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Greenbriar West Elementary Celebrates 35 Years

Students, teachers, principals, community join in honoring the school.

Addressing the entire student body of Greenbriar West Elementary last Friday, the school's very first principal, Don Carroll, described the conditions when GBW opened.

"The first week we moved in, we had a sunken library," he said. "That's because we had a huge thunderstorm and the library got flooded. It had two feet of water in it, and it took us a week to get it all out."

AFTER THAT, things could only get better; and fortunately for GBW, they did. And last Friday and Saturday, Sept. 29-30, the school joyously celebrated its 35th anniversary with songs, cheers, a reunion of past principals and a fond trip down memory lane.

The festivities began with Friday afternoon's School Spirit Day and pep rally outside on the blacktop. The third-graders sang and the cheerleaders led everyone in chanting, "Greenbriar West is the best. Let's go Pandas!"

And Carroll, who came from Florida for the event, shared some of his memories. In the early days, he said, the famed Concorde supersonic jetliner from France used to fly right over the school, en route to Dulles Airport. And he recalled a student-exchange program in which GBW students spent six weeks in England and British students spent six weeks here.

"Now, there's so much technology," he said. "Everyone has laptops. When I left in 1978, we only had one computer — and that was used in the office to keep track of attendance."

Also on Friday, current Principal Lori Cleveland presented instructional assistant Agnes Gordon with the sign that'll go above the reading-room door, across from the library. Gordon's been at GBW since it opened and helps students with their reading, so the reading room is being named for her.

"Thank you so much," she said. "It's a great honor and a tribute, and I'm really humbled."

Saturday afternoon's ceremony culminated the anniversary celebration, as well as the re-dedication of the school after its major renovation. Things began with the presentation of colors by Girl Scout Troop 5180. Then SCA President Natalie Robertson led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

It was standing-room only, as parents, students and past and present teachers and administrators packed the gym. Third-graders dressed in the school's colors of green and white sang "America" and "I'm So Glad To Be Here." And Cleveland welcomed everyone.

Then Fairfax County School Board Chairman Ilryong Moon spoke. "Thirty-five years — wow," he said. "It certainly is a long time. Thirty-five years ago, I was in middle school in Korea. I'm now in the U.S. and have two children of my own."

When Greenbriar West opened in 1971, he said, it was the same year the U.S. ping pong team was invited to Beijing, China, to participate in the Olympics. The voting age in America was lowered to 18, and busing began to help desegregate many schools.

"The Kennedy Center opened its doors, 'Patton' won Best Picture at the Oscars and 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters' by Simon and Garfunkel was the record, song and album of the year," said Moon. "And Fairfax County's population grew from less than a half million then to more than a million now."

In 1971, he said, the median market value of homes here was about $50,000, and it now exceeds $400,000. Stamps were 8 cents then, compared to 39 cents now. And the county's population was almost all white, whereas now it's less than 60 percent white.

"THE INCREASE in technology has caused a big change in the school system," said Moon. "But one thing that has not changed is our steadfast commitment to provide the very best education to our students. And that's what Greenbriar West has done the past 35 years, through its outstanding teachers and administrators and in partnership with its parents."

"Let us recharge our batteries and prepare for the next 35 years — continuing your mission of producing educated and responsible citizenry for the future," said Moon. "You've all endured the renovations and have a beautiful, new school. Congratulations on 35 wonderful years, and best wishes for continued success."

Next on stage were the school's SCA officers, Colin Raher, first vice-president; Mark Aanstoos, second vice-president; Jenny Chen, secretary; and Ben McGrath, treasurer. "We don't have ditto machines, typewriters and chalkboards anymore," said Mark. "But we still remember what our first principal, Mr. Carroll, said: 'Learning should be enjoyable and rewarding.'"

Then Carroll talked about how things had changed at GBW since he was at the helm. "Now everything is high-tech and it's really impressive," he said. "I'm overwhelmed with the technology here — especially the Smart Boards."

When he left the school in 1978, he said, "We only had about 600 students and we weren't the pandas. My wife Fae helped as a secretary and volunteer, and we'll soon celebrate our 53rd anniversary."

The third-graders sang once more, and then GBW technology specialist Cathy McDonald presented a slide show of the school's history from 1971-2006. Several songs — including "Celebration" and "Teach Your Children Well" — played in the background. And the show also contained information about the local area, plus what was popular nationwide, through the decades.

In 1966, Levitt Homes purchased the land for the Greenbriar community. It opened to homebuyers in 1968 and quickly filled to capacity. Starting price for a three-to-four-bedroom home with two bathrooms was $33,500.

In GBW's first year, 1971, its students were divided among four schools — London Towne, Brookfield, Greenbriar East and Centreville elementaries — until construction of the new school was finished and the building was ready for occupancy.

BUT THINGS were ready by spring and, on March 27, 1972, Greenbriar West officially opened with 615 students. The school had an open-pod design, the library had no walls and Agnes Gordon was hired as volunteer coordinator.

TV shows "Happy Days," "The Brady Bunch" and "Sesame Street" all began in the early 1970s. The first microchip was invented, people used electric typewriters, and Atari games, mood rings, smiley faces, Rubik's Cube, polyester-knit shirts and bellbottom pants were all the rage.

And according to a 1973 survey of GBW families: 75 percent of the moms didn't work outside the home; 94 percent of the children lived with both parents and 50 percent of the parents worked for the military or the federal government.

The second principal, Bob Marshall, headed the school from 1978-80. During that time, pandas became GBW's mascot and school colors of green and white were chosen. Under third principal, Robert Holderbaum, 1980-83, the staff, students and principal formed a band.

Music teacher Gail Cope and the sixth-graders wrote the school song. Construction of GBW's playground and obstacle course began, and students voted "The Cosby Show" as their favorite program.

Mary Roots served as the fourth principal from 1983-89. Language arts was her passion, and she started the "Panda Press" literary magazine. In 1984, it received the school system's Award of Excellence.

Fifth principal, Sue Duka, 1989-93, sat on the roof to encourage student reading. Sixth principal, Sara Krause, 1993-99, kissed a live pig for the same reason. And with Fairfax County attracting people from many nations, flags representing the homelands of all GBW's students were hung in the school.

GBW's first color yearbook was in 1995-96. Also in 1996, the school formed business partnerships with AMS and the Hyatt Fair Lakes, and GBW's first computer lab was created. And e-mail became popular.

Under seventh principal John Hilkert, 1999-2005, the school grew to 1,100 students and 19 trailers. The first mobile computer lab was added, and McDonald's became a business partner. Renovation began and, in July 2005, Lori Cleveland became the eighth principal.

The audience saw slides of what Greenbriar West looked like through the years, up to the present, modern and enlarged building. Student achievements and awards were noted, and thanks were given to the PTA, teachers, and office, custodial and food-service staff. The longest-serving teachers were mentioned, including Gordon, at the school since the start.

Assistant Principal Patty Granada then joined Cleveland in presenting the reading-room sign to Gordon in front of Saturday's audience, and they surprised her with a plaque, as well, "in recognition of her 35 years of dedicated service to the school." Said Cleveland: "She's probably helped thousands of children with their reading."

"I'VE PARTICULARLY enjoyed seeing the children's facial expressions as they realized reading could be fun," said Gordon. "I wish to thank the teachers, students and administrative staff for this honor."

Then the whole audience sang the school song and, thanking everyone who came, Granada told the crowd, "You are part of the reason Greenbriar West is the best."

Afterward, Cleveland said she's "proud and honored" to be the principal at GBW. "I'm so glad so many of the past principals and teachers could attend today, as well as two School Board members, Ilryong Moon and Janet Oleszek," she said. "This also marks the end of the long, two-year, schoolwide renovation and the re-dedication of the school."