Hope Lives Here
Nearly three-quarters of the students at Germantown's Daly Elementary School are from low-income families. For the principal and her staff, academics are only part of the job.
Dietz wasn’t planning to participate in Daly’s annual student-staff basketball game last June. She’d be up against fifth-graders, and her husband had warned her not to play because he didn’t want her to get injured. But as the staff warmed up, she grabbed a ball and started dribbling. The students, seated on both sides of the gym floor, cheered and clapped. Some sat on their knees to get a better view. “Go, Miss Dietz!” they chanted. “Go, Miss Dietz!”
Dietz, wearing her blue “Daly Class of 2017” T-shirt, attempted a running shot first, and missed. But she got her own rebound and tried again. No luck. Then she got fancy and took a backward shot, which went off the rim. On her fourth try, she got closer to the basket, dribbled twice, focused, and let the ball go. When it hit the backboard and fell through the net she threw her arms into the air and the whole gym erupted. “I still have a little game,” she said later with a laugh.
It’s hard for Dietz to imagine being anywhere but Daly. Retirement, she says, is the only thing that would pull her away. “I think for some principals you get to a point in your career where it’s like, you’ve accomplished what you wanted to—and they usually say it takes seven or so years to get to that point,” she says. “I think by my year seven I’d made a pretty good change, and the programming was going the way I wanted, but I still am not done yet.”
When she does go, she says, there are certain things in her office that she’ll take with her and hold onto. Treasures, she calls them. One is the cup of faux flowers, with their tags still on, that were given to her last year by two students who live in the mobile home park. Another is a jeweled frame with a picture of a little boy on one side and a message on the other. The boy, who has autism, came to Daly in kindergarten from a special education program at another school.
“They didn’t know if inclusion was going to be good for him,” Dietz says. “We were like: Bring him on.” He was brilliant, she says, probably one of the smartest children she’s ever known. There were challenges socially—he was rigid in his behaviors—but he could read anything they put in front of him. He’d decided he wanted to learn other languages, and by second grade was teaching himself Chinese and picking up Spanish from his teacher. “He was almost at the point where we couldn’t keep up with him anymore,” Dietz says.
She eventually told the boy’s parents, whom she’d gotten to know well, that the staff thought the best place for him was Diamond Elementary School in Gaithersburg, which has a program for children with Asperger’s syndrome. “We all sobbed when he left that day at the end of the year,” she says. “It was hard for the parents, because he had done really well here and they wanted him to continue. But I told them the principal at Diamond is a friend of mine, and they would take good care of him.”
Before he left, the boy walked into Dietz’s office and handed her the frame, which she’s kept on her desk ever since. The words run vertically, in mismatched lettering.
Instills A Love of Learning
Touches Our Hearts
& Changes Our Lives Forever.
Senior Editor Cindy Rich can be reached at email@example.com.