Wasena News Archives
Wasena School Shows Champion Form
Monday, Sept. 16, 1996
Staff writer
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 other grades.
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 choose.
"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 it."
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 past year.
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 children's skills.
"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 said.
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.
Fourth-grade teacher Marylane Sandy said teachers are encouraged to use new instructional approaches, class activities and projects to help improve student learning.
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 teach."
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 writing."
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 do that."
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
Staff writer
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 getting it."
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 said.
Fifth-grader Nick 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 visit...

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 college.

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 school day.

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 midday.

"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 ago.

"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 with.

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