Long-time Reston resident Margaret Boyd said she can’t go to the grocery store or the library with out being stopped, recognized or hugged. Teaching at more than a half dozen schools in and around Reston since 1970 will do that.
So as teachers begin settling back into the classroom this month, Boyd, a former Fairfax County teacher with nearly five decades of teaching behind her, offers advice to a new generation of educators.
Boyd’s career spans several continents and nearly 50 years, before retiring from the public school system in 2000. For Boyd, it was a satisfying “end” to three decades of service to Fairfax County Schools.
Since leaving the school system, Boyd has continued to devote much of her life to multicultural education. Now her students are a little older. Before retiring, Boyd helped to found ESLPAE, a private language school, which teaches English as a second language to adults in Northern Virginia.
“She retired from the system and then went right back,” said long-time friend Charles Smith. “That tells you all you need to know about Margaret.”
Boyd recruited Smith to help mentor students at her program for at-risk students at Herndon Middle School, the last official stop on her Fairfax County tour. “She is a hard person to say no to.”
It’s no surprise that Boyd is working as hard during retirement as she did while she was working, said Supervisor Cathy Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), who has known Boyd for 30 years. “She is a tireless and unbelievable community worker, an excellent teacher and a champion of diversity in and out of the classroom,” said Hudgins.
TEACHING ENGLISH AS a second language classes is a logical step for a former teacher who prided herself on breaking down racial, ethnic and cultural barriers.
"Margaret is a strong believer that cultural and ethnic differences are special and an opportunity for all of us to broaden our worldwide knowledge to enable us to live peacefully with each other," said Ellen Graves, chief administrative aide to Hudgins and a friend of Boyd. "She had a dream to promote the different cultures in our community and that dream has become the Reston Multicultural Festival."
Graves is not alone in her praise of Boyd. “As long as I have known her, she has encouraged multi-culturalism and diversity and dialogue to anyone that would listen,” said Joanne Norton, who worked closely with Boyd on the Multicultural Festival and the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday events.
Donald and Margaret Boyd moved to Reston in 1970 from Heidelberg, Germany, where he was stationed in the Army and she taught in international schools. The couple, now divorced, moved in across from Forest Edge Elementary School. Boyd’s first commute took her across the street to a brand new, open-floor planned school. “I had heard about Reston and the fact that it was an open community,” she said. “It was, and still is, a natural fit.”
WORKING IN SCHOOLS in other countries gave Boyd a more global perspective on teaching, she said. But learning lessons from different cultures is something Boyd has been doing since her early years, growing up in the segregated South.
A native of Ardmore, Okla., Boyd said she has always embraced her multiculturalism especially after attending an all-black high school. “Our teachers really looked out for us, I guess that is where I got it.”
Boyd is a graduate of Langston University, the only historically black college in Oklahoma. She is part black, part Cherokee and part Mexican-American and grew up in a neighborhood with lots of Mexican and Native American families. “I am a little mixture of everything,” she said. “That is why I have always tried to promote multiculturalism, even when people don’t want me to. When that blood is in you, you can’t ignore it.”
Boyd doesn’t care too much for labels. “Black, African-American, colored, Negro, I don’t care. Call yourself whatever you want,” she said. “What is important is that your are proud of whoever you are."
ONCE SHE ARRIVED in Fairfax County, she said her determination to teach the values of multicultural education were met with mixed emotions. Everywhere she went, Boyd, never one to keep her opinions to herself, said she met opposition. “For whatever reason, some people always resented that I was a big promoter of multiculturalism.”
Her stay at Dogwood Elementary remains one of Boyd’s favorite and longest stops. “That’s my ‘special’ school,” she said. “They had a little mixture of everything there, from different ethnic and economic backgrounds. Students learn more when they are surrounded by diversity,”
While at Forest Edge in the 1970s, Boyd organized a “multicultural lock-in” where she invited families to stay in the school gym overnight and talk, share and learn. “It was great, but most of the teachers opposed it,” she said. “Only three participated.”
These sorts of techniques are underutilized today, she said. Boyd recommends that teachers, from elementary to high school, begin trying new, innovative approaches to learn about cultures and races.
While Boyd says the schools, teachers, parents and students have come a long way since her first foray into Fairfax County, she still thinks there is a lot to be done. She said she is still worried about the race relations among students, especially blacks and whites. “There has been a regression due to so much self-segregation,” she said.
Boyd encourages teachers and principals to put together workshops on race relations. “We need to get people talking,” she said. “All we do now is put in a video. That is not enough. It’s tough, but it’s important.”