Lesson 5: Founding of the Laurel Grove School and Other "Colored" Schools in Fairfax County, 1860-1890


1. Brainstorm with students as a whole class about what it would take to found and maintain a school today? Why might a group of people choose to start a school? Record and save students’ ideas on the board or newsprint for later use. • For ES and MS students: to connect this topic to contexts more familiar to students, brainstorm about how their community decides where, when, and how much money to spend equipping schools. This would be a good place to use local newspaper articles, editorials, or letters to the editor about local school funding.

2. Tell students that the focus of this lesson will be the founding of the Laurel Grove School and other “colored” schools in Fairfax County between 1860 and 1890. Explain that students will be asked to examine primary sources – including documents, a map, and photos – as well as secondary sources to understand what it took to accomplish this task.

3. Distribute copies to each student of the 1881 Deed of sale of land from William Jasper to Mt. Vernon District and model the notice/question/context process with students.

4. Have students work in pairs each with paper to write on and ask them to look carefully at the document as you read it aloud and have them write what they notice, and jot down any questions that occur to them as you read.

5. Next have one of each pair report out what they found and record it on the board in two of the two columns: Notice/Question/.

6. Examples of what students might notice in this deed: the year, the names of William and Georgianna Jasper, Divers, wording “sum of ten dollars,” half acre, using poles to establish exact location, etc. Students might question: why did the Jaspers deed land to the School Superintendent instead of just using his own land to build the school? How much was $10 worth in 1881, what “in consideration of” and “quiet possession” mean? * Explanation of “quiet possession”: Person A is covenenting (promising/guaranteeing, warranting - pretty much all the same) that he is passing a good title to Person B. Person A is providing an explicit warranty that the title is clear. For example, let's say the land that Person A is selling is actually not his land; it's actually Person C's. Person C comes in and says to Person B, "That's my land. Get off." Because Person A has given Person B a warranty or a covenant that this won't happen, it provides Person B with a specific avenue to go after Person A in the event there's an issue.

7. Next distribute copies to each student of the 1879 Mt. Vernon District map and ask students to use the notice/question/context process.

8. Using what they know and looking carefully at the map, use the same process and ask them what they notice and what questions occur to them. Share these out and record.

9. Examples that students might notice from this map include familiar place names such as Franconia, Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon District, geographic and manmade features, and the name Wm. Jasper. Questions might include: why are there so many names of people on the map? Are these white and/or African American people? [NOTE: provide the option of having students work with the deed and map together.]

10. Use the Historical Background at the beginning of this lesson to tell students about the founding of the Laurel Grove School:
• Who built the school and kept it going?
• Why did these people build and maintain this school?
• What barriers did they face?

• Where did they live and how did they make a living?

• Specifically, who were the four “trustees”?
• What resources did this community use to overcome the barriers? This task can be accomplished in a variety of ways including Talking Points on an overhead projector, or by PowerPoint.

11. As you provide the historical context, be sure to make connections with what your students noticed and their questions in the two primary sources.

12. Once students have completed their look at the founding of the Laurel Grove School, explain that they will use a similar process to investigate the founding of several other “colored” schools in Fairfax County.

13. Have students work in small groups and give each group some primary and secondary sources about a particular school.
• There is information in the Historical Background about Gum Springs, Woodlawn, and Falls Church
• There are primary and secondary sources from the brochure African American Landowners, Churches, Schools and Businesses, Fairfax County, Virginia (1860-1900) about Falls Church, Ordricks, Gum Springs, Gunston, and the Freedman School.
• The primary sources include:
a. Two photos of schools (Odricks and Falls Church)
b. First hand accounts about Gum Springs and the Freedman School. Ask students working on a particular school to record the kind of documents they used and list the information they got from these documents.

14. For HS students, another option is to set students up in stations of 4-5 students around the room with all available documents.

15. Ask students to think about and discuss whatever evidence each group has. Students will note where the school was located and how and by whom it was started. They also should consider barriers and what resources were available.

16. Share out these findings so that all students get a sense of what the founding experiences had in common and how they differed.

17. For HS students ask: Do you think the role of the Freedman’s Bureau in these schools was what you expected? Explain your answer.

18. Now ask students to look again at the barriers faced by those who started and maintained these “colored” schools and what they did to deal with these barriers. (For ES and MS students use the handout: Statistics from the Historical Background, at the end of this lesson.)

19. Finally, pull together students’ findings on both Laurel Grove and the other “colored” schools in Fairfax County, 1860-1890, and return to the first task in which students brainstormed about what it would take to found and maintain a school today and why a group of people might choose to start a school. Ask students compare what they expressed with the actual experiences of the “colored” school founders: what are the similarities and differences?

20. Wrap Up:
• For HS students project the Fairfax County map “Black Population As a Percent of Total Population By Voting Precinct, April 2000” to write a short essay on the following prompt: “Schools and churches are the foundation of communities.” To what extent is this an accurate statement? Use the evidence from this lesson to frame and support your answer.
• For MS students: If the teacher has begun the lesson by examining newspaper articles, editorials, or letters to the editor about local school funding, the assessment might be to have students write their own news article about one or more of the “colored” schools in Fairfax County, focusing on the obstacles presented to the black communities as well as the resourcefulness that caused them to persevere. The article could be written from the viewpoint of a reporter from likely news source of the era, such as the African American Richmond Planet.
• For ES students: Have students make dioramas of a “colored” school and a white school and arrange these for an open house where students will tell the visitors about their project and what they learned. ESOL students could explain what they learned in the language of their choice.