Terraset Revisits Its Origins

Terraset Revisits Its Origins

Students, staff celebrate school's 30th anniversary.

Old photos, articles, shirts and an incense burner donated by a Saudi Prince adorned Terraset's hallways on Thursday. Meanwhile, former and current staff and students sang "Happy Birthday" in the cafeteria.

"This is the history," said Principal Ellen Cury about the meeting between the current and former students and staff. "They can tell the stories. They know what it was like back then," said Cury. Terraset Elementary School hosted a kickoff of the month-long celebration honoring the school's 30-year history on Thursday.

Kay Morgan, a fourth grade teacher at Terraset, is the only current teacher at the school who has taught in the building since it opened. She said that some of the school's physical features have changed over the last 30 years, but that the feeling around the school has always remained the same. "There are no more solar panels, but it is still a very warm and welcoming building," said Morgan. She said it was wonderful to see some of her former colleagues, and some parents of her former students, at the celebration. The celebration, she said, is important because it revisits the school's storied history. "Everybody needs to know their history," said Morgan.

When Terraset opened in 1977, it was the first school on the East Coast of the United States to use solar panels as an energy source. The school is also built into a hill, and the word terraset literally means "set in the Earth." According to a document displayed in the school's hallway, "Terraset: An Energy Conserving School," the idea for building an energy-conserving school came about in 1973, amid the oil shortage crisis. The document, written for the Terraset community — staff, students and parents — explains how the school would be built. It answers questions that people may pose about a school built into a hill. "Do you think the students and teachers will need to wear miners' helmets in order to work in the school" and "Can the children play on the roof" are two of the questions asked, and answered, in the document.

The solar panels have since been removed. Cury said ice formed on top of the panels, and it proved dangerous for students to walk under them. Former Parent Teacher Organization President Ruth Toxopeus said she thinks the panels were removed in 1986.

DURING THE MONTH-LONG celebration, students will research the school's history. Fourth grader Levi Prudhomme said he is already learning things about the school he did not know. "I never knew Terraset was actually built like that," he said. He also thought it was nice to see some of the former teachers and students attend Thursday's celebration, adding that 30 years from now he, too, would attend a similar celebration.

Parent Teacher Association President Dianne Rose said that when the school's original model was displayed in one of its hallways, it created excitement among the students. "When we brought it out of the basement the kids swarmed around it," she said.

"In the beginning the students were very much involved" in researching solar panel technology, said Odessa Thomas, a teacher at the school when it first opened. Thomas taught at Terraset for 10 years.

One of those former students, Kurt Rose — Dianne Rose's husband — attended Terraset when it first opened. The Rose family now has children who attend the school. Kurt Rose, who still holds the school's record for the shuttle run, said the first days of the school's opening were exciting. He said there were always reporters visiting the school when it first opened. "There was always a buzz around here," he said. Kurt Rose added that little has changed about the school and that he could not wait for his children to attend it.

Terraset's current physical education teacher, Lisa Millican, started teaching at Terraset soon after the school opened. She said the early excitement and media attention helped students learn to be respectful. There was so much media hype, she said, that the school actually hosted a visitors center to accommodate all of the reporters and dignitaries who came to see the technologically advanced school. Millican said it was encouraging to see Kurt Rose, her former student, attend the celebration. The fact that his children are currently in the school, she said, shows some stability in an area as transient as Reston is.

CURY SAID SHE HOPES the community will be involved in the celebration of the school's 30th birthday. "It's all about the community," she said. "If it wasn't for the community, we wouldn't have these students here." Cury added that all of the community programs created by organizations such as the Reston Community Center benefit Terraset. "We wouldn't be here without this community," she said.

Toxopeus said the celebration was important for the history of the school. "It is important for sense of community," she said. "It is a wonderful opportunity" to see people who have been involved with Terraset over the last 30 years, she said.

Jane Dreyfuss, the Cluster 8 director for Fairfax County Public Schools, said Thursday's kickoff really concentrated on family spirit that is alive at Terraset. "It is great to see teachers hugging their former students who are now teachers at this school," said Dreyfuss. She said the celebration is an example of how Reston has a sense of, and takes pride in, its own history.

Cury invited members of the community to stop by the school during the month-long celebration and to attend the school's celebration and carnival on Sunday, March 18.