One of the first middle schools in the county—and the nation—celebrated its 50th year with a rededication ceremony on Thursday.
Blue Ridge Middle School opened in 1971, at a time when middle school education was a new concept, said former Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III. Middle school combined the subject-focused education of high school with the student-focused education of elementary school.
“Middle school education throughout the country was a really new thing in 1971, really new,” Hatrick said. “And Loudoun County was on the cutting edge of this new model for educating children.”
Blue Ridge was a cutting-edge building when it was built, too, he said—it had air conditioning.
Hatrick, a Loudoun County High School grad, came back home to Loudoun to teach in 1967. In 1975 he took over as principal of his old high school, and from 1991 to 2014 he oversaw Loudoun schools as superintendent during the most intense period of growth in the county’s history.
He said middle schools gave students the chance to experience the range of possibilities in school.
“So why did we do this? Why did we come to a middle school?” Hatrick said. “Well, look around you: the opportunity middle school gave our students for real science education in real science labs, for extended music education in music labs, for extended art education in art labs, for increased physical education as part of a student’s daily life.”
And he said although the middle school model seemed like a gamble at the time, “middle school education here at Blue Ridge Middle School, a lighthouse for middle school education, has been an absolute success.”
Teaching and learning at Blue Ridge Middle School, with its bulldog mascot, is a family affair.
Along with the parents who send their kids to their old school, 22 staff members including both assistant principals, Nancy Griffith-Cochran and Matt Bolen, attended the school. And Bolen mother also was an assistant principal at the school. Principal Brion Bell said his three children are former Bulldogs
During the Sept. 30 rededication ceremony, the school invited generations of students and parents into the building reminisce on its history, flip through old yearbooks and photos, and see how the school has grown. And people gathered in the library to celebrate with Sheila Lightner Nakles, who served as librarian in the school for 46 years.
“Even during COVID, there was never a moment that I didn’t feel we’re giving 100% to every child, no matter what,” Bell said. “This community of educators always speaks in one voice, to raise every child up, and has done so since 1971.”
Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler said in western Loudoun, a building simply being 50 years old isn’t in itself remarkable.
“What makes Blue Ridge Middle School’s half-century of existence worth celebrating is what has happened within these walls,” Ziegler said. “No institution does more to shape the community than the schools. The thousands of students and staff that have passed through these hallways and classrooms shaped the history and future of western Loudoun County, Virginia, and our nation.”
The ceremony concluded with the unveiling of a new plaque, rededicating the school for the next 50 years.
This article was updated Oct. 4 at 11:51 a.m. to correct the last name of Assistant Principal Matt Bolen.