WINCHESTER — After Handley High School senior Delmi Santos visited her former elementary school in her cap and gown on Wednesday, she began to tear up.
“I enjoyed it a lot,” the 19-year-old said about her alma mater, Garland R. Quarles Elementary School. “It was the only school when I was a kid that accepted me how I was.”
Santos, who enrolled at Quarles in second grade, said her previous experiences at schools in other states were “really bad.” But at Quarles she said she found joy. Following her high school graduation, she plans to attend Lord Fairfax Community College for two years, then transfer to Virginia Commonwealth University.
She was among numerous classmates who returned to their elementary schools on Wednesday morning for a new event called “Walk the Halls,” which gives Handley seniors a chance to visit their old stomping grounds in Winchester Public Schools, which has four elementary schools. Previously, only students who attended John Kerr Elementary School visited their alma mater before graduation.
“It just shows you we are united here in Winchester city,” Handley Principal Mike Dufrene said. “It’s about everybody.”
Seniors who signed up to participate were taken by school bus to their old elementary school.
At Quarles, Dufrene and the seniors received cheers from Quarles students who lined the hallways. Then they were surprised with yearbooks from when they attended Quarles. It was 2011 when they left Quarles to attend Daniel Morgan Middle School.
Seniors who did not attend a Winchester elementary school could still tag along to whichever school they wanted to visit, Dufrene said.
Senior Andy Espinoza, 18, came to Handley his senior year. He attended elementary school in Venezuela and will be going to Virginia Commonwealth University for college.
“It’s been a lot, but it’s been an interesting experience and I’ve loved it,” Espinoza said about his time at Handley.
Though Espinoza didn’t go to Quarles, he said he had fun entertaining the younger students as he walked through the hallways by making them laugh.
For Santos, it was “shocking” to be inside her old elementary school again. While she was there, she found a tile she made about eight years ago with her self portrait, though she doesn’t remember making it. It’s a tradition at Quarles for each student to make a tile with their portrait, then the tile is put on permanent display.
Art teacher Rick Edwards said there are probably more than a thousand self-portrait tiles in Quarles. Edwards, who has taught at Quarles for 17 years, said it’s “pretty cool” to see students he used to teach.
“It just encourages you to keep on doing what you do,” said Gary Frye, who has taught kindergarten through fifth grade, including special education, for 13 years at Quarles.
Quarles fourth-grader Ashriya Acharya, 10, said watching the Handley seniors motivates her to work harder to reach her educational goals.
But another fourth-grader, Ella Happ, 10, said it was a reminder that she still has a long way to go before she graduates from high school.
Commencement exercises for Handley High School’s Class of 2019 are scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday in the Handley Bowl.