School History: Groveton Elementary (1972-2000)

By the late 1960s, Groveton Elementary School was beginning to show its age. The size of the school lot prohibited expansion of the building, and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) administrators felt the school was completely outdated and was no longer adequate to support the needs of the community. In March 1969, the School Board authorized the construction of a new Groveton Elementary School, and directed that the building be modeled after the new Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston. An emerging trend in the education field called "open classrooms" was quickly rising to prominence in Fairfax County, and Hunters Woods was one of the first open classroom schools built by FCPS. Open school classrooms were built without doors and were clustered around "pods" that could be divided with moveable partitions into separate learning areas. A report to the School Board in January 1971 indicated that the architectural plans for the new 990-pupil capacity Groveton Elementary School were complete, and that it would take 14 months to construct the building. On March 25, 1971, the School Board awarded the contract for construction of the new school to Burroughs and Preston, Inc., at a cost of $1.38 million.

Black and white photograph from Groveton Elementary School's 1971 to 1972 yearbook showing construction progress on the new Groveton School. The original main entrance of the building is shown. The building is a two-story brick structure. Construction equipment is visible near the school's entrance, and two cars are parked in front of the building. The grounds have yet to be landscaped and there are mounds of dirt visible in the foreground.
Groveton Elementary School during construction, 1972.

Groveton Elementary School, at its current site, opened its doors to students for the first time on September 5, 1972. Utilizing the open classroom model, Groveton was divided into several learning areas where a group of classes shared space. Teachers worked as teams with children grouped according to their differing abilities. The learning areas, or pods, at Groveton were named for presidents of the United States: Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Taylor, Washington, and Wilson.

Black and white photograph from Groveton Elementary School's 1972 to 1973 yearbook showing some of the students and teachers in the Washington Pod. The pictures are all head-and-shoulders portraits and none of the individuals are named. 21 children and three adults are pictured.
Washington Pod, 1972-73.

The youngest children were assigned to group Apple Blossom or Cherry Blossom.

Black and white photograph from Groveton Elementary School's 1975 to 1976 yearbook showing students and teachers in the Apple Blossom kindergarten morning class. The children are seated on the floor in a classroom, and two teachers, sitting in chairs, are at the back of the group. 23 children are pictured.
Apple Blossom kindergarten morning class, 1975-76.

A Community School

For Principal Bill Zepka, teachers, and students, the move from Memorial Street to Harrison Lane brought with it new opportunities and challenges. One challenge Principal Zepka later recalled was memorizing the names of all the students, a task he undertook each of his 18 years as principal; one that was made more difficult by the increase in enrollment. "It's very important that I know all their names; all 640 pupils, kindergarten through sixth grade. I have to take the picture book home every night," said Zepka in 1984.

Black and white photograph of Principal Bill Zepka taken in 1981. He is seated at his desk in the library and is surrounded by a large group of smiling students. Nine children are pictured.
Principal Bill Zepka with students, 1981. In order to feel more connected with the teachers and students, Principal Zepka moved his desk from the office to the open library to make himself more accessible.

Principal Zepka envisioned Groveton as a community school, a place dedicated to serving the entire community from pre-school aged children through adults. To that end, Principal Zepka initiated several new programs at Groveton Elementary School in the 1970s. During the 1973-74 school year, he started a senior citizens nutrition program for low-income elderly residents.

Black and white photograph of some of the senior citizens who took part in the nutrition program during the 1976 to 1977 school year. 48 people are in the picture. They are standing in four rows in front of the school stage. Two ladies are seated in chairs in the foreground.
Senior citizens in the nutrition program at Groveton Elementary, 1976-77. Lunch was provided to senior citizens daily. Donations, made on a sliding scale according to ability to pay, were required for the meals. Lunch was preceded and followed by recreational and educational activities, lectures, and entertainment. The senior citizens also volunteered in the school. They taught music after school hours, worked with staff members on arts and crafts, taught sewing classes, and helped in the library.
Black and white photograph of some of the senior citizens who took part in the nutrition program during the 1980 to 1981 school year. 28 people are in the picture. They are arranged in three rows on, and in front of, the school's stage.
Senior citizens in the nutrition program at Groveton Elementary, 1980-81. "Groveton houses the county's oldest nutrition center, which is still first in attendance and enthusiasm, its seniors say. The seniors don't just use a room, they are a genuine part of the school. The center's program provides a variety of activities - use of the book mobile, a movie, music selections, a shopping trip, nutrition class, arts and crafts, ceramics, a bus pickup every Monday after lunch, and weekly visits from a family assistance worker and a dietician." The Washington Post, Feb. 23, 1978
The elements in a community school are one where you involve the community from preschool to adult education. And it has to be easily accessible to the entire community. When I was appointed to Groveton Elementary School, I had that in my background— my community school philosophy—and I initiated a preschool program here at Groveton Elementary. We initiated some adult education courses through the County Education Department. We also established the first senior citizens program here at Groveton Elementary School. It was the first senior citizens nutritional program operated in the state, and was the first one, and the only one I think to this day, that's really operated full-time in an elementary school. It went from about three participants to about 65.
~ Principal Bill Zepka, October 1987

A School of Innovations

Did you know that Groveton was one of the first public schools in the eastern United States to offer programs for children with autism? In 1974, there were only eight special education classes in the entire Fairfax County public school system for students with autism, one of which was housed at Groveton Elementary School.

Photograph showing the covers of three Groveton Elementary School yearbooks. On the left is the cover of the 1972 to 1973 yearbook. In the center is the cover of the 1973 to 1974 yearbook. On the right is the cover of the 1975 to 1976 yearbook. 1973 and 1974 are both plain white covers with a black and white photograph of the school's main entrance in the center. The 1976 cover is red, white, and blue, with an illustration of three Revolutionary War-era patriots marching in formation. One is carrying an American flag, another is playing a drum, and the third is playing a fife.
Groveton Elementary School yearbook covers, 1972-73, 1973-75, and 1975-76.

Also during the 1970s, Principal Zepka established the first co-op preschool program and the first before-and-after-school day care program for working mothers in Fairfax County. The FCPS English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, originally called the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, began in 1975 with 275 students, most of whom were refugees from Vietnam. Groveton Elementary School became an ESL cluster site in October 1977.

Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School from the 1974 to 1975 yearbook. There is a light covering of snow on the ground. The original main entrance to the building is pictured. The entrance was moved during a subsequent renovation. The photograph has a caption that reads: Groveton Elementary School - Through these doors pass the best students, teachers, and parents in Fairfax County.
Groveton Elementary School, 1975. During the 1975-76 school year, a boundary change increased enrollment at Groveton by 120 students. The new students came from Hybla Valley and Mount Eagle elementary schools.

The 76ers

During the 1981-82 school year, Groveton graduated its first group of sixth graders known as the 76ers. This first group of children entered kindergarten at Groveton during the 1975-76 school year, and remained at Groveton throughout all seven of their elementary school years. The tradition carried on after 1982, with each subsequent group of students who attended Groveton K-6 being named 76ers.

Two photographs, side-by-side, from Groveton Elementary School yearbooks of the group known as the seventy-sixers. The photograph on the left, in black and white, is from the 1981 to 1982 yearbook. The photograph on the right, in color, is from the 2009 to 2010 yearbook. 26 children and Principal Zepka are pictured in 1982. They are all wearing t-shirts that have an illustration of a tiger in the center. The number 1982 is above the tiger, and the names of the children who are seventy-sixers are printed below it. The children in the 2010 photograph are wearing their normal everyday clothing. 16 children are pictured.
The first class of 76ers in 1982, and the 2010 class of 76ers.

Student Activities and Committees

During the 1970s and 1980s, Groveton Elementary School offered a wealth of extracurricular and co-curricular activities for students. In fact, Groveton piloted the first elementary after-school recreation program in Fairfax County. Below are a small sample of the activities and student groups found in our yearbooks from this time period.

Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Library Committee from the 1972 to 1973 yearbook. 12 children and one adult are pictured.
The Library Committee, 1972-73.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Cafeteria Committee from the 1973 to 1974 yearbook. 14 children and one adult are pictured. They are standing inside the cafeteria near a doorway.
The Cafeteria Committee, 1973-74. Other popular committees at Groveton during the 1970s were the Lost and Found Committee, the Art Committee, the Physical Education Committee, and the Newspaper Committee. During the 1970s and 80s, the school newspaper was called The Tiger's Paw.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Choral Festival Group from the 1976 to 1977 yearbook. Eight children and one adult are pictured. The adult and one student are seated at an upright piano. The remaining students surround them.
The Choral Festival Group, 1976-77. Band, strings, and chorus have been popular with students for many decades.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Student Council from the 1980 to 1981 yearbook. 23 children and three adults are pictured. Three students are holding up a sign that reads Groveton Elementary SCA.
Student Council Association (SCA) officers and room representatives, 1980-81. One fondly remembered SCA activity is Student / Teacher Swap Day when some sixth graders became principal, assistant principal, and teachers for a day. Groveton's first SCA was formed in February 1934.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Chess Club from the 1980 to 1981 yearbook. Nine children and one adult are pictured. Four of the children and the adult are sitting at a table in what appears to be the library. There is a sign on the table in front of them that reads Chess Club. The sign has been decorated to look like a chess board.
The Chess Club, 1980-81. Other popular clubs during the 1980s were the Language Arts Club, the Math Club, the Stamp Club, and Spanish Club.
Black and white photograph of Groveton's School Store Committee from the 1980 to 1981 yearbook. Five children and one adult are pictured. They are standing inside the school store. The door to the store is a Dutch door, with a top half that opens separately. The top half is open and the bottom is closed. A girl in the center is holding a sign in front of the door that reads School Store.
The School Store Committee, 1980-81. In addition to the school store, students of the 1980s fondly remember Groveton's annual Secret Santa Shop where they could purchase gifts for their family and friends.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Audio-Visual Committee from the 1981 to 1982 yearbook. 19 children and two adults are pictured. They are posed next to a film projector on a cart and another, unidentified, piece of electronic equipment on a second cart. Some of the children are standing, others are kneeling on the floor. The two adults are visible in the far back.
The Audio-Visual Committee, 1981-82. The Groveton Elementary School news team, GSPN, was formed during the 1985-86 school year.
Black and white photographs of two of Groveton Elementary School's after-school basketball teams from the 1983 to 1984 yearbook. On the left is a photograph of the Rocketts, an all-girls team, comprised of eight girls. On the right is a photograph of the Warriors, an all-boys team, comprised of six boys. The students are posed in a stairwell. In each picture one student is holding a basketball and another is holding up a sign with the team's name on it.
Groveton Elementary School piloted the first elementary after-school recreation programs in the county. During the 1983-84 school year, there were six basketball teams:  The Celtics, The Hawks, The Lakers, The Rocketts, The Sixers, and The Warriors. Pictured above are The Rocketts and The Warriors in 1983-84.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Building and Grounds Committee from the 1984 to 1985 yearbook. Eight children and two adults are pictured. They are seated outside next to the school's flagpole.
The Building and Grounds Committee, 1984-85.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School's Strings musical performance group from the 1989 to 1990 yearbook. 28 children and one adult are pictured. The children are arranged in four rows on risers in front of the school's stage. The children in the first row are seated and are holding violins.
Groveton Strings, 1989-90. Popular activities and clubs during the 1990s were Young Astronauts, Caldecott Club, and Good Morning Groveton.

One fondly remembered after-school activity at Groveton is roller skating in the gymnasium. Alumni from the 1980s recall roller skating being held on Mondays after school and every other Friday night. Movie nights, a tradition which dates back to at least the 1940s, was another favorite activity.

Photograph showing the covers of three Groveton Elementary School yearbooks. On the left is the cover of the 1980 to 1981 yearbook. In the center is the cover of the 1981 to 1982 yearbook. On the right is the cover of the 1982 to 1983 yearbook. The 1981 yearbook cover is yellow and has an illustration of children at the top center. The illustration is a simple black and white design where alternating silhouettes of boys and girls hold hands. A caption reads: Everybody's beautiful in their own way. The 1982 yearbook cover is orange in color and features an illustration of Groveton's tiger cub mascot. The 1983 yearbook cover is orange in color and has a black and white illustration of the school building's main entrance.
Groveton Elementary School yearbook covers, 1980-81, 1981-82, and 1982-83.
When you walk in the door of Fairfax County's Groveton Elementary School you see a pair of live doves nuzzling each other in a cage. Following the path of tiger paws down the hall, you pass a cafeteria where gray-haired men and women who sat in wooden desks learning their ABCs 60 years ago are eating pizza with fifth-graders. And inside the office across the hall, you find the man recently named Virginia's first National Distinguished Principal, Bill Zepka, surrounded by a five-foot-tall stuffed panda and scores of other souvenirs pupils have brought their principal from ventures around the world and Fairfax County.
~ The Washington Post, October 4, 1984.
Black and white photograph of Groveton Elementary School taken in 1983. The original main entrance to the building is shown. Two adults, possibly senior citizens, are seated on benches near the main entrance.
Groveton Elementary School, 1983.

New Leadership

In 1986, Cynthia Buck was appointed the 11th principal of Groveton Elementary School. At this point in time, Groveton was one of the most racially and ethnically diverse schools in Fairfax County, with a student body that was 53 percent white, 26 percent African-American, 15 percent Asian, and 6 percent Hispanic.

Black and white, head-and-shoulders portrait of Cynthia Buck.
This photograph of Ms. Buck is from our 1982-83 yearbook when she was an assistant principal at Groveton. During the 1983-84 school year, she was appointed principal of Forestdale Elementary School in Springfield, a position she held until 1986.
Black and white yearbook photograph of Principal Cynthia Buck. She is seated at a table in the library with an open book in her hands. Five children of varying ages pose with her. Three boys are seated at the table, and two girls are standing, one on either side of Ms. Buck.
Principal Cynthia Buck with students, 1989-90. In 1992, Ms. Buck was appointed principal of Mount Eagle Elementary School, a position she held until 2004.

Under Principal Buck's leadership, the Academy Program was initiated at Groveton to help new students who recently arrived to Fairfax County become acclimated to the school and the surrounding community.

Photograph of children posing on the jungle gym on the playground. Ten children are pictured. They have all climbed to the top of the metal jungle gym and are standing or sitting on its metal frame.
Groveton Elementary School students, 1991-92.

A Glimpse Back in Time

In 1988, Groveton Elementary School was the subject of the Fairfax County Public Schools cable television channel series Profile. The Red Apple 21 crew spent several days at Groveton, gathering interviews with teachers and classroom footage. The resulting 29-minute documentary provides a fascinating snapshot our school in the late 1980s.

The 1990s

During the 1992-93 school year, Groveton Elementary School students were the recipients of a new playground courtesy of the Parent Teacher Association (PTA).

Black and white photograph of the new playground equipment. There is a spiral-shaped slide, spiral ladder, monkey bars, a curved slide, a curved ladder, and two raised platforms. 16 children are visible playing on the equipment. Two school buses are parked in the far distance.

Principal Tommy Thompson (1992-97)

Also in 1992, Edward "Tommy" Thompson succeeded Ms. Buck as principal of Groveton Elementary School.

Black and white photograph of Principal Thompson seated at his desk. He is looking through paperwork.
Principal Tommy Thompson, 1995. Before coming to Groveton, Mr. Thompson was the principal of Belle View Elementary School.
Black and white photograph Principal Thompson reading to a group of students. Five children, three boys and two girls, are seated with Thompson at a small round table in a classroom.
Principal Tommy Thompson with students, 1996. In 1997, Mr. Thompson departed Groveton and became the principal of Hybla Valley Elementary School, a position he held until 2003.

In February 1997, Principal Thompson, Assistant Principal Louise Mannarino, and ESL teacher Ivette Colon made a presentation to the Fairfax County School Board about Groveton's ESL Parents' Committee. Ms. Colon described the committee and her work with children and their families who came to Fairfax County from a wide range of cultural, educational, social, and economic backgrounds, and had varying degrees of English proficiency. The committee had created a resource book with strategies and techniques designed to encourage parental involvement, copies of which were distributed to ESL teachers throughout Fairfax County. School Board members expressed their gratitude to the Groveton community, noting that parental involvement in education is vital to the success of students.

Black and white photograph of students waiting to board a school bus during the 1993 to 1994 school year. Four boys at the back of the line have turned around and are smiling broadly for the camera. They are wearing coats and hats. There are no leaves on the trees in the background, and several houses are visible in the far distance.
Groveton students, 1993-94.

Principal Elizabeth Henderson (1997-99)

During the summer of 1997, Elizabeth A. Henderson became the 13th principal of Groveton Elementary School. Before coming to Groveton, Ms. Henderson had been a principal at Clermont Elementary, Great Falls Elementary, and Cheney Elementary on Fort Belvoir.

Color photograph of Principal Henderson taken during the 1997 to 1998 school year. She is seated at a table and is looking up from the paperwork in front of her. A pen is in her left hand.
Principal Elizabeth A. Henderson, 1998.

Principal Christine Lamb (1999-07)

In 1999, Christine Lamb was appointed principal of Groveton Elementary School. She led Groveton for eight years until her retirement in 2007.

Color photograph of Principal Lamb taken during the 2002 to 2003 school year. She is seated on a brown rocking chair in a classroom with a closed picture book on her lap. She is surrounded by a group of five smiling children, two boys and three girls. Two of the girls, on Lamb's right, are holding a stuffed snowman figure.
Principal Christine Lamb, 2003.