Arlington, VA

Wakefield High School has opened its doors to a handful of students in search of better internet connectivity, a quiet place to study or a trip out of the house.

From 8 a.m.-3 p.m., up to 30 students can study at socially distanced work stations in the school’s vaulted atrium, featuring a glass wall that overlooks a courtyard. In the space, students can study without the distractions or demands of family life and they have access to technicians if their computers break.

It’s comparable to a co-working office, but for high school students.

“If you’re having WiFi issues, if you need a quiet study place, or if you simply are going stir-crazy and you need to get out and find a place to study, you’re welcome to come,” Principal Christian Willmore said.

Students seem to enjoy the space, with up to seven coming on average, he said. A few are regulars, while the rest come as needed.

“Honestly, it’s not to the degree that I had hoped, but we’re still trying to get the word out of what it is and what it looks like,” Willmore said. “I’m hoping more students access it, if they need it.”

Wakefield debuted its program on Nov. 5, one day after students with disabilities became the first to return to school. Wakefield had 12 students return for in-person learning, and 20 staff assigned to them, Willmore said.

The pilot is distinct from Arlington Public Schools’ return-to-school plan, which opened school buildings for students with disabilities in its first phase, also called “level one.” Future levels have had their return delayed until 2021, but APS did identify and start providing supports to an additional 150 four to 11 year olds this week.

Other principals are working with Willmore to eventually bring the program to their buildings.

“We want to see how it works at Wakefield first because we’ve been working out the detailed procedures,” Willmore said. “We’ve been able to refine practices and procedures, documents, processes so that people aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Kids are screened and monitored by staff at the front door and to limit exposure, they cannot leave and come back later. To prevent them from roaming the building, only one bathroom and one drinking fountain are open and running. Students sign up one day in advance on Canvas, APS’ learning management software, affirming they have not been recently exposed to or sickened by the coronavirus.

The day-long study option also allows school staff to connect with students who do not log in for full periods or have fallen behind on work.

“Those conversations are hard to have, so it was nice to have them in person,” Willmore said.

Photos courtesy Frank Bellavia/Arlington Public Schools

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