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Inside Arlington’s Overflowing High Schools

This article was written by Audrey Batcheller

Class at Yorktown High SchoolArlington Public Schools continue to plan new school construction, and as student populations grow, so do the number of complications students face.

All three Arlington high schools have recently been rebuilt, but it appears they are already over capacity. Washington-Lee has seen its enrollment rise by 30 percent in the last six years, and this increase can be partially attributed to the abundance of transfers coming to the school for the International Baccalaureate diploma program. Washington-Lee is the only high school in the county that offers this program, so many transfer students apply to participate in the competitive diploma program. Yorktown and Wakefield have also seen steady increases in their enrollment, and Wakefield students will begin studying in their new facility this coming school year.

Although many schools have been labeled as “over capacity,” they continue to operate quite functionally with a few minor alterations. At Washington-Lee, rooms formerly used as teachers’ lounges, old computer labs, and offices are now occupied by desks and smart boards to be used as functioning classrooms.

Class at Washington-Lee High SchoolDespite being harder to find as a new student, or adding to the commute between classes, these classrooms have proved to be easy solutions to accommodate the need for space. These changes, in most cases, are harmless and don’t have a negative impact on the students, but in a few cases, students have suffered.

When the Mac computer lab at Washington-Lee was converted to a classroom, the Macs were relocated to the library. This computer lab had been used primarily by the broadcast journalism class for video production, and when the computers moved, the students attempted to transition into the new spacel, but lost access to the library after several noise complaints from the librarians.

With only two Mac desktop computers and one Mac laptop available for video production, members of the class have been significantly inconvenienced and the class had to adjust its methods of production due to the loss of their workspace. Some teachers are equally inconvenienced by being forced to share a classroom with another teacher or having to teach in two different locations where they must cart their belongings and instructional materials back and forth.

New trailer classrooms at Washington-Lee High SchoolThese changes are still insufficient, however, in providing enough classroom space and Washington-Lee will see the addition of four new trailers next to the school this coming school year, bringing their total to six.

Students are allotted six minutes in between classes to pass from period to period, and the trip outside to the trailers can be completed in that time, but bad weather is always a possibility that students face when venturing to their outside classes.

The first two trailers are located in the side parking lot next to the Arlington Planetarium which is located directly next to the school. The next four being added to the school’s facilities will be placed beside the school on what was previously used as a practice field.

During the spring sports season, there are eight sports teams that require field space for practicing. The athletes were all in close quarters when they had to share the Astroturf field, the side practice fields, and fields at Quincy Park located on the opposite side of Washington Boulevard. With the addition of these trailers and the new softball field, space is extremely limited for practice and may result in more staggered practice times or a search for more practice space.

Elementary schools, meanwhile, have had the biggest capacity crunch thus far and are the main construction focus as of late. Redistricting efforts have been attempted to help even out the population of the overflowing school system.

A new elementary school is expected to be built on the soccer fields outside of Williamsburg Middle School, and others may have to be proposed if the population of Arlington Public Schools continues to grow this much. Projections from the Arlington Facilities and Student Accommodation Plan estimate that by the 2017-18 school year, utilization is expected to be at 119.2%, or in other words, 4,400 seats short. Redistricting and converting classrooms act as solid interim solutions, but other plans will be considered in the following years to ensure that students have the space, resources, and opportunities they need to succeed.

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