Wasena School Shows Champion Form
Monday, Sept. 16, 1996
By JOEL TURNER
In the bright morning sun, the children at Wasena Elementary lined up on the asphalt playground before the school day began.
The boys and girls talked quietly as each grade formed a line on the hill at the rear of the Roanoke school.
Led by members of the
school's safety patrol, the children walked slowly down the stairway to
the back door and proceeded to their rooms. The kindergartners were
first in the procession, followed by the first-graders and then the
The fifth-graders in teacher Kitty Sims' class did pull-ups on an aluminum bar when they got to their room.
After the roll was taken,
the children wrote in their daily journals. Sims assigns topics some
mornings; on other days, they are free to write about whatever they
"Wasena is very traditional
in some ways, but we're also making use of some of the latest technology
in our classrooms," Principal Roger Magerkurth said. "Our teachers and
kids want this kind of school, and our parents and the community expect
Lining up on the playground each morning when the weather is good is part of Wasena's tradition, Magerkurth said.
"There's an atmosphere here
where kids want to do well in their studies and be well-behaved because
that's the way schools are supposed to be -- not because we have to make
them do it," Magerkurth said.
Fifth-grader Shea Molloy, a
safety patrol member who helps put up the flag each morning, appeared to
reflect the attitude of many pupils.
"We have nice teachers, and we get a good education here," she said. "I love it."
Fourth-grader Drew Grasty
said he likes his teachers and the newly renovated building with large,
attractive and bright classrooms.
Mike Cooper, another fourth-grader, enjoys surfing the Internet and researching topics for his classes.
Wasena was the only one of
Roanoke's 28 schools to meet all of Superintendent Wayne Harris' goals
for improving student test scores, attendance and physical fitness this
The school received a $5,000 award that the superintendent promised to any school that reached the goals in all categories.
Wasena recorded a 38 percent
increase in the number of fourth-graders scoring above the 50th
percentile on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. The goal was 4 percent.
The school had a 14 percent increase in the number of pupils missing 10 or fewer days. The goal was 10 percent.
The number of fifth-graders
passing the Literacy Passport Predictor Test increased by 21 percent --
five times the 4 percent goal.
And Wasena had a 23 percent
increase in the number of children passing all four parts of the state's
physical fitness test -- more than triple the 7 percent goal.
Magerkurth said there's no single reason that the school was successful in raising test scores, attendance and physical fitness.
"We've got good teachers, good students and the support of the community," he said. "It all came together."
Wasena, one of the city's
oldest elementary schools, was built in the 1920s and remodeled two
years ago at a cost of $2.5 million. The renovated building on Sherwood
Avenue in Southwest Roanoke reflects the old and new: A modern,
glass-enclosed section was added to the old brick building that was
erected in 1928.
The 275-pupil school has three or four multimedia computers in every room that connect to the Internet and the school's library.
The Wasena faculty was determined to meet Harris' improvement targets, Magerkurth said.
He said the teachers
developed a strategy that focused on improving pupils' test-taking and
writing techniques. Journal writing in several classes helped hone the
"They do a lot of writing in
fourth and fifth grade," Sims said. "The journals in my class are
ungraded, and they do a lot of free expression."
The school also installed the pull-up bars in fourth-and fifth-grade rooms so children could improve their physical fitness.
At the elementary level, the
fitness tests are given only to fourth-and fifth-graders. But two
pull-up bars were put in the cafeteria so younger pupils could begin
working on their physical fitness before they have to take the tests, he
The school's physical
education teacher also focused on class activities that helped prepare
the children for the tests, Magerkurth said.
As part of the school's
strategy to improve attendance, a staff member calls the home of every
student who is absent each day to determine the reason and to encourage
the student to attend the next day.
Magerkurth said the school also targeted pupils who had missed more than 10 days the prior year.
"We monitored them closely and kept working with them and their parents to help try to get them here every day," he said.
Some teachers cite Magerkurth's leadership in helping the school improve its test scores, attendance and physical fitness.
Marylane Sandy said teachers are encouraged to use new instructional
approaches, class activities and projects to help improve student
She pointed to a small card
posted in her room that reads: "You can't steal second with your foot on
first base." The thought expresses Magerkurth's attitude in allowing
teachers to take risks, she said.
"I get nothing but
encouragement and praise here," said Sandy, who has taught at several
schools in Roanoke during her 13-year career. "It's a wonderful place to
The teaching staff is very
"goal oriented and works well together," Sims said. ""We talked about
the ways to address the goals, and we knew that we wanted to focus on
The teachers were confident they could achieve the goals, and Magerkurth was very supportive, she said.
Magerkurth has a quiet and reserved personality, but he raises his voice sometimes if pupils are tardy for class.
When he saw two boys walking
down the hall one day last week after the bell rang for classes to
begin, he admonished them to hurry up.
"You're late," he said. "Did you hear that bell ring?"
Magerkurth, 47, became
principal when Wasena reopened last year after being closed for a year
for the renovations. In 25 years in Roanoke, he has been a teacher,
assistant principal and principal.
A Roanoke native, he lives
only four blocks from the school and has three children who went there.
He grew up less than two miles away.
"I really wanted to come here. Wasena has always had a reputation for being a good school," he said.
Magerkurth wants Wasena to
remain a school where he would be comfortable sending his own children.
He said he feels the same way about the teachers.
When Magerkurth was hiring
faculty after the school reopened, he said, he looked for teachers who
are not only capable but who are "nice and kind to children."
In classes, the children
often work together. In Sandy's fourth-grade class last week, four
pupils were making a computer search for information on owls, five were
gathering material from encyclopedias and a half dozen were drawing and
coloring pictures of the night birds.
Sandy said the children have
good computer skills. "Actually, they help me a lot. If I can't do
something on a computer, I just ask them for help."
In Sims' class, the children
worked in pairs during a reading lesson. They sat on the floor as they
read to each other and reviewed the story before answering the teacher's
questions about what they had read.
Magerkurth said the school
will have no trouble in spending the $5,000. He said it will probably
buy bulletin boards, roll-out carts for teachers, additional computer
software and more pull-up bars. He has already bought a small flashing
message sign for the hall that will list upcoming activities and events
at the school.
The award money came from a
special fund established by the School Board for that purpose. Harris
gave $1,000 awards to the five schools that showed the most improvement
in each category but did not meet all of the goals.
Wasena is already looking
ahead to this school year and mapping strategy to win another $5,000.
Improving attendance will be the toughest job, Magerkurth said.
"Our teachers can control
what happens in the classroom, but we can't get the children out of bed
and get them to school in the morning," he said. "Only the parents can
Reprinted with permission
Copyright (c) 1996 The Roanoke Times
Revisiting the Good ol' Days at Wasena Elementary School
Monday, March 3, 2003
By Robin Floyd Garrett
The Roanoke Times
Have you ever wondered what your school used to
look like, or who might have been a student there before you and what
they talked about at recess?
A group of Wasena Elementary
School students invited former students-some who attended Wasena in
Roanoke as early as the 1930s-to visit the school for a tour and
discussion about what school was like for them.
Wasena's newspaper staff
organized the event and hand-delivered invitations to a small group of
alumni. Six former students, one of whom is now a kindergarten teacher
at Wasena, showed up on a recent February afternoon ready to talk.
"We split them into groups, and the kids led them through the school," said Mark Donihe, the newspaper's advisor.
During the tour, most of the alumni discovered that the school had changed a lot since they were students.
When it was built in the
late 1920s, Wasena Elementary School was no more than eight classrooms
that still stand today as the core of the building. By the 1950s, a wing
had been added on to each end of the school, and students were finally
able to enjoy lunch in a cafeteria.
Wasena closed for a year in
the mid-1990s so that the building could be updated. The electrical
system and much of the interior of the school were redone. Architects
also added a modern-looking glass-enclosed section to the front of the
school to make the inside of the school much brighter.
After the tour, it was time
for the newspaper staff to hear about the old days first-hand from the
alumni. The group of students, made up mostly of third-fifth graders,
was amazed to learn that all of the students used to meet in one room,
and that Wasena used to have no cafeteria.
"I went home for lunch,"
said Vivian Colman, who attended Wasena for half a year in 1936. "I'd
usually fix my own lunch-a tomato and lettuce sandwich and a chocolate
shake. And if I wanted a piece of candy, I had to ask my mother before
They also had a hard time
imagining their principal, Roger Magerkurth, standing in the hallway
ringing a hand bell to signal lunchtime and the beginning and end of a
school day before the installation of an automatic bell system.
With no school buses in the
1930s and 1940s, everyone walked to and from school, and there were no
snow days. Students had to buy their textbooks, but they were allowed to
keep them at the end of the year. Some of the alumni even wrote using
fountain pens and ink bottles.
"You mean the kind with the feather?" asked Taylor Underwood, a third-grader.
Jane Renick, a student from
1944-1949, explained that feather pens or quills were used long before
her time. Created as early as 500 B.C., quills were used until the late
1800s when the first fountain pens were invented.
Fourth-grader Emily Blanton was eager to learn what students used to wear to school.
"I wore a shirt, knickers and a long pair of socks," said Ray Lunsford, a student from 1938 to 1943.
Lunsford explained that
knickers were pants that hit just above or below the knee. During the
winter months, boys would wear knee-high socks with their knickers to
keep their legs warm. As for the girls, they always wore dresses, Colman
Camilletti, editor of Wasena's newspaper, turned the conversation to
sports and discovered that tetherball and dodge ball were two favorites
in the 1950s and 1960s. Tetherball involves a ball that has been tied to
a pole with a long rope. To win, one of the two players has to wrap the
ball completely around the pole before the other does.
Lunsford couldn't help but
remember one of his favorite pastimes-marbles-or the fact that he was
one of Wasena's own marble champions. He even brought along a newspaper
clipping that recognized his accomplishment.
"Marbles?" Camilletti asked.
"Well, we didn't have PlayStation," Lunsford reminded him.
All of the alumni's memories weren't as pleasant. Some of them remembered what it was like to get in trouble at school.
"If you did something bad at school, you got a whipping-once from the principal and once from your momma," Lunsford said.
Pat Montgomery remembered the day John F. Kennedy was shot.
"All the teachers were
crying, and they sent us home," said Montgomery who attended Wasena from
1960 to 1966 and is now a teacher there.
Others remembered practicing what to do in case of war or an attack in the early 1960s.
One day the teachers let them out early and asked them to time how long it took them to get home.
The alumni's responses were
recorded on video, tape and paper for a story in an upcoming issue of
the school newspaper. Several students took pictures of the event.
However, there was one
important alumnus who was unable to take part in the interview-state
Senator John Edwards, D-Roanoke. The staff was planning to e-mail him
some of the questions so they could include his responses, too.
As the interviews drew to a close, the final school bell rang.
"If any of you would like to
ride a school bus," said Principal Magerkurth to the alumni who'd never
had the experience, "they're waiting outside."
Reprinted with permission
Copyright (c) 2003 The Roanoke Times
Our Neighborhood Gem is Wasena Elementary
By Dian Tapscott
Not too many years ago, my husband and I
were firmly entrenched in the casual Southwest Florida lifestyle. We
owned an abundance of shorts, sandals, and bathing suits. I sort of
remembered what sweaters were, but could not fathom a coat. I had a
uniform for my job with United Airlines. My husband worked in his
family's business-a campground on the beach. Since graduating from
Roanoke College, I had lived all over the country (from Boston to Key
West) before marrying my husband. I have always made it a point to come
back to my hometown of Roanoke to visit often. I remember one such
My husband took a picture of my son and
me in front of my old elementary school, Wasena Elementary. My mother
also went there in the 1930's. I recall always looking at that picture
and wistfully wondering if my son would ever attend such a good school
in Florida? Little did we know that the winds of change were about to
blow our way.
Not long after that, my mother was
diagnosed with breast cancer here in Roanoke and passed away two years
later. I had no other relatives in this area, except a sister with
special needs. My sister tried moving down to Florida with us; however,
she was not happy on the Gulf Coast. She missed the Blue Ridge Mountains
and the friendly Roanokers. Also, our family home here was needing
attention and repairs. Finally, we decided that we needed to be here. In
1997, we moved up before our son started kindergarten at Wasena School.
We live in my grandmother's house on Sherwood, a street behind the
Windsor Avenue home that I was born into and left from to go the
This June, our son will complete his
elementary school years and conclude what has been the fastest six years
of my life. I am sure that it has seemed like an eternity to him.
Remember how slow time passes as a child? The older we get...the faster
it flies. Right?
I think that I may be speaking for many
neighbors and friends when I say that the years at Wasena School have
been a wonderful time in our family life. The school has a superb
principal and such a dedicated faculty and staff. Also, it is one of the
prettiest and best renovated schools in Roanoke. The interior and the
sides are so modern and new. Yet, the exterior still wears the same
recognizable face that it was built with in 1928. The students and the
families that we have met at Wasena have become our fabulous friends.
How could so many nice people all be at one school? I will miss seeing
so many of you, as the kids split next year to go to Woodrow Wilson,
Madison and the various other area schools. My son will certainly miss
his short commute-walking four houses away to reach school. We have all
loved the cozy, safe neighborhood feel at Wasena. As a substitute
teacher for the Roanoke City Schools, I am asked all the time which
school I think is the best. My reply? That is easy...WASENA!!! Okay, I
will admit that I am a tad prejudiced. I will always think of the school
as the best part of growing up here. It is the crown jewel that joins
the Raleigh Court and Wasena neighborhoods. I feel so fortunate that
three generations of my family have walked her halls and had a little
drink of her knowledge.
Wasena Elementary, take a bow. Our hats
are off to you. Carry on with your long and grand tradition of
excellence!!!! We miss you already!!!!
Reprinted with the author's permission
Summer 2003 edition of the Wasena Neighborhood Forum
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Wasena Elementary going to the dogs?
Not a chance
By Hattie Brown
Wasena Elementary School secretary
Karen Rider often jokes that she is slowly losing her job because her
trusted assistant, Callie, is becoming more power hungry by the day.
Callie struts through the school's
office like an arrogant teenager, doing just about whatever she wants,
but acting syrupy sweet when anyone visits. Some mornings she slips onto
the secretary's chair, pretending the desk in front of it is her own.
To top it off, the students are smitten with her.
But Wasena principal Roger
Magerkurth is doubtful that Callie will ever replace Rider; no matter
how lovable she is, Callie just can't seem to stick around for the whole
That's because Callie is a cat.
"She thinks she owns the place," Rider said. "We very quickly adopted her as our mascot."
Callie, who lives across the street
from the school when she's not out roaming the neighborhood, has visited
Wasena just about every day for a little more than a year. The students
have dubbed the black, white and orange-spotted calico "the cat that
wants to learn," but Magerkurth and Rider joke that Callie is trying to
move up in the ranks of the school's administration.
When school is in session, Callie likes to meet the students as they arrive.
"She greets everybody. She'll jump right up in your lap," Rider said.
At first, Magerkurth was adamant
about enforcing a no-pets rule inside the school, but renegade Callie
wasn't having it. No matter what they did, she would slip in as students
walked into the building in the morning or when preschoolers left
"We had to change it because you
couldn't keep that one out," Magerkurth said, referring to Callie's
refusal to obey the no-pets rule. But, he added, "we're not going to let
her in the classroom."
Sarah York, Callie's 13-year-old
owner, said it wasn't a difficult decision to pick Callie out of the
group of cats at the Roanoke Valley SPCA, where they got her two years
"She was a little different from the
others. She wasn't shy or anything," said Sarah, a rising eighth-grader
at Woodrow Wilson Middle School.
Callie hasn't disappointed Sarah
with her spontaneity. Unlike her sister, Allie, Callie likes to play
outdoors, exploring the bushes for mice and other fun things to play
Last spring, Callie went so far from
home that the SPCA mistook her for a stray and picked her up. By the
time Sarah and her mother, JoAnne York, realized Callie was missing, the
SPCA's claim period expired and they had to re-adopt her. Now Callie
wears a collar with her address on it.
Wasena students were worried and
anxious the whole time Callie was missing, Rider said. She said she also
has grown attached to the spunky feline.
"I'm not really a cat person, but
this cat is so sweet. I've never seen a cat with so much personality,"
Rider said. "She's become part of the Wasena family."
Copyright The Roanoke Times
reprinted with permission