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Former Teachers Inspire White to Follow the Same Path

Magurtha White grew up in a small farming town called Thomasburg in Brunswick County where she attended segregated schools through high school.

Her first few years were spent in a two-room schoolhouse across the street from the local Baptist church. Her first teacher was the organist for the church.

Last summer that teacher celebrated her 100th birthday and White traveled home to help honor one of the two teachers that inspired her to pursue education as a vocation.

"I had always loved to play teacher. At the time, for African-Americans, you either taught or preached, but I was a natural," said White, who has been an educator for 31 years including four years as the assistant principal at Fairfax High School.

"My first-grade teacher was well read and really believed I could do anything she set before me. She was an extremely great speaker. My fifth-grade teacher always pushed us. She was a very, very brilliant woman and she loved what she was doing and it came across that they both did."

<mh>Only the Best

<bt>"She's very friendly. She tries to be fair with the students and she's usually upbeat," said Jackie Anderson, Fairfax High School PTSA president. "She wants the best for the children."

Wanting the best for the students stems from White's past where everyone not only knew everybody else, they also looked out for each other. Education and the church were important elements in the community.

"You know that clichÈ, 'It takes a village to raise a child?' That is what my community was like," White said. "If I got in trouble in school, everyone knew it and you'd hear from everybody. You learned quickly not to do it again."

The connection with the church also meant that along with learning the 'Star Spangled Banner,' the 'Gettysburg Address,' and the 'Preamble to the Constitution,' the students also learned religious hymns.

White said she remembers the community as being inclusive and of course, with a two-room schoolhouse it was hard not to be.

By the time she reached fourth grade, White moved into a bigger school that had more rooms and teachers.

"When I look back over it, it depends on communities and what diversity the communities have," White said. "It's more of a socio-economic divide now. When you look in terms of diversity, it deals with other factors."

<mh>Remembering your Roots

<bt>White said she made the right career choice and enjoys what she does, even though as assistant principal she tends to see students that are in trouble for one reason or another.

"As in society, there is always a small percentage of people who don't do what they should, but I have faith in the students," White said. "I like their energy and hope."

She began her career as an English teacher in mostly eighth grade, but has also taught seventh through 11th grades. She decided to become an administrator because she felt she could impact a greater number of students that way.

"She's delightful, very even keel," Anderson said. "My son is one of her kids. He got in trouble for carrying a cell phone. We explained he needed it for medical purposes and everything was worked out."

White said that while she enjoyed being a classroom teacher, she also likes setting new goals for herself, which she needs.

"When you're in the classroom, you think you're the greatest teacher until you see another person teaching," White said. "As an administrator, when a kid comes into my office, I make sure I hear what he or she says and we go from there. I've not forgotten what it means to be a teacher though and I keep that before me."

<mh>More Role Models

<bt> Frank Jenkins, principal of Herndon Middle School and his assistant principal Loretta Robinson, are among Fairfax County schoolsí black role models, along with Langley High School assistant principal Kathleen Barbee.

Jenkins is the product of Catholic schools in Washington D.C., where he played sports and graduated near the top of his class at Archbishop Carroll High School.

"Carroll was 85 percent white, but it wasn't something anybody paid attention to. When I graduated, there were eight sections, A was the smartest and so on. There were not any students of color in A. There were two in B. Three in C. I was in C," Jenkins said. "I knew people looked at me differently because I was near the top. But I spent a lot of time studying. I had to work. Teachers mentored me and they pushed me. Everyone who was successful was mentored."

Jenkins tries to instill the same philosophy in his students today, saying every one of them could be on the honor. He encourages his students to work to their potential, whatever that may be.

Robinson, by contrast attended segregated schools through junior high at Portsmouth. While in high school, the schools integrated, but only the staff. It wasn't until about 10 years ago, the schools in the seaport town became integrated including the student body.

"In high school, we had two staff members that were white and they seemed to fit in," Robinson said.

The tables would turn when Robinson accepted her first teaching job at the age of 21, 30 years ago. She became the special education teacher at Fairfax High and not only were some of her students 17 and 18 years old, nobody told her she would be the first black teacher at the school. During her 10 years at the school, the greatest number of black staff members the school had at any one time was three.

<mh>Facing the KKK

<bt>When her students ask her about racism, Robinson tells them the story about when she worked at Roseís Five and Dime while she was in college. She said one day while she was riding the bus to school, there was a bunch of Ku Klux Klan members in the store parking lot. As the bus approached, one of the members started walking toward it. Robinson was scared about having to get off the bus and walk past him, but the bus driver refused to leave until the KKK member did.

Barbee grew up in a small farming and blue-collar town in Tennessee where she was one of five black students in her high school graduating class of more than 100. Her parents instilled the importance of education into all their children, telling them a college education was necessary for a black person to succeed in America.

After graduating from Fisk University in 1987, also in Tennessee, she accepted a job with the Department of Defense and taught American children in Germany. She returned to the United States last summer to complete her doctorate.

"She exudes enthusiasm. She is a straight talker and she has a great rapport with the children," said Beth Reisig, Langley PTSA co-president. "She's terrific. I'm thrilled she's here. She's a breath of fresh air."