A lot happened 50 years ago this month.
The USSR launched and crashed a spacecraft on the moon. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” made its world premiere on CBS. And the community of Waterford welcomed a new school building.
“Happy Birthday, dear Waterford…” Dozens of elementary students belted the song Thursday morning during a celebration to mark the building’s golden anniversary.
Those who gathered in the small gymnasium said they were there to commemorate much more than brick and mortar. It was a chance to reflect on the history of one of the county’s oldest schools and meet some of the people who made up the school’s 50-year tapestry.
The morning assembly felt more like a family reunion than a ceremony, with former students, teachers and principals—including Sharon Ackerman, Paul Vickers, Patricia Lynn and Ricardy Anderson—as well as parents of former and current students in attendance.
When students sitting cross-legged on the floor heard the names of a few former school employees—including Susan Verdin, who retired in June after teaching 40 years at Waterford Elementary—they gasped and looked for their favorite teachers in the crowd.
“You’re back,” one student said to Verdin with a grin.
A lot has changed in education over the past five decades, but the community atmosphere of the village’s only school remains unchanged, said Principal Andrew Heironimus, the school’s 17th principal. Parents continue to stop in and lend a hand long after their children have graduated, and countless staff members have spent their entire careers serving Waterford.
“It’s nothing like I’ve seen or experienced anywhere else,” Heironimus said, stressing that the core of that community is a passion for educating children.
In preparation for the 50-year celebration, Heironimus said he looked through stacks of old class photos. The hair dos and clothing styles changed over the years, but the students grinning in the pictures dating back to the ’60s all seemed oddly familiar.
“Kids are still kids,” he said. “They might have an iPad in their hand now, but they’re still kids ready to work hard and play hard.”
As part of the anniversary celebrations, the students were tasked with creating posters and reports that illustrated the school’s history. Their projects were on display in the gym Thursday.
Grace Gavlinski, a fifth-grader at the school, said “it’s pretty cool” to attend a school that has been around for 50 years, especially when so many other Loudoun schools opened less than a decade ago.
“I’ve learned a lot about the school this week,” she said. “And we’re part of that history. That’s cool.”
Waterford has had some form of public education since the late 1800s. The first public school building was near High Street and Butchers Row, according to the school’s website. It was destroyed by fire in 1909, and classes were held in the basement of the Baptist Church until a new building on the same site was built in 1910. Today, that building is known simply as the “Old School.” The current school building, on Loyalty Road, was dedicated in December 1965.