Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity officiated last week as the Grasshopper Green School -- the oldest continually operated "prekindergarten" in Northern Virginia -- opened a new $115,000 building and celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Nearly 150 former teachers, students and friends turned out for the reunion at the school in Annandale. Among them was owner, operator and principal Mildred Wilkens Frazier, who calls the school "our own little island of privacy."
"Mildred Frazier is a significant national resource. She has enabled people like me to make a living and raise a son," said Josephine Coiner, whose son, (now a college student) attended the school in the early 1960s.
The school was started in Arlington in 1939 by Helen Mar Stevens, said Frazier, who took over the school in 1958. The school moved from the North Arlington to the Fairlington area, then to Alexandria and finally, in 1965, to its Annandale location on Sunset Lane.
Starting with a few dozen students, the school now has 180 and a staff of 25. When ready for more formal schooling, students may continue until fourth grade at the Kenwood School which is associated with Grasshopper Green.
Frazier believes the longevity of the school is due to the fact that "the teachers are dedicated," and that there are more teachers per student and "more freedom" in choosing curriculum than in public schools.
Grasshopper Green is a school and not a day-care center even though it accepts children as young as two, said Frazier.
"They teach you a lot of things here," agrees 9-year-old fourth grader Kristen Delano, who is considering becoming a doctor. But while Kristen appreciates the serious side of the school, she also maintains "this is a nice school" where she has had a lot of fun and made many friends over the years.
"When I was getting ready to go back to work, I flipped open the Yellow Pages and I couldn't believe it," said Renee Gilbert, who attended Grasshopper Green 27 years ago at the age of 3 when her mother started a part-time job.
When Gilbert recently found a part-time job, she returned to Northern Virginia from Maryland and enrolled all three of her sons in Grasshopper Green.
"I had just a great secure feeling (at Grasshopper Green).They're always doing great things with children, helping them develop. It's just stimulating," says Gilbert about her and her sons' experience at the school.
Fred Tripodo, who started school at Grasshopper Green in 1949 at the age of two, was also on hand Saturday for the anniversary.
"I just remember getting picked up" each day, said Tripodo of the experience.
However, his time at Grasshopper Green must have meant something special to him.
His wife Betty said they had been looking for a school for their 3-year-old son Joey where he could get some education instead of just being looked after. Betty said that Grasshopper Green proved to be the best bet.
But Fred said, "When I heard the name (Grasshopper Green), I was kind of partial to it."
Not just former and second-generation students were on hand Saturday, however. Many staff members, both past and present, showed up too.
"My, how this place has changed. She (Frazier) has come far," said Bonnie Lynn, who started working as a nurse at the school in 1954 and stayed for nine years.
"I checked each child each morning and tended them when they got skinned up or bit each other. Telling stories" was the favorite part of her job, she says.
"When you're dealing with children, you learn not to be surprised by anything," observes "Miss Martha" Henry, who has been cooking at the school since 1949.
"I love it. The children, the staff and everyone gets along beautifully," says Henry. "I've seen 'em come and I've seen 'em go. I love the children. This is my life's work."
The new gymnasium and classrooms are the latest addition to the Grasshopper Green and Kenwood School campus.
"We have an ever-growing demand with many new young people and many young families," says Frazier of the reason behind the expansion.