Early Days in the City Schools
I was struck by the last lines of your September 7 editorial about how, in its early years as a city, students here were “subjected to acts of vandalism and violence” from the students of other schools.
I attended the first year of George Mason High School as a freshman and graduated in 1956. I well remember the vandalism and violence. Most of it came from students of Falls Church High School, then a Fairfax County school but still located at Hillwood Avenue and Cherry Street, here in the City. When Falls Church became a city in 1948 the schools were more or less split between the county and the city. The county got our high school, but we kept the two elementary schools (Madison and Oak Street) and the Jefferson school (once the Jefferson Institute), a Civil War era building where I spent my 8th grade, on Cherry Street. The Jefferson was torn down the following year, after George Mason Jr.-Sr. High opened.
I don’t believe that we felt any enmity for the students at Falls Church High. Because that school had a proper auditorium, we put on our annual school plays there. (George Mason had only a “cafetorium” then.)
I recall our shock when several kids from Falls Church High invaded our school. They ran down the main hallway, punching out the acoustic ceiling tiles in the relatively low hallway ceiling.
But that was nothing, compared with subsequent events in the following years. In my sophomore year two kids from Falls Church high came into our school one morning and poked their noses into the girls’ gym dressing room. As it happens two rather tough GM students (one of whom was rumored to have killed a man in a barroom brawl over the summer) were hall monitors that period — and their girlfriends were at that time taking gym class. So they pursued and grabbed the FCH boys, and threw them out — violently. They pitched them out through an open entrance door. But the first kid ejected kicked the open door and it swung shut just as the second was being thrown through it. He — or some part of him — went through the glass in the door. That glass was laminated, with chicken wire or something like it, between the layers of glass. When I walked past it at the end of the period, there was a lot of blood and broken glass in the entrance way. An hour or so later, FCH’s principal came to our school, very angry about what had happened to his boys. Our principal asked him why his boys weren’t in their own school, sending the other man away somewhat chastened and no longer blustering angrily.
These things continued, in lesser ways. I once went over to Falls Church High to meet a friend there. While I was waiting for him in a hallway, an older and bigger FCH kid came up to me. “You from George Mason?” he asked me. I said I was, and without warning he threw a punch at me. I just avoided it, and his fist put a hole in the hallway bulletin board behind me.
A year or two after I graduated GM, there was the first (and only) football game between the two schools. I’m told the adults there were holding their breaths, just dreading potential violence from the opposing teams’ student fans. Luckily, the game ended in a 6-6 tie.
I never understood the reasons for this enmity.
Speed Cameras Change Behavior
I’m writing to express my support for recent initiatives involving speed cameras around schools in our community. It’s heartening to see the focus on the safety of our children as they walk and bike on their commute to school each day. Two weeks ago, NYC’s DOT released its largest-ever report and dataset on speed camera impact, revealing a 25 percent reduction in deaths and a 30 percent decline in speed violations within camera zones over the past year. Put another way, there are people that are alive today, who wouldn’t be otherwise without speed cameras. The data is clear: speed cameras change dangerous driver behavior and create safer streets.
Unfortunately, Virginia state law limits the hours of operation and distance from schools that speed cameras can be. They can’t even operate during the school day, only during drop off and pickup times. I hope our city will support state legislation to prioritize pedestrian safety, so speed cameras can operate at all hours that kids are at school.