Ashburn Colored School and the Museum of Education
The story of the Ashburn Colored School is the story of ordinary people working together to create a more just and hopeful world for their children. It is the story of teachers endeavoring with insufficient resources and for unequal pay to prepare their students for the future. It is the story of parents carrying their children through knee-deep mud and snow so they could complete the long walk to school safely. It is the story of young people who studied, memorized, wrote, laughed, played, hauled supplies, prepared food, and kept the fire burning in the cold months. It is the story of the African American community and the Greater Zion Baptist Church members who used what they had (and compensated for what they didn’t) to keep this school operating for six decades.
It is also the story of our county — and our nation. Although it’s easy to forget in this time of data centers, new construction homes, and town centers, this schoolhouse makes visible a rich and complex history that helps us understand where we are and the place from which we’ve come.
Students from Loudoun School for the Gifted (LSG) became aware of this neglected treasure in the winter of 2015 and decided to make the Ashburn Colored School (affectionately referred to as the Old School) the center of their 8th grade project. The rehabilitation effort originated as a way for a small group of students to engage with their community while simultaneously learning more about it. As time passed, the project became an after-school activity where students from 6th to 12th grade learned about the process of restoring a piece of history — from the use of appropriate building materials to historic research to budgeting and fundraising.
By the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year, students had raised approximately $20,000 through yard and bake sales and by creating a GoFundMe page for donations from the community. Other groups also pitched in, like the 4th grade class at Mill Run Elementary School that had a read-a-thon and bike wash to help raise funds for the Old School.
One of the highlights of this project has been the opportunity to meet and interview former students. When asked what the name of the school should be, these past students and their families agreed that it should be called the Ashburn Colored School, just as it was when they were learning from their beloved, yet very strict teacher, Ms. Lola Jackson.
On October 1st, 2016, the rehabilitation project took an sad turn when school leaders discovered that the Ashburn Colored School had been vandalized the night before. Students were devastated to see profanity and racist references spray painted on this significant piece of history that they had come to love. Just the week before, they had reached a milestone when the newly restored windows were reinstalled, bringing sunlight into the school for the first time in decades.
But there was a silver lining to this vandalism, and that was the outpouring of support that LSG received from the local community and the wider national and international community. Hundreds of notes of encouragement and donations arrived over the following two weeks as news of the vandalism spread.
To repair the damage done, not only to the Old School, but to our community as a whole, LSG — with significant support from Phyllis Randall, Board of Supervisors Chair; Phillip Thompson, President of the NAACP Loudoun Branch; Donna Bohanon, Black History Committee Chair of the Friends of the Thomas Balch Library; Mike Chapman and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office; and Pastor Michelle Thomas — hosted the Community Restoration Celebration on October 9th. Over 600 people came together to help repair the Old School and enjoy entertainment from local musicians and food donated by local restaurants.
On October 11th, Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins donated the final $35,000 needed to reach the $100,000 fundraising goal. Students will now be able to complete the rehabilitation by the summer of 2017.
Currently, the interior of the Old School has been stripped down to the joists and framing to remove the mold and deteriorating building materials. In the next week or two, work will begin on shoring up the foundation, and then the “new” floors, the same age and wood as the original warped and cracked boards, will be installed.
Rather than modernizing the Ashburn Colored School, students decided to restore the building as it was when children were still attending school there. There won’t be heat, air conditioning, or other modern comforts, so it will allow you to step back in time to experience school in the early 20th century.
Phase two of the project will be the creation of a Museum of Education that will tell the story of education in America, from the introduction of public education, through segregation (with special emphasis on the story of the Ashburn Colored School and its students), and into the future. How did we end up where we are today, and what can we do to improve our system of education moving forward?
LSG students will have the opportunity to design and contribute content to the museum, but we will also actively solicit contributions from others. Our hope is to involve graduate students and experts in the field to share their knowledge with our students, and with the public in general, through the museum.