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Keeping Busy

Local elementary schools look forward to exciting events in the coming school year.

Every year, the Parent Teacher Association at Kent Gardens Elementary School comes up with a new way to welcome new parents, students and teachers to the school. This year's plan is a newcomers' treasure hunt.

"It was the idea of our new PTA president, and I think it's absolutely wonderful," said Robyn Hooker, principal at Kent Gardens.

The treasure hunt is just one of many activities planned for the coming school year. The Kent Gardens event list includes International Night, Legislative Day, a technology fair and a student-faculty basketball tournament to name a few.

"This is a very busy place," said Hooker, laughing.

Hooker, who has been principal at the school for more than two decades, is also proud of her diverse student body.

"This is a very international school, and every culture that you find in downtown McLean, you will also find here," she said.

Adding to the school's international flavor is its long-time French Immersion program, which teaches students the French language and culture, and also brings in French interns who teach at the school and stay with local families.

"It's a very powerful cultural exchange," said Hooker.

Kent Gardens also boasts its special "Think Tank" classroom, which is a space devoted to providing students with a variety of learning methods.

"It basically takes different intelligences and puts them to different activities," said Seth Alberts, a third grade teacher at Kent Gardens. "So if you have 20 kids that all think differently, it gives all of them the opportunity to apply their way of thinking because there's really no right or wrong answer with these activities… we're kind of tricking them into learning because they all think they're coming in here to have fun and play."

CHESTERBROOK ELEMENTARY SCHOOL also knows how to make learning fun during the school year. The teachers and students always look forward to the annual GRECO (Greek Roman Egyptian Chinese and Other cultures) day in the spring, as well as its Cinco de Mayo celebration. In addition, the students also enjoy the school's PTA Passport program.

"We're always doing cultural events," said Bob Fuqua, who started as the new principal at Chesterbrook this year.

For "Passport Days," the PTA arranges cultural performances and guest speakers. Students are given passports and are able to receive stamps for the featured countries.

"The students actually get to take their passports home at the end of the year," said Fuqua.

Chesterbrook also celebrated its centennial over the summer, and Fuqua said it was a treat to welcome students to the school's 101st opening.

"I'm excited to be the new principal," said Fuqua. "It's really been great.... I enjoy working in a school that really strives to look at individual students and how to move them forward — the community support we have is amazing."

The school lost power for two hours on the first day of school, but Fuqua said classes kept running with no problems whatsoever.

"Everything was under control," he said.

GREAT FALLS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL welcomed new principal Ernest Leighty this year. As Leighty was previously principal at Colvin Run Elementary School, he is familiar with the Great Falls community. Leighty said that thus far, things have been going very well in his new position.

"We had a wonderful, smooth opening," he said.

Great Falls Elementary is currently in the planning phase for building improvements. Leighty said that the school can probably expect a better library, redesigned office spaces and enhanced technology facilities.

"It's an old building, but it has a lot of character," he said.

This year, Great Falls Elementary has also added a Gifted and Talented learning center to its classrooms, which means that students in the Gifted and Talented program will no longer have to travel to Colvin Run Elementary school for their classes.

"They still have the option to go over there if they like," said Leighty.

He added that the school is also hoping to integrate its Gifted and Talented program with its long running Japanese Immersion program. Leighty calls Great Falls Elementary "a wonderful community of learners, staff and parents," and said that he is looking forward to "building on the wonderful things already happening in Great Falls."