52°Scattered Clouds

by Ethan Rothstein — September 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm 387 0

McKinley Elementary School (photo via Arlington Public Schools)McKinley Elementary School will grow by about 241 seats thanks to a $20.5 million expansion approved by the Arlington County Board at its meeting on Saturday.

The expansion will add a 33,040-square-foot addition in the northeast corner of the school, at 1030 N. McKinley Road, and smaller additions in the southwest corner and at the main entrance to the school. The project is expected to be complete by the beginning of the 2016-2017 school year.

An expansion of this size would, according to the county’s Zoning Ordinance, necessitate that Arlington Public Schools add 108 parking spaces. But because open space and a number of mature trees surround McKinley, the County Board approved plans to add just 20 spaces to the existing 36 spaces. Even those 20 spaces were the source of controversy; the county’s Planning Commission and Transportation Commission recommended adding no spaces and instead using street parking to accommodate the additional staff and parent vehicles.

Advocates from the school and community who were a part of the planning process, including McKinley Principal Colin Brown, spoke in favor of adding the 20 spaces.

“I’ve said from the start that we enjoy a fantastic day-to-day relationship with the neighbors and the community,” Brown told the Board. “At this point, the neighborhood is able to handle the volume of staff and parents parking on the street given the current capacity of the parking lot. We’re at a tipping point. We need to maintain a fine and delicate balance.”

Ultimately, County Manager Barbara Donnellan recommended keeping the 20 spaces in the plan, and the County Board approved it unanimously. Only three members of the general public spoke, two of whom, School Board candidate Audrey Clement and Jim Hurysz, decried APS’ inability to expand schools “up, not out,” which would save green space. Despite that opposition, County Board Chair Jay Fisette marveled at the lack of animosity toward the plan, which marked the expansion of Ashlawn Elementary School.

“I think it is quite a testament to this process that we had three speakers,” he said. “This is one of the easiest things I’ve seen to come before the Board.”

To make way for the school expansion, 78 trees will be removed – 12 of which are gingko trees that will be transplanted elsewhere in the county. Nearly 150 trees will be planted once construction is complete, according to APS Director of Design and Construction Scott Prisco.

“We feel strongly this is a sensitive approach to the neighbors, and it will meet our needs as a school system,” Prisco said.

In total, the expansion will mean a net increase of 32,250 square feet and include 10 new classrooms, two art rooms, two music rooms and expand the gymnasium to have enough space for the entire, expanded school. The expansion will also add a stage. Construction will include pedestrian improvements on N. McKinley Road and 11th Street N.

Photo via APS

by Andrea Swalec — September 19, 2014 at 2:00 pm 2,220 0

APS Walk and Bike to School Day(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools are serving more young, unaccompanied immigrants.

The estimated number of unaccompanied, juvenile immigrants in APS jumped from 10 children last school year to “approximately” 80 children this school year so far, the district said Friday.

The release of the APS data on youth age 18 and under who travelled without a parent or guardian follows a national report on unaccompanied minors issued this week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. That report stated that through July 31, 133 unaccompanied minors were transferred to the care of family members or other sponsors in Arlington County.

The 133 count potentially includes youth below school age, in private schools, home schooled or not enrolled in school, APS pointed out.

APS served enough young, recent immigrants in the 2013-2014 school year to be eligible for an additional $43,000 in state funding, the APS statement said. The school system saw an increase of 141 immigrant students from the ’12-’13 to ’13-’14 school year, the statement said. These youth range in age from 3 to 21, were born outside the U.S. and had not attended school in the country for more than three academic years. This category includes but is not exclusive to youth who came to the U.S. unaccompanied.

Additionally, APS has devoted additional resources this school year to students who have had little formal schooling and read below grade level in any language.

The Arlington Career Center reinstituted a previously offered “Accelerated Literacy” program that draws high school students from across the county. Two more teachers were hired, and funds were redirected to serve youth in this program, according to the statement.

Washington-Lee High School is also offering the literacy curriculum. Additional literacy support is available to elementary and middle school students, the statement said.

The county Dept. of Human Services connects youth and their sponsors with medical and behavior health care, English classes, legal aid and limited emergency funds, spokesman Kurt Larrick said. Like all new APS students, unaccompanied minors new to the district are screened for tuberculosis and required to have a set of immunizations, he added.

The HHS report noted that many of the unaccompanied youth have survived trauma.

“These children may have histories of abuse or may be seeking safety from threats of violence,” it said. “They may have been trafficked or smuggled.”

School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez said in July that APS should prepare for a “crisis situation” in providing services to unaccompanied minors. County Board member Walter Tejada said then that Arlington was preparing to serve them.

APS does not request and is not required by law to ask students to report their immigration status, the statement said.

(File photo)

by Ethan Rothstein — September 17, 2014 at 4:55 pm 1,555 0

Barcroft Elementary School 2-19-14Some parents of Barcroft Elementary School students are concerned about Arlington Public Schools’ plan to expand the school if a controversial plan to build a new elementary school next to Thomas Jefferson Middle School falls through.

The School Board says it’s their preference to build a new school adjacent to Thomas Jefferson, at 125 S. Old Glebe Road. Amid protests from those who want to preserve the parkland next to the school, the School Board has appointed a working group to determine the feasibility of that plan. The group will present its findings to the School Board in January.

If the TJ site cannot be developed, APS’ backup plan is to expand Barcroft and Randolph elementary schools. Barcroft (625 S. Wakefield Street) is currently at a 460-seat capacity and the expansion would add 265 seats. Randolph (1306 S. Quincy Street) has a 484-seat capacity and would expand to seat 725 students.

While APS struggles to keep up with rising school enrollment, county and school officials have warned that there’s precious little open land left in Arlington to build new schools.

Some Barcroft parents, however, are crying foul over being targeted for expansion. They’re worried about the effect it would have on the surrounding community and how the school would be able to adjust to the influx of space and students.

“Barcroft has tireless, dedicated administrators and teachers, but they face serious challenges,” one parent, Sarah Freitas Waldman, told ARLnow.com in an email. “I feel the top issue is whether it is fair for the community and the students and whether it is responsible policy for APS to propose a plan that places the entire burden of South Arlington’s overcrowding on two small schools with ongoing issues of student performance.”

Barcroft’s performance on the state Standard of Learning exams has been dwindling in recent years, culminating in only 71 percent of students passing the English reading exam and 68 passing math, compared to the state average of 74 percent for each subject and the Arlington-wide average of 81 percent in reading and 83 percent in math. Randolph performed about the same as Barcroft, with 61 percent passing English reading and 70 percent passing in math.

“Barcroft consistently underperforms the County in terms of student achievement on the Virginia SOLs,” Waldman wrote. “Is it wise educational policy to expand a program by 50 percent when it is already struggling to meet the needs of its students?”

Waldman said parents were distributing flyers in the neighborhood this past weekend, including bilingual flyers, to notify residents and other parents of APS’ plans. APS facilities staff will be conducting a meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. Barcroft to inform parents of the process to address the district’s capacity crisis. For those who can’t make it, there will be another meeting at 7:00 p.m. on Sept. 22.

by ARLnow.com — September 11, 2014 at 10:00 am 1,237 0

Flags on the Arlington County courthouse and detention facility buildings (photo courtesy Bill Ross)

APS To Use ‘Big Data’ to Prevent Dropouts — Arlington Public Schools held a contest this summer for “big data” companies to analyze its student performance data, and plans to use the newly-released results to predict which students are at risk of dropping out of school. The winning company, Deep Learning Analytics, found that APS should refine its data collecting techniques. In addition, it found that, along with attendance, behavior and coursework, socioeconomic standing is a predictive indicator for school dropouts. [Arlington Public Schools]

Military Jet to Land at DCA — The Scorpion, a new military fighter jet, will land at Reagan National Airport on Saturday. The jet — manufactured by Textron AirLand LLC — will stay in a DCA hangar for a week, for marketing purposes. [InsideNova]

County Launches New Blog — Arlington County has launched “Natural Arlington,” a new blog to discuss environmental issues in the county. Recent topics include a discussion of green frogs, the environmental issues with dog poop, and a post about the sale of native plants at local nurseries. [Natural Arlington]

Road Closure for Street Fair — Part of 9th Street S. will be closed in the area of Walter Reed Drive for the annual Prio Bangla Potho Mela street fair. The event is taking place Saturday morning. [Arlington County]

Photo courtesy Bill Ross

by ARLnow.com — September 5, 2014 at 9:30 am 1,020 0

Sunrise at the Iwo Jima memorial (Flickr pool by Mike Darnay)

APS Enrollment Still Rising — This fall, Pre-K through 12 enrollment in Arlington Public Schools is expected to rise to 23,956 students, up from 23,316 last year and 22,657 two years ago. Despite accommodating more students, Superintendent Patrick Murphy said the first day of school was “a big success.” [InsideNova]

Letter From Arlington to Mrs. Wilson — Arlington County wrote to President Woodrow Wilson’s widow in 1926 to ask permission to name a new school in her late husband’s memory. The resulting Wilson School is located at 1601 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. The school building may be torn down in the near future to make way for a new school, to help Arlington Public Schools add more capacity. [Preservation Arlington]

APS Has Football Concussion Plan — Arlington Public Schools has implemented a system-wide concussion management plan for high school football players. In addition, APS is the lone school system in the area to report changing over to only the highest-rated concussion-preventing helmets over the summer. [WUSA9 -- Warning: Auto-play video with audio on]

D.C. Discusses Bike Ban on Streetcar Path — The District of Columbia is considering banning bicycles in the streetcar guideway on H Street NE. Instead, cyclists would be encouraged to utilize bike routes on road parallel to H Street, even though some complain that those roads are in poor condition for bicycling. [NBC Washington -- Warning: Auto-play video with audio on]

Flickr pool photo by Mike Darnay

by ARLnow.com — September 3, 2014 at 9:35 am 1,492 0

Glebe Road storm clouds (Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann)

New Security Measures at Schools — This school year, Arlington Public Schools has three additional police officers assigned as school resource officers at elementary schools. The school system has also added 30 new video cameras in secondary schools, which can be viewed by the county’s 911 call center and by school resource officers. [Washington Post]

Stamos Back in the ACDC Fold — Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos has apparently been welcomed back into the good graces of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Stamos voluntarily stepped down from the committee after she endorsed independent candidate John Vihstadt over Democrat Alan Howze. [InsideNova]

Bracket Room to Celebrate Anniversary — Contrary to the pessimistic predictions of its critics, Clarendon sports bar The Bracket Room is about to celebrate its one year anniversary and seems to be thriving. Former Bachelorette cast member Chris Bukowski opened the bar, at 1210 N. Garfield Street, on Sept. 5, 2013. Bracket Room is planning a birthday party on Saturday, Sept. 6. [Clarendon Nights]

Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann

by ARLnow.com — August 27, 2014 at 4:45 pm 7,013 0

Apple Macbook Air laptop displaying the Arlington Public Schools website(Updated at 9:55 a.m.) Arlington Public Schools plans to give a new Macbook Air to every 9th grader in Wakefield, Washington-Lee and Yorktown high schools this school year.

The school system negotiated a deal with Apple that allowed it to purchase the laptops with a portion of the existing $1.2 million APS budget for annual high school computer purchases, Assistant Superintendent for Information Services Raj Adusumilli told ARLnow.com today. Adusumilli declined to reveal the exact cost, citing confidential negotiations.

The plan may come as a bit of a surprise — while APS has had a standing strategic goal of providing one computing device for every student by 2017, earlier this year the School Board shot down Superintendent Patrick Murphy’s proposed $200,000 in supplemental funding for iPads and Google Chromebooks for 2nd and 6th graders. With less than a week to go before the first day of school, APS has still not publicly touted the laptop purchase. The school system answered questions about it in response to inquiries by ARLnow.com, which was sent a non-public document by an anonymous parent.

Adusumilli said the Macbook purchase wasn’t finalized until early July. The devices will be rolled out to students in phases, as a pilot program, at the discretion of teachers and principals.

“It’s going to be done in phases, so it’s not like on the first week of school all the students will get it,” said Adusumilli. “The devices are going to be handed out to teachers first, who will be trained to use the devices in instruction. That’s happening in the first week of school. Devices started getting sent to teachers yesterday.”

For now, only the three Arlington high schools are getting the computers; APS is still working on a plan for laptops at the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program.

Currently, APS has shared computers in classrooms, with a 1.6:1 student-to-computer ratio throughout the district, according to Adusumilli. APS has been upgrading its network and WiFi capabilities in recent years in anticipation of moving toward a 1:1 ratio, he said.

Instead of computers being shared and remaining in classrooms, each student will have his or her own “personalized” Macbook. Initially the computers will remain at school (in lockers, when students are not in class), but eventually APS plans to allow students to take their laptops home.

“Down the line, if [parents and students] feel comfortable, and the instructors allow it, it can be done eventually,” said Adusumilli. “The most effective way of the personalized device instruction is if the device is with the kid 24/7, but we know this won’t happen overnight.”

Adusumilli said APS will be closely watching the pilot program to help guide future personalized computer deployments. He said experience with other trial programs has led APS to believe full laptops are appropriate for high school students, while tablet computers like iPads are more effective learning tools for elementary and middle school students.

Earlier this summer, APS vehemently denied a rumored tablet purchase for 9th graders. Some parents have reported that their 2nd and 6th graders have been assigned iPads this year. Asked about tablet purchases for lower grade levels, Adusumilli was vague in his response.

“We are preparing for the transition from shared devices to personalized devices at all levels,” he wrote via email. “As part of this preparation each school is conducting a pilot to learn about the instructional benefits provided by personalization. The devices for all the pilots have been purchased. The purchases were made using existing computer replacement funds.”

One parent who learned about the laptop plan contacted ARLnow.com this week and questioned why APS hasn’t told the community at large about the pilot program.

“Through all of this, nothing on any APS channels, including the ‘welcome to school’ info packets for my 9th grader,” the parent said, without giving his or her name. “Why the cloak and dagger communications of what is actually exciting news?”

by Ethan Rothstein — August 18, 2014 at 10:30 am 2,064 0

School board member Sally Baird at the Civic Federation candidates forumSchool Board member Sally Baird has resigned, effective Aug. 22, after previously announcing she wouldn’t seek re-election.

Baird is the second School Board member to resign this summer, following Noah Simon’s resignation on Aug. 1. That leaves the School Board with just three members: Chair James Lander, Vice Chair Emma Violand-Sanchez and Abby Raphael.

There will be no special election to replace Baird, since the election to fill her seat is already on the Nov. 4 general election ballot. Barbara Kanninen and Audrey Clement are running to fill her seat, while Nancy Van Doren is running unopposed to fill Simon’s seat.

“Commitments in both my personal and professional life have put increasing pressure on my time since the beginning of 2014,” Baird said in a press release announcing her decision. “I have worked to balance these commitments, trying to ensure that I dedicate the amount of time to my School Board duties which I truly believe a member must commit in order to perform this role effectively. This is the manner which our Arlington voters are fair to expect. But the time has come that I can no longer do that without great cost to my family.”

Baird was originally elected in 2006 and won re-election in 2010. She has two sons, who are students at Drew Model School and Gunston Middle School, according to her Arlington Public Schools bio.

Lander has yet to decide whether an appointment will be made to bring the Board back up to four members. If he does, APS said it’s possible that Van Doren will be chosen as appointee, since she is the only candidate to have filed.

“We have received Ms. Baird’s resignation with sincere regret,” Lander said in the release. “All of us on the School Board are thankful and appreciative of Sally’s eight years of leadership and dedication as a Board member. She has worked diligently to ensure that Arlington Public Schools provides high quality educational opportunities for all of our students. On behalf of all of the School Board members, I want to thank her for her dedication and service and we wish her well in all of her future endeavors.”

“To ensure that decisions by the Arlington School Board continue to be representative of the community,” Lander continued, “our goal is to see that those decisions made by the Board during this period of transition reflect support by at least three members of the five-member body.”

by Ethan Rothstein — August 15, 2014 at 2:15 pm 1,158 0

The Yorktown High School football team(Updated at 3:55 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools announced this week that it would be replacing its football helmets with new equipment designed to more effectively prevent concussions.

APS purchased more than 325 Riddell Revolution Speed helmets this summer with carryover superintendent funds from last year’s budget, APS Supervisor for Health, Physical Education and Athletics Debbie DeFranco told ARLnow.com. The helmets all received five-star ratings from a new Virginia Tech Helmet Rating System, which grades helmets on safety from one (lowest) to five (highest) stars.

The helmets will replace current helmets that graded between two- and four-stars, said DeFranco, who added that all helmets APS has used in football practices and games had previously passed the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment tests for safety.

“We were really looking for the best our students could get,” DeFranco said. “Because safety is paramount in everything we do, [Superintendent Patrick Murphy] said when the study came out, ‘let’s see what we can do.’ We realized how many were not five-rated under the system, and replaced those with five-star rated helmets.”

The helmets are also adaptable to future technology, including in-development sensors to detect impact to the head. The sensors, if they are implemented in the future, would be able to measure hits that don’t necessarily result in concussions, but could still have negative impacts on a developing brain.

Head injuries in football have come under scrutiny in recent years after a spate of high-profile suicides among former NFL players and a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the NFL by former players accusing the league of covering up the long-term impacts of brain injuries. High school football players have also suffered, including some who have died on the field, from the impacts of the repeated blows to the head that are commonplace in football.

DeFranco said all athletes undergo “baseline testing” before the season starts to determine their cognitive function. That way, when they suffer an apparent head injury, trainers can measure their brain functionality and compare it to before the injury occurred.

“We have a series of protocols that are aligned with the state law and international standards for returning to play,” DeFranco said. “We make sure they’re seen by someone who’s an expert in brain injuries. Fortunately, because of the media notoriety [concussions have received], a lot of the pediatricians have gone ahead and gotten training in the field.”

“It’s hard because kids want to play, they want to practice, they don’t want to sit out and rest,” DeFranco continued. “We try to educate their peers to tell them they need to rest, because it can have residual effects. There have been unfortunate tragedies where kids can come back too soon where it has ended tragically. We want to avoid them at all costs.”

Former football player Chris Nowinski, a concussion expert and victim of post-concussion syndrome, will be training all APS coaches in a lecture that parents and athletes are encouraged to attend. Nowinski, co-founder of the Sports Legacy Institute, will speak at Wakefield High School on Monday, Sept. 15, at 7:00 p.m.

File photo

by ARLnow.com — August 12, 2014 at 9:05 am 2,571 0

Benches in Clarendon

APS Identifies Elementary Schools to Possibly Expand — Arlington Public Schools named two schools that could be expanded as a “plan B” if the proposal to put a new school on the Thomas Jefferson Middle School campus doesn’t go through. If the new school cannot be constructed, APS has suggested expanding Randolph Elementary School and Barcroft Elementary School. The County Board commissioned a working group last month to look into the possibility of building a new school on the Thomas Jefferson campus. [InsideNova]

Voter Registration Deadline — Today is the deadline to register to vote, both in person and absentee, in the special election next Tuesday, August 19. Voter registration can be done online. [Arlington County]

Free Tacos at California Tortilla – California Tortilla is giving away free tacos today to celebrate being voted readers’ favorite Mexican in Washingtonian magazine’s “Best of Washington 2014″ issue. Arlington’s three locations, as well as all locations nationwide, will offer one free taco per customer all day.

by ARLnow.com — August 11, 2014 at 10:00 am 2,262 0

Decorated signals in Ballston

APS Still Looking for Teachers — Officials with Arlington Public Schools are still searching for teachers for the 2014-2015 school year, which is only about three weeks away. APS would like about 75 more new teachers in addition to the 225 it already hired. [InsideNova]

Att’y Gen. Asks Supreme Court to Hear Gay Marriage Case — Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has, as expected, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the state’s gay marriage case. Herring agrees with the gay marriage ban being struck down, but believes the Supreme Court should look at the case because it could set a nationwide precedent. Last month, Arlington County Clerk of the Circuit Court Paul Ferguson told ARLnow.com he was waiting for guidance from Herring and would begin performing gay marriages as soon as he received word they would be valid. [Daily Press]

Cemetery to Change Dates on Monument — Arlington National Cemetery has agreed to change the date on a monument to a World War II bomber crew lost in 1944. The stone monument currently shows the year 1946 — which is the year the Army officially classified the crew members as dead — but the plane went missing in 1944. Family members of the crew have been trying to get the date changed for about 12 years. [Stars and Stripes]

Central Library to Loan Garden Tools — Residents soon will be able to borrow garden tools from Central Library. A start date hasn’t yet been set because the library is still gathering gently used tool donations and signing up volunteers to assist with the program. Those interested in helping out or donating tools can get more information online. [Arlington Public Library]

by Ethan Rothstein — July 15, 2014 at 4:35 pm 1,698 0

School buses in the Shirlington yard. (File photo)Arlington is looking into installing traffic cameras on the stop arms of its public school buses.

The Arlington County Board will consider advertising a public hearing on the issue at its meeting this Saturday. The proposal follows about six months of work from Arlington Public Schools Security Coordinator Kevin Reardon to develop a plan to install the cameras on 10-20 percent of APS buses with no additional expense to the county.

Virginia passed a law in 2011 that allows municipalities to install cameras on school buses and issue drivers tickets for $250 if they are recorded passing a bus when its stop arm is out. Last fall, Falls Church installed cameras on eight of its 12 school buses, Reardon said. Fairfax County is considering installing the cameras and they are also in use in Montgomery County, Md., where 300 tickets were issued in three months earlier this year.

If the County Board approves the request to advertise, it likely won’t be able to approve the cameras until September, since there is no meeting in August. If it’s approved, APS is expected to seek an outside vendor to install, maintain and operate the cameras. The vendor would receive a substantial percentage of the revenue from the citations as payment, Reardon said.

“In Falls Church, in their first year, the vendor got between 60 and 70 percent of the fine,” Reardon told ARLnow.com today. Another chunk of the revenue will pay the police, who will review the footage and issue the citations.

“I’m sure someone will look at this and say, ‘It’s just the school system trying to make a lot of money,’ and that is not the case. By the time you pay the police and vendor, most of the revenue is gone.”

Reardon said he proposed to earmark the remaining revenue to pay for school safety expenses. The cameras would reduce police expenses, he said, because police will occasionally follow school buses on their routes to ensure drivers aren’t going around the stop-arms.

Falls Church has averaged about one ticket per bus each day, Reardon said, but the citation rate fell essentially every month. Once a motorist is ticketed, a repeat offense is far less likely. He also suggested a 30-day grace period once the cameras are installed — there’s no estimate for when that will happen until the full item goes before the County Board — which would send citations to drivers but not charge them with a fine.

Despite some people’s reluctance to put traffic cameras on the road, Reardon said in his research, reactions to the cameras have been generally positive.

“Most places are very happy with it,” he said. “If you’re passing a school bus on Lee Highway and a child pops out, the child will be hurt severely. Previous to this, the only way we could enforce it is to have the school bus driver jot down the tag and go to court, or the police department is used to follow school buses. Now we’re automating that part of school safety, and we’re going to free the police up to do something else.”

File photo

by Morgan Fecto — July 14, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,393 0

The “Space of Her Own” art-based mentoring program will partner with two Arlington elementary schools for the 2014-2015 school year to give fifth grade girls an open ear and a creative outlet.

SOHO will provide Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Randolph Elementary students from low-income homes with mentors, who will guide them through art projects like creating a mosaic mirror and refurbishing a desk, Mentoring Coordinator Ashley Snyder told ARLnow.com today. The mentors will then team up with the girls and their families to personalize their at-home study areas with the finished projects during a “renovation weekend” at the end of the yearlong program.

“That’s a very powerful tool we think, giving each girl a space where she can feel confident and comfortable,” Snyder said. “And we’ve empowered her to create that space for herself.”

SOHO’s Arlington program will operate like its predecessors in Alexandria, Snyder said. Twelve girls, selected from Hoffman-Boston Elementary and Randolph Elementary, will have a “life-skills session” at the beginning of each meeting to discuss problems they encounter in school or at home. Afterward, they will journal about the session with their mentor before eating dinner and beginning an art project.

During some meetings, girls may also engage in community service with projects like clearing litter from the Potomac River or making no-sew blankets for the homeless.

During SOHO’s past years in Alexandria, mentors tasked the girls with creating a “dream board” collage of their future aspirations. The dream board is important for the students because it forces them to “map out their future in a way they haven’t before,” Snyder said.

The goal of the program, which started in Alexandria in 2003 and gained 501(c)3 status in 2010, is not only to foster girls’ creativity and confidence, but also to pair them with someone that they can build a lasting bond with, Snyder said.

“This program gives them the opportunity to have a mentor to help them with their goals,” Snyder said. “It’s building a really strong foundation for these girls and their mentors.”

SOHO hopes to recruit 12 female volunteer mentors, and will also recruit male and female volunteers to give art demonstrations and help set up before the meetings, Snyder said. Meetings will be at Hoffman-Boston Elementary every Thursday, from 5:30 to 8:00 p.m.

Informational sessions for potential volunteers will be held Thursday, July 24 and Thursday, August 14 at 5:30 p.m. at Hoffman-Boston Elementary. SOHO asks that attendees register in advance.

Photos courtesy Ashley Snyder

by Ethan Rothstein — July 9, 2014 at 3:30 pm 4,259 0

APS Walk and Bike to School DayAcross the country, the boom in unaccompanied minors emigrating from Central America has caused federal authorities to devote more resources to border protection and enforce stricter deportation policies.

While one Arlington official is calling the growth in this population a “crisis,” most say we’re not there yet. Nonetheless, the county is monitoring the situation and making preparations before such immigrants start to have an impact.

Last week, the Sun Gazette reported that School Board member Emma Violand-Sanchez and County Board member Walter Tejada met with representatives from the Guatemalan Consulate to discuss the trend of unaccompanied minor immigrants, and, after the meeting, Violand-Sanchez told the School Board it was a “crisis situation.”

Tejada told ARLnow.com this morning that, while he wouldn’t characterize Arlington’s current population of unaccompanied minors as a crisis, the county is taking steps to prepare in case the population grows substantially.

“We’re organizing right now and saying, ‘how do we deal with this, what issues are we confronting?’” Tejada said. “The most important question is the welfare of the kids. How do we protect the children from being taken advantage of and falling into the wrong world? It’s a very complicated situation.”

According to Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos, there were only 10 students identified as “homeless/unaccompanied youth” in the last school year. There were also 83 students in APS’ “Accelerated Literacy Support” program as of June, for older students new to the country who need additional literary support. That number increased from 22 students in June 2012.

“Because we are currently on summer break, we may not know the full impact on APS of the immigration of youth from Central America until the end of August and/or later in the 2014-15 school year,” Erdos said in an email. “We know that we need to be prepared to address this, given the reports in the media, and the response from the President and the federal government. We are also watching the situation closely because we know this may have a major impact on our operating budget.”

Arlington’s Department of Human Services hasn’t seen an increase in unaccompanied minors, according to department spokesman Kurt Larrick. There are always a few who come to the county every year, Larrick said, and those “tend to be older, they tend to have had a rough life at home.”

“I don’t think we’re at a crisis now by any means,” Larrick said. “We’re a long way from the Central American border so I don’t think it’s as acute locally as in other parts of the country.”

Both Larrick and Erdos said Arlington is an appealing destination for many of these immigrants because of its reputation for being welcoming, which dates back to accepting Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

Tejada said it’s impossible to know if the immigrants will eventually come to Arlington in large numbers, but instead of “being reactionary” as the county has been in the past to similar issues, this time the county is being proactive. Tejada said the county plans to organize “mobile Consulates” from different countries with populations in Arlington, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, in August.

“We’re alerting our partners to stand by,” Tejada said. “There will be a call to action at some point, but we have to be careful not to put out a false call when there is no need.”

Morgan Fecto contributed to this report

by Ethan Rothstein — July 1, 2014 at 3:45 pm 1,454 0

Arlington County school buses(Updated at 4:05 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools has begun exploring whether to expand school bus service to additional students throughout the county in the coming years.

In a presentation to the School Board this morning, APS Assistant Superintendent of Facilities and Operations John Chadwick outlined a plan for shrinking the “walk zones” around schools — areas where children are ineligible for bus service because of their proximity to the school — to a half-mile around elementary school, three-quarters of a mile around middle schools and a mile around high schools.

(Currently, the walk zone is within a mile of elementary schools and 1.5 miles of middle and high schools.)

The proposal was suggested by APS’ Multimodal Transportation and Student Safety Special Committee (MMTSSSC), but is not being recommended for approval by the School Board yet. Instead, Chadwick laid out what the zones would change from the current setup: 3,694 students currently ineligible for bus service would become eligible, a 25 percent increase over current walk zones.

Middle schools would see the biggest increase in eligible ridership, with 50 percent more students able to ride the bus, including a 78 percent increase at Kenmore Middle School. Elementary schools would see a 16 percent increase in eligible riders, and high schools a 30 percent increase.

How much the substantial increase in eligible riders would cost, if the plan were implemented, is more complicated. Currently, only 54 percent of eligible elementary school students, 70 percent of middle schoolers and 56 percent of high schoolers actually take the bus, APS says.

“[The] actual cost of walk zone reduction,” the presentation reads, “is contingent on how many additional students actually ride the bus, which is impossible to determine without actual experience.”

APS estimates that if the changes result in 70 percent ridership, it will cost APS $3.76 million for 26 new buses, plus drivers and attendants, but that doesn’t account for gas, insurance, maintenance and other costs. If ridership hits 80 percent, that would mean 30 new buses and an estimated $4.35 million in additional costs.

With a $16.1 million transportation budget, bussing currently costs APS $1,100 per eligible student. However, because of the current low ridership rate, APS says “bus utilization may be increased without incurring substantial additional costs.”

To acquire better data, Superintendent Patrick Murphy has recommended instituting several smaller changes during the 2014-2015 school year, but because the School Board approved new Director of Transportation David McRae this morning, APS staff doesn’t anticipate any changes taking effect before students return for classes in September.

The Arlington School Board adopts its FY 2015 budget 5/22/14Among the proposed changes is distributing new ID cards to all students, installing GPS on every bus, upgrading APS’ routing software and providing “School Pool” carpooling software for parents. ID cards, while proposed as part of the transportation plan, wouldn’t just be used for buses.

“It will be used by the Transportation Department to know who is on the buses,” Assistant Superintendent of School and Community Relations Linda Erdos told ARLnow.com, “and at some point in the future it could be expanded to be used for lunch, library use, and we’ve even discussed with the county the possibility of students being able to use their ID card for access to other county services, although that is a very preliminary discussion and no firm decisions for expanded use have been made.”

The larger walk zone discussion, under the current plan, wouldn’t come before the Board for approval until the FY 2017 budget process. Before then, Murphy recommends selectively increasing “ridership on buses within current walk zones before considering walk zone reductions.” Murphy hopes the data gathered from his proposed changes will allow APS to plan for growth in current eligible ridership.

Erdos said the recommendations may go before the School Board “later in the year” to allow McRae, who starts Sept. 1, to “participate in the final decision and process.”

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