Students who have been through the middle school know that entering each morning you’ll pass by the office of Ms. Tracy Nelson.
Whether on the right when entering Crossman Hall, or on the left of the entrance to the new middle school building, she’d greet you with a smile, and a friendly “Good morning!”
Even before Haverford, Ms. Nelson made an impact. She graduated from the University of Virginia, and was a four-year Academic All-American in lacrosse, translating her talents from the field to the classrooms.
In 1995, Ms. Nelson joined Haverford’s middle school, and by 2002 she began serving as Middle School Dean of Students.
Other than receiving her “Teaching Excellence Award” which recognized her honorable hard work, it was evident to the community that she cared about what she did, and she was making an impact.
For Middle School Art Teacher Mr. Nathan Pankractz, Ms. Nelson’s legacy will remain at Haverford for a long time.
“Ms. Nelson worked to really get to know each and every middle school student. She knew them well too, not just their names and surface stuff like their sport or interests,” said Mr. Pankratz. “She encouraged us to be the better version of ourselves on a daily basis, to be mindful of our choices, and ultimately to pay it forward, connecting with people in a non-judgemental way, encouraging the best from ourselves and others.”
Ms. Nelson transformed and guided Haverford culture in a positive way for the young students trying to find their way throughout middle school.
To First Form Science Teacher Mr. Mario Masso, Ms. Nelson brought structure and guidance for each member of the community.
“In the time I’ve known Ms. Nelson, she brought stability to the middle school,” Mr. Masso said. “You could always go to her and she would help guide you along the way.”
As soon as someone asked her for her help, Ms. Nelson was immediately there for them and treated them with respect and integrity. From the moment new teachers arrived, Ms. Nelson treated them as if they had been there just as long as she had, and caught them up to speed.
“Very quickly from the moment I met her, she treated me as an equal. She’s always open to listening to your opinion, your thoughts, and willing to work with you,” Mr. Masso said. “And for most of the faculty, she became a friend very quickly.”
Middle School Spanish Teacher Dr. Gerhard Reich values Ms. Nelson’s character and diligence.
“[Ms. Nelson] taught for twenty-seven years and had a great balance [between] being strict in enforcing the rules and listening to the boys’ side of the story,” Dr. Reich said. “She never gets angry, I’ve never seen her yell at a kid, and [faculty] knew how much she kept the middle school peace.”
“She’s a very talented golfer, a great mom to a graduating senior at Shipley, and just a fun person to be around!” Dr. Reich added.
Whether it be as an advisor or a teacher, former students understand Ms. Nelson’s impact. To Fourth Former Anthony Valentino, who knew her as a former advisee and golfer, support remains one of the main characteristics that she carried each day.
“Every time I would see her, she would ask how I was doing and how my family was,” Valentino said. “She worked very hard and strived to make the middle school golf team fun for all of us.”
The Dean of Students’ role meant having to guide young boys and instruct them to do better, even if it wasn’t how they might perceive it. Ms. Nelson’s couch, outside of her office in Crosman Hall and Virtue Village, was a place where students might sit doing work or reflecting on decisions that they might have made.
“While some students may have been scared by the threats of being sent to Ms. Nelson’s couch, she always saw the best in people and wanted to see every student thrive,” Valentino said. “I ran into Ms. Nelson at the beginning of this year, and I was surprised she still remembered each kid from our advisory. This reminded me of how much of a caring person she is.”
Students who experienced her guidance first-hand recognize her inspiration, even today. For Third Former Ryan Wai, a student in her sixth grade math class, it wasn’t just about getting the job done, it was about getting it done with the idea that students would retain the information.
“[Her teaching] wasn’t about remembering how to do things, it was about understanding how to do things,” Wai said. “I learned a lot from her class.”
From the beginning, Haverford meant a lot to Ms. Nelson. It provided her with opportunities for leadership and growth, the main reason that she decided to come to the school.
“When the opportunity presented itself for the Dean of Students job, it just seemed like a perfect match for me. It allowed me to support, interact, and work with the entire middle school. I wanted the opportunity to be able to make a bigger difference,” Ms. Nelson said.
Missing coaching, EA Day, and all the school traditions, Ms. Nelson will spend more time with her family, travel more, and play lots of golf. Ms. Nelson has accomplished a lot throughout her time at Haverford, and she is certainly going to miss it.
“Haverford has been my home and my family for the last 27 years,” Ms. Nelson said. “I feel so fortunate that I had the opportunity to work with so many fabulous boys and work with the best faculty you could ever find. I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I was able to be a part of the Haverford community.”