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Full-Circle at Westbriar

They left as students, return as teachers.

Andrew Blount and Tara Demarest lived within walking distance of Westbriar Elementary School in the 1980s. Their backyards backed up to one another’s. Andrew and Tara walked the same route to and from Westbriar, and were in the same grade, usually in the same classroom.

If Andrew forgot his spelling book, he borrowed Tara’s. If he had a question about an assignment, he asked Tara.

A small elementary school in the midst of towering old trees in a congenial family-oriented neighborhood, Westbriar prided itself as a community school.

Andrew and Tara grew up, graduated from Marshall High School, and went their separate ways ... or so they thought.

Almost 20 years after Blount and Demarest left Westbriar as students, they are back at their alma mater. Now, they are teachers there.

"Tara-Jean was very organized, always remembered her homework, and got good grades," Blount said. "Oftentimes, my mom would send me to Tara-Jean’s house when I forgot my spelling book or some other assignment, because my mom knew that Tara-Jean would have her homework materials."

DEMAREST teaches her 4th grade class in the same room in which she was a 4th grade student herself. Blount teaches his 4th grade class nearby, and as childhood friends who became professional colleagues, they reminisce and laugh over the fun times as Westbriar "Falcons."

"I remember our 1st grade class," said Demarest. "Miss Mainella taught it, and Andrew and Kevin [Manz] were in the class, too. We used to push our chairs in and exercise to Mousercise or Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It.’ I think our class had a lot of energy," Demarest said laughing.

To put things in perspective, Bernadette Mainella Garfinkel retired several years ago after more than 35 years of teaching in Fairfax County schools.

The annual Westbriar fall Fun Fair is one of Blount’s fondest memories, recalling it as a great time when families, friends, and the whole Westbriar staff joined as one community to celebrate together. "My favorite part of the Fun Fair was the box maze," said Blount. "They used to join a series of boxes together spread out through multiple rooms, creating a maze that children could work their way through.

"It was fun to hide in the boxes and surprise your friends as they crawled through.

"I also liked the cake walk, because I considered myself pretty lucky, and I remember coming home one year with three cakes.

"Now, as a teacher, I still look forward to the Fun Fair. We call it ‘Family Fun Night’ and it has many of the same activities as in years past. The box maze is gone, but the cake walk is still a favorite event. They have added a few things such as a book sale, Karaoke, a DJ, and many other family-friendly activities. I am normally responsible for DJing at Family Fun Night, and it is a blast having my students see me in another role other than as a teacher."

One of Blount’s students of last year, now lives in Demarest’s old home, sleeping in Demarest’s bedroom. "That’s mind-boggling," said Demarest.

It was also mind-boggling for Demarest during her first year teaching at Westbriar when the school handed out its annual Mack Orebaugh Physical Fitness Award. Mack Orebaugh, now retired, instructed Demarest and Blount throughout their days at Westbriar.

ALTHOUGH NEITHER LIVES within walking distance of Westbriar any longer, they continue to share a common path.

"It feels wonderful coming back here," said Demarist. "A lot of people would like to know they are giving back to their community. I feel that I am giving back."

Blount remembers returning to Westbriar for the first time as a teacher and thinking how small the hallways were.

"When I first started teaching at Westbriar as a fourth grade teacher, I was teaching in my original fourth grade classroom that I had as a student many years ago."

The school used to have a school song called Maroon and White, recalls Blount, because the school colors were maroon and white. Each Friday everyone would wear the school colors to promote school pride, and then they would sing the school song.

"Now, at Westbriar, there is still a tremendous amount of school pride, mostly displayed in our spirit days. Kids vote on different themes for one day of each month," sais Blount. "There’s crazy hair day, book character day, sports day, for example. The teachers get really into it, too, wearing all kinds of crazy costumes to help display their own school spirit.

"We both have a lot of Westbriar School pride," said Blount. "We love to brag about our school — the students, staff, and families."

Said Demarest, "at times, it feels strange to be teaching in the elementary school you attended. Memories come back if there is a similar activity.

"It always makes me smile to say I went to school here," said Demarest. "It’s a feeling of pride."