DUMFRIES, Va. — The sturdiness of Robeson County native Betty DeVane Covington’s legacy in Virginia’s education system is comparable only to the foundation of the building now named in her honor, Covington-Harper Elementary.
The school that opened for the 2017-2018 school year celebrates Covington and John Harper Jr., the first African American elected to Prince William County’s school board. Both were honored for their dedication to students and education throughout their careers.
Covington-Harper Elementary, which is in Dumfries, Virginia, is not the only structure in the area to bear Covington’s name.
Inside Dumfries Elementary, also in Dumfries, Virginia, where Covington spent 10 years teaching, is the Betty DeVane Covington Library. Covington served as principal for nearly two decades at Kilby Elementary, which now houses the Betty D. Covington Multi-purpose Room.
These only top the long list of accolades Covington has garnered during her 50-year career.
But Covington stays grounded.
“I’m still that Robeson County country girl,” Covington said.
Covington said she grew up on a farm with parents who instilled in her the importance of hard work, honesty and respect. As a young girl she helped her father in the tobacco field, where he would constantly remind her that “her ticket out of the field to a better life was education.”
With school her primary focus, Covington involved herself in as many extracurricular activities as possible. While enrolled at St. Pauls High School, she served as a class officer, a marching band majorette and was a star basketball player all four years.
During her school years in Robeson County Covington, she discovered a passion for education and developed her teaching aspiration, a goal she would achieve upon graduating from East Carolina University in 1959 and starting her first teaching job at Tar Heel High School.
After meeting husband, John McRae Covington, and relocating to Prince William County, Covington set her sights on making the transition from teacher to administrator to school board member, all of which she checked off during the next half century.
It wasn’t always an easy ride.
“You better know if you step in the ring you’re going to take some hits,” Covington said about the struggles she faced throughout her career.
“The important thing is to remember not to take it too personally,” she said.
One struggle was as a woman in the workforce. While great strides in equality have been made over the course of her five-decade career — specifically in equal pay — Covington recalls how she felt the issue’s sting firsthand.
In 1969, Covington was pregnant while employed as a teacher and, by law, was forced out of work, without pay, four months into her pregnancy. Her replacement became ill and Covington was called back into work, but she was paid a substitute’s salary and received no benefits — for her own job.
Years later Covington discovered that a man years younger than her and with half the experience was being paid a substantially larger amount.
Her personal experience inspired Covington to become a self-proclaimed spokesperson for women in the workplace, issues she championed during her four consecutive terms on the Prince William County school board.
Covington recalled advice a mentor offered her early in her career: “You’re going to have to work twice as hard for equal recognition.”
In spite of the hardships, she remained focused on what was really important, the students and their education.
During her time on the school board, Covington took part in creating more career opportunities as they instituted welding, culinary arts and cyber security programs in the curriculum at both Potomac and Forest Park high schools in Prince William County.
While working hard for education in Virginia, Covington made sure to keep in touch with her roots. She returned frequently to Robeson County to visit her sister, Christine DeVane Monroe, to shop and to eat at Pier 41 in Lumberton.
Her oldest son, Michael Covington, followed in her footsteps and is currently a teacher at Potomac High School in Dumfries.
Now retired, she frequently visits Covington-Harper Elementary school, often stopping in to read to students and other times to speak with educators.
When asked if she had any advice for people pursuing a career in education Covington said, “You’ve got to love teaching for the kids. Education of kids today is the future.”
Morgan Bishop can be reached at email@example.com.