April 24, 2018
School & Youth
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  • Gwen Atkinson is retiring after a 35-year teaching career in Anne Arundel County.
    Gwen Atkinson is retiring after a 35-year teaching career in Anne Arundel County.

Jacobsville Elementary Principal Retires

Darrell Mak
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June 14, 2017

Capping off an illustrious 35-year teaching career — all of it with Anne Arundel County — former Jacobsville Elementary School Principal Gwen Atkinson retired from the school earlier this year and is looking forward to relaxing, recovering and reflecting.

“I had a very nice 35 years,” said Atkinson.” It never felt like work. I always felt like going in every day, and it was always a ride.”

Atkinson, who grew up in Brooklyn Park, began her career as a fourth-grade teacher at Hilltop Elementary School in Annapolis in the early 1980s. She served as a classroom teacher and then as a reading teacher before becoming an assistant principal. Atkinson then became a principal, spending 15 years between Rippling Woods Elementary in Glen Burnie, Fort Smallwood Elementary in Pasadena, and finally at Jacobsville Elementary in 2012.

But Atkinson expressed no regrets for calling it a career. “I always knew when it was going to be time, and time to take care of myself, family and friends,” she said. “I just need to take some time off to relax and rest. But I won’t be one to sit and idle for too long. I’ll probably look for volunteer opportunities and do more church activities.”

One of Atkinson’s fondest memories of her long career was the outpouring of community support she received when she announced she was battling breast cancer in 2014. “The community was awesome and so supportive during my cancer diagnosis and treatment,” she recalled.

She was proud of her students who helped support the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life fundraiser one year. Jacobsville Elementary raised “the most money in the county for such a small school,” Atkinson lauded.

“Today, I am a breast cancer survivor, cancer-free and doing very well,” Atkinson assured.

Atkinson was fond of her school’s latest accomplishment of winning the 2017 Maryland State Character Educational Award, which is given to schools that have instituted, developed and are continuing comprehensive character education. Only five schools in Maryland earned the honor this year. “The children worked so hard for it, and they were the only school in Anne Arundel County to win the award. I’m so proud of them!”

Atkinson said her students have been examples of carrying out her motto of serving others. “I hope that’s the legacy I gave them. If the boys and girls always look to help and serve others, I’ve done my job,” she concluded.

The former educator hopes her successor at Jacobsville — April Umile, previously assistant principal of Germantown Elementary — will be able to step back every so often and enjoy their time at the school. “There are so many tasks to do every day, but I hope they will enjoy the moment,” Atkinson said. “Go into the classroom and talk to the children; listen to them to help the school grow.”

Atkinson admitted she will likely miss the camaraderie of being around the school children and staff. “They all lift your spirits,” she said. “I will miss seeing them but will go back to visit.”

Atkinson’s departs with some inspiring words of wisdom for all her colleagues. “Always uplift people,” she encouraged. “It’s most important in today’s world.”

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