School History: 1945-1955

Bucknell Elementary School opened during the post-World War II period known as the baby boom. Following World War II, rapid growth of the Federal government brought an influx of workers and returning veterans to Northern Virginia. In June 1945 there were 8,235 children enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) at 42 schools. By June 1949 enrollment had increased to 12,118 children, but there were still only 42 schools in operation. In October 1949, the Fairfax County School Board began discussing the need to locate suitable land upon which to build a school in the Bucknell Manor subdivision, however it took almost three years to secure a proper site. In the 1950s, Fairfax County’s landscape was rapidly evolving from one of rural dairy farms into sprawling suburban subdivisions. FCPS administrators had been projecting record enrollment growth for several years, but were unprepared when actual growth far exceeded their expectations. Because very little funding was available for school construction, FCPS teachers and students were forced to cope with large class sizes and difficult classroom conditions for many, many years.

Two black and white photographs, taken in 1954, of the temporary classrooms erected at Groveton Elementary School. On the left is a four-classroom wooden building covered on the outside with tarpaper. On the right is a Quonset hut, similar in shape to half of a cylinder. The hut is made out of metal, and was one of 11 the School Board acquired from a supplier in Annapolis, Maryland in 1950.
Pictured here, in 1954, are the tarpaper-covered four-classroom temporary building and one of the five Quonset huts used at Groveton Elementary School. During the 1950s, enrollment growth outpaced school construction so significantly that FCPS found it necessary to house students in many temporary classrooms, such as World War II military surplus Quonset huts, old wooden schoolhouses, and rented rooms in churches, firehouses, and apartment complexes.

Design and Construction

Funding for Bucknell Elementary School was secured in February 1953, when an $11 million school bond was approved by the voters of Fairfax County. Bucknell Elementary School was designed in 1953 by the architecture firm of Willgoos and Chase of Alexandria, Virginia. Originally, Bucknell was designed as a 14-classroom building with a library and a multi-purpose room called a cafetorium (a combined cafeteria and auditorium). In February 1954, the School Board awarded the contract for the construction of our school to Allen C. Minnix & Sons at a cost of $363,897. However, it soon became clear that 14 classrooms would not be enough to house the significant number of school-aged children moving into the neighborhoods surrounding Bucknell Elementary School. Three months into construction, the School Board directed Willgoos and Chase to prepare plans for an addition to Bucknell to include as many classrooms as could most economically and practically be added to the school. A nine-classroom addition was approved, bringing the total number of classrooms to 23 and the enrollment capacity to 690. The addition would make Bucknell the largest elementary school in Fairfax County at that time.

Black and white photograph of the front exterior of Bucknell Elementary School. The main entrance, cafetorium wing, and classroom wing are visible. Rows and rows of bicycles are parked on the grass and parking lot in front of the school. One car is visible, parked in the lot next to the bikes.
This is the earliest known photograph of Bucknell Elementary School, taken during the 1955-56 school year.

The First Year

The 1954-55 school year began on September 1 with 28,700 children enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools. Construction of Bucknell Elementary School was incomplete, so future Bucknell students were housed at Belle View Elementary School.

Black and white photograph of Belle View Elementary School taken in 1954 during a fire insurance survey of school properties for the Fairfax County School Board. Students can be seen entering the building and the parking lot is full of late-1940s and early-1950s era cars.
Belle View Elementary School, 1954

In December 1954, it was announced that Dr. Sylvia Dunnavant Allen, principal of Woodlawn Elementary School since 1944, had been appointed principal of Bucknell Elementary School. Her transfer became effective in January 1955, when Bucknell was ready to begin operation.

Black and white photograph of Bucknell's first principal, Sylvia D. Allen, taken in 1957. She is seated at her desk signing paperwork. A rotary-dial phone and notebook are on the desk to her left.
Principal Allen in 1957. She had formerly been a 5th grade teacher at Lorton Elementary School, and a principal at Floris and Woodlawn elementary schools before coming to Bucknell.

Bucknell Elementary School opened its doors to students for the first time on Monday, January 24, 1955. Some of the teachers at Bucknell during the first year were Ruth M. Chester, Marjorie S. Hess, Lillian B. Kibler, Eileen A. Markham, Joyce H. Milam, Madelyn T. Post, Shirley A. Shipherd, Marie E. Sigmund, Frances J. Smith, and Evelyn J. Tubbs. Their salaries ranged between $3,200 and $4,100 for the year, depending upon years of experience and level of certification, with the majority of the teachers earning around $3,300.