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History & Values

Burgundy was founded in 1946 by a group of parents united by their vision of a small, cooperatively owned school serving an ethnically, racially, and economically diverse student body.

They chose an ideal setting for their school near Alexandria on a dairy farm with 25 rolling, partially wooded acres. In 1950, Burgundy actively recruited and enrolled African American students and became the first integrated school in Virginia. In 1967, Burgundy expanded its environmental focus by establishing a wildlife studies center in the mountains of West Virginia, giving students a second expansive campus to explore the wonders of the natural world and environmental science in great depth.

Burgundy’s founders and parents pledged, "a part of ourselves, our time, our energy and skill of mind and body" to the school. Taking over an old dairy farm, parents cleaned and painted barns and farmhouses, creating classrooms and the school office. In the school’s early days, parents operated the library and admissions office. Today, parent participation continues to be a vital part of the life of the school. Parents help in classrooms and on overnight trips to the wildlife center, and they serve on the Board of Trustees and committees. Parent work is chiefly responsible for the success of our well-loved community events like the Fall Fair and the Auction.

First sight of Burgundy
An early look: Burgundy's Alexandria campus before the school opened.

"The Great Adventure Had Begun"

An account of the founding of Burgundy by Jan Leslie Cook, chair of the 50th anniversary committee, originally published in 1995-1996 as Constant Comment newsletter columns.

1946 was the year of the first atomic bomb tests, the Nuremberg trials, and a national housing shortage. Scientists unveiled the first computer, dubbed the ENIAC, to almost universal indifference. Shoppers in Washington, DC, rioted over a shortage of nylon hose, and the cost of chicken soared to $1 a pound.

It wasn’t chicken but education that concerned Burgundy’s founding parents. Public schools were overcrowded and uninspiring. A group of 19 families, many involved with Beverley Hills Preschool in Alexandria, established Burgundy Farm as a “democratic school community” with parents as active participants. In their prospectus, founders articulated beliefs that “an intelligent and sensitive reaction to human existence requires more than mastery of material things and the worldly success of the individual,” and “good education is education that best helps the child to gradually take over responsibility for himself and develop a sense of responsibility for others.” ...

Everything starts with meetings, and so did Burgundy: meetings to explore interest in a cooperative elementary school, meetings to figure out finances, meetings to draft a charter. Twenty-nine founders signed articles of incorporation on June 10, 1946. With just weeks to go before the new Burgundy Farm Country Day School would open, they tackled the tasks of hiring faculty and transforming a derelict dairy farm into an educational institution.

This idealistic group sought “a creative approach to living,” love of children and commitment to progressive education in their professional staff. Three teachers, including director/head teacher Bea Alt, an aide, and a cook were hired.

Founders Harold and Kathryn Stone and the Rev. and Mrs. William Basom had purchased the 10-acre Burgundy parcel from the federal government and leased it to the school. Idyllic though the site was, certain realities had to be faced having less to do with dairy cows than former tenants who had tossed trash about the place for years …

It was decided that the upper house would be reserved for the caretaker, as it is today, and the other would be converted into classrooms, library, kitchen and office. Financial gifts from friends and family boosted the meager capital budget. Kathryn Stone’s father, Ralph H. Meyers, a retired contractor, assessed the carpentry skills of parent volunteers and stepped in to become Burgundy’s first caretaker. Under his supervision, weekend crews that included a journalist, radio commentator, minister, government official, university professor, scientist and military officer demolished, framed, cleaned and painted.

On September 16, 1946, Burgundy welcomed 33 students. The great adventure had begun.