It's still taking Juliet Fisher a while to process that she's attended her last planning board meeting, her last town hall, her last council meeting in the long struggle to lobby for an expansion at Stoneleigh Elementary School.
But as she sat in the front row, with school and elected officials at a groundbreaking Wednesday morning, she began making the adjustment to present tense.
"I guess I don't have to say 'cautiously optimistic' anymore. Now I can say optimistic that we're moving forward. It's a wonderful achievement," said Fisher, a member of the parents group Stoneleigh United. "You still have to pinch yourself in some ways."
There was much praise for the parents as the Stoneleigh Elementary community gathered to mark the beginning of the school's long-awaited renovation and addition.
"I'd like to come back one day and I'd like to just marvel at what you've been able to achieve as a school," said superintendent Joe Hairston. "This community is a great community with a rich legacy. The population continues to grow because of your success."
The Stoneleigh groundbreaking was one of Hairston's final school events before he retires at the end of the month.
Over the last several years, parents like Fisher had to lobby county and state officials for funding for the renovation. Recently, the Baltimore County Council approved for the project.
"It really was not a hard decision for us to make," County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said. "It's not only going to serve the needs of today's generation of students but it's going to continue to stabilize and strengthen the community we call Stoneleigh."
Kamenetz said the renovated school will be fully air-conditioned—an applause line for the students and teachers.
The $18.8 million project will add 20,000 square feet of space to the school and is set to be completed in time for the first day of school in fall of 2013. While the work is going on at the 83-year-old school, Stoneleigh's students will be shuttled to the old Carver Center building in northern Towson, in what principal Christine Warner has called a 180-day field trip.
Warner and other administrators got the students ready to set off for that field by dressing up as characters from "The Wizard of Oz" and leading students in a song about the move to the tune of "We're Off to See The Wizard."
Warner—who said it was the first groundbreaking ceremony she's had the chance to watch—used the day to teach students a lesson about advocacy.
"Boys and girls, advocacy is about supporting. Advocacy is about helping. Advocacy is about coming together as a group of people to do what's right for one another," Warner said. "Advocacy is what's making this renovation and addition happen."
Fisher can attest to that.
"It's kind of showed me that community activism is alive and well and you really can make it if you try," said Fisher, who has one child graduating Stoneleigh this week and another entering third grade. "It's been an incredible journey."