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Peter’s Take: APS, County Should Collaborate on New Instructional and Childcare Options

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com

Recent collaborations between local governments and school systems in other localities, including Alexandria, San Francisco, and New York City, offer promising new instructional and childcare examples for Arlington to follow.

As I discussed in my last column, COVID-19 has exposed again why certain categories of vulnerable and disadvantaged APS students need the special attention and support that new programs like these will provide.

Making hard decisions regarding which APS students would be eligible, where these new activities would take place, who would staff and supervise them, and other details certainly present challenges. But Arlington can and should rise to the occasion.

Alexandria

Alexandria has a plan that “promises to offer child-care options for ‘those families who need it.” Further information released so far is available here.

San Francisco

San Francisco is planning “an unprecedented educational assistance program for the fall meant to help up to 6,000 children with their distance-learning needs.”

Starting in September, dozens of recreation facilities, libraries and community centers across the city will be transformed into “learning hubs,” spaces where young students who may struggle with remote instruction can go each day to access their digital classwork and the social interactions that virtual schooling cannot provide.

Officials are prioritizing low-income families, children in public housing or the foster care system, homeless youth, and others in living situations that make remote learning particularly challenging. At first, the hubs will serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade, a group that has lower rates of infection, but officials will consider making the hubs available to older students. They will operate five days a week during ordinary school hours and will be staffed by experienced nonprofits and other organizations…”

The barriers for distance learning are not just access to Wi-Fi, it’s making sure that children have a quiet place to even connect in to their Zoom calls, and have the support they need to … submit homework and participate virtually…

New York City

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that the city will provide free child care to 100,000 students when schools reopen in September.

Arlington

Arlington has a prime opportunity to don its equity lens. APS and the County should work together to provide childcare in the form of “learning hubs” for its most vulnerable students whose parents must work outside the home or are otherwise unable to supervise their child’s virtual learning. Otherwise, these students may be left alone, or without adult supervision, and the learning gaps I discussed in my last column will widen.

The COVID-19 safety protocols at the learning hubs would follow similar protocols that daycare centers now use. Come Sept. 8, Arlington students at these hubs would log on to their virtual learning classroom according to their school’s schedule. Once APS switches to hybrid, these students would still report to the learning hub on the “distance learning” days.

Our community is blessed with a bounty of community centers, libraries, and parks that are located within a reasonable walking distance from some affordable housing residences that could be repurposed as learning hubs. These will need to be facilities with restroom access, such as Barcroft, Walter Reed, Long Branch Nature Center, Arlington Mill, Hoffman-Boston, Drew, Lubber Run, and the Columbia Pike Library, just to name a few. The County will need to equip these facilities with Wi-Fi capabilities so that students can log on. The community rooms at Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH) properties could also be used. They can be staffed with underutilized County and/or APS employees.

APS plans a work session on August 13 at 6:30 pm to discuss these issues.

Conclusion

We have multiple blueprints from which to draw, from as close as our neighbors in Alexandria, up the East Coast to New York City, and to the West Coast in San Francisco.  Arlington leads in so many progressive and innovative ways, but prioritizing our neediest students’ educational needs isn’t one of those. Since APS is mandating a virtual opening for safety reasons, it should lead the effort to work with the County to ensure our most vulnerable students can continue to learn during this pandemic.

Peter Rousselot previously served as Chair of the Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission (FAAC) to the Arlington County Board and as Co-Chair of the Advisory Council on Instruction (ACI) to the Arlington School Board. He is also a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee (ACDC) and a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA). He currently serves as a board member of the Together Virginia PAC-a political action committee dedicated to identifying, helping and advising Democratic candidates in rural Virginia.

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