By Kelsie McCrae
Douglass School is perhaps one of Loudoun County’s best kept secrets.
Widely considered a last resort for students who struggle in the mainstream public school system, Douglass School has an alternative view of education.
Teachers there are known for their patience and understanding to foster students’ creativity and confidence. Most graduates of Douglass School don’t begin their high school career there, but as they end their time at Douglass, many say they’ve found a place where they could succeed and a newly discovered confidence that they can in fact be successful in life after high school.
This year’s graduating class—made up of 62 students—celebrated the end of that journey with a ceremony Wednesday morning.
Addressing her classmates at the ceremony, student Willow Moon Preston described her time at the school as an exciting experience. She said that “students here at Douglass simply need more patience and time” from teachers as they navigate secondary education.
English teacher George Kitchen echoed Preston’s sentiments and offered a rebuttal to the misconceptions of the school. “People feel that Douglass, because it is alternative, is an apology, it is lesser,” he said.
But, he stressed, that Douglass is a lifeline for many students. He credited the dedication of Douglass’ teachers to helping the students, in some cases, get caught up and in other cases reignite their love of learning.
“Every teacher tries to get the light turned on,” Kitchen said, and once that light is turned on, there is no stopping these students from displaying their diverse talents and abilities.
Several students’ talents in visual art, poetry, and creative writing were recognized at the ceremony. Joanna Rose Ward received a first-place award for her poetry, as well as recognition for her artistic talent by Douglass’ art teacher Julie Cacciola.
Ward also was named Student of the Year, a title reserved for students who are well-rounded and hardworking and who give back to the school community. She will continue her studies at Delaware College of Art and Design this fall.
Other notable awards were: the Dulles Greenway Citizenship Scholarship, which went to Bryson Dushon Dolly; and the Shelley A. Marshall Foundation Creative Writing Award, which Makai Kaleohano Roberts won.
In lieu of a traditional valedictorian-style speech, student Jacy Kaleohano Roberts read the Max Ehrmann poem “Desiderata.” The poem does well to explain the philosophy of Douglass School, highlighting the importance of patience with others, the value of self, and understanding when silence may speak louder than words.
From Douglass, many of the graduates will attend Northern Virginia Community College, and others will go on to four-year colleges or directly enter the workforce. The students’ career goals vary widely and include veterinary studies, radiology, firefighting, military, cosmetology and computer science.
This week also marked an important milestone for three Douglass teachers; Rhonda Alley, Tom Lucero, and Curtis Hose are retiring after a combined 130 years in education. “They will be missed,” Principal Marianna Turner said.
Kelsie McCrae is a summer intern with Loudoun Now. She’s studying English literature, leadership studies and business administration at Christopher Newport University.