They make a world of difference

Published February 1, 2007

CITRUS SPRINGS - A day after being named as two of the top employees in Citrus schools, Judith Powell of Crystal River High and Mary Wassen of Citrus Springs Elementary were back to the daily grind.

In her classes, Powell was going over new vocabulary and giving a lesson on descriptive writing. Wassen, a school nurse, was doing lice checks and making phone calls to parents with sick children.

Powell, 64, is the district's Teacher of the Year. Wassen, 54, is the School-Related Employee of the year.

Powell, an English teacher for 30 years, oversees the Academy of Health Careers at Crystal River High. The program draws students from all over the county, including some who live 40 miles away and get up early every day to catch a ride to the school.

Powell is the program's most enthusiastic cheerleader. She helps students gain knowledge and skills about different health care professions. Students work in medical offices, hospitals, clinics and nursing homes.

Janet Mulligan, the school's assessment specialist, said Powell is everyone's favorite teacher.

"Part of Judy's magic is that everyone, me included, look at her and think, 'I want to be like her when I grow up,' " she wrote in a letter of recommendation. "She is a 60-something, surfer dude, health guru, with happiness in her heart."

Her students agree.

"She is not like other teachers who tell you to look for answers in a book," said sophomore Caitlin Camp. "She's the best teacher that I ever had."

Tuesday night, when her name was called, Powell was trembling and gasping for air.

"I feel blessed," she told the audience at the Citrus Springs Community Center.

Wassen has been a nurse at Citrus Springs Elementary for 3 1/2 years. She made the leap to education after working for 20 years as a nurse at a Clearwater hospital.

Tuesday, Wassen told the crowd she has never felt as much a part of a team as she does working at Citrus Springs Elementary.

"I don't really know what we're going into some days," she said in her acceptance speech. "But that's what keeps the job interesting and enjoyable."

Wassen has earned praise from colleagues who describe her as the "consummate school nurse."

In the short time she has been the school's nurse, she has gained the trust and respect of children and their parents. She visits classrooms and reads from Curious George Goes to the Hospital to relate to children.

She often helps parents who struggle to teach their children about personal hygiene, offering tips to combat lice and ringworm.

"A hands-on worker, with a heart as big as Texas, this lady always goes the extra mile," her colleagues wrote in a nomination letter.