The students behind the restoration effort of the Ashburn Colored School returned to the classroom this week with changed world views.
The aging one-room schoolhouse along Ashburn Road was spray painted overnight Friday with profanities and racist references. The simple, wood-framed building served Ashburn’s black students from 1892 to 1959. It sat abandoned for 57 years until, two years ago, the Loudoun School for the Gifted bought the property with the goal of restoring the former school building and turning it into a museum on the history of education.
“It’s been a labor of love for these students,” said Deep Sran, founder and academic lead at the small private school in Ashburn.
After discovering the vandalism Saturday, Sran emailed the students photos of the hateful messages scribbled on three sides of the schoolhouse. In an interview in their classroom Monday, the students said they felt worse about what had happened when they visited the site in person during their lunch break.
“It was surreal—unnatural looking,” 17-year-old Katherine Sweeney said.
“It gets a lot more personal when you see it in person,” 16-year-old Kamran Fareed said. “You take in what really happened. That someone has it in them to do this.”
Since news of the defaced schoolhouse spread, donations for the students’ restoration project have poured in. Since Saturday, the GoFundMe page has raised more than $60,000—three times the amount the students had raised in the 20 months since they launched the campaign. Donations have come in from around the world, as the story was picked up by New York Times, Boston Globe, CNN, BBC and others.
Kamran said he was appreciative, but he felt frustrated that few paid attention to their work to restore the building until the vandalism. “It’s interesting that it takes something like this for people to take notice,” he said.
Georgia Braun, 17, said the past several days have shown her there is a reason for optimism, even amid such unkind acts. “I know it sounds like a cliché when people talk about love conquering hatred, but that’s what happened here. This act of hate sparked something in a lot of people in the community and they’re responding with love.”
Their project has been more than a lesson in fundraising and building preservation, but meant to leave a lasting impact on them and the community at large. They’ve researched what it was like to attend public school when the Ashburn Colored School was in operation, and they tracked down and interviewed men and women who are former students of the schoolhouse.
Eighth-grader Katie Knipmeyer said in an interview in June, “This is really an opportunity to restore a piece of Loudoun County’s story, and in a broader sense, inform ourselves about the social and political events that made our county what it is today.”
Her classmate and Deep Sran’s oldest daughter, Shailee Sran, called the situation in the past week “a beautiful irony.”
“Whoever did this wanted to set us back, but as a result we’re raising enough money to be able to finish the project,” the 14-year-old said. “So, in your face.”
Learn more about the needs for the Ashburn Colored School’s restoration project at loudounschool.org/crc.