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    School to lose caring heart

    Patty Cox plans to retire from Bauder Elementary after 31 years in Pinellas schools.

    By JULIANNE WU

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- When Patty Cox smiles, it is enough to warm up just about anyone.

    She has that effect on staffers and students at Bauder Elementary School.

    "Hi, Mrs. Cox," yelled some fifth-graders as they waited in line for lunch one day last week.

    She patted some on the head and gave others a high-five, smiling all the while.

    "I've known Mrs. Cox since I was in the first grade here," said Kaylynn Beebe, a fifth-grader. "She's really nice. I will miss her."

    Lunch duty is just one area of responsibility for Mrs. Cox, who will retire in June after 31 years in the Pinellas County school system, 13 of them at Bauder.

    Although she said there was "no such thing as a typical day," Mrs. Cox discussed her daily routine:

    Mrs. Cox arrives at school at 7 a.m. Seventy minutes later, she goes out to meet the 16 school buses and direct traffic in the parking lot as Bauder's 1,020 students arrive.

    Once the school bell rings and announcements are made over the public address system, Mrs. Cox takes a "walk-through." Bauder has an open school concept, meaning classes are held in various corners of large, open rooms.

    "I just make sure everything is going okay," said Mrs. Cox. "For instance, I might help find a student a chair or gently direct someone to his or her class. Sometimes, there's a minor discipline problem, but we don't get a lot of that here."

    From 10:30 a.m. to noon, Mrs. Cox takes her turn in the lunchroom. Last Thursday, Mrs. Cox also had to take the shift of Bauder principal Jan Johnston in her absence.

    "After lunch, I take another whip around the building," said Mrs. Cox. "Then, I make some phone calls and before I know it, it is the end of the day."

    At 2:50 p.m., Mrs. Cox, carries her walkie-talkie to the parking lot to wait for the arrival of the buses. She calls the children out of school, bus by bus.

    "Sometimes, I feel like a traffic cop," she said.

    Mrs. Cox has the same bus duty, rain or shine. To prove it, she proudly showed off a yellow raincoat given to her by the Bauder staff. It reads "Chief Traffic Person."

    She and her husband, James J. Cox -- her college sweetheart at Erskine College in Due West, S.C. -- moved to the Seminole area in 1967.

    Mrs. Cox, 59, has been in elementary education the entire 31 years, while James Cox has spent the majority of his time in middle schools. He is in his third year as assistant principal at Safety Harbor Middle School.

    The Coxes' two daughters attended Bauder Elementary, but not while their mother was there. Now, Marylee Abernathy Jones and Michele Cox Patterson are elementary school teachers in Georgia. The Coxes also have one grandchild and three step-grandchildren.

    During her tenure in Pinellas County, Patty Cox taught 10 years at Oakhurst Elementary School and six at Pasadena Elementary. She became Bauder's assistant principal in 1988 and has worked with three principals, including Mrs. Johnston, who came to Bauder a year ago.

    "I love all youngsters," said Mrs. Cox. "But, of all the kids I ever taught, I liked fourth-graders the best. They are very compassionate. They're not the little guys in the school and they're not like fifth-graders who are already looking to move on to middle school."

    Over the years, Mrs. Cox has been recognized by former students in restaurants, supermarkets and elsewhere. Some of her former students have interned for her and she has taught some of their children.

    "Patty was my supervisor in 1982," said Pam Foss, a fifth-grade teacher at Bauder. "She taught me everything I know. . . . How to be organized; how to relate to the kids. She is a great teacher and educator and I will miss her dearly."

    Once she retires, Mrs. Cox said she may take an art course at St. Petersburg College and do some community service, possibly at the VA Medical Center at Bay Pines or for Habitat for Humanity.

    "I love this school. Everybody has taken such good care of me," said Mrs. Cox. "And I love Seminole. It's such a great community."

    - Julianne Wu can be reached at 445-4221.

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