Vienna Elementary, one of Fairfax County’s oldest public schools, to throw 150th birthday bash

When Vienna Elementary School celebrates its 150th anniversary next month, the occasion will double as a milestone for the entire Fairfax County Public Schools system.

Opened in 1923, the 74,904-square-foot home of the Vikings at 128 Center Street South is the oldest continuously operating public school building in the county, though the school as an institution can trace its origins back to the founding of FCPS in 1870.

“Vienna was one of the first three or four schools that began FCPS,” Vienna Elementary principal John Carmichael said. “So, while we’re celebrating Vienna’s birthday, it’s really Fairfax County Public Schools’ birthday as well.”

Vienna Elementary School will commemorate its sesquicentennial by hosting a birthday party on May 19 to excite the 381 students who currently fill its halls, complete with cake, games, music and food from Vienna Inn.

Carmichael and other school administrators have been planning for the celebration for about a year now. Around Thanksgiving, they brought current and former parents of students into the fold by convening a committee to help organize and promote the event.

While there will be speeches reflecting on the school’s history, including recognition of its segregated beginnings, the organizers want to keep the proceedings fun and engaging for all students, from kindergarteners to sixth graders, Carmichael told FFXnow.

Aside from the president of the school’s student council association, a sixth-grader who will comment on her time at the school, kids will be able to savor the treats and games free of any obligations.

“We want the students to be able to enjoy and, just as they would in a birthday, get to play games, activities, have cake and eat food,” he said, noting that some students have asked if he remembers what it was like when the school first opened.

Though he does “have the white hair,” he quipped, Carmichael’s memories don’t stretch back quite that far.

Vienna Elementary cites 1872 as its founding year, since that’s when the original school building on its current site opened. However, that location was preceded by one on Park Street between Church Street and Maple Avenue that was established for white students only in 1870 after Virginia passed the Public Free Schools Act.

“Two segregated schools operated in Vienna during those early years,” Jeff Clark, an FCPS spokesperson and unofficial resident historian, said. “The Vienna ‘Colored’ School, as it was called in historic records, for Black children, operated out of a church on Lawyers Road until a one-room schoolhouse was constructed in the 1890s.”

The “colored” school later became Louise Archer Elementary School, whose first principal will soon be honored with a historical marker.

The existing Vienna Elementary School building was the fourth one on the Center Street site. Preceded by a four-room school that burned down in 1919, the facility was built in 1922 and consisted of eight classrooms and an auditorium before expanding with subsequent additions and renovations — most recently in 2010, per the FCPS capital improvement program.

The school remained segregated until 1965, when FCPS finally integrated schools system-wide.

Carmichael says he plans to acknowledge that history in his opening remarks at next month’s celebration. Other attendees will include Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch, and Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

A Facebook page has been set up so people can RSVP to the event. Anyone who attended Vienna Elementary or is otherwise connected to the school is welcome to stop by, Carmichael says.

“We’re trying to just bring anybody that may have gone to the school in the past,” he said. “If they’re able to come, they’re more than welcome to join, because at the end of the day, a school is really just a family. It’s a community.”

Photo via Google Maps

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