The bells have all rung and the students returned to their classes this week. But school started earlier for their teachers, who spent part of their summer working on lesson plans and readying their classrooms for the new school year.
Band teacher Bill Schnepper pulls double duty, teaching half the day at Deer Park Elementary and the other half at Westfield High. In his 13th year with FCPS, he’s in his seventh year at Westfield and 12th at Deer Park.
“I love being at Deer Park,” he said. “I’m with fifth- and sixth-grade teachers who are easy to work with. One of the biggest challenges is getting band time scheduled at the beginning of the year, but they’re flexible.”
He and Principal Carol Larsen have known each other since elementary school and were in Honors Band together as students at Rocky Run Middle School, Chantilly High and JMU. So, said Schnepper, “She’s a real big supporter of the arts, which is a bonus for me.”
Besides that, he said, Larsen plays her flute with the school band at the end-of-the-year concert, “which is special for the students to see their principal playing an instrument.”
As for the beginning of school, Schnepper said it’s always exciting. “There’s a buzz in the air and an excitement to get the band program started,” he said. “The teachers are warm and nice, and it’s a fantastic environment to be in.”
Deer Park office assistants Cathy Roberson and Cathy McCormick agree. “I enjoy the staff, kids and parents,” said McCormick. “It’s never the same day twice.” Added Robertson, last Wednesday: “We’re ready for the students and excited for the school year to begin.”
Back-to-school nights at Deer Park are Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 p.m., for grades K-3, and Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 p.m., for grades 4-6.
Starting her fourth year at Stone Middle School is Charlotte Chrostowski, who teaches eighth-grade math — pre-algebra and honors geometry. “I relaxed enough during the summer that I’m ready to come back,” she said. “I like getting to know the new students and showing them they can do math, even though in the past, they didn’t think they could.”
Liz Deal has been at Stone since it opened, so she’s now beginning her 22nd year there. She’s always taught seventh-grade history, but this year is her first teaching eighth-grade civics. “A teacher had retired, so there was an opening,” she said. “And since I’m a department chair, I wanted to learn all there is to middle-school social studies.”
She’s also looking forward to teaching something new and has already mapped out big plans for her students. “We’ll do the political process — which will be a big point of focus, this election year,” said Deal. “In the first quarter, we’ll study the [presidential] election and will have a schoolwide mock election. There’s lots of technology that will enhance and make it more realistic for the children. And we’ll study the three branches of government.”
Throughout the year, her students will also do what she calls “service-learning.” Deal will teach them to become lifelong volunteers and “reflect on how the volunteer work they do helps the community as a whole.” Stone students in all grades do similar things, participating in a walk for the homeless, beautifying their school’s grounds and helping with the Panther Pickup event for Our Neighbor’s Child at Christmastime.
Some of Deal’s students join in those projects, and others come up with their own ideas to help “so it’s meaningful to them and they can develop a lifelong volunteer spirit,” she said. “For example, some students have volunteered at the [county’s] Animal Shelter and others have participated in WFCM’s canned food drive.”
She’ll also teach her students about economics. “In the spring, they’ll go through Finance Park in Fairfax as part of the county’s financial initiative,” said Deal. “They’ll learn to budget their money and live within their means. They’ll also learn about different types of economic systems and how ours compares with other countries.’”
She, too, was eager for school to begin. “You’re always starting fresh every year, and I like how excited the kids are on the first day of school,” she said.
I’ll have some new students and ones I’ve taught before,” she said. “And I’m looking forward to working with eighth-graders and teaching civics. It’s a new adventure for me and it’s going to be a good year.”
Music teacher Josie Walker is beginning her first year at Centre Ridge Elementary and second with FCPS. “I’m really excited to be here,” she said. “Everyone seems really nice; it seems like a fun place to be a teacher. I was a voice major in college, with a secondary in piano. I wanted to be a teacher and I’ve loved music my whole life. My brother’s a music teacher in Arlington County, so I got to see it from his perspective.”
Walker will teach music to grades K-6; her students will play a variety of instruments, sing, dance and learn music theory. She’s also excited about getting to know the children. “Last year, I was at two Fairfax County schools,” she said. “But this year, I’m just at Centre Ridge, so I’m looking forward to being part of the community here.”
Assistant Principal Janice Suitte is in her second full year at the school and expects an enrollment of about 830 students. There are several new staff members, including three specialists in language arts, math and special ed, plus a second assistant principal, Chip Deliee.
What makes Centre Ridge so special, said Suitte, are “the children, supportive parents, community and staff and the great teachers. We also have a wonderful principal [Margo Dias-Pareja] with a great vision. She cares about the community and the children.”
Suitte also noted the school’s “neat family center where families may come in and get what they need for their children. They can use computers, get information about resources and programs and participate in our parenting program. We also have parent liaisons who speak Spanish and Korean. We want to make the building inviting to reach out to the community.”
As the new school year starts, she said, “I like seeing the parents bringing in their kids and seeing how excited they are. The kids look around and see how big the building is. I enjoy greeting them and meeting their parents; it’s a good time. I like that newness of a new experience — even for returning students. This is just a great place to be.”
Centreville Elementary counselor Lee Kaiser is “excited and eager” to return to school. “I love the energy a new school year brings to the staff, students and teachers,” he said. “It’s bringing everyone back together.”
He said the school is opening with 950 students. “We have a lot of new staff this year, plus a new modular unit for fourth grade, because we’ve grown so much,” said Kaiser.
Centreville is holding its annual, welcome-back picnic this Friday, Sept. 5, at 5:30 p.m., and Kaiser is expecting a good turnout of teachers, administration, parents and students. And throughout the school year, he said, “I’d encourage parents and families to come and get involved in the school in any way possible.”
Freshman Fatima Rivera was “pretty nervous” about beginning high school at Westfield. “I’ve got to get used to a new environment and meeting new people,” she said. But she was eager to start her biology and journalism classes and possibly join the lacrosse or soccer teams. And, she added, “I’m looking forward to going to the football games.”
Bill Schnepper is assistant band director at Westfield. “What’s fun for me is seeing kids I’ve taught in elementary school,” he said. “Last year, we had a fantastic year. Our bands cleaned up at the competitions and we had a really good group of kids. This year, it looks like another great, cohesive group of students, and we’re looking forward to our band holiday concerts, Dec. 7-9.”