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School Has Walls But Loses Two Pillars

Two of Orange Hunt’s original staffers prepare to retire.

>"I still hold the door open, and one reason I do that is because of Miss Givens. She taught us etiquette," said Tyler Cookson, to a crowd in the Orange Hunt Elementary School cafeteria. Cookson, now a college student, also said his difficult role as the Scarecrow in his first-grade class’ version of "The Wizard of Oz" gave him a lasting confidence to take on seemingly impossible tasks.

Orange Hunt marked the retirement of two of its original teachers with an after-school party Monday afternoon, June 4. Marsha Givens and Joan Wilson will retire this month, after teaching at the school since it opened in 1974. During Monday’s celebration, students and coworkers past and present made short speeches about the two retirees.

Pat Krueger, who was also one of the school’s original teachers, recalled the early days. "In the beginning, Orange Hunt was very colorful. It was actually orange," she said. The school was one of several "schools without walls" built in county during the late ‘60s and early ’70s. "It was unimaginable to us when we came here that a school like this could stand, let alone provide the foundation for what Orange Hunt would become," said Krueger.

During her time working with the two teachers, Krueger said, she had come to see each of them as a color. "Joan is blue, like very calm, clear Caribbean water," said Krueger. "Marsha is yellow. She is our sunshine." Without that water and sunshine, she said, "for those of you that remain behind, next year is going to be a special challenge."

Principal Judy Ryan noted that the Fairfax Chapter of the Junior Cotillion League had named Wilson "Best-Mannered Teacher". "Joan has worked so hard and is so elegant and gracious about everything she does," said Ryan. She also noted the exceptional quality of the Tutti-Frutti Hot Dog Stand run by Givens’ class.

GIVENS WAS the subject of a song written and performed by former Orange Hunt teacher Iliga Gregory. "You’ve taught many children, And some of their parents too, But look at you, girl, you still look great," she sang to the tune of "This Land is Your Land."

Former P.E. teacher Suzan Bright recalled bonding with Wilson over their shared sorority ties and with Givens over the Redskins. "We played a lot of fight songs over the P.A.," said Bright. Quoting Abraham Lincoln, she said "Whatever you are, be a good one. And Marsha and Joan have done that. So, now, be good retirees."

Third-grade teacher Kris Koch remembered when she and two other teachers were about to star t their first year at the school, and Wilson called all three of them over the summer. "Her welcoming voice was like the sun," said Koch.

Shirley France, one of Givens’ friends from college, remarked that Givens had always been willing and able to impart instruction, and not just with regard to math or etiquette. She recalled Givens informing her when they were in college that she was folding her laundry incorrectly and then re-educating her. "One day, I folded it my way, and I said, ‘Marsha’s not here,’" said France. "But I had to go back to the closet and re-fold it."

"I haven’t cried all week," Givens told the crowd, her voice already cracking. "I’m crying now because I’m happy. For 33 years I taught, and I can’t think of one year that I didn’t like it." She encouraged anyone in doubt to ask her relatives, who were present and who "are sick of my stories" about teaching. "I taught a lot of children, and I love it, and I do want to substitute next year," said Givens.

Wilson recalled walking into the school in the fall of 1974 and asking about substitute teaching. "And they said, ‘How about tomorrow?’" Within two months, she was hired. In those days, she said, "you could stand at one end of the building and, literally, see the other end. In this sort of environment, said Wilson, "you learn fast. You sink or you swim." She noted that new teachers were able to watch and learn from the more experienced. The early teachers, mostly young people, put in long hours, she said, "but we were also friends."

Wilson said she planned to take a trip to Alaska this summer," and "after that, I want to spend a lot of time with my granddaughter."

After the speeches were over, a Connection reporter remarked to Wilson that, as an 8-year-old, he had been thoroughly impressed by the way she had maintained order in her second-grade classroom without ever raising her voice over the course of the 1985-86 school year.