Glen Haven Elementary School was poodle when poodle was cool.
"Have you ever tried to explain the '50s to a third grader?" asked Glen Haven Principal Susan Beischer. "Poodle skirts, Hula Hoops, the way the cars looked, the malt shop before McDonald's . . . . It's another world. There wasn't even a Wheaton Plaza."
This is not just a "Grease 3" course in local nostalgia; it's history in the remaking. Today, at 35, Glen Haven Elementary School is backing into the future by celebrating the past.
"We've turned the all-purpose room into a Nifty Fifties Museum," according to Beischer, who has spearheaded a revitalization campaign since coming to the school last year.
"The kids will take scheduled tours of the museum," Beischer continued. "Fortunately, there are enough of us on the staff who remember it that we can show them how to hula-hoop."
And tonight, at a PTA-sponsored "sock hop" in the gym, "Grease" will become more than a word that they've heard, when a deejay spins Platters for shoo-bop babies, and two dance teachers untangle the jitterbug.
"We'll have balloons and streamers and old 45s," said PTA newsletter editor Claire Dimsdale, "but if they don't want to wear socks, they don't have to."
Glen Haven is made of more memories than Gale Storm could garble together. It was born in 1950, one of those sudden little barn-raising schools hammered together during the post-war boom north of Silver Spring. It was a walk-to, lunch-box, spaghetti-dinners elementary where half the kids were new bedroom suburbanites and the rest were Walter Reed Army Medical Center military brats.
"It was a good, substantial, middle-America neighborhood school," said Mildred Jacobs, who spent her entire 24-year teaching career at Glen Haven. "I'd have three or four kids from the same family. By the time I left, there were children of the children coming in."
In those days, they were the Glen Haven Ravens, diggers of ponds, tenders of straggly vegetable plots, climbers of playground trees. ("The consensus was, 'Let them break an arm first, then we'll make them quit,' " one former teacher remembered.) "Hail to thee, our dear Glen Haven," they sang obediently, "school we love so well."
Those first students saw the last years of segregation, when the custodian's children, who lived across the street, were bused to school in Rockville. They watched MacArthur fade away; they saw the Space Age wink into existence as Sputnik sailed through the night sky. Looking to the future through the glow of Eisenhower prosperity, they buried time capsules of student newspapers and pebbles from the school grounds, to be dug up in high-tech times as symbols of continuity.
It was a school with education in its roots, so to speak: The land on which Glen Haven was built originally belonged to the Conlon family, whose son Thomas later served as principal at Einstein and Woodward high schools.
And while math seems to be the school's strong point now, in the old days it was creative writing.
Poems, class features and even sketches filled "The Echoes of the Green and White," the school's prodigious but irregularly produced newspaper.
"You know, it was all mimeographed," recalled Viola Beckley, a former third grade and fifth grade teacher and the "Echoes" sponsor through the '50s.
"Well, I used to type the entire thing -- and my dear, my typing was terrible, extremely slow -- and once I typed pages of stencils without taking the paper off the carbon."
They were good old days for teachers, too.
Beckley, who also wrote the original "Hail to thee" school song, remembers going to the Georgia Avenue Hot Shoppe after school for apple pie and coffee with the other faculty members.
Mildred Jacobs, who taught fourth, fifth and sixth grades from 1955 to 1979, remembers strutting the stage in the annual parent-faculty roasts, singing in-house jibes to the tune of "I've Got a Little List." And another sixth grade instructor was famous for practicing his piano while the class studied.
It was a family school in more than one sense. Two current staff members who attended Glen Haven have children there now. Alumna Marian Bauter, whose father planted the original shrubbery, has just been shifted to Sligo Middle School after teaching 20 years at her alma mater.
Jacobs' daughter Karen Goldberg also taught at Glen Haven until this year.
"Glen Haven was a topic of conversation in our house for over 30 years," Goldberg said; and her mother added, "When I walked out, she walked in -- I didn't even pack anything."
Not all the memories are good. As the neighborhood aged, so did the school; the VA-mortgage bungalows began to seem smaller, the tours-of-duty turnovers more rapid. Fully half the school population began changing every year, due to the constant repostings of Walter Reed staff; and the influx of Asian and Hispanic immigrants, many of whom spoke little English, made teaching slower and dragged at the school's performance on standardized tests.
In recent years, the building itself, one of the oldest school structures still in use in the county, began to look old-fashioned and the playground shabby. "The school lost its community spirit," Dimsdale said. "The parents weren't very involved anymore."
"But we're really trying to turn this school around," Dimsdale added, ticking off such old-fashioned spirit-raisers as the Harvest Dance, the spring book sale, the summer carnival and the September faculty-student softball game.
And today, as the school officially celebrates its 35th birthday, it inaugurates a whole new can-do attitude: a new song ("It's the best school in the whole county/I love my school and my school loves me," sung to the tune of "Green Acres"); a new newspaper, the Eagle Gazette; and a new cheer ("We're number one and we've just begun").
In fact, the school even has a new mascot, a "Born in the U.S.A"-era eagle.
"It seemed a more thrilling symbol to lead us into the future," as Beischer put it.