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New principal's in it for the long haul

September 18, 2004

MOUNT AETNA - Bob Mulkern has been a truck driver and an educator. And there were times the new principal of Mount Aetna Adventist Elementary School was both ... at the same time.

"I originally got into trucking to supplement my teaching salary," Mulkern said. Surprisingly, he said the two professions were quite complementary.

After spending time with a bunch of energetic children, Mulkern said he relished the hours on the road where he could be alone with his thoughts and his prayers. "Trucking was very cathartic," he said.

Born in Boston to the descendants of Irish immigrants, Mulkern, 62, grew up on Nantucket Island. A painting of a scene just blocks from his former home graces the wall of his office at the school on Crystal Falls Drive, 10 miles east of Hagerstown.

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Mulkern has been a teacher, vice principal, and principal in his education career of more than 30 years, all of it in the Seventh-day Adventist School system. From 1990-1996, he was principal of Rocky Knoll School in nearby West Virginia.

He is also a licensed counselor, having earned his degree in that field at American University so he could help deal with all the problems families are facing.

And Mulkern will soon be taking the required courses to become a certified CISM counselor, which stands for critical incident stress management such as in the aftermath of terrorist attacks.

Trained first responders in the field are also able to assist people who've suffered through fires, floods, earthquakes, terrorism, gun violence, family violence, rape, accidents, assaults, war and disasters of all kinds, he said.

With the new school year just getting under way, Mulkern said there are 83 students at the school which has classes from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. From there, students move up to Highland View Academy, which has 120 students in grades 9-12 and is just a mile away on Mount Aetna Road.

"We are supported by tuition paid by the families of the students," Mulkern said. And a lot of support also comes from people in the Adventist churches in the area. The Adventist church has many parochial schools as well as many colleges and universities throughout the world.

Tim Crosby, a local Adventist pastor, said Mulkern spent several weeks, along with staff members, paid workmen, and many volunteers, throwing out stuff that had collected over the years, repairing, painting, redecorating, cleaning and waxing the halls.

"I am a teaching principal, instructing in the upper grades," Mulkern said.

His father was Adventist and his mother became one when he was 5 years old, Mulkern said. He grew up watching his mother hold services in her living room when there wasn't an Adventist church to attend.

"What draws me is that the basic truth of the Bible is Jesus loves me," Mulkern said.

Being in education with his life devoted to the Lord, Mulkern believes God has him in this place for the sake of children. "School is all about relationships between family, students and teachers," he said. "We are dealing with the same struggles the public schools have - broken families, blended families, etc.," he said.

Mulkern and his wife, Shirley, have three children: daughters Pamela and Karen, who live in Connecticut; and a son, Robert, who lives in Hagerstown.

"I bring a lot to the table - I'm a counselor, a teacher and with a commercial driver's license, I can even drive a bus if I have to," Mulkern said.

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