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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Two Arlington teens are facing felony charges after an alleged vandalism spree in the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School.

Police were dispatched to the under-construction school on Vacation Lane — which formerly housed the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program — just after 11 p.m. Wednesday, following a burglar alarm activation. They found two 18-year-olds and a slew of damaged property, according to the Arlington County Police Department.

“Arriving officers established a perimeter and observed the suspects exit the building,” police said in a crime report. “One suspect was taken into custody, while the second suspect attempted to flee on foot. Officers later located the second suspect nearby and took him into custody without incident.”

The teens “were arrested and charged with Burglary with Intent to Commit Larceny/Assault & Battery/Other Felony, Conspiracy to Commit a Felony, Destruction of Property and Consume/Purchase/Possess Alcohol: <21 Years Old,” the crime report said. “They were held on no bond.”

A police spokeswoman said the damage was mostly from graffiti.

“The suspects allegedly tore down posters and papers and spray painted various items throughout the building,” said ACPD’s Ashley Savage. “A cost estimate of damages is ongoing.”

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Dorothy Hamm Middle School has been open for less than a year, but the girls soccer team is already Arlington County champions, thanks to a group of enthusiastic players and Arlington County Police Department’s Detective Tiffanie Heggerty.

Heggerty has worked as a School Resource Officer in the county for four years, currently serving both Hamm and Taylor Elementary School.

This year, Heggerty decided to pursue a new after-school activity — coaching soccer at Hamm.

“I thought it would be another great way to connect with students,” Heggerty said.

For the 2019-20 school year, Hamm students were pulled from nearby Williamsburg Middle School and Swanson Middle School. The team’s first season meant organizing a group of brand new teammates and practicing at a school still under construction.

“Finding places to practice took some creative effort,” Heggerty said. “Ms. Dabney, our Activities Coordinator, helped us get practice space at other schools, and we used the baseball field at the school when possible.”

Despite some setbacks, the team worked its way to an undefeated season (7-0-1).

“New team, new school, new coach, and we all had so much fun doing it,” said Heggerty. “Having a team that all got along, and played so well together is more than I could have hoped for, so winning on top of that is the icing on the cake.”

Now, Heggerty is coaching the boys soccer team at the middle school, and is hoping she’ll have similar success.

“The best part of being the School Resource Officer and coach is that I get to see my players throughout the day, and they bring their friends along to talk to me,” she said.

“This has helped me connect with more and more kids. Now adding the boys season beginning this week, when I walk the halls, I hear, ‘Hey Coach,’ and I know that they see me and not just my uniform.”

Across the county, many SROs volunteer their time as coaches of sports teams.

“ACPD is proud of the work the SROs do in their roles as officers, as well as through their work as coaches, mentors and advisors to students in Arlington outside the school day,” said ACPD spokeswoman Kirby Clark.

“One of our goals as a school division is to make sure that every student has at least one trusted adult that they can talk to,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia, pointing to the recent 2017 collaboration program between APS and ACPD, ACPD & APS Cares.

“Because our SROs interact with our students on a daily basis, they can be that one trusted adult that students can talk with.”

Photo via ACPD

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