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White Oaks Elementary School opened on January 28, 1980. For the first five months of the school year, our students were housed in at least three separate elementary schools, namely: Burke, Hunt Valley, and Keene Mill. Our first principal, Ronald West, travelled daily between all these schools, overseeing the instruction of White Oaks’ 623 students. Our building was not quite finished when it opened to students in January 1980, because the cafeteria, kitchen, and gymnasium were still under construction.
There are both advantages and disadvantages to moving into a new school. We didn’t want to leave the building empty for half a year after it was completed, so we moved as soon as the classrooms were ready. But it certainly will be pleasant here when all the facilities are useable, and the grounds have been landscaped. It takes a while to acquire the resource equipment and materials that an established school would already have. To fully stock the library and install such things as television sets and gym equipment will take some time yet.
~ Principal Ron West
White Oaks opened with three “pods” consisting of seven classrooms each. Each pod had an open classroom space in the center with a “wet area” for messier lessons and craft projects. The three pods surrounded a central library. All of the floors, with the exception of the cafeteria and gymnasium, were carpeted. Learn more about the founding and construction of White Oaks Elementary School in the following slideshow.
The Eagle Takes Flight
White Oaks Elementary School was dedicated on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1980. A student-prepared celebration, which featured musical performances and a ribbon cutting ceremony, was held that evening. Some of the children gave guided tours of the school, and others sang and played in the orchestra in the library for the entertainment of visitors. Duane Barber, president of the student council, cut the ribbon, officially opening the school, and sixth graders unveiled a paper-mâché statue of our mascot, the eagle.
This is a celebration in honor of the concept of the neighborhood school. A school is a community, a place where education is made to happen.
~ Principal Ron West
Did you know that since the founding of our school students at White Oaks have participated in Jump Rope for Heart? In 1982, White Oaks Elementary School was the top money-earner in Virginia in the American Heart Association’s Jump Rope for Heart Marathon. 500 students jumped rope for three hours, and raised $13,039 for the association. The high-profile win garnered the attention of the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, resulting in an opportunity for White Oaks students to meet Washington Redskins placekicker Mark Moseley.
White Oaks Elementary School has several long-standing school traditions, such as our Multicultural Family Night and our 6th Grade Promotion Ceremony. Many other popular traditions over the years have included Market Day, Medieval Day, Pioneer Day, Pirate Day, and field trips to Hemlock Park and Jamestown.
One tradition that has not changed is our school song. Though we don’t sing it as often today as in the past, our school song remains the same as when it was first composed.
From astronauts to playwrights, White Oaks has had the privilege of hosting several prominent visitors over the years. In the fall of 1989, White Oaks students with special needs viewed a performance of “The Princess and the Pea” at the Kennedy Center. The following spring, special education teacher Wendy Papalas wrote to the playwright, Paul Lavarakas, and asked for permission for her students to stage their own production of the play. Mr. Lavarakas agreed, and visited White Oaks in June 1990 to see the performance.
Many of White Oaks Elementary School’s staff have been honored with regional and state awards. In 1986, physical education teacher Bonnie G. MacCallum was a finalist for the Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Teacher of the Year award. In 1989, Principal Carolyn S. Buckenmaier was the recipient of The Washington Post Distinguished Educational Leadership Award and the FCPS Principal of the Year award. In 2002, 4th grade teacher George Weiner was named one of three Milken Foundation Educator of the Year award winners in Virginia. The following year, Mr. Weiner hosted the nationally cablecast television series Universal Words. Created for elementary-aged students, the series explored the roots of English vocabulary by investigating word meanings, origins, prefixes, and suffixes. These fun, fast-paced programs included basic vocabulary lists, science experiments, and a Jeopardy-style quiz show.
Leading the Way
At White Oaks, students have the opportunity to participate in many extra and co-curricular activities, such as our Dynamic Band, Strings, and Chorus programs, Peer Mediators, Girls on the Run, Eagle Fitness Club, Junior Great Books, and the WUWO Morning News Crew. Many of the activities and student-groups found at White Oaks today have been around since the founding of our school.
Throughout the years, many of our student groups have competed in state and national competitions. In 1998, White Oaks students took home the top prize in the State Chess Tournament. More recently, in 2016, White Oaks fourth-graders competed in the World Finals for Odyssey of the Mind in Ames, Iowa.
A Glimpse Back in Time
Take a moment to look through this small selection of class photos from 1988 to 2003. The clothing styles change, but the academic excellence of the students remains the same.
In April 1997, White Oaks Elementary School was the subject of the FCPS cable television channel series Profile. The Red Apple 21 crew spent several days at our school, gathering interviews with teachers and classroom footage. The resulting 30-minute documentary provides a fascinating snapshot of White Oaks in the late-1990s.
Something Old, Something New
The most recent change at White Oaks Elementary School has been the modernization of our building. The $17.2 million renovation project got underway in the fall of 2016 and was completed in 2019. The renovation included a 20,000 square-foot building addition with several classrooms, a band room, and two art rooms. The library, cafeteria, and kitchen were all enlarged as well. Outside the building, White Oaks received a new playing field, baseball field, and basketball court.
What’s in a Name?
Did you know that the name of our school was inspired by the name of a historic home in Burke that used to be an elementary school? Learn more in this video from the FCPS Red Apple 21 series What’s in a Name?