Mary Powell didn’t just teach her kindergarten students their ABCs and 123s.
For 25 years, she taught young Wylie students listening skills and social skills and how to love their neighbor. She let them learn about plants by working in a real garden and learn about math by cutting a pizza into eight slices.
“She always gave 150% to her students,” said fellow teacher Kim Hudson. “If they needed something for the classroom, Mary provided it. If they needed special attention, help, a listening ear or just an extra hug, Mary provided it. If the campus needed something, Mary was there. If a fellow teacher needed something, Mary was there. She could be counted on to go the extra mile for Wylie students.”
Because of that, Powell will be inducted into Wylie’s Hall of Honor at Homecoming.
Powell grew up in Anson and graduated from ACU. She is the sister of former Wylie mayor Gary McCaleb, and her mother instilled in her a love for children that had a big impact on her decision to be a teacher.
“I love kids,” she said. “And I wanted a profession that would allow me to also have time with my family. With the summers and the breaks, it allowed that.”
Powell met her husband Bishop while they were both teaching at what was then Madison Junior High. They married and then decided to move to his hometown of Ballinger. Powell had taught Home Economics at Madison and then Cooper, but the only job opening in the small town of Ballinger was in kindergarten.
The move proved to be a blessing.
“I loved kindergarten,” Powell said. “It was one of those things God took care of me. I ended up really loving the 5-year-olds. It worked out pretty well.”
She eventually left teaching to stay home with her children. She and Bishop moved to Anson for a few years and then decided to move to Abilene. They chose the Wylie area because of their love for small towns.
“What kept driving us was we both came from smaller towns,” she said. “At that point, Wylie was smaller. That attracted us. We were more comfortable with a smaller school system for our kids.”
So they moved into the Wylie area and sons Mark and John became Wylie Bulldogs. In 1991 when her daughter, Tara, started kindergarten, Powell returned to the classroom, this time as a kindergarten teacher at Wylie.
She was one of seven or eight kindergarten teachers at Wylie, and she taught in the old yellow building that used to be where the new ECC is now. Although she always taught kindergarten, Powell switched classrooms five times and campuses three times, as the district moved classes around trying to accommodate exploding enrollment.
Powell said she loved teaching 5-year-olds.
“I just liked being with the kids,” she said. “I think I learned as much from them as they did from me. They get so excited to learn. Every day is new. They are so quick to get hurt and get over it – to forgive and go on. And they give hugs freely.”
Lisa Salmon, who is now Principal at the ECC, said her son was in Powell’s class in 1998, and she was one of his favorite teachers.
“Her students loved her,” Salmon said. “She demonstrated patience and love with the students but at the same time she was firm and a top-notch instructional leader. Wylie was fortunate to have had Mary Powell to teach the students at such a young age because she created such a strong positive impact at the beginning of their school careers.”
Salmon said she enjoyed having Powell as a teacher at the ECC during the last four years of her career.
“Among the faculty, she was always a leader,” Salmon said. “The staff looked up to her and always considered her suggestions and opinions.”
Powell said she tried to help her students develop personally as well as academically.
“I wanted each kid to feel safe and that they were loved,” she said. “I wanted them to realize their own possibilities and strengths and at the same time that they aren’t perfect. I wanted them to feel good about themselves. I taught a lot of great kids.”
Powell said she always thought it important that children get hands-on learning.
“For a 5-year-old, they need a lot of hands-on play and discovery,” she said. “We had centers, most days. More kids would understand math easier if they would have more manipulative experiences. If you have a pizza and cut it into eight pieces, you might understand one-eighth.”
Hudson said Powell was instrumental in helping develop Gloyna’s Garden when the kindergarten was on the Elementary campus.
“She helped write grants, spent her own time shopping for what went in it, and spent her off time helping to build, plant and nurture the garden,” Hudson said. “Mary was also one of the teachers that started gardens at the old elementary school (now the ECC) where students learned about soil and growing vegetables.”
Powell also taught summer reading camps and tutored kindergarten students. She retired in 2016 to spend more time with her children and grandchildren.
“I felt like it was the right time,” she said. “I miss the kids, but I did not want to wait too long until I was not effective. It was time.”
Her husband, Bishop, taught English at Wylie Junior High for many years, and her oldest son, Mark Powell, is a country music singer, known for heading up Legends and Outlaws. Bishop plays in Mark’s band quite a bit, and their second son, John, also played with them for a while.
John’s wife, Jackie, teaches at Wylie High School and for a while, the district had three Powells teaching.
The Powells also are active at Southern Hills Church of Christ, where Mrs. Powell has taught Bible classes and helped with VBS.
Powell said she was very surprised to find out she was selected for the Hall of Honor.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I am very humbled. It is such an honor.”
Those who knew her at Wylie, however, aren’t surprised at all over the honor. Salmon said Mary Powell has impacted an untold number of lives.
“I have no doubt that having her as a teacher in kindergarten paved the way for success at school, academically, socially, and emotionally, as they progressed through their school years,” Salmon said. “A kindergarten teacher’s impact is felt many years beyond, and Mary Powell was the gold standard!