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Gov. Ralph Northam Visits Barcroft Elementary

Gov. Ralph Northam and Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni visited Barcroft Elementary School today (Monday) to get a glimpse of summer learning opportunities in Arlington Public Schools.

The visit is part of a tour of Virginia schools offering summer learning to select students in most need of academic support after a year of virtual learning. In Arlington, more than 4,600 students are enrolled in summer learning, of whom nearly 3,500 are attending in person.

“It’s been amazing… seeing kids happy to be in the classroom, seeing teachers and staff so enthusiastic,” Northam said. “Our future is in good hands.”

At Barcroft (625 S. Wakefield Street), 100 students are enrolled in summer learning, which is focused on strengthening math and reading skills, said Catherine Ashby, a spokeswoman for APS. The school system has an additional 480 elementary students participating in a new program, available for those who initially qualified for summer school but were deemed unable to participate.

Initially, APS had expanded eligibility requirements for summer school to reach more students. Citing teacher shortages, however, it later contracted eligibility. This summer, 850 teachers and staff are providing instruction to certain students with disabilities and who are learning English, as well as some regular-education students with failing grades or who need a core class to graduate high school.

Inside the classroom, students and teachers wore masks. The governor is preparing to release new mask guidelines this week in light of rising cases of the coronavirus. The new guidance will replace the executive order governing mask wearing, which is set to expire on Sunday (July 25).

As cases climb and the more contagious Delta variant spreads, and with most children unable to receive the vaccine, the American College of Pediatrics — of which Northam is a member — recently recommended that all kids should wear masks while indoors. Northam said the new state rules will likely be aligned with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We will definitely have guidelines before the weekend,” he said.

Virginia is reporting about 250 to 300 new cases per day, due in part to the rise of the Delta variant. Northam said he encouraged parents to vaccinate their children 12 years old and older with the Pfizer shot. About 35% of eligible children in the Commonwealth have received their first dose, he said.

Still, state officials said they want children attending school in person.

“We have had a lot of unfinished learning,” Qarni said. “We do know the best place to learn is in person.”

APS officials have pledged that the school system will be fully in-person this fall. For the first four weeks of school, APS will be focused on social-emotional learning and academic assessments, Ashby said, as it tries to make up for lost learning last school year.

At Barcroft, Northam also saw a new literacy program at work.

Principal Judy Apostolico-Buck tells ARLnow the school formally implemented the program — which focuses on teaching the mechanics of reading — last year. This approach, called structured literacy, will be implemented across elementary schools in Arlington this fall to improve reading proficiency rates.

“We need something that guarantees literacy proficiency for all students,” she said. “It’s been a big shift, but the research unequivocally shows that this is what we need to do.”

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