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Island Spirit Welcomes New Principal

Students at Springfield Estates Elementary School realized that "aloha" means hello and goodbye as they did their final reading challenge with former principal Susan Garrison and welcomed their new principal Linda Domina with a hands-on lesson of Hawaiian and hula.

Hula performers in the "Hui Hula O Na Mele Aloha" dance team helped the students settle up a score with the lame duck principal. Garrison, with the assorted reading challenges that she's famous for, said she'd learn a hula dance if the students and teachers read at least 500,000 pages in a five-week time period. Garrison sported a grass skirt, leis and a smile for the students.

"Aloha means ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’ It's suitable," Garrison said. "She's saying, ‘Aloha hello,’ and I'm saying, ‘Aloha goodbye.’"

Domina sat in awe at the back of the gym at first, but she warmed up to the activity. She heard about the bet beforehand from the students but didn't realize she'd be in a gymnasium full of children watching a team of hula dancers on stage.

"Nothing like this. That's all they've been talking about for the past two weeks," she said.

Reading teacher Eileen Gwin monitored the students' progress, as she has for other reading challenge activities over the years. Garrison was always the one who endured the brunt of the dare. Last year, she held a 12-foot python, and the year before, she spent time on the roof of the school. Gwin and Garrison stress reading throughout the year.

"If they're going to learn anything now, they need to read," Gwin said.

Addie Chang led the hula group. She is a Great Falls resident, who works for the Fairfax County Department of Recreation, where she teaches adult dancing at Terraset Elementary School in Reston. In addition to the dancing lessons, students also learned about Hawaiian culture.

"We try to teach a little of Hawaiian history," Chang said. "Hula is the heartbeat of Hawaiian people, nothing can compare with live music and dancing."

Carol Padgett, a teacher at Newington Forest Elementary School, was one of the dancers. She's taken lessons from Chang throughout the years. She has ancestors from the Philippines.

"I love dancing, this is my release. My students love it," she said.

Reston resident Mary McCracken carried the conch shell, which is used as a signal. She's been dancing for 13 years.

"It's a way to tell a story with your whole body," she said.

AFTER THE DANCING team went through a couple of routines, they got Garrison up on stage to strut her stuff. The other dancers dressed her up for the part.

"We put on a cape to show she is of royalty. Now that we've seen our wahinis [girls] dance, we're going to teach Mrs. Garrison the dance. Then it's your turn, class," Chang said.

The hula uses hand motions to simulate objects, such as rain, sun and waves. The students got their chance as well. Alysa Dierkes, 10, was shocked when she got to her desk that morning and found an assortment of leis.

"We knew she was going to do the hula dance; we didn't know we were getting these," she said.

At the end of the show, PTA president Kathy Sheip surprised Garrison, as well.

"The library will be known as the Susan Garrison Library," Sheip said.

Garrison was in tears as she bade the students, "Aloha." She will now take over as principal of a new county school, Lorton Station, in the south part of the county.