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Pleasant Valley is what a school should be

April 24, 2005|by Karen Reilly

There is a saying that someone who performs a kindness to your child is a friend forever. I have had the good fortune to have experienced this first-hand. In a few weeks, my 10-year-old son will leave his elementary school, Pleasant Valley Elementary School (PVES), and move on to middle school. This is an important transition in any child's life, but this year it seems especially so, since four of the 12 classroom teachers at PVES are retiring at the end of this school year.

We moved to Washington County almost six years ago from Fairfax County, Va. The decision to relocate was, in many ways, an easy one - we left behind the incredible congestion, noise and busy-ness of life for beautiful, rural Washington County. The only concern I had at the time was public schooling: Fairfax County schools have a national reputation for excellence. My neighbors-to-be assured me that our local elementary school was truly special. I decided to take a chance and have never regretted my choice.

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Pleasant Valley Elementary School is special - small enough that the staff learned all the children's names within days of the new school year beginning. More importantly, the teachers and staff come to truly know our children inside and out. Our teachers have decades of experience not only in teaching, but specifically in teaching our children. They have adapted over the years to changing curriculum, changing administrations, mandates and declining resources. Consistently, our teachers have worked with our children as individuals, helping to elicit from that child his or her own personal best.

As resources have been pulled to go elsewhere in the county, our teachers have generously worked that much harder, because they insisted on doing their best. They said they couldn't ask children to try their best if they didn't. I have heard story after story from other parents about our teachers intervening on behalf of a child and turning that child's life around. Even in the face of personal health crises and tragic losses, our teachers supported each other and, as a result, were always there for our children.

Our community has fully supported our school. Parent volunteers donate thousands of hours each year working in the classrooms to supplement the lack of instructional assistants. Parent volunteers work additional time outside the classrooms as PTA members, and in the school office and cafeteria as well. When we felt our children lacked hands-on enrichment, parents developed an after-school program where children have fun while also learning. Our PTA and our local Ruritan Club helped to fund this program for our children.

Now, PVES doesn't have a lot of what other elementary schools in the county have. We don't have instrumental music, foreign language instruction, chorus, etc. Being small, we've had to adjust, as our media, enrichment, counseling and resource teachers were all cut to part-time. Our computer lab is woefully out of date and is slated to disappear to accommodate full-time kindergarten. And while I, like most parents, would like to have all those things for our children, I wouldn't give up what my son has had at PVES - a nurturing learning environment where he has been valued for who he is and been well established as a life-long learner.

I know change is inevitable. With a third of our classroom teachers retiring, PVES faces significant changes. I hope, however, that the core values of small elementary schools, of caring professionals who see our children as the precious individuals they are doesn't get lost in the process. I know that most elected officials think larger schools are more cost-effective. I wish our federal, state and local education officials would come to PVES to learn how to ensure each child receives the education they deserve. It isn't about testing, or even about curriculum. It is about small classes, community support and caring, professional teachers and staff.

My neighbors were right, and I was lucky enough to listen to them all those years ago. Pleasant Valley Elementary is a special school and has remained so in the face of enormous change and upheaval. I am eternally grateful to all the teachers, staff and volunteers who have served at PVES. All the millions of kindnesses they each have paid my son and all the children there make them very special people and forever in my heart. Their contributions have made PVES what it is today and what I hope it will continue to be - a very special place to learn.

Karen Reilly is a resident of Knoxville.

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