Going to school at Terraset Elementary in the late 1970s was sort of like being in the movie Star Wars.
A steel latticework topped with 13,000 square feet of solar panels covered the main courtyard of the school, at times creating eerie-looking shadows.
Spiraling concrete staircases looked out of this world.
The building itself was built into a side of a hill with the roof covered with a five foot layer of dirt, giving an appearance of being remains of a lost civilization.
“My memories of the architecture was that it was very futuristic,” says Kristina Alcorn, who attended the sixth grade at Terrset in 1979. “This wasn’t very long after Star Wars had come out… so, I’m sure some of our games running around the playground involved Princess Leia.”
Terraset Elementary School at 11411 Ridge Heights Road was completed in 1977 with the intention of thematically matching Reston’s ahead-of-its-time aesthetic.
“In a lot of ways, Terraset fits in with Reston as a whole,” says Alex Campbell, executive director of the Reston Museum. “Taking a chance, trying something new, thinking ahead.”
Terraset was specifically designed with the 1970s energy crisis in mind. It was one of the first solar energy powered schools in the country. The school was also built into the hill in hopes that the dirt covering would provide natural insulation and cut fuel costs.
The name “Terraset” actually means “set in Earth.”
Then, there was the large array of solar panels, which were paid for by a Saudi Arabian prince.
When the school got turned down for a grant by the US government, Fairfax County school system turned to Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia. The prince provided a $650,000 grant to the school for the school’s solar and heating system.
Fahd would later become King and, in 1985, President Ronald Reagan toasted him at a state dinner for providing financial help to the Reston elementary school.
At the school’s dedication ceremony in May 1977, Fahd was joined by another Saudi prince, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in taking a tour of the school. It was acknowledged that it was odd that a prince from an oil-rich country would so publicly support an American solar-powered project.
“Why . . . would any Saudi do anything that could conceivably compete with oil?,” Saud said at the dedication, according to the Washington Post. “We are very much aware of the finite nature of many natural resources. Even though we continue to find additional oil deposits in our country, we know that there is an eventual limit to what we can produce. One of the sources of energy that we expect to utilize as our oil production declines, is solar energy.”
But the design had major flaws.
Most notably, the solar panels were constructed with Saudi Arabia’s climate in mind, which is far different from Reston’s climate.
“[The solar panels] didn’t deal very well with the change in seasons,” says Campbell. The panels kept having leaks and cracks.
Then, there were the icicles.
“There were these huge icicles that would form on them in the winter,” says Alcorn, who is also on the Reston Historic Trust and Museum’s Board of Directors. “You’d be waiting for your bus down below, watching these huge icicles, and wondering if they were going to hit you or the bus.”
In 1986, less than a decade after being completed and with maintenance becoming unmanageable, the solar panels were turned off. In 1991, the panels were taken down.
It wasn’t a complete disaster, however. The school ended up using about a quarter less energy than other comparable Fairfax County schools during the nine years the solar panels were in operation.
Today, Terraset Elementary remains the educational home to about 600 students.
While there are no longer solar panels (which makes it currently ineligible for the National Register of Historic Places), the school still very much remains buried under dirt.
While best-laid plans rarely work out, Terraset proves that it’s at least worth trying.
“It was an example of that spirit of ingenuity and hope for the future to solve problems,” says Alcorn. “And not be afraid of sometimes failing.”
Photos courtesy of Terraset Elementary
Take a Break Concert Tonight — It’s officially dance night with Radio King Orchestra at Lake Anne Plaza from 7-9 p.m. The concert is free and open for all ages. Attendees will also get the change to learn some dance moves. [Reston Community Center]
Local Students Earn College-Sponsored Merit Scholarships — Joshua Nielson of Herndon High School won a National Merit Brigham Young University Scholarship and Arabella Jariel of South Lakes High School won a National Merit Harvey Mudd Scholarship. [Fairfax County Public Schools]
New Look for Fairfax Alerts Traffic Notifications — The new format for traffic alerts allows users to look through a map to pinpoint the exact geolocation of traffic incidents. The update also standardizes how information about the location address, incident type and impact appear to users. [Fairfax County Emergency Information]
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Carson Middle School is among four schools in the state to earn the 2019 Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence — the highest recognition awarded for schools that excel in academics in the state.
The recognition, which is part of the Virginia Index of Performance awards, recognizes schools that go beyond state and federal accountability standards and achieve excellence goals set by the governor and the Board of Education.
The school met all state and federal achievement benchmarks and checked off on goals for elementary reading. Two schools in McLean — Chesterbrook Elementary School and Cooper Middle School — also got a nod from the governor, along with Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church.
In the county, 28 schools were named recipients of the Board of Education Excellence Awards and 22 schools earned the Board of Education’s Distinguished Achievement Awards.
Photo via FCPS
Public schools in Fairfax County will open two hours late tomorrow as wintry weather sweeps the county tonight and tomorrow morning.
FCPS announced the decision on Twitter around 6 p.m. today (Feb. 27) “based on the winter weather advisory in effect overnight.”
Locals can expect 1 to 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Based on the winter weather advisory in effect overnight, all Fairfax County public schools will open two hours late tomorrow, March 1, 2019 (Cond 3B). School offices and central offices will open on time. SACC opens at 8:00 am
— Fairfax Schools (@fcpsnews) February 28, 2019
Diners at Not Your Average Joe’s on select days in March can help raise money for a nonprofit that combats student hunger.
On the four Tuesdays in March, the restaurant (1845 Fountain Drive) will donate 15 percent of bills for diners who ask to have their meals support Helping Hungry Kids.
The nonprofit gives food packages to more than 400 elementary school students in Northern Virginia who don’t have enough food on the weekends.
Most of the 12 elementary schools that receive the packs are ones in Reston and Herndon, which include:
- Forest Edge
- Lake Anne
- Hunters Woods
Each pack, which contains non-perishable food for two breakfasts, two dinners and several snacks, costs about $6, according to the nonprofit’s website.
Four schools in the Reston and Herndon areas are part of 39 Fairfax County public schools taking part in a new after-school food program that provides free meals or snacks to any student.
Fairfax County Public Schools’ Office of Food and Nutrition Services announced the sponsorship of the At-Risk Afterschool Meals Program yesterday (Feb. 4).
One school in Reston and three in Herndon requested that the program provide them with meals. They include:
- Herndon Elementary School (630 Dranesville Road)
- Herndon Middle School (901 Locust Street)
- Hutchison Elementary School (13209 Parcher Avenue)
- Dogwood Elementary School (12300 Glade Drive)
Alexandria topped the list with the most requests from 16 schools, followed by 10 in Falls Church.
The program is part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which is backed by the United States Department of Agriculture. It is managed by the Virginia Department of Health’s Child and Adult Care Food Program.
Photo via @fcpsnews/Twitter
With an inch of snow anticipated tonight and tomorrow, activities at Fairfax County public schools or on school grounds are canceled for this afternoon and evening.
FCPS wrote in a tweet today (Jan. 17) that the “expected wintry weather in our area tonight” prompted the decision.
The School Age Child Care Program will remain open until 6:15 p.m. tonight.
Due to the expected wintry weather in our area later today, all activities scheduled in Fairfax County public schools or on school grounds for this afternoon and evening, Jan. 17, are canceled (Cond 6) https://t.co/zNBBMkehnZ
SACC centers will remain open until 6:15 p.m.
— Fairfax Schools (@fcpsnews) January 17, 2019
(Updated at 8:30 a.m.) Fairfax County public schools are set to open two hours late tomorrow (Wednesday).
FCPS tweeted that tomorrow’s scheduled delay is due to “unexpected refreeze of roads and sidewalks overnight.”
School offices and central offices will open on time tomorrow.
Morning preschool classes will be canceled while afternoon preschool classes are set to start on their regular schedule. Full-day preschool and Family and Early Childhood Education Program-Head Start classes will start two hours later than the regular schedule.
Adult and community education classes are set to start on time.
Due to the expected refreeze of roads and sidewalks overnight, all Fairfax County public schools will open 2 hours late Wed., 1/16/19. School offices and central offices will open on time. (Condition 3B) More at: https://t.co/GqzuZiNx8f.
— Fairfax Schools (@fcpsnews) January 15, 2019
Photo via vantagehill/Flickr
Updated at 12:30 p.m. — Fairfax County public schools will close by 6:15 p.m.
“Due to the expected refreeze of roads tonight, FCPS facilities and school grounds will be closed starting at 6:15 p.m.,” FCPS tweeted at 12:26 p.m. today (Jan. 15). “All activities scheduled in FCPS schools or on school grounds for this evening must be completed by 6:15 p.m. or are canceled.”
FCPS tweeted last night that it would open two hours late today.
The delay was meant to allow more daylight for drivers and students who walk to school, according to the FCPS website.
School offices and central offices will open on time.
Morning preschool classes were canceled while afternoon preschool classes were set to start on their regular schedule. Full-day preschool and Family and Early Childhood Education Program-Head Start classes started two hours later than the regular schedule.
Adult and community education classes were set to start on time.
Due to the expected refreeze of roads tonight, FCPS facilities and school grounds will be closed starting at 6:15 p.m. (Cond 7). All activities scheduled in FCPS schools or on school grounds for this evening must be completed by 6:15 p.m. or are canceled. https://t.co/zNBBMjWGwr
— Fairfax Schools (@fcpsnews) January 15, 2019
All Fairfax County public schools will open two hours late Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. School offices and central offices will open on time. (Condition 3B) The delay will allow for additional daylight for drivers and students who walk to school. More at https://t.co/zNBBMjWGwr
— Fairfax Schools (@fcpsnews) January 14, 2019
This story has been updated
While many of us express concern that we do not see as many solar collectors on Virginia roof-tops as we would like, the Commonwealth is showing significant progress on turning sunlight into electrical energy. As with any major change there are some hazy areas that need to be considered as well.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) as reported in the August 2018 issue of Virginia Business magazine, Virginia currently ranks 17th nationally with 631.3 megawatts of installed solar capacity. The ranking is a significant jump from 2016 when the state ranked 29th nationally. Even with the advanced standing, only 0.59 percent of the state’s electricity comes from solar. By way of contrast, North Carolina is second in the nation in installed solar capacity with 4,412 megawatts brought about by generous tax incentives. For North Carolina that is nearly five percent of their electricity supply.
Virginia’s future with solar appears bright with 59 notices of intent with the Department of Environmental Quality to install 2,646 megawatts of solar according to the Virginia Business article. Driving the expansion of solar energy is a sharp drop in price from $96 in 1970 to 40 cents per kilowatt this year and an insistence on the part of technology giants like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, all of whom have a presence in Virginia, that their electric power come from solar systems. The Grid Transformation and Security Act passed by the General Assembly this year requires 5,000 new megawatts of solar and wind energy to be developed. Included in that total is 500 megawatts of small, roof-top panels.
Middlesex County Public Schools opened this year with two of its three schools powered by solar energy. Although a small, rural school system, Middlesex has the largest ground-mounted solar system of any school division in the state and is expected to save over two million dollars per year. Excess electricity generated is sent to the grid for credit for any electricity the schools takes from the grid at night through a net-metering arrangement.
Some shadows along the way can be expected with such a massive shift in the way electricity is produced. It takes about eight acres of land for each megawatt produced. Solar farms take up large amounts of land. Just last week the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors voted to deny a conditional-use permit for a 178-acre utility scale solar facility in the County. The supervisors indicated that they had questions about the project for which they did not receive adequate answers. One factor is likely to have been the results of a study by the American Battlefield Trust that indicated the project would be visible from some of the half-dozen signal stations around Culpeper County that were used during the Civil War to detect troop movement. The County depends on a high level of tourism based on its Civil War battlefields and apparently does not want to jeopardize its attraction to Civil War buffs.
The clouds will pass, and Virginia is on its way to a bright future with solar energy.
The school has been named a candidate for the program, effective March 1 2018, according to a new release issued by the school system. According to the program’s website, IB classes aim to nurture and develop students between 3 and 12 into “caring, active participants in a lifelong journey of learning.”
Two years ago, Belvedere Elementary School (6540 Columbia Pike) was the first Fairfax County public school authorized as an IB PYP school.
According to the school system, schools selected to participate in the program are driven by a common vision: a commitment to high-quality, challenging and international education.
The school will receive on-and-off-site consultation from the program. Teachers will have access to IB’s online curriculum center, which includes teaching materials and participation in online forums. Since its introduction in 1997, the program is taught in over 109 countries around the world. Students are encouraged to strengthen their knowledge and skills across and beyond subject areas. Studies are guided by six themes of global significance.
For more information, contact the school’s principal, Mie Devers.
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The Virginia Department of Education is considering changing the benchmarks required for graduation and school accreditation.
The board is looking at lowering the verified credit requirement for students to five credits for both standard and advanced diplomas. The credits would come from math, science, reading, writing and social studies courses.
The department has scheduled meetings to get the input of communities around the state. The first meeting was held recently in Fairfax County, the Fairfax Times reported.
Currently, students must earn nine verified credits for an advanced diploma and six credits for a standard diploma. Verified credits are earned in classes that culminate in a Virginia Standards of Learning exam, also referred to as the SOLs.
The state wants to move towards “authentic performance assessments” instead of the traditional standardized exams for social studies and writing. One critique over the past few years, from students, parents and even teachers, is that the exams don’t allow students to demonstrate all of their knowledge.
The move away from standardized testing would also change the way schools are accredited. Schools earn their accreditation based on student performance on the SOL — 75 percent of students must pass the language arts exams and 70 percent have to pass the math, science and history exams for a school to be accredited.
The system described in the proposal would create three classifications for schools. Level I schools would be those “at or above standard,” Level II schools would be those “near standard or improving,” and Level III schools would be those “below standard.” The drop-out rates, chronic absenteeism, College and Career Readiness Index, would be scored.
Schools that are below standard would have the opportunity for accreditation under the new system. Level III schools would get accreditation, but would have to improve their performance within three years before losing accreditation.
The last meeting will be in August. The board is expected to review its plan in November before finalizing it at the end of the year.
The potential for a nursery school at St. John Neumann Church looks a lot more likely.
On May 17, the Fairfax County Board of Zoning Appeals approved a special permit amendment that will allow the addition of the nursery school. Located at 11900 Lawyers Road, the projected nursery and pre-school would be one of several in the Reston area.
The Rev. Joseph T. Brennan made the official announcement in the church bulletin last week.
“I want to share an update on the potential of a preschool at St. John Neumann. On Wednesday, May 17, 2017 the Board of Zoning Appeals for the County of Fairfax, Virginia approved the proposal to permit the addition of a nursery school. This is a significant step towards the possibility of a pre-school opening in the Fall of 2018. Please stay tuned as we continue to work out the next steps and examine the feasibility of this endeavor.”
A parish survey that was conducted last year indicated an interest in pursuing the school.
St. John Neumann Church (11900 Lawyers Road) is looking toward the prospect of adding a nursery school to its facility as early as 2018.
According to information printed in a recent church bulletin, the preschool would be state-licensed and would be operated under the direction of the Office of Catholic Schools of the Arlington Diocese.
A parish survey that was conducted last year indicated an interest in pursuing the school, according to the Feb. 12 bulletin.
“We are working with the diocesan-appointed attorney and have submitted a Proposed Special Permit Amendment Application to the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning. It is important to emphasize that we are in the early stages and that barring any roadblocks, the soonest the preschool would open is Fall of 2018.”
According to Reston Association’s Land Development Tracker, the special permit amendment application was filed with the county Jan. 27, and it is being reviewed for quality control before acceptance.
Photo courtesy St. John Neumann Catholic Community