For Carver School, 'A Rebirth'

Former Carver student Reginald Simms visits a classroom that has been turned into a craft area.
Former Carver student Reginald Simms visits a classroom that has been turned into a craft area. (Photos By Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)
By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 18, 2007

For decades, the halls of the George Washington Carver School in Purcellville were still, the windows boarded up and the classrooms -- once ringing with the laughter of children -- converted to dusty storage rooms.

Tomorrow, the building that was the county's first modern elementary school for black children will be resurrected -- though those inside will have learned the alphabet and multiplication tables ages ago.

Renamed the Carver Center, it will operate primarily as a senior center, featuring art classes, a computer lab, a library, game rooms, a cafeteria and a day-care wing for seniors in need of more intense supervision. On evenings and Saturdays, it will be open to the public.

The center's opening after a $7 million renovation has been applauded by senior advocates, who say western Loudoun County has long needed a center like this.

But it has special meaning for a small group of Purcellville residents who attended the school before it closed in the wake of desegregation in 1968.

"I call it a rebirth," said an emotional Mattie Lassiter, 70, who attended first through seventh grade at Carver School. "This gives a lot of hope and accomplishment back to the black community."

Built in 1948, the eight-room school was a source of pride for the small African American community that had burgeoned in southern Purcellville, said Lassiter and two other former students who helped establish the center.

The lovely old building was the heart of the close-knit neighborhood, they said. It pulsed with young energy and offered stability to many children who had been working in the fields to support their families.

And the teachers, they recalled, were excellent -- even if they did administer the occasional rap on the knuckles.

"I'm not sure if you would call it the good old days," said Reginald Simms, 72. "But in those days, when someone said something, you know they meant it."

After desegregation, the school district shuttered the school, scattering the students to other schools and converting Carver into a storage facility. It stayed that way for more than 30 years.

"It really hurt the black community that it turned into a storage facility," said Garry Smith, 52, who was among the school's last students.

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