‘Meant to be’ at BCECHS

Published 1:00 am Sunday, May 1, 2011

Gladys Howell, an English teacher at Beaufort County Early College High School, helps Karla Romero with an essay. (WDN Photo/Betty Mitchell Gray)

It was a form letter posted by then-Northside High School Principal John Smith announcing the need for teachers at a new Beaufort County high school that attracted Gladys Howell’s attention.

Beaufort County leaders had decided to open the Beaufort County Early College High School at Beaufort County Community College, and its principal, Todd Blumenreich, wanted local teachers to apply for the school’s first faculty positions.

“I do not know what made me look at that piece of paper, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” Howell said. “It’s where I was meant to be. ”

The Washington native applied for the job as an English teacher. She was the second person hired to teach at the new school, which is ending its third year at BCCC.

Unlike many of her peers, Howell did not grow up wanting to teach.

She made a point of rebelling against her mother, Lucille Carawan, who encouraged her eldest daughter to pursue a teaching career.

She wanted to become a journalist, and she particularly enjoyed her work as a writer for the Washington High School student newspaper under the direction of journalism teacher Jim Ferrell.

After graduating from high school in 1970, she earned a bachelor’s degree in English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

After moving to Charlotte, Howell wanted to apply for a job at The Charlotte Observer, but, because her husband, Gus, already worked for the newspaper, she could not work there, too.

Instead, she began her career as an insurance underwriter for Kemper Insurance.

Later, when the family moved to Rockingham, Howell returned to school and earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Pembroke State University, now UNC-Pembroke, in 1977.

It was later, as a teacher at Charlotte Catholic High School, that Howell discovered her mother was right.

Teaching, she said, “was just a fit for me. I just enjoyed seeing the kids learn. It’s just that simple … it’s making a difference in their lives.”

Howell taught for 19 years at the Charlotte school.

In 2001, Howell and her husband moved to Washington to be near her parents and sisters, and Howell accepted a position as a teacher at Northside High School, where she stayed before joining the BCECHS faculty.

The style of teaching and the fast pace of course work at BCECHS have been particularly enjoyable for Howell, who teaches English I and English II at the school.

She said the technology available at BCECHS to her students is useful in their course work – including an online essay writing program that gives her students immediate feedback on the essays they write in class each week.

She also enjoys the freedom given to the school’s teachers to pursue their own teaching styles and hold her students accountable for their work.

“I have the freedom to be the teacher I have always wanted to be,” she said. “To hold them to the highest standards that are in their reach.”

This school year, Howell and her students reached an impressive milestone when all of the English I students were scored as proficient in end-of-course tests required by the state.

The school was named an Honor School of Excellence for the 2009-2010 school year based on similar test results.

In her spare time, Howell has been active in various community-theater groups, adding that if she couldn’t teach she “would be Bette Middler. … She can sing. She can act. She can do it all.” Howell also enjoys gardening, music, reading and spending time with her family.

She and Gus have two sons, George and Ben, and four grandchildren.

For her next project, Howell is looking for a way to combine her love of theater and her love of teaching č possibly a project that will help the Turnage Theater.

As for her dream of being a writer, Howell said that teaching her students to write is fulfilling that goal.