- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

When many children look back on the school year, they may think of demanding teachers and too much homework. But such "small stuff" probably is not on the minds of students at Dogwood Elementary School, whose Reston school building was destroyed by a raging fire about seven months ago.
Since then, most of the children have had to adapt to several different schools far away from home and to ride the school bus for as much as 45 minutes one way as opposed to walking to school.
"These children have learned that life is full of challenges, and that its your approach to those challenges that matters," says Ricki Harvey, Dogwoods principal.
The roughly 500 Dogwood students are housed temporarily in two schools in Fairfax City, not far from the main campus of George Mason University. The new Dogwood, which is under construction, is expected to be completed in March 2002.
Third-grader Tommy Crosby, 9, of Reston, who goes to one of the Fairfax schools, Westmore Elementary School, says he has adapted well to the change.
"I hadnt been to Dogwood for very long, so I didnt really have a relationship to that school," Tommy, who was wearing pajamas with airplanes for the schools "pajamas day," said one recent afternoon. "But I like this school."
After being scattered among seven schools for about a month, Tommy and the other children in grades three and lower started going to Westmore in January, while fourth- through sixth-graders started going to Green Acres Elementary School.
Teachers, other school personnel and students have transformed Westmore into their own version of Dogwood instead of just treating it as a temporary human warehouse.
The walls are covered in artwork, and many teachers wear a T-shirt that says, "Dogwood Elementary … Still Blooming … Dogwood Dragons Wherever We Go."
"See this one," Tommy said, pointing to an accordion-shaped piece of paper with a butterfly on it. "If you look at it from this direction, its a butterfly, and if you look at it from the other direction its a cocoon."
He was the artist behind that particular piece.

For parents, the change of schools has been a time-consuming challenge. They used to see their children at 3 in the afternoon. Now school buses have been arriving as late as 6 p.m.
"It gives you very little time in the evening with your children and a bare minimum of time for activities," says Susan Tangen, whose 8-year-old daughter, Katherine, temporarily goes to Westmore Elementary.
Not only is the bus ride up to 45 minutes long, but the school day starts and ends later to free up buses for all the youngsters. When the school was in Reston, about 100 children took the bus to school. Now as many as 500 take it.
One of the children, Emily Guandique, 9, of Reston says she doesnt mind the bus ride too much. She reads or talks to friends.
"But I never go to sleep," Emily says.
Instead of going to school from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., the children have been starting at 9:45 a.m. and staying until about 5 p.m.
"On the positive side, my daughter has complained maybe twice, and that is it," Mrs. Tangen says. "All the children have learned a lesson. When there is devastation, you just pick up the pieces and move on."
The school has promised there will be a return to a more normal school and bus schedule in the fall, something welcomed by the parents.
Luanne Grabski, the new PTA president, who has three children at Dogwood, says there has been little or no time for after-school activities, which has forced her children to choose between sports and music. They chose basketball and swimming over piano and trombone.
"Sometimes their homework hasnt gotten done until the next morning," Mrs. Grabski says.
Mrs. Tangen and Mrs. Grabski say that despite all the complications, they consider themselves fortunate to be stay-at-home mothers.
"Its been hard for many families," Mrs. Grabski says. "I am fortunate to be home."
For some, the school fire also led to a loss of business. Reston resident Sue Slover, who has two children at Dogwood, used to run an after-school day care group from her home for a half-dozen children between 3 and 6 p.m., keeping them until their parents arrived home from work. Now the parents are home when the children arrive.
"Ive had to take a job as a part-time receptionist," Mrs. Slover says. She expects to continue her after-school day care once the new Dogwood opens.

The main engine who has kept everything going, say several teachers and parents, has been Mrs. Harvey, the principal, who remembers the night of the fire in late November of last year as clearly as if it were yesterday.
She had left school earlier that day — about 7 p.m. — and when word reached her a little before 11 p.m., flames had engulfed the school. The reasons for the fire are not clear, she says.
"What do I do now?" Mrs. Harvey says she asked herself as she stood in front of the climbing flames. "This isnt in the principals handbook."
With help of her teachers, Mrs. Harvey had a plan in place within two days.
Books by the thousands were ordered, art supplies were replaced, and new teacher handbooks were distributed.
"People had to be very, very creative," Mrs. Harvey says. "The best in them came out."
Some lessons were spent talking about what the teachers and children had experienced during the fire, sort of a therapeutic exercise, Mrs. Harvey says. Some children asked if their house would burn down since the school had burned down.
"We assured them that wouldnt happen," she says.
Some things could not be replaced, such as former students artwork and personal photos.
"I lost Black History Month material," says Pam Duke, 50, who has been a teacher for about a dozen years, "pictures of Martin Luther King Jr. and Mary McLeod Bethune and workbooks by former students."
With teacher shortages elsewhere and the longer drives as a consequence of the schools moving to Westmore, Mrs. Harvey says she is amazed that she has lost just two teachers from a staff of 85 teachers and other school personnel.
"Weve worked miracles this year," Mrs. Harvey says. "We lost our building, but who we are as dedicated teachers has been enhanced."
Though they are not complaining about the current situation, teachers, students and parents are looking forward to their brand-new school with brand-new equipment.
"Itll be nice to have the school back in the community and knowing that your child is just down the street," Mrs. Tangen says.
"And a library full of new books is pretty cool," adds Mrs. Grabski.


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