It was the major ceremony that officials here have been working toward for more than a decade. At Homecoming Week at Meridian High School, the brand-spanking new $120 million high school facility was formally dedicated with a ribbon cutting last Saturday morning.
Every year Falls Church City Public Schools chooses a new slogan for the school year. This year, it is “Roots, Resilience and Renewal,” a fitting quote after over a year of uncertainty for staff, students and their families amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
Students and staff are back and fully in-person with careful measures in place to ensure the health and safety of everyone in the schools.
School has been back in session for over a month now and the Parent Teacher Student Associations had their first meetings of the year, including a visit from Superintendent Dr. Peter Noonan who gave an update on how things are going amidst Covid and shared slides from convocation with attendees.
With respect to the “roots” aspect of this year’s slogan, Noonan shared the story of the redwood trees. Redwoods are some of the tallest and largest trees in the world and can live for thousands of years. However, they have some of the most shallow root systems but are able to survive strong winds, earthquakes and more. The root systems of the trees interlock and grow together, working together to hold up the trees in the same way the school students, staff and community members work to hold students up.
When thinking about “resilience”, Noonan used Simone Biles as an example to consider. “Even our greatest performers can wobble,” he said. The school is working to make sure that not only students, but also teachers and staff, are able to bounce back after stumbling.
“There is this notion that I’m putting out for the staff and our community that we are the models of resilience that our kids are watching,” said Noonan. “They look at us and to us for ways to react and to understand what’s happening around them.”
Finally, “renewal” means “hitting the refresh button and moving forward.” Noonan encouraged staff, students and parents to practice self-care in order to perform as best as possible in other areas of their lives, including school.
Noonan stated that the schools are in a “very good place comparatively to everybody else around the state” in regards to Covid case numbers. Specific numbers for each week can be found in Noonan’s Friday updates, which are posted on the FCCPS website.
Another area of focus for this school year is “closing gaps” and making sure all students are receiving the help they need in order to succeed in the classroom.
Noonan noted that everyone learns in different ways and the schools are working to differentiate instruction in order to ensure all students are learning in a way that is helpful to them.
“It’s really identifying every student by name and by need and providing equity,” he told members of the PSTA. “To us, equity means providing more to those who have traditionally received less to ensure that all students have the best opportunity to learn.”
Noonan closed by touching on the importance of mental health. The schools have increased their numbers of school social workers and psychologists to help students as we transition back into “normal” life.
In addition, Meridian High School celebrated homecoming this weekend, as well as the official grand opening of the newly renamed and constructed school.
Members of the community came together to hear speakers such as Mayor David Tarter and Meridian Student Body President Sarah Ettinger among others.
“We finally have a building as worthy and special as the students learning in it,” said Ettinger, a senior who will be a part of the first ever graduating class of the newly-named Meridian High School. “The inclusivity of the student body and community joined with the beauty of our new school is the foundation for student growth. With this, we will thrive and ensure that our students have promising futures filled with joy and success.”
City Councilor Phil Duncan stated that “It was nearly 20 years ago that visions of a new high school began dancing in the heads of some of our forward-thinking residents. Today, those dreams formally become reality.”
Many people were invited to cut the ribbon including past and present members of the school board, teachers and staff, those who helped in the construction and planning of the new school and more.
Following the ribbon cutting, attendees were welcomed into the newly built five-story school to take a look at the new amenities, including outdoor study spaces and patios with green vegetative roofs, a vivarium, new sports facilities and more.
Being an environmentally-friendly building was one of the biggest goals in mind when constructing the new school. The building is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. LEED certification is one of the most widely used green building rating systems in the world.
Before his passing, Council Member Dan Sze was an advocate for environmentalism, leading the city policy that all new or renovated facilities must achieve LEED standards and strongly supported the new high school design for net zero carbon emissions.
Sze’s legacy has been memorialized in the building, with his name on each of the environmental dashboards around the school that include more information about LEED certification and specifics on the environmental impact can be found throughout the school.