JoAnn Leight: Very first student to enroll at Laurel Ridge

Dinosaur Land-Joann Leight
JoAnn Leight at Dinosaur Land, which was founded by her father.

The decision to go back to school as an adult student led to a long career as a kindergarten teacher for JoAnn Leight.

With all four of her children finally in school, Leight decided to apply for a job as a part-time teacher’s aide for Frederick County Public Schools. The hiring manager suggested she instead apply to study at Laurel Ridge.

“I had no idea I would be the first person to enroll at the college,” Leight said.

She was 32 when she started attending Laurel Ridge. Before her first day of classes, she had to obtain her GED.

“My husband made good money, and with four kids, you didn’t go to work,” Leight said.

She recalled that in the beginning, Laurel Ridge consisted of just Cornerstone Hall – and that wasn’t completely done.

“Probably by the end of winter, we had glass in the windows in the student lounge,” Leight said. “Before that, there was plastic wrap up, and it would blow when the wind blew. That was our lunchroom. They had a Coke machine and a snacks machine, that was it.”

Everyone brought a packed lunch and ate together. She remembers students being close to faculty with class sizes smaller than those at four-year colleges and universities.

“I had wonderful professors, Dr. [Beulah] McGovern and Miss [Nancy] Penney. They would really help you,” said Leight, adding, “It had been 15 years since I had been in high school. There were three of us that were the more-mature students. All three of us were studying education. We always sat up front.

“The library didn’t have a whole lot of books, but there were boxes of books. I don’t remember there being any computers. Everything had to be typewritten. Dr. McCoy was always very friendly. He would come talk to us. We would see him in the hall.”

She remembers collecting and mounting wildflowers for a collection for her biology class with Professor Rob Simpson.

“I had a lot of homework,” Leight said. “We sat at the kitchen table, and I did my homework and my kids did their homework every night.”

Her mother-in-law lived across the street from the family and would meet them getting off of the school bus in the afternoons while Leight was in class.

Leight graduated with her associate degree in early childhood education in 1972. She commuted to James Madison University for the next two years, earning her bachelor’s degree, and went on to her earn her master’s degree in 1979.

After earning her bachelor’s degree, Leight taught kindergarten at Bass Hoover Elementary School for 28 years, retiring in 2002. She had some of her Laurel Ridge professors’ children in her classroom over the years.

Two of Leight’s children went on to Laurel Ridge. One of her grandchildren attended Laurel Ridge after high school and a second took Laurel Ridge classes in high school through dual enrollment.

Although she is retired from teaching, Leight still works. She and her sister, Barbara Seldon, own Dinosaur Land in White Post. The longtime local attraction was built by their late father, Joseph Geraci. He also started Tri-Mountain Winery.

“It keeps me active,” Leight said.