When Church Creek Elementary School opened its doors to students in 1994, Barbara Douglas was the principal and it was an exciting time at the school.
Twenty years later, another Douglas – Christina Douglas – is at the helm and the school is just as exciting, said one teacher who has been there since it opened.
"Church Creek opened in 1994 under the supervision of Mrs. Barbara Douglas, who was all about cougar pride, family and school community. The community was so excited to have a new school that they worked so very hard to get. It was a very exciting time for teachers, staff and students," kindergarten teacher Tammy Greenwood said.
As most schools do, Church Creek has undergone many changes over the years, but has come full circle under Christina Douglas.
"The energy and the excitement that was apparent when the school opened can be seen today. The teachers and staff are always there for students and striving for the best," Greenwood said.
She was among the five staff members who were part of a 20th anniversary reception in late April at the Chesapeake Center at Harford Community College in Bel Air.
First-grade teacher Barbara Durso, fifth-grade teacher Janie Moore, paraeducator Janet Gross and lead secretary Irene Yeakel have all been there since Day One.
An addition to Church Creek, where the school mascot is the cougar, opened in 2003 and today the school has a capacity for 789 students; enrollment is at 774. The school has six full-day kindergarten classes and four to six classrooms each for grades one to five. The school, which has 54 classroom teachers, has two computer labs.
The school's mission is to "challenge, inspire and support each other to be life-long learners. We work together to dream big and prepare for a better tomorrow," according to its website, https://www.edline.net/pages/Church_Creek_Elementary.
It's vision is to "Teach each other to reach our fullest potential. Celebrate suCCESs!"
Much of the school's success over the last 20 years was celebrated at the reception, which brought together school staff from throughout the years, Assistant Principal Ayn Ford said.
"It was really nice because when I joined the staff, everyone kept saying this was our 20th anniversary, it would be nice if we return to our roots," Ford, who came to Church Creek this school year, said. "We wanted to bring back people who used to work here, really celebrate our history and traditions. We worked really hard at doing that."
Former students also returned, including Shi Scott, an American Idol finalist, and two high schoolers.
Kirthika Ramakrishnan, who attended Church Creek from 2005 to 2008 and is a student at the Science and Math Academy, spoke at the reception about how she was new not just to the community, but to the United States.
"She said she was very shy, coming into a school, an area where she didn't know anyone. And Church Creek really made her feel comfortable," Ford said. "She said it was a very warm and welcoming atmosphere. She really made friends and really helped her being here in a new area."
The first Douglas to lead the school - Barbara - told guests at the reception the school really was a family.
"There were a lot of newly married teachers with kids, or not married, and this really became their family," Ford said Barbara Douglas, who is retired, relayed to the reception guests.
Many of the people associated with the school have joked that it's gone back to the Douglas reign.
"Here I am at the school [Barbara] started," Christina Douglas said last week.
Barbara Douglas was Christina Douglas' mentor.
When Barbara left Church Creek, she became principal at Magnolia Elementary, "where I was a teacher who wanted to be a school administrator," Christina Douglas said.
"She was a mentor of mine in what it was like to be a principal, what that life was like and what kind of principal you need to be to have a successful school," she said. "I learned a tremendous amount from her."
Christina Douglas knew Barbara Douglas as a supervisor.
"She was very regal, her voice was captivating. I would look at her and say 'Wow, I want to be like her someday,'" she said.
When Church Creek opened, Christina Douglas applied there, but was turned down. She applied again a few years later and watched, as she left, Barbara Douglas throw her resume in the trash can.
Christina Douglas was assigned to Church Creek as an assistant principal five years ago and when the former principal left, in April 2014, she was appointed principal.
"It has been wonderful. This school has school pride like you've never seen. People love this school. I think they love it because they fought so hard for it," she said.
Christina Douglas has heard and read stories of how people petitioned, spoke at county council meetings and how they fought for the Church Creek school to be opened, and at its location.
"That school spirit has not gone away. I think because people in this community have stayed. They've raised children here, their children having children and raising their children here," she said.
When the school opened, it was given American and Maryland flags to fly. Over the years, those flags have been moved around and lost track of. When Christina Douglas found them, she displayed them in the main hallway, "because where else would they go?"
"People stopped and cried. They said 'the flags started there and now they're back in their rightful place,'" she said.
There is a real sense of community in the school, and people treat it like it's a member of their family. If the grass needs to be cut, someone will come on a weekend and do it. If trash needs to be picked up on the trail, the PTA will put out a Facebook message and it's picked up.
"They just do anything for this school. They come up and just take care of it," she said.
People are around the school 24 hours a day, seven days a week, walking the dogs, pushing children in strollers, learning to drive and ride bikes; "people use this place as if it's their own backyard," she said.
"Our motto is celebrate success, so we don't focus on the negative," Christina Douglas said. "That's not how we define ourselves at Church Creek. We really live by that motto. It's been deeply rooted."