- The Washington Times - Friday, January 11, 2002

Halfway through the school year, it is time for a new beginning at Dogwood Elementary School.

Fourteen months after their school burned to the ground, Dogwood's 550 students and 80 staff members will return to their new building in Reston, Virginia on Monday at the exact spot where the old school stood.

The $11 million building is state of the art, with more rooms, up-to-date technology and windows unlike the 25-year-old building it replaced.

"The old building was like a big, square shell with no windows," says Principal Ricki Harvey. "This one has much more pleasing architecture."

The spaces are bright and open, though boxes and furniture are stacked everywhere, and everything smells new. The building is modeled on another Fairfax County school Bull Run Elementary. Construction was completed four months before the scheduled date.

"It just goes to show that if you have the money, you can do it," said Fairfax County schools Superintendent Daniel A. Domenech.

The new building has facilities the old one didn't a music room; an art lab; a video-recording room; a "pod area," where children can work on science projects; and a computer room, where parents and children can do homework every evening.

But the most important thing, Mrs. Harvey said, is that the Dogwood family will be together again under a single roof, attending school in their neighborhood, instead of being bused 12 to 14 miles each day to two different schools.

"It is really important that I have all my students and teachers together. This way, we can keep a sense of family," said Mrs. Harvey, who has divided her time in the past few months between Westmore and Green Acres schools, where Dogwood students have been taught since last January.

Immediately after the school burned down in November 2000, authorities managed to fit the students into eight schools. Intersessions, part of Dogwood's year-round schedule, were held at the Reston Community Center and the Reston YMCA.

"It has been a really big challenge. We have opened school six times in the last 16 months," said Mrs. Harvey. "And each time you move, you have a different music schedule, a different [physical education] schedule."

The school's test scores also suffered last year, and Mr. Domenech attributes that to the fire.

"There was a great deal of disruption. Having to move to different facilities and the traumatic experience of the school burning down were all reflected in the performance," he said.

After Monday, all that will be in the past. Teachers yesterday were buzzing around in their classrooms, putting books on shelves and setting up charts and furniture. Some got help from parents and volunteers provided by Accenture, the school's business partner.

Martin Boyd, who took a couple of days off from work, helped set up the classroom where his son will attend kindergarten.

"It is nice to have a student at a school where teachers and staff work so hard. They are carrying out miracles all the time," he said.

Yesterday was homecoming for Dogwood's staff.

Walking around the building, Mrs. Harvey stopped often to greet people she was seeing after a long time, like the cafeteria manager who was moved to another school after the fire.

Teachers greeted each other with hugs and waves.

"It is so great to run into people again. You don't realize how much you missed everybody," said kindergarten teacher Ellen Gomez.

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