Redirect name change efforts to meaningful alternatives

A+sign+advertising+the+new+high+school%2C+for+which+FCCPS+is+currently+planning+to+keep+the+name+George+Mason.+Some+community+members+have+expressed+concern+about+continuing+to+have+a+school+named+after+someone+who+was+a+slaveholder.+%28Photo+by+Sequoia+Wyckoff%29

A sign advertising the new high school, for which FCCPS is currently planning to keep the name George Mason. Some community members have expressed concern about continuing to have a school named after someone who was a slaveholder. (Photo by Sequoia Wyckoff)

Olivia Pilson, Contributor

Olivia Pilson is a rising senior at GMHS. She is the president of the Mustang Ambassadors program.

Educating students on racism and slavery in this country and emphasizing the importance of diversity starting from a younger age is critical. Even though many in the community want to  change the names of George Mason High School and Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, this won’t help educate our students and incorporate more diversity and inclusion. If we want more recognition for women and people of color, the best way would be to add more recognition for prominent minorities, instead of taking away recognition for our Founding Fathers. Our city promotes inclusion and our education should reflect that, which does not call for a complete name change of both schools.

Instead of completely changing both school names, we should use that money to educate ourselves about systemic racism.  Our community is the result of a history of redlining, and is still overwhelmingly white and wealthy, compared to U.S. averages. Simply changing the name of the schools likely won’t create the change we want to see. 

Starting a curriculum and a proper education on our country’s history, that includes perspectives from minority groups, from a younger age is the first step in promoting more open minded thinking in our students. Emphasis in education on understanding and open mindedness will promote inclusion in our youth. What we do in FCCPS is and should always be in the best interests of making education better, more diverse, and engaging.

In addition, a rebrand of our schools would not be free. This is money that could be allocated to bettering our education, which is where the most lasting change on students would occur. It must be clear that changing the name would have a positive impact on the quality of our education in FCCPS as well. If it is determined that we should change the name of Thomas Jefferson Elementary School changing the one initial in T.J. would be most cost effective. I would like to propose the name be altered to Tinner-Jefferson Elementary School to honor our founding father and fellow Virginian Thomas Jefferson, and Joseph Tinner who was active in civil rights movements and helped create and was the first president of the Falls Church branch of the NAACP. The Tinner family (Charles and Mary Tinner) also bought much of the land in Falls Church. The name change would not only preserve the unique history of our community, but also honor the contributions of African Americans to the development of the City of Falls Church and the Greater Falls Church area. 

Justice High School, formerly J.E.B. Stuart High School, and Washington-Liberty High School, formerly Washington-Lee High School, changed their names recently. The total cost of rebranding Justice High was almost $500,000. In addition, the city’s revenue will be down next year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rebranding any school isn’t simply changing signage around the building. It requires a new web design, branding in the Falls Church area, redesign and repurchasing of any apparel, and changing of anything that has “Mason” or “Thomas Jefferson” on it. All of which takes time, resources, and funding away from student activities, both in the high school and the elementary school. Money required for this could be pulled or cut from existing programs that give students the opportunity to grow and learn. 

Understanding does not come from seeing or hearing the name of our school, but comes from learning about our country’s history from different perspectives. By incorporating a curriculum that includes more diverse perspectives at all levels of education in FCCPS we will promote a more inclusive atmosphere in our schools and city.