The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Her life is linked to school
BY LINDLEY ESTES
Bev Carpenter has never driven to work during her 24 years at Stafford Elementary School.
That’s because Carpenter, a paraprofessional, lives adjacent to the school near Stafford Courthouse.
Yet it’s more than proximity and convenience that links Carpenter to Stafford Elementary. She attended the school as a child, and her daughter went there too.
“I just love the atmosphere,” said Carpenter, 54. “I love working with the children, and I love my co-workers.”
With Stafford Elementary moving temporarily into Stafford Middle School for renovations for the next school year, Carpenter won’t be able to walk to work for the first time.
“I haven’t driven to work in 24 years,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter was a member of the first fifth-grade class to attend school in the building on Courthouse Road right after it opened in 1968.
Before that, school wasn’t far from home. She attended class at what’s now the county School Board offices.
“We walked down Stafford Avenue with our books and chairs,” she recalled, “and moved into the new school.”
However, her new commute in the fall won’t be far—Stafford Middle is about a mile and a half away from the elementary.
Carpenter breaks Stafford’s bedroom community mold, with 28 percent of residents commuting significant distances, most to the D.C. area. Her trip to work is much shorter than the 39.2-minute mean daily commute for the average Stafford resident, according to the Census Bureau.
Her co-workers don’t have such an easy commute either.
Stafford Elementary PE teacher Joe Debosh drives 25 minutes each morning from Spotsylvania County, and the educational diagnostician at the school, Meghann Sekinger, commutes 45 minutes from Caroline County.
“We all joke that she’s going to be late” next fall, Sekinger said.
Now, Carpenter’s daily walk to work includes a wooden stairway installed by her fiancé between her yard and the school grounds.
“I didn’t want to get my shoes dirty,” she said. “Everyone else drives. When it’s icy I tease them that I’ll be late because the ice on my steps is awful.”
On the first step down, a child carved “I love you” in the wood. From the top of the steps, she has to walk only 50 paces to the school’s door.
“Her story really shows something that I don’t think occurs very much in America,” Sekinger said. “She has a connection with a building and a community.”
It’s rare in Stafford, where the population has grown rapidly since the 1960s.
Carpenter said living so close to work has advantages.
“If teachers need an egg or have a run in their pantyhose, I can run home for them,” she said.
Carpenter can find only one downside to living so close to work.
“I can’t play hooky,” she said. “They can see me from the school.”
Sekinger said, “I’m inspired by her relationship with the school. She’s so committed She really makes this a second home for a lot of the children.”
Besides working with two first-grade classrooms, Carpenter is a part of the “car riders” program. She greets students as their parents drop them off and makes sure they safely get back to their parents’ cars in the afternoon.
“She works with the younger ones and does such a nice job of seeking out kids who are scared on that first day and worried that they are not going to be able to find their parents after school. She puts them at ease. She’s like a grandmother to everybody,” Sekinger said.
Carpenter said she also tries to make the parents feel better about leaving their children at school for the first time.
“If the mama is worried I’ve called them from my personal phone to say, ‘They’re OK. They’re not crying,’ to ease their mind,” she said.
Debosh said Carpenter knows all of the children by name.
Connections run deep. There’s one child in kindergarten at Stafford Elementary whose grandmother attended school with Carpenter as a child.
“I know the whole family,” she said.
Debosh is no stranger to the community atmosphere either. He has worked for 40 years in the county school system, and 37 of those have been at Stafford Elementary. Like Carpenter, he knows multiple generations who have attended the school.
“There’s a teacher here, Kelly Thompson, who I taught,” he said. “I’ve also taught her son and a lot of her family.”
Debosh will retire at the end of the school year and won’t make the move to Stafford Middle with Carpenter and the rest of his co-workers.
Carpenter said that it’s not just the building she’s attached to and described him as part of her “work family.”
Carpenter said to him, “You can’t tell me goodbye.”
Debosh responded, “Goodbye’s not a word I’m going to use. I don’t know what I’ll say.”
Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976