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.

Newspaper clipping from an article about the dedication ceremony for Bucknell Elementary School. A black and white photograph and its caption are shown. In the picture, six adults are standing at the front doors to the school. Principal Sylvia Allen is unlocking the door. The caption reads: At new Bucknell School - Mrs. Sylvia Allen, center, principal of the new Bucknell Elementary School, is shown opening the front door to the modern building at dedication ceremonies Tuesday night. The key was presented to her by Mrs. Almorine Crowther, and F. W. Robinson, right, Fairfax County school board members. Looking on, left to right, are Dwight Chase, architect; Allen C. Minnix, builder, and J. A. Rice, assistant county superintendent of schools.
Undated newspaper article from the dedication ceremony for Bucknell Elementary School. Pictured at center, with the key in the door, is Principal Allen. During her time as principal, she was recognized by the National PTA "for her outstanding contributions toward fostering mutual recognition of both home and school, and promoting the well-being of children."

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.

Black and white photograph of the front exterior of Bucknell Elementary School. The main entrance, classroom wing, and front parking lot are visible. 1940s and 1950s era cars are parked in the lot. From this vantage point, only the top-most story of the building is visible. The classroom wing has a large bank of windows that runs from one end to the other.
Bucknell Elementary School, 1957-58 School Year

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.

Newspaper clipping from an article about schools being closed for snow and children sledding on the hillside at Bucknell Elementary School. A black and white photograph and its caption are shown. In the photograph, a large group of children can be seen sledding on a snow-covered hill with the school in the background. The caption reads: School's Out, but not off bounds for these youngsters of the Bucknell, White Oaks, and Popkins area. Although the snow caused Fairfax County to call a holiday on Friday, the grounds of Bucknell Elementary School were still inviting to these students as the sloping landscape provides a wonderful place to sled.
Undated newspaper article, believed to be from 1957-58. One fondly remembered annual tradition at Bucknell was sledding on the hillside next to our school. Adults would build a bonfire in a large tin barrel at the top of the hill for the children to warm themselves after a long day of play in the snow.

The 1960s

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.

Black and white aerial photograph of Bryant Intermediate School taken in the 1960s. The building is a small structure with one and two-story classroom wings. Farm fields and a farmhouse are visible behind the school. Surrounding the school on the Quander Road side of the structure are new housing subdivisions.
Bryant Intermediate School was originally located on Quander Road. In 1976, Bryant and Groveton High School traded campuses. Today, the original Bryant site is home to West Potomac High School.

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.

Black and white photograph of Drew-Smith Elementary School. The building is a single-story concrete structure with a brick veneer. It has much fewer classrooms and fewer amenities than the schools built for white children during this time period.
Drew-Smith Elementary School, an all-African-American school located at Gum Springs on Route 1, closed in 1965 and was converted into a special education center. Courtesy of the Virginia Room, Fairfax County Public Library.

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).

Black and white head-and-shoulder portrait of Principal Arthur Mitchell.
FCPS Directory photograph of Principal Arthur Mitchell from the 1969-70 school year when he was at Rolling Valley Elementary School.

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.

Black and white, head-and-shoulders portrait of Principal Cooley from a 1970 FCPS principal directory.
Principal Rufus B. Cooley (1967-76)

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.