascot — Bucky Bear. She has fond memories of move-in day, which was handled in 1978 a bit differently than it would be today.
“Our children carried their desks and chairs across a little bridge to the new building,” she said.
Wooten began her lengthy stint as Buckingham’s media specialist after returning from maternity leave. In spite of her near life-long conviction that she was meant to be a first-grade teacher, she was assigned to fill in at the school’s library. She’s still there today.
“It was just another perfect job,” she said. “You work with children and books — what’s better? I thought about going back to the classroom but I figured this was a better way to reach more children.”
She’s come to love being able to say hello to former students — now parents — passing through the halls on the way to their children’s classrooms as she works in the media center.
While her job has changed some over the years as technology has increased, Wooten can still be found most days sitting in the reading alcove — often a sort of tent — she’s set up in the center of the library, teaching children the importance of books.
“I still read to them,” she said.
While Wooten still enjoys working with children, she said that after more than four decades as a teacher she simply felt it was time to retire.
“I just feel the time is right,” she said.
With her Buckingham will lose its last link to the old school, as the only other staff member who has been in the existing school since it opened is secretary Bonnie Bunting, who is also retiring.
“She came the same year I did,” said Wooten, who has worked under eight different principals during her tenure. “She and I have been very close. I’ve worked with some really neat, interesting people.”
Nevertheless, Wooten says she’s looking forward to having more time to volunteer during her retirement. She likes to do what she can for the American Cancer Society and also wants to help in the soup kitchen at her church in Berlin.
“I just want to have more time to do those things,” she said.
While Wooten won’t miss developing lesson plans or serving on lunch duty, she knows leaving Buckingham will be a big adjustment.
“It’s been my family,” she said. “When you’ve been doing something so long, it’s your life. I’m going to miss the kids and I’m going to miss the faculty and staff.”