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Aug. 20, 2008

Rogers loses battle with brain tumor

by Sophie Schwadron, Online Editor-in-Chief and Kiera Zitelman, Online Editor-in-Chief
Blair Magnet teacher Leslie "Les" Rogers died on July 24 after a six-year battle with a brain tumor, according to Magnet Coordinator Dennis Heidler. Rogers, a longtime Earth Systems Science teacher, is survived by his wife Linda; together, they formed an active pair in the Blair community.

In December 2002, Rogers was diagnosed with an initial brain tumor, which was successfully treated. Five years later, a routine scan showed two lesions in the same area of his brain. In January 2008, he underwent surgery, and went on leave for the rest of the school year. Around June, Rogers went to George Washington University Hospital (GWUH) in Washington, D.C., to be treated for a seizure. Though he was scheduled for surgery at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., Rogers was infected with a virus at GWUH and was unable to go to Duke. "That was a real setback," fellow Magnet teacher Ralph Bunday recalled.
Leslie "Les" Rogers, shown here in his 2007 - 2008 Blair yearbook picture, passed away July 24. <i>Photo courtesy of Linda Rogers.</i>
Leslie "Les" Rogers, shown here in his 2007 - 2008 Blair yearbook picture, passed away July 24. Photo courtesy of Linda Rogers.


Rogers was then transferred to Suburban Hospital in Silver Spring, and then to Casey House, a Rockville hospice, in early July. After less than two weeks at Casey House, Rogers passed away. "It was a real long hard fight with the brain tumor," Bunday said. "He was a courageous man."

Principal Darryl Williams only knew Rogers for just over one school year, but recognized the positive energy he fed Blair. "He and I met my first or second week on the job. His commitment and his desire for teaching students and learning stood out the most," he said. "He is truly going to be missed based on the work he did inside the school and as being instrumental in supporting the community."

Rogers came to Blair from Magruder High School in 1997, after teaching there for two years. Magnet math teacher Eric Walstein remembered Rogers as a teaching force from his start in the Magnet. "I know some teachers at Magruder were very, very sorry to lose him," he said. "He was considered to be a marvelous teacher." Rogers taught hundreds of total students in three classes - Earth Systems Science (ESS), a tenth grade Magnet requirement, and Astronomy and Geographic Informational Systems, Magnet electives. Longtime Blair science teacher Janice Blitz will take over Rogers's ESS classes; the elective classes were dropped for next year due to lack of student interest.

Born in Birmingham, Rogers moved frequently as a child. He attended high school in Barbersville, W. Va. and after graduating in 1975, worked in coal drilling in the Appalachian Mountains. He later immigrated to Australia, continuing his drilling work, and returned to the U.S. in 1982 after his father, then retired in North Carolina, was diagnosed with cancer. The next year, Rogers attended East Carolina University to receive a Master of Arts degree in Education.

Rogers had a unique perspective on teaching, Walstein said. "When he came to the Magnet he took over the Earth Sciences and he put it in to his own perspective," he said. "He was not the kind of guy who was going to do things just because others did it."
Rogers helped coordinate the building of the labyrinth outside Blair, pictured during construction last summer. Susie Branson
Rogers helped coordinate the building of the labyrinth outside Blair, pictured during construction last summer.


"His philosophy was hands-on teaching getting kids actively involved," Linda said. As a warm-up in Astronomy class, for example, he had students create constellations on the ceiling using glow-in-the-dark stars. He believed in technology as a powerful teaching tool, incorporating online resources and advanced imaging software into his lesson plans.

Fellow Magnet teachers said they admired Rogers's boldness. "He didn't go in there for popularity," Bunday said. "He never really got personable with students except when he found out they were in need of something."

Sometimes his teaching methods, heavy on the scientific method of experimentation and discovery, made students apprehensive about the class. "Kids usually complained but at the end they realized they understand Earth Sciences," Walstein said.

Rogers didn't limit his contributions to the classroom. In 2007, he and his wife started design and construction of the labyrinth that now exists at the corner of University Boulevard and Colesville Road. The twists and turns of a labyrinth represent the journey of life and the solving offers means of meditation. "It was an idea I was wanting to try to see about building," Linda said. "Mr. Rogers got involved by approaching Principal Gainous." He aimed to use the labyrinth in his astronomy curriculum to teach archaeoastronomy.

Gainous supported the idea, and it became a project that helped the couple find peace despite Rogers's sickness. "It was intricate, yet it was balanced," Linda said of the design. "We both worked on it together." The labyrinth was completed in October of that year, and this June the couple was presented with a surprise dedication, according to the Takoma Park-Silver Spring Gazette.

The labyrinth was not the only architectural mark Rogers left on Blair; in 2006, he led his astronomy class to design and build the working sundial in the student courtyard. "I don't know if he intended that to be his memorial, but they will now be seen as that," Heidler said.
Rogers, shown here in 1991, taught at Blair for over ten years. <i>Photo courtesy of Linda Rogers.</i>
Rogers, shown here in 1991, taught at Blair for over ten years. Photo courtesy of Linda Rogers.


In their own Woodmoor neighborhood, Rogers and his wife volunteered in their garden club to help beautify the area. When a tree fell in a park during a storm, the Rogers couple took responsibility for the cleanup. "They took it on themselves," Bunday said. "He and his wife created a path through the park."

Rogers also enjoyed riding his classic Harley-Davidson motorcycle. "Mr. Rogers had a fun side to him," Heidler said.

Rogers never let his health conditions get in the way of teaching, even when his diagnosis interrupted a semester of school. "I didn't think about it until I felt well enough to trust myself not to dwell," Rogers told Silver Chips in 2003, between more serious bouts of illness. "I didn't want to dwell. I still have plans. I still have dreams. The cancer is just a pothole in the road."

Principal Williams hopes to coordinate memorial projects for Rogers in September. "I really want to focus on how to pay tribute to a man who touched many people," he said. Williams is gathering feedback from teachers, students, alumni and the Rogers family on how best to commemorate Rogers's life and career in the context of Blair.

A memorial service is planned for Sept. 7, according to Linda Rogers. More information, including time and location, will be released as plans are finalized.



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  • yikes on August 4, 2008 at 10:28 PM
    Why was the posting SO late?
  • SCO alumna on August 7, 2008 at 1:30 PM
    'yikes' has a point - it would have been nice to see at least a brief notice like this one the day of or at least day after. I know it's summer vacation, but the press never rests!
  • stretch pants on August 7, 2008 at 7:23 PM
    I'm pretty sure they wanted to post the full story earlier, like within a couple of days after Rogers' death but trying to get hold of Magnet contacts was difficult. I don't think they planned on writing this really, really short brief at all but I guess they should have foreseen that something like this would happen. Oh well, now they know.

    RIP Rogers.
  • a close friend (View Email) on August 19, 2008 at 2:12 PM
    I knew him personally and he was a really nice guy, it was too bad he passed.

    RIP Les.
  • Constance Teage (View Email) on August 23, 2008 at 10:54 PM
    I am so sad to hear this. I pray that God blessess and comforts his family!
    C/O 2003
  • alum on August 31, 2008 at 8:58 PM
    Mr Rogers was an intelligent and caring teacher who we will never forget.
  • Another magnet. on September 1, 2008 at 4:17 PM
    Mr. Rogers has tried to grow a group of students who will work and create independent lives though his classes to change the world. However, some of the students thought they were smart and they did not care. These students were winning and complained. Mr. Rogers loved earth science and connecting subjects, but the administrators did not care and get rid all of his classes.

    Now, Mr. Rogers is no longer with us. What did we do to him? What are we going to do to continue his wishes.

    I hoped all magnet students and administrators would understand this comments.

    RIP Mr. Rogers. We missed you.
  • 08 magnet on September 4, 2008 at 10:27 PM
    He did more for us than we realize.
    RIP Mr. Rogers, RIP
  • Ben Green on September 5, 2008 at 9:31 AM
    I had Mr. Rogers for the Earth Systems Science class and the GIS class. As others have said, he was not a conventional teacher and truly believed that students should learn to think for themselves.
    As an earth science major (meteorology) in college, I can truly appreciate all that he did for Blair and his students.
  • alumna '06 on February 4, 2009 at 3:34 PM
    Mr. Rogers taught in unconventional ways that, now looking back after three years of college, were more advanced and up-and-coming than we realized. He worked so hard to teach his students something important, and when I think back to high school, some of the projects we did in his classes are the ones I most clearly still remember. Thank you, Mr. Rogers.
  • Andrew Tourtellot '04 (View Email) on March 16, 2009 at 9:08 PM
    RIP Mr. Rogers. I always enjoyed your enthusiasm and innovation. I hope to come back soon to see your permanent contributions to the Blair campus, the sundial and labyrinth, which came after my time.
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