Face of the Week: Krista Wallman of Arbutus Elementary School
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Face of the Week: Krista Wallman of Arbutus Elementary School

There is a certain comfort that comes from having Krista Wallman’s face be the first one visitors see when they come through the doors of Arbutus Elementary School.

First, there is her bright, helpful demeanor. As an administrative secretary, her job is to welcome all visitors, wrangle students coming in late or leaving early, and generally act as traffic cop for the front office.

Then there are the children who know Wallman as the mother of Jacob, Gabe, and Matthew, only one of whom, Matthew, still attends Arbutus Elementary. And that’s not even counting Wallman’s role as a former PTA president, substitute teacher, community t-ball coach, and force behind many of the school’s events and initiatives in recent years, including an advocate for bringing air conditioning to the school.

Perhaps more than anything, though, having Krista Wallman behind the front desk at Arbutus Elementary School provides a living connection to all things Arbutus. Her family roots grow deep in the area; her grandfather, George Kendrick, ran the community’s rec programs for years and was the “unofficial mayor of Arbutus,” Wallman says. Her dad, Larry Kendrick, attended Arbutus Elementary. Her family still lives in the house her mother grew up in.

“This community is really a throwback to a different time, in a good way, and the school reflects that,” Wallman says. “You’ve got parents who went to school here, and you’ve got teachers who have been here forever. There’s a lot of tradition here, and the school acknowledges that.

“I love this place so much, and I’m grateful to work here,” she adds. “Our lives revolve around this school.”

Tight bonds

Wallman’s route to Arbutus Elementary seems almost pre-ordained now, given that as a child she grew up down the road in Elkridge in Howard County and almost left town after flirting with a career as an interior decorator.

“I have a creative brain,” she says, one that led her to High Point College in North Carolina after graduating from Howard County’s schools. “I loved the higher-end furniture,” she recalls, leading to the decision to head south to North Carolina’s leading furniture market.

But her interest waned, and she returned to Maryland to take courses at The Community College of Baltimore County – Catonsville. She met Andrew Wallman, a small-town boy from Michigan and a police officer in Prince Georges County, and began to re-make her life back home.

Later, with the birth of her first son, her priorities shifted again. Wallman began to volunteer at her son’s school, a decision that also seemed natural. “Volunteering was just what we did,” she says, citing her grandfather and other family members as role models. “We learned that your school is your community and that it’s important. So you help your schools.”

That was about seven years ago, when Jacob’s academic career was taking off. Her volunteering led to a stint as PTA President at Arbutus in 2012, and then to her becoming a substitute teacher. She says when she heard a school secretary was due to retire last year, she had her application to Principal Brent Grabill within 48 hours.

By last summer, Wallman’s reputation preceded her. The school’s reading specialist, Sharon Shumway, notes Wallman’s contributions to everything from fundraisers and annual golf and softball tournaments, to the school’s Fall Fun Fair, Trunk or Treats, book fairs, and purchasing a bulldog costume for the school’s mascot. “She spends countless hours in and out of school researching, planning, and preparing for events that directly benefit our students,” Shumway says. “She’s Arbutus Elementary’s ‘superwoman.’”

Adds Wallman, “(the front office job) seemed like the right fit. I knew I could add something.”     

The ‘Hidden Gem’ of Arbutus

In the five months Wallman has staffed the front office, she says her love for the school and community has only grown. Known as Ms. Krista, she greets each child by name and keeps her hand in organizing. She and school nurse Paula Reisz, for example, collaborated to create an International Night at the school, in part to welcome a growing number of Burmese families to Arbutus.

Thanks to the school’s strong sense of community, “We call our school a ‘hidden gem’ of Baltimore County,” Wallman says. “I want to help make it that when people walk into this building, they don’t want to leave.”

Principal Grabill knows the importance of having Wallman as the first, familiar face to greet visitors. “As the first person you encounter at AES, (Wallman) makes people feel comfortable, at ease and welcomed at our school. . . . (And) as a longstanding member of the community, she has a strong sense of what’s right for our students,” he says. “We love having her here. She’s a breath of fresh air!”

As for Wallman, she’s content to monitor the comings and goings of children, parents, and others in and out of her community schoolhouse, the oldest part of which was constructed in 1925. Her youngest son, Matthew, is 9 years old and will transition to middle school within a few years. Times are changing, even in cozy, neighborly Arbutus.

“Who knows what the future holds,” Wallman says, buzzing in a visitor. “But I’ll be here as long as they’ll let me.

“Love is here.”

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