School History: 1955-1970
Bucknell Elementary School opened its doors to students for the first time on Monday, January 24, 1955. Our first principal was Dr. Sylvia Dunnavant Allen. She led Bucknell from 1955 to 1962.
Bucknell began its second year of operation on September 6, 1955, with 20 teachers and a part-time librarian, Margaret H. Cleland, who travelled between Bucknell and nearby Hollin Hills Elementary School. 32,000 children were enrolled in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) in September, approximately 3,300 more than the previous school year. Although Bucknell was the largest elementary school in Fairfax County when it was being built, overcrowding was immediately apparent when our school opened. The nine-room addition, forming the wing where our library and gymnasium are located today, was completed in the fall of 1955, but even this additional space proved inadequate. Within four years our enrollment swelled from 728 to 760 pupils, well over the building's capacity.
The first Parent Teacher Association (PTA) dealt with such issues as getting sheets and pillowcases for the clinic, a flag, a piano, cafeteria supplies, and playground equipment. In addition, these parents were instrumental in initiating the construction of two all-purpose blacktop courts and fencing around the school property. They also promoted the construction of sidewalks around the neighborhood to make it safer for children to walk to school. During the 1950s, the PTA dues were $1.00 per person. In order to raise funding for improvements, the PTA sponsored an annual bazaar. Held each May, the bazaar included pony rides, movies, various craft booths, and performances from local television celebrities such as Billy Johnson who autographed pictures for the children. In 1957, funding from the third annual bazaar was used to purchase books for the school library, furniture for the school lobby, and a back stop for the playground.
The decade of the 1960s brought several major changes to Bucknell Elementary School. In September 1960, FCPS opened its first intermediate schools. Prior to this time, elementary schools in Fairfax County educated children in grades one through seven. The seventh grade children in our community were assigned to Bryant Intermediate School on Quander Road. The shift of the seventh grade class out of Bucknell lowered our enrollment to approximately 600 children.
Also in the early 1960s, FCPS began the process of slowly desegregating its schools. When Bucknell opened, public schools in Virginia were segregated by race. Bucknell was built to serve the rapidly expanding white suburban communities near Alexandria. At that time, African-American children living in our area were bused to Drew-Smith Elementary School, located at Gum Springs on Route 1.
Bucknell Elementary School integrated in 1964, when 20 African-American children were reassigned to our school from Drew-Smith. These children came from neighborhoods along Emmett Drive, Quander Road, and Beacon Hill Road.
Head Start and Kindergarten
The 1960s also saw continued improvements made to the programs offered at Bucknell, as well as to our school building and grounds. Dancing lessons and chess instruction were offered as after school programs. Major improvements were made to the school yard and playground. In 1962, Arthur R. Mitchell was appointed principal of our school. He led Bucknell for five years, departing in 1967 to open Rolling Valley Elementary School. Principal Mitchell was assisted by Nancy Calvert (1965-66) and Mrs. Yance (1966-67).
During Principal Mitchell's time at Bucknell, construction began on a second addition to our school. These classrooms were added to the far end of the 1955 nine-classroom addition on the Canterbury Lane side of the building. The new classrooms, completed in 1965, enlarged the capacity of Bucknell to 840 pupils. A kindergarten program was piloted in several schools in 1967, and in 1968 Bucknell opened its doors to the five-year-olds of the neighborhood.
A Challenging Time
During the 1960s, fears of a nuclear conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union were ever present. Students practiced air raid drills and there was a fully stocked fallout shelter on the lower level of our school where the itinerant offices are located today. Every Wednesday at noon, instruction paused for the testing of a loud air raid siren. PTA notes from this time record discussions about purchasing black-out draperies for the cafeteria.
With the transfer of Principal Mitchell to Rolling Valley in 1967, Rufus Bart Cooley became principal for the next nine years, assisted by Mrs. Sublett in 1967, Melba Cannan in 1968, William Dudgeon in February 1971, and Miss Lanier in August 1971. Under their able leadership, Bucknell became an accredited school in 1968. A breakfast program was also started at this time, and meals cost 10 cents per child.