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Powell Greets First Students

New elementary school opens smoothly.

The stage was set: Teachers stood ready in their classrooms and Principal Brian Hull and Assistant Principal Pat Sheehy were stationed at the entrance, eagerly awaiting students on Colin Powell Elementary's first day of school.

School system officials, School Board members and Fairfax County Schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech were all on hand, Tuesday morning, to help open Centreville's newest elementary. Then the stars of the day arrived on their yellow buses, and Hull nearly burst with joy at the sight of them.

"This is great," he said. "We've been waiting for months for this." He then stood at the doorway and personally greeted each and every student with a cheery, "Good morning."

Although the school was projected to open with a student population of 547, the actual enrollment was 622 — due in great part to nearby new housing. Indeed, even as the children arrived for their first day of instruction, carpenters across the street worked busily on even more new homes.

Said Domenech: "It's in the midst of a community that's developing, so it will develop right along with the community." Calling Powell a "beautiful facility," he said, "We're excited it's open and it has all these wonderful children in it. It's going to be a great addition to the community. It has a wonderful principal and an outstanding staff, and it's going to be a great year at Colin Powell Elementary."

ACTUALLY, THE YEAR unofficially began last Thursday, Aug. 28, when the school held an afternoon flag-raising and open house. Parents and children got to tour the building, and students were able to meet their new teachers.

Mom Lakisha Shelton of Woodland Glen will have four daughters there. Takeyda is in sixth grade; Lachara, third; and twins Cheyenne and Chenise, 4, are in preschool. The older girls previously attended Greenbriar West but, since the family lives in Woodland Glen, they'll now have just a five-minute walk to school.

"I'm glad they're going to be close to home," said Shelton. "And this school has smaller classroom sizes so the teachers can focus on the kids." Takeyda likes spelling best and wants to be a safety patrol, and both she and Lachara like the fact that Powell "has elevators and bigger gyms" than their former school.

Parent Patti Whalen of Walney Glen has three sons there and said all three are excited to be attending Powell. "I like the gym and the cafeteria," said third-grader Matthew, 8 1/2.

Brother Sean, 11, a sixth-grader, said, "They have better TVs and computers," and first-grader Ryan said excitedly, "There's hermit crabs in my classroom. My teacher, Miss Rourke, brought them from the beach."

Youn Hee Choi, 11, in sixth grade, likes her teacher and the computers. Math and art are her favorite subjects, and she wants to be a safety patrol. Adam Villani, 7, son of PTA president Phyllis Villani, will attend second grade there. "I like how they have almost all of the classes upstairs," he said. "And I like the technology lab."

THIRD-GRADER Tyler Vennergrund, 8, called Powell a fun place. "I'm looking forward to school 'cause it's new and stuff," he said. "I want to learn the drums and be in band when I'm in fifth grade."

Second-grader Laura Hwangpo, 7, is also a fan. "I like it because the playground is so big," she said. Laura especially enjoys climbing on the monkeybars and says her favorite subject is spelling. Her mother, Yangsun Hwangpo, was also pleased with Powell.

"The hallways are big, and I like the library because there's lots of room and kids can read very comfortably," she explained. "And the school is bright because of all the windows."

She liked the computers because they're large and have flat screens, and she even noticed something that others may have initially overlooked. Said Hwangpo: "They have filtered water in bottles in the classroom for children to drink, and they let them brush their teeth after eating in the cafeteria."

Springfield District School Board member Cathy Belter said Powell is "phenomenal. The kids have enough room to expand, and they have an incredible teaching staff and have worked hard to pull everything together."

Sully District School Board member Kathy Smith doesn't have any children there, but joined the PTA, anyway, just to support the school. "It's going to be a wonderful place," she said. "It has a strong staff, a real sense of community and strong PTA leadership."

They were both on hand for Tuesday's opening, along with fellow School Board members Robert Frye and Isis Castro, plus Cluster VII Director Carma Norman. And there were smiles all around.

"It's fabulous," said guidance counselor Renee Orlosky. "The staff is so excited, and it's a terrific challenge for the professionals here. It's not every day that you get to open a new school."

FOURTH-GRADE teacher Michelle Lis agreed. "I love it, and I'm excited about all the technology — there's Internet access and the whole school is wireless. And I can project from my computer onto a Smart Board and manipulate data, like a touch screen."

At the start of school, Principal Hull welcomed students, staff and distinguished guests to Powell, over the intercom, led the Pledge of Allegiance and passed along a quote from Confucius about making good choices. He wished a happy birthday to some students and then told everyone, "Let's make this, our first day at Colin Powell, a day to remember."

Afterward, Ronald Hobson — whose sons Ronald II, 10, and Amir, 8, attend Powell — stood outside the office and beamed. "My wife Jacy nominated the name, Colin Powell, and it feels great to see it finally coming to fruition," he said. "There's an excitement in the air about this school and what it can truly do for the community."

"Colin Powell is truly an American hero and demonstrates sound leadership, bringing people together," said Hobson. "And given his past performance in promoting America's Promise — education and community involvement — I think he'll be involved with this school."