Hundreds of parents, family members and alumni turned out for Parkwood School’s May Day celebration last weekend, as they have every May for many years. What distinguished Saturday’s celebration was that it marked the 50th time the school’s director, Clarine Vickery, presided over the May pole dance since she founded the school in 1956.
Before the children began their various performances, Del. Steve Shannon and Town Council members Edythe Kelleher and Mike Polychrones presented Vickery with a resolution, passed by the council, honoring her and the school.
Polychrones, a Parkwood alumnus, noted that he had been standing patiently by the bench where Vickery had instructed him to await her return. “For 40 years, I’ve done what that woman told me,” he said to the crowd.
With the help of her husband, Vickery started Parkwood with a single kindergarten class in a room they had added to their house on Park Street. After World War II, she had moved to Vienna from D.C., where she had taught in a cooperative preschool, she said. A mother of four, she was staying home and keeping house.
“People learned that I was a kindergarten teacher as they moved in,” she said. “At that time, there were not that many kindergarten teachers.” She said neighbors prevailed upon her until she agreed to begin teaching. After two years, she said, she had to move the school to its current location at the corner of Ware Street and Marshall Road, where it has continued to grow until it now occupies three houses.
The school now has 240 students, 15 teachers and 15 teachers’ assistants.
In the past, Parkwood taught up to the third grade, but after state kindergartens were created — by a bill Vickery helped to get passed — she scaled back to preschool and kindergarten.
She said her favorite part of directing the school is “working with the children, being part of their growth and development, and sharing in their experiences.”
The annual May Day celebration originated in her own upbringing, she said. “As I grew up as a little girl, we always had May Day at my school.”
On Tuesday, Vickery turned 88.
ALSO PRESENT at the celebration were the school’s first two May Day Queens, Donna Boyd Netschert and Brenda Robeson.
“I was very honored to be there,” said Netschert, who now runs a concierge business in Clifton. “It was just thrilling to see her in her element, getting a bigger kick than anybody,” she said of Vickery.
Something about the Parkwood School separates it from other children’s schools, she said. “The energy there is just incredible, and I do think Mrs. Vickery is at the heart of it. She has this incredible belief in the goodness of people.”
Netschert speculated that Vickery, too, must have bad days, but said the observer would be unable to distinguish them. “I think she’s practically a saint. And I’m not even a Catholic,” she said.
“She definitely had her hand in just about every facet of the education program there,” said Polychrones, who attended Parkwood for four years. He said the foundation Vickery laid out for the school’s program consists of three basic tenets: Be a good student, be respectful of others, and be a good citizen.
“Her impact on this community, I think, from one who has cycled through the school, is very evident,” he said.
“They really teach the kids there. It’s not just play time,” said Kelleher, who had two children attend preschool at Parkwood. She added that some of the public schools’ first-grade curriculum is taught in preschool at Parkwood.
Polychrones said attending the May Day celebration brought back old memories. “It was almost like a flashback in time, like nothing had changed,” he said, noting that he had often been a flag-bearer at May Day, a position that had required him to wait for Vickery next to the same bench where she had posted him on Saturday.
For her part, Vickery, too, remembered Polychrones' flag-bearing days.
“He was the cutest little boy,” she said. “I just loved him.”