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SNAPSHOTS : After 36 Years, No More Pencils, No More Books for an Educational Institution

June 05, 1986|MARY BARBER

As long as there has been a Martha Baldwin Elementary School in Alhambra, there has been Harold Howell in one of its classrooms.

That's 36 years of service by two institutions that were born to teach and never have wavered from their original purpose.

Howell, who is retiring from teaching this month, is the last of the original faculty of Baldwin School, which opened in 1949 to educate Alhambra's growing crop of post-World War II baby boomers.

He leaves a vastly different student body, a somewhat different educational system and some students who are children of students he taught.

"Almost everything has improved" is his sweeping evaluation of a profession that never failed to excite and satisfy him.

Howell said he never wanted to do anything other than teach fifth- and sixth-graders in his hometown. He said he had opportunities to go to other districts and to be an administrator, but nothing held more appeal for him than the classroom.

"For one thing, I'd kicked around all over the world, and for another thing, I just found my niche," he said. "I grew up right here in Alhambra on a chicken ranch, and this has always been a good job. It's a lovely life."

Howell's "kicking around" took place during World War II, when he served in the Air Force. He met and married his wife, Joyce, in Glasgow, Scotland, and they came to Southern California with the first of their four children at the end of the war.

He trained as a teacher at Whittier College and taught for one year at the Ramona Elementary School in Alhambra before settling at the Baldwin School, which is on the western border of Almansor Park.

Baldwin Principal Charles K. Hannawalt called Howell "very warm, considerate, humanitarian and effective. He is much loved by students and the faculty."

Kindergarten teacher Frances Meyer, who chaired a retirement party for Howell last week, called him "the most positive person I've ever known. I don't think he has a negative bone in his body."

Meyer said she planned the party "because I wanted to do something for Harold because he has done so much for us. He has such a wonderful disposition. Just seeing him in the morning starts my day off so well that by the time I meet the children in my class, I'm already smiling. My lord, the children love him. It's unbelievable."

A slender, active, talkative 65-year-old, Howell feigned a slump of exhaustion to dramatize the energy he puts into teaching. "Every June, when school closes, I'm like this," he said. With an exuberant leap, he added, "And every September, I'm like this."

Instead of leaping back into the classroom next September, he and his wife plan to travel, enjoy their two grandchildren and begin building a new home on property they own in Morro Bay.

It will be very different from life in a classroom. This year he has 30 fifth-grade pupils who speak six different languages, which he said has been about average in recent years. His students have spoken a total of 14 languages, and he has learned a few words of many of them.

Howell, who spends every weekday after school tutoring students and who takes their work home every night for grading, figures that he has taught more than 1,000 students throughout his career.

"The most change I've seen in 36 years is right now," Howell said. "While Alhambra was a stable bedroom community for years, now there's a lot of transiency, and most of the newcomers are immigrants and refugees.

"Kids have changed--their behavior is better," he said. "I'm a disciplinarian, and I usually can discipline by using reason. I try to grade realistically. My philosophy is, if I flunk a kid, I'm flunking myself. My job is to get them to learn."

When he began at the Baldwin School, Howell said, he believed that attending PTA meetings was part of a teacher's professionalism, and he has never missed a PTA meeting.

"What could possibly be more important than education?" he asked.

His only complaints: "The clock and my schedule. I never have enough time. Oh, how I could use more time!"

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