While the new Willard Intermediate School represents much of what is state-of-the-art in education, it’s the history of the school’s name and the area in which it was built that was highlighted during a dedication ceremony this morning.
School and county leaders joined teachers, students and parents for the dedication ceremony of the county’s 17th middle school. To accommodate the student growth in the southern end of the county, Willard will operate as an intermediate school for the next two years, serving eighth- and ninth-graders. Meanwhile, the area’s sixth- and seventh-graders will attend Mercer Middle School, and grades 10 through 12 will be housed at John Champe High School until Lightridge High School opens nearby in 2020.
Willard Principal Jeff Rounsley reminded those gathered at the ceremony just how the school got its name. It’s named as a tribute to the former village of Willard, a community made up of former slaves and their descendants that was condemned by the federal government in 1958 to make room for the construction of Dulles Airport. All 87 Willard-area landowners were forced to give up their properties.
“Like so many places on the map, it was forgotten in the name of progress. But today we are here to remember Willard for what it was and celebrate the dedication of the new Willard Intermediate School,” Rounsley said. “This is the first time students will be served by a Willard school since the last Willard School closed in 1948.”
The event’s keynote speaker, Louis Jett, recounted his experience growing up in the village of Willard. He jokingly described life there as “a black soap opera that never got aired on TV.” He said two of his most clear memories are of the smell of pigs being butchered and smoked and of his second-grade teacher at Willard School who didn’t particularly like him. On more than one occasion she spanked him with a ruler, he said. “She tore my behind up.”
Jett’s family was one of the last families forced to leave Willard. He remembers bulldozers tearing down trees and homes. “I remember they let my dad tear down and take what he wanted of his house that was just about two years old,” Jett said. “I often wonder how different my life would have been if the village of Willard had it not been taken by the United States government to build an airport.”
Eighth- and nine-grade students who now call the new Willard school home got a chance to make their mark at the ceremony. The Willard orchestra performed and students Sofia Kim and Ella Kreft shared a few words about what the new school means to them.
One performance got the audience clapping and even singing along. About a dozen students danced to and lip-synced the song “This is Me” from the movie “World’s Greatest Showman” in flash mob style, with Rounsley playing along with a surprised look as the students stepped out of the audience onto the stage.
In closing, Rounsley vowed to continue to honor the legacy of the village of Willard while pushing forward to give students the tools they need to succeed in tomorrow’s workforce. “Today were dedicating not just a building but a spirit that rejects complacency and stays true to a hunger to do more and be more for these students and this community.”