Arlington, VA

A giant photograph of four Black children who made history in Arlington was just installed in the new wing of Dorothy Hamm Middle School (4100 Vacation Lane), which is close to being completed.

The mural honors Ronald Deskins, Michael Jones, Lance Newman and Gloria Thompson, who set foot in Stratford Junior High School on Feb. 2, 1959, officially ending the practice of segregation in Arlington Public Schools.

“What a beautiful tribute and celebration of four amazing APS students!” School Board member Barbara Kanninen said on social media.

“It’s such an awesome, hopeful story,” said Ellen Smith, principal of the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School.

Smith is excited for her students to see history come to life at their school, which opened in September 2019 while construction on a new addition continued. Once the last touches on the wing are finalized, the school will be 100% complete.

The middle school weaves in history through its name — after Dorothy Hamm, a key figure in the charge to integrate Arlington Public Schools — plus installations recounting the history of racial integration, Smith said. Gone is the old identity as a segregated school named after Stratford Hall, the plantation where Confederate general Robert E. Lee spent his childhood.

From the beginning, the architectural team and Arlington Public Schools wanted to incorporate into students’ experience the idea that kids and the community advocated for integration, she said.

“The retelling and knowledge of this story is part of our mission as a school,” Smith said. “I expect it to be a part of students’ lived experiences every year.”

A new commemorative walk outside will have illustrated panels retelling the story of integration. Inside, historical artifacts from the Hamm family will also be on display.

Smith plans to recognize the first day of school for Deskins, Jones, Newman and Thompson every Feb. 2. Additionally, the school curriculum will include the topics of integration, civil rights and social justice, she said.

Although the building has changed uses since the four entered it 61 years ago — most recently housing the H-B Woodlawn program since the 1970s — the interior configuration has largely stayed the same, Smith said. The biggest upgrades include the new name and a new wing to the west of the school, which is a few finishing touches away from being completely done.

After the H-B Woodlawn program moved to Rosslyn, work began to convert the building into a neighborhood middle school. Construction started in early 2018 and continued after Smith opened the school last September. Just seven months later, students were learning remotely due to the pandemic, and the pace of construction has accelerated without students present, the principal said.

The new wing features a new library, a small gym and 15 classrooms, including a family consumer sciences (previously known as home economics) classroom and a makerspace.

“The architectural team did a fantastic job: It’s very bright, geometric and light-filled,” Smith said.

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