RIVERDALE – At Parkdale High School (PHS), boxes of tissues were passed around and tiny ribbons were pinned on clothing as students and Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) staff remembered a beloved educator.
Tanya L. Washington, the late principal at Parkdale, died suddenly on Sept. 10, leaving the school system and students at PHS reeling. On Sept. 16, the school’s gymnasium filled with students, staff, parents and community members who came together to celebrate Washington’s life.
It was the second memorial service PHS held this calendar year. In May, the school community remembered the life of Gladys Tordil, an Advanced Placement chemistry teacher at Parkdale who was killed in a domestic violence-related incident.
Scattered conversations about Washington flowed from the lips of saddened students who still felt the sting of losing a principal who was well known for putting them first. Washington began working at PHS in 2013, and began her 19-year PGCPS career as a teacher at William Wirt Middle School.
Before the memorial service – which blended student performances, acknowledgements, remarks and reflections – officially began with words offered by PHS Student Government Association President Aaliyah Hennington, Neville Adams, an English and student government teacher, provided insight about how the loss of Washington has impacted the tight-knit Panthers community. Adams said he hoped the evening tribute to Washington would provide closure.
“It’s sort of devastating at the beginning and people are starting to work through it. We’re going to continue to strive because that is what she would want, definitely,” Adams said. “We are setting up a lot of avenues for (students) to express themselves. Most of them, like the English teachers and a lot of other teachers, gave them assignments that they can do or gave them places to do it, and then Prince George’s County sent in grief counselors, so they were available all week and they will still be available next week.”
Adams described Washington as lovable, exciting, fun and someone who cared for children. He smiled when he was asked what Washington would want next.
“Get better grades for the kids and have fun,” he said enthusiastically.
Juwan Blocker, a PHS senior and student member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education, said Washington began her leadership when he entered ninth grade at the high school. Blocker said the quote, “Greatness and nothing less” sticks in his mind along with Washington’s smile, dedication and determination.
After Washington’s passing, he had flashbacks of different conversations they shared from time to time. He recalled sitting in the office of the principal who he said had unmatched leadership skills. Washington mentored Blocker and even called him ‘Mr. President.’ He said Washington’s sudden death is a hard pill to swallow when he thinks about the fact that the late principal will not have the opportunity to see the 2017 class’s graduation. Blocker and his classmates arrived at PHS the same year she began working at the school.
“She adopted me. We were very close. She was like a mom. I could talk to her about any and everything, and she was very instrumental in me being the young man that I am today and having the position that I have today,” Blocker said. “A lot of students, you know, we’re all upset that she’s gone, but again she did a great job of bringing us all together and today’s one of those moments when we have to stay strong together. She was a strong believer in God, so I remember some of the advice that she gave me and I keep it with me internally when I’m moving forward.”
Blocker also said he does not yet know who will be in charge of PHS permanently. According to the student, two administrators, Dr. Tasha Graves-Henderson and Dr. Lori Taylor, are currently sharing the responsibility. But Blocker did say what he believes Washington would want him to do.
“She would not only want me to be successful, but to reach out to other students and make sure that they’re on track, and to eventually run for office,” Blocker said.