Seeing the Light at Cunningham Elementary

By Ruthann Carr, Correspondent

Even though Cunningham Elementary is now The Light Academy, it’s still the community’s school.

Joyce Parr, principal and founder of the academy, said she feels blessed to have the building and grounds. She shows it by letting local teams practice on the baseball field and neighbors park buses and RVs in the parking lot.

Everywhere she goes people tell Parr their memories of attending, teaching at or helping build the low-slung brick building off Route 6.

They thank her for keeping it alive.

To thank the community, Parr is holding a Cunningham Elementary Homecoming at the Light Academy Oct. 14 from 3-5 p.m.
There will be a ribbon-cutting, door prizes, refreshments, tours of the school and an old-fashioned cake walk.

“I want former Cunningham Elementary students, teachers and staff to come with their memories and mementos and see how we’re using the building,” Parr said.
Parr and her staff teach 50 students from prekindergarten to 12th grade.
When The Light Academy opened in 2014 there were 17 students. Parr rented a building off of Slice Road near Lake Monticello.

The year before, the Fluvanna County School Board voted to close Cunningham and Columbia Elementary Schools for budget reasons. The county took over management of the properties and tried to sell them, to no avail.

In June 2017 the county lowered the asking price and Parr got the building for $118,750, she said.

“Most important is we have grass to play on. There is room to run. I love the basketball court and the ballfield for the students to play kickball on,” Parr said.

On a recent visit, Parr told many “God stories” in which she saw God’s hand in providing needed furniture and equipment.
Like the copier for $25 that had an error message when she first bought it. Parr called the company to fix it and they asked her to tell them the error code it was showing.

“I went to turn it on and the error code was gone,” she said, laughing. “I guess jostling it in the move might have reset it.”

Of course another copier she bought worked when she picked it up but didn’t when she got it back to the school.

But Parr prefers focusing on her blessings.

Like the lockers lining the halls.

The students needed a place to put their belongings between classes and the lockers that had been there were long gone.

“I was following a place in Richmond selling lockers on an auction site,” Parr said. “I put in a bid and watched it for a while. A few days later I checked on it and someone had outbid me. When I got home and tried to start my computer to up my bid, my computer wouldn’t work.”

The other bidder got the lockers, then put them back up for sale on the same site for quite a bit more money, she said.

“I was so upset. I said, ‘God, you know we needed those lockers. This guy just wanted them to make money.’”

But Parr shrugged her shoulders and said she finally let it go.

Shortly after, Parr went to the University of Virginia to check out some of their equipment for sale. She told them she was looking for white boards and lockers.

The man helping her pointed to some workers who were taking down big metal lockers.

“He said, ‘Would those do? You can have them. Since they’re here now taking them down, they can bring them to your school and set them up, too.’

Parr said she couldn’t believe it.

She got more, bigger, nicer lockers for free with free delivery and installation.

Like a game show hostess, Parr showed off the blue lockers. “They’re easier to open,” she said. “You can clean under them and look! – some of them are double.”

Parr said one day the man who used to be the custodian at Cunningham Elementary stopped by. He showed here which keys opened which doors, which was the master key and told her the importance of not buffing the floor that sloped down to the wing with the cafeteria.

“I’ve had so many people tell me they’re happy this is a school again,” Parr said. “I’m so grateful to the Lord for giving us this building we want to give back to the community. It’s a place for people to have birthday parties or family reunions.”

To find out more about the Homecoming, go to

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