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Bringing Local History to Life

“I wanted the kids to see that this area wasn’t always townhouses and shopping centers.”

So answered McNair Elementary School-based Technology Specialist Laura Reasoner Jones, when asked what motivated her to produce a movie and organize a McNair History Night. Jones has authored several well-reviewed books, including “Herndon (Then and Now)” and “The All-Wise Being: A Tale of God and Republicans,” the latter being a fictionalized account of her ancestor Ethan T. Reasoner, based largely on his personal journals.

This time around, Jones decided to make history jump off the pages of a book and bring the lessons home to the students she serves at McNair Elementary. With her own historical knowledge and gathered additional source material from the Herndon Historical Society, interviews with members of the McNair family and local historians Margaret Peck and Charles Mauro, Jones produced a movie: “A Farm, A Family and a School,” to tell the story of the land around the school and the family who lived there. The land the school and much of the surrounding neighborhoods sit on today was once part of the McNair family farm.

Friday, March 15, saw the premiere of Jones’ production, held at the Frying Pan Farm Park Visitor’s Center at 2739 West Ox Road in Herndon. The attending crowd seemed to take even the organizers by surprise as more and more folding chairs were added to the seating arrangements.

JONES’ PLAN to get the school children invested in history was assured when she added McNair’s fourth grade classes to the program. The youngsters have been studying Virginia history all year with teachers Marisa Burvikovs, Caitlin Mease, Matthew Parker, John Thomas and Kasey Teske. Under the direction of McNair general music teachers Jessica Blood, Valerie Junttila and Charles Quinlan, they were ready, willing and well rehearsed to become part of the show, performing a number of folk songs at appropriate moments throughout the movie. From the second floor loft of the auditorium came their stirring renditions of tunes like “Jamestown,” by Teresa Jennings, and the traditional spiritual “Wade in the Water.”

Special guests in attendance for the performance included Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, Dr. Frank Zuluaga, assistant superintendent of schools, members of the McNair family, McNair Elementary Principal Maria Eck and Assistant Principals Larry Aiello and Melissa Hansen. In her opening remarks before showtime, Jones gave special thanks to the McNair family for their time and the loan of family memorabilia for the project, to James Franklin Smith, former resident of local Smith Farms and to local author and historian Margaret Peck.

THE FORTY-ODD MINUTES of the movie and the accompaniment of the McNair singing fourth graders kept the audience in their seats and paying attention. The only whispering to be heard proved that the attendees, particularly the younger ones, were being reached. “Daddy, did all the kids really go to school in that one little building?” asked one young man in a back row. “And they had to get up and milk all those cows before school? Right around where our school is?” McNair History Night may just have added to a story started a long time ago, just around the corner.