Press Club

With a membership list that has included five presidents and 19 Supreme Court justices, Washington Golf & Country Club is known as the “Club of Presidents.”

Without the help of one prosperous Arlington doctor, however, the elite club founded in 1893 would have closed in 1906.

Rear Admiral Presley Marion Rixey, Surgeon General in the U.S. Navy, served as the full-time personal physician to Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He is considered the first “White House Physician,” though the title wasn’t officially used until 1928.

Beyond his medical exploits, the doctor owned a significant amount of land in Arlington. He lived on a large property then-called Netherfauld, which he purchased in 1888 from Mary Ann Hall, known for the rowdy brothel she ran in D.C. According to Johnathan Thomas, the former president of the Arlington Historical Society, there is no evidence her property in Arlington housed a similar business.

(Her brother, Bazil Hall is the namesake of Halls Hill: He owned enslaved persons and later sold his land to African-American families in Arlington, leading to the founding of the historically Black neighborhood.)

Rixey’s relationship to Teddy Roosevelt was not just one between a doctor and patient. They were friends, and so were their wives. President Roosevelt often came to Netherfauld to ride on horseback with Rixey through his many acres of rural lands and to eat ice cream made on the property. Mrs. Roosevelt, meanwhile, would frequently walk from the White House to Netherfauld to have lunch with Mrs. Rixey.

While Rixey enjoyed his property, he also was generous with it, ensuring the Washington Golf & Country Club — of which he was a member and the Chairman of the Greens Committee — had a permanent home.

“Admiral Rixey carried Washington Golf through its worst financial times, restructuring notes and forgiving interest so the fledgling club could survive,” according to an article written by Thomas, who also acted as the historian for WGCC.

Thomas went so far as to call Rixey the “Godfather” of the golf club. In 1906, WGCC was pushed out of its original Rosslyn location by investors looking to develop a residential area instead. Close to disbanding, members of the club searched for a location that would keep them close to D.C. 

The club unsuccessfully tried to reestablish the club on the Saegmuller Farm — land that is now used by Arlington’s Knights of Columbus. Rixey’s offer in 1908 to sell 75 acres of his Netherfauld Farm for $50,000 saved WGCC from extinction.

“There’s a story handed down at the club that one of the members got the [Saegmuller Farm] under contract because he wanted to make a fee off of it. They said ‘forget it,’ and ended up buying the property from Rixey,” Thomas tells ARLnow.

Rixey helped the club after the sale. With it struggling financially, Rixey redesigned the agreed-upon payment plan and forgave interest. The doctor also donated more acres to WGCC as a prize to club president Joseph Johnson for defeating him in a golf game. Later, he offered to sell even more of his land to the club at a discounted price, but the leaders declined.

While clearing out part of Rixey’s land for the golf course and club, Richard Wallace — Rixey’s valet, Roosevelt’s former White House chauffeur, and one of four men who laid down the first nine holes in 1908 — happened upon a previously uninhabited log cabin on the Netherfauld grounds.

Wallace became enchanted with the log cabin and Rixey gifted it to him to live there. Whenever President Roosevelt visited the Rixey home, Wallace would bring homemade ice cream that Roosevelt enjoyed so much that Wallace let him lick the ice cream from the paddles once he was done churning.

Read More

0 Comments

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

(Updated 2:55 p.m.) Thirty Arlington companies made Inc. Magazine’s list of America’s 5,000 fastest-growing private companies, including one advertising firm made the top 15.

The featured companies had a median 3-year growth of 181%. There were 31 companies on the list last year.

Rosslyn-based advertising agency Olympic Media led the way, placing 13th. The company was founded in 2018 and has grown by 20,330% over the last three years. Olympic’s explosion in growth makes it the fastest-growing company in Virginia and the D.C. area, as well as the No. 1 advertising and marketing company on the list.

“We are honored to be included in such an esteemed list which serves a ‘who’s-who’ of American business,” said founder and CEO Ryan Coyne in a press release. “We started as a one-man operation in an office the size of a closet. Now we have over thirty employees making up four departments, all dedicated to our diverse clientele and to each other.”

Olympic Media CEO Ryan Coyne (courtesy of Olympic Media)

Olympic chalks its success up to its team and its business model. The company’s clientele consists of businesses, advocacy groups and conservative political campaigns.

“There is no getting away from the talent and dedication of the team we have been able to build — as cliche as that may sound,” Coyne said in a statement to ARLnow. “We really do emotionally invest in the success of our clients. Second to that, I think it’s a combination of our unique business model that better aligns incentives between ourselves and our clients — as well as word spreading about the success our clients have had.”

The team deserves being recognized as 13th on the list, given their success and dedication, he said.

“We had gotten some indication that we would be fairly high on the list (including some fairly invasive financial disclosures) but being the No. 1 Advertising & Marketing company in the nation was certainly higher than I had expected,” Coyne said. “It’s both a validation of our business model and work quality as well as a challenge for the team to keep pushing boundaries, taking risks and raising the bar.”

Olympic Media made local headlines in Maryland politics earlier this year for a viral ad campaign it promoted for Kimberly Klacik, a Republican Congressional candidate from Baltimore.

Klacik raised $8.3 million in donations. Citing campaign finance filings and her campaign manager, the Washington Post said Olympic charged $3.7 million for its services. Klacik later said the fees were for advertising on YouTube and Facebook, the Daily Caller reported. Olympic told the Daily Caller that anyone arguing the company itself pocketed that much money from the race is “a competitor, a moron, or a writer for the Washington Post.”

Of the other 29 companies, some have been featured in ARLnow, such as HUNGRY, Ostendio, C3 Integrated Solutions, SweatWorks and ThreatConnect, most of which made the list previously. It was the debut, however, for Ballston-based Hungry, which managed to grow despite the pandemic being a major headwind for its office and events catering business.

“Not only is it an incredible honor to receive a spot on the Inc. 5000 list, it’s a true testament to the hustle, grit, and smarts our team has displayed over the last year and half,” said HUNGRY Co-Founder and CEO Jeff Grass said in a press release. “Despite all the challenges we faced due to the pandemic, we’ve defied the odds — relying on great teamwork, superhuman accomplishments by many people across the team, and by staying true to our Core Value #4: Positivity.”

Other repeat honorees include 540.co, Enterprise Knowledge, Sehlke Consulting and IDS International Group.

The full list of Arlington companies is as follows:

0 Comments

Marymount University’s Main House on its North Arlington campus has a sprawling front lawn once again.

On Sunday, the university wrapped up two weeks of construction that turned the concrete parking lot at 2807 N. Glebe Road into a green space. Now, Marymount leaders envision the school community using the space for recreation and picnics.

“As students, staff, faculty and their families enter Marymount, they’ll now be greeted with a beautiful lawn devoted to bringing our community together,” said Marymount University President Irma Becerra.

Marymount originally had a grass lawn in front of the Main House, but that was paved over in May 2000 to accommodate the growing number of students who need a place to park. Now that the university has two parking garages, Marymount said it no longer needs the lot.

Those employed by the university have embraced the change already, according to Barry Harte, the school’s treasurer and vice president for finance and operations.

“Bringing back the beloved recreation area has sparked overwhelmingly positive feedback from our staff and faculty. This change is important not only to our students and their families, but also to the greater Arlington community of which Marymount is proud to be a part of,” said Harte.

In a press release, the university said the lawn will help the surrounding community by absorbing storm water runoff and improving water quality.

The front parking lot previously hosted a seasonal weekly farmers market. Organizers announced earlier this summer that the market was permanently closed, encouraging local residents to go the new Cherrydale Farmers Market instead.

Marymount plans to hold a picnic on the lawn to celebrate the start of the academic year this coming Monday, Aug. 23.

0 Comments

Arlington resident Liam McBride was playing Spikeball with friends one August night on the grass field at Arlington Traditional School when a helicopter prepared to land.

Soon, the Arlington County Fire Department was on the field, clearing out McBride and his friends.

“They placed flares onto the ground, and a helicopter started flying around,” he said. “We thought Biden was landing to get medevaced. The helicopter landed around 9:50, and a drunk dude went to try and talk to them.”

The helicopter did not contain President Biden. But at 10 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 6, the ATS field in the Bluemont neighborhood was being used by the Virginia Hospital Center and MedStar Transport for a helicopter landing.

The healthcare providers work with ACFD to use the field for helicopter landings when patients need to be moved to other facilities. This happens fewer than five times a year, according to ACFD spokesman Capt. Justin Tirelli. On even rarer occasions, the center uses helicopters to transport organs as well, he said.

The field at ATS is one of around 20 designated landing zones for helicopters in the county. Most of the zones are used only for emergencies.

“Let’s say we have a serious car accident or a serious burn patient, and we want to get them to the burn center in D.C., but we know that it’s gonna be a significant ground transport time. If we have a landing zone close to us we can designate that as a place to rendezvous with the helicopter,” Tirelli said.

The ATS field is mostly used by the hospitals and is the site of most of the landings, in part because patients don’t often choose to be medevaced since they, or their insurance companies, have to pay the high costs.

In the event of a landing, firefighters arrive to clear out a landing zone. A team of four sets up flares, removes people and other obstructions from the field, and lets the pilot know of any potential hazards, such as antennas and power lines. The helicopter operator coordinates with ACFD’s dispatch center to let them know that an aircraft is inbound.

“It can be in as little as five minutes, or sometimes it can be scheduled well ahead of time,” Tirelli said.

Shortly after the helicopter lands, the patient is picked up from VHC in a private ambulance and brought to the chopper.

In some cases, the fire department calls helicopters to the ATS field themselves to medevac a patient from the hospital.

“That’s very rare. We do that maybe one time a year,” said Tirelli.

Not every helicopter landing in Arlington has been planned, however. Five years ago a military helicopter experiencing mechanical problems landed on Yorktown High School’s football field on a Friday night. It took back off after repairs were completed.

0 Comments

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Ballston-based Evolent Health is set to expand with a $130 million purchase of telehealth company Vital Decisions. The company expects the deal to close later this year.

One of Arlington’s largest growth companies, Evolent Health was founded in 2011 — just in time to help medical providers adjust to the changes prescribed by the Affordable Care Act. Ten years later, it is still developing solutions to address the rising costs of healthcare in the U.S.

And now, it is bringing on Vital Decisions to target the high healthcare costs borne by people with serious illnesses and their insurance providers. The New Jersey-based company uses digital services to help such individuals find advanced care throughout their health journey, especially as they approach the end of their lives.

“We believe Vital Decisions is a strong strategic fit for Evolent,” said Evolent Health Chief Executive Officer Seth Blackley in a release. “We believe this transaction… unlocks patient engagement and telehealth as levers for ensuring patients with complex illness receive high-quality, coordinated care.”

Evolent logo at its Ballston office (file photo)

Evolent first expanded into specialized care in September 2018 when it spent $217 million to acquire New Century Health Management, which helps both healthcare providers and insurance companies provide better treatment for cancer or heart conditions while saving money. Vital Decisions will report to New Century after the acquisition.

“This acquisition will help ensure that the care plans created by our Vital specialists find their way into the hands of the providers responsible for ensuring these individuals receive the care they want as their illness progresses. New Century Health has developed a robust provider engagement platform and it’s a privilege to combine capabilities,” Vital Decisions CEO Leah Puccio said.

New Century Health CEO Dan McCarthy said the addition will help ensure that individuals with advanced illnesses have care plans that align with their personal preferences for the kinds of treatment and end-of-life care.

Since its launch, Evolent Health — headquartered at 800 N. Glebe Road — has grown from a startup into a publicly-traded company. After just four years in business, it debuted on the New York Stock Exchange, where it raised $195 million on the first day of trading. Shortly after, its market valuation hit $1 billion.

The company’s stock price has more than quadrupled since the start of the pandemic. After hitting an all-time low of $4.81 in March 2020, it rebounded to around $24 today.

0 Comments
Mercedes-Benz of Arlington in Ballston (via Google Maps)

Many Arlington car dealerships are struggling to stock cars amid a nationwide shortage of computer chips.

At Mercedes-Benz of Arlington in Ballston, formerly known as American Service Center, a lot once stocked with around 130 used cars available for sale has emptied out to 63 vehicles, according to Ron Moghisi, who manages pre-owned sales. He said many of the cars were purchased at nearly 30% over the normal list price.

“There’s a lot of demand, but there’s just nothing for us to buy and to resell, because the price is so high that it won’t make sense,” Moghisi said. “Let’s say you buy a bicycle for $10 that you can sell for $12. It doesn’t make sense to buy it for $16, because you’re going to get stuck with it. Some dealers are taking the risk and buying them, and God help them.”

Employees at the Koons Arlington Toyota and Brown’s Arlington Honda dealerships in Cherrydale told ARLnow they also have fewer available new and used cars to sell. At Brown’s Honda, around 50 used cars are currently available for sale, whereas 150 to 200 cars would normally be in stock, according to a pre-owned salesman. Prices at the dealership are up between 20% and 45%, in line with used car price increases nationally.

The scarcity of computer chips can be traced back to the beginning stages of the coronavirus.

When lockdowns first went into effect, car sales crashed, leading automobile companies to reduce orders for chips and other parts. Chip manufacturers, in response, cut production in order to avoid financial losses.

The strategy helped chip companies survive the pandemic. As car sales bounced back, however, automobile companies found that there weren’t enough chips for them to maintain the levels of production they wanted, as ramping up chip production can take a long time. Ford Motor Company slashed production by 50%. Meanwhile, Jeep temporarily stopped manufacturing two of its models because it didn’t have the chips needed to make them.

As the supply of cars dwindled, dealerships around the country, including those in Arlington, suffered. At the Mercedes-Benz dealership, Moghisi said that the low supply of both new and used cars has forced the dealership to hike its prices for used cars in order to maintain profitability.

“There are not many new cars around, which really means people are not trading [in] their cars, and therefore, there’s a shortage in the market for premium cars,” Moghisi said.

According to Eddy Malikov, the manager at the used-car dealership Arlington Auto Group, consumer demand is starting to decrease as a result of the rise in prices.

“I think there’s less demand now in the U.S market at least from what our business has seen. We sold around 30 cars in the first two weeks last month. This month we’ve done around 18 vehicles,” Malikov said. “I would say demand might be going down and prices and supply are going back to where they should be.”

For Moghisi, as the shortage stretches on, the stress builds for him and his employees.

“We’ve been playing the waiting game — just have to wait and see what happens. We buy whatever we can get, which is not enough,” Moghisi said. “The way this has affected the industry is, dealerships are making less money, which has put a pressure on employees. If there are no cars to sell, we can’t make a living.”

It could be a while before the automobile industry and car dealerships have fully recovered from the ongoing chip shortage. Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger told analysts last month that the chip companies may not catch up to demand for another one to two years.

“We hear different stories. We hear it’ll be fixed by November, December, then we hear by next July. We don’t know,” Moghisi said. “I don’t think we’ll have to shut down the department. Eventually, it’ll get fixed, it’s just a matter of time. The only issue is we have to dig into our savings.”

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Arlington-based tech startup BlackBoiler is using a recent $100,000 grant from the Commonwealth of Virginia to understand how to overcome mistrust of artificial intelligence among lawyers.

BlackBoiler is developing an AI-enhanced software to help lawyers write and navigate corporate contracts. The tech could save companies and lawyers both time and money, but many in the field are reticent to adopt such a product, according to BlackBoiler spokeswoman Gabriella Millard.

“One of the major challenges is the distrust and fear of AI by the end-users, which can hinder an AI initiative’s ability to scale at an organization. BlackBoiler believes AI should not be viewed with fear,” Millard tells ARLnow.

The company will use its research to present and design its product in a way that law firms may more readily embrace, she said, adding that many lawyers are suspicious of AI because they distrust new technology and fear that AI will replace jobs in the industry.

In the legal sector, paying people to review and write contracts comprises nearly $35 billion in annual spending. BlackBoiler, meanwhile, automates up to 70% of that corporate-contract process.

“AI won’t replace lawyers, but lawyers who use AI will replace lawyers who don’t. That’s because AI, or any well-developed legal technology, allows knowledge workers to become more efficient. Mundane, repetitive tasks can be automated, allowing lawyers to spend their time providing more meaningful counsel to their clients,” said Millard.

One way BlackBoiler is looking to gain trust among lawyers is to let users choose how strong the AI’s contract markups will be.

“When a contract is reviewed you can set the AI at 100% strength to completely markup a contract according to your standards and historical edits, or change the strength to 80% so that it is not as ‘aggressively’ edited,” said Millard.

Based on past research, she said the company believes lawyers may be less hesitant to use AI-enabled software if they have more control over the technology.

“We believe AI adoption can be driven by recognizing that humans and machines must work together — and learn from one another. Humans and AI actively enhance each other’s complementary strengths,” Millard said. “For example, BlackBoiler does not eliminate the need for human expertise. Instead, it enables an ideal partnership between human reviewers and machines.”

Millard says the research will help other companies beyond BlackBoiler. The company intends to share its findings with other AI-powered technology companies so that they can make their tools easier to adopt as well.

The $100,000 award was one of 34 grants given by the inaugural Commonwealth Commercialization Fund, which is a state program that awards funding to companies that are conducting technology-based research to accelerate their businesses.

BlackBoiler was founded in 2017 and has an office along Lee Highway near the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. The company received $3.2 million in funding last fall, and since then, it’s used the money to make several new hires, including two senior contract analysts, two software engineers, a customer success manager and a sales director, Millard said.

How Blackboiler’s AI-assisted contract review system would work (courtesy of Blackboiler)
0 Comments
Fire Station 5 in Aurora Highlands (via Google Maps)

Arlington County’s first responders, family and friends will gather on Saturday, Sep. 11 for a bike ride to honor those who responded to the attack on the Pentagon 20 years ago.

The bike ride will also commemorate the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Called the 20th Anniversary 9/11 Ride of Hope, the 15-mile bike ride will stop at the nine Arlington fire stations that responded to the Sep. 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

The ride will begin at 7 a.m. at Fire Station 6 (6950 Little Falls Road), near Falls Church, and for most attendees, will end at Fire Station 5 (1750 S. Hayes Street) in Aurora Highlands. There, organizers will hold a moment of silence.

There will also be a wreath-laying ceremony at Fire Station 5, which will be a “memorial service for a grand opening of a memorial park” that includes a steel beam from the World Trade Center, which currently lies next to the station, organizers Dale Smith and Christine Cornwell said.

Smith and Cornwell are both retired firefighters, and Smith was on the scene after the Sep. 11 attack on the Pentagon. First responders who were at the scene of the attack will then ride to the Pentagon 9/11 memorial to lay another wreath.

Organizers said the entire ride will be at a leisurely and relaxed pace and will have a police escort.

The bike ride is open to all retired and active first responders, along with family and friends over the age of 18. Other adults may join as well, but with a limit of 200 people, priority will be given to first responders. After conceiving the idea, the two obtained approval from the Arlington County Fire Department to hold the event.

Cornwell and Smith said they hope that even if people are unable to participate, they still support the riders along the route.

“We really would love for the citizens of Arlington to either flags on the route, be on the route, or make signs for the first responders. I think it would be a really uplifting thing,” Cornwell said.

The bike ride is one of several Arlington events that will be held to remember the attacks on Sep. 11, 2001. Later that day, Arlington’s 9/11 Memorial 5K will start at 6 p.m.

Photo via Google Maps

0 Comments

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups, founders, and other local technology news. Monday Properties is proudly featuring 1515 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. 

Financial technology company Interos is now the first private Arlington startup to reach a billion-dollar valuation, becoming what’s called a “unicorn” in the world of startups.

The name was coined to denote how rare it has been to attain the $1 billion valuation.

Although 728 companies globally enjoy the designation today, the mythic animal fits the Ballston-based software company for another reason. Founder and CEO Jennifer Bisceglie now joins the 4% of unicorns led by female founder-CEOs, Fortune Magazine reports.

(Fluence, an energy startup also based in Ballston, was valued at just over $1 billion at the end of last year; it was formed as a joint venture of two large, publicly-traded companies, including Ballston-based AES.)

Bisceglie first launched the company, which develops AI software to help businesses identify disruptions to their supply chains, in 2005. The company is located at 4040 Fairfax Drive.

“It’s taken a lot of iterative engineering, working closely with customers to understand their needs and supply chains, and so much more to get us here. I couldn’t be prouder,” Bisceglie told ARLnow in an email.

NASDAQ congratulates Interos on pulling in $100 million in funding and reaching the billion-dollar milestone (courtesy of Interos)

The startup attained the milestone on the back of a $100 million funding round led by Silicon Valley-based investors. Venture capital firm NightDragon led the financing while other investors like Kleiner Perkins and Venrock also contributed.

“We were very fortunate to enter into discussions with Dave DeWalt and his fund, NightDragon,” said Bisceglie. “Considering Dave and his team’s backgrounds in security and risk, they immediately understood the importance of what we are doing and saw the opportunity to scale rapidly while continuing to support the growing number of companies and government agencies who rely on our technology.”

The company will now use the influx of funding to improve its product and expand its outreach.

“The new funding ensures Interos can accelerate its business at a time when supply chain vulnerabilities are front and center for companies around the world, following major supply chain shortages due to the pandemic and cyberattacks on organizations like SolarWinds, Kaseya, and Colonial Pipeline that put company operations at risk,” Bisceglie said.

Interos employees pose together at the office (courtesy of Interos)

Over the last two years, Interos has grown by 303% and has seen its platform used by NASA, the U.S Department of Defense, and a number of Fortune 500 companies. The startup’s mission became especially relevant during the pandemic, as COVID-19 led to trade restrictions and product shortages.

“COVID-19 and other macro and digital supply chain disruptions over the past year have caused boards of directors and other leaders to awaken to the tremendous impact supply chain disruptions can have on operational resilience, business performance and reputation,” Bisceglie said.

0 Comments
Voting on June 8, 2021 at the Walter Reed Community Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County will hold a mock election tomorrow (Tuesday) to test out ranked-choice voting.

Voting will be open to the public from 2-4 p.m at the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center (2100 Clarendon Blvd). Those interested can then attend a second session from 5 -7 p.m to witness the process by which the ballots are counted.

The county will use the mock election to get feedback from voters on ballot layout, voting instructions, and on “tabulation scenarios,” officials said.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates by preference on their ballot. Advocates for the system say that it leads to elections that are less negative and reduces the chance of an extreme candidate being elected, compared to a traditional winner-takes-all format. Some communities have ditched the election format after adopting it, however.

Arlington County and other Virginia localities have state authorization from the General Assembly to try out ranked-choice voting, but so far the county has held back from adopting it. Regulations are still being finalized by the state and are unlikely to be ready in time for an election until 2022, the Sun Gazette reports.

At a County Board meeting on July 17, proponents for the election system expressed frustration about the lack of progress in the transition to ranked-choice voting. In response, Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol noted that the mechanics of ranked-choice voting were “complicated,” according to the Sun Gazette.

Earlier in the year, the Arlington County Civic Federation held Zoom meetings to discuss county voting reforms, chief among them ranked-choice voting.

Although not yet in use by the County Board, the Arlington County Democratic Committee does use ranked-choice voting to decide its nominations for government seats.

Last May, the ranked-choice system propelled Takis Karantonis to victory in the Democratic primary, even though his opponent Barbara Kanninen, who now chairs the School Board, collected the most first-preference votes. Karantonis went on to win the special election to fill Erik Gutshall’s County Board seat in a landslide over his Republican and independent opponents.

“The Arlington Democrats have been using Ranked Choice Voting for our internal endorsement and nomination processes for several years, seeing a strong value in identifying the candidate that draws the broadest support from Democratic voters,” said Maggie Davis, deputy chairperson of Arlington Dems, after the Democratic primary last year.

At a statewide level, Virginia’s Republican Party embraced ranked-choice voting this May, using the system to nominate Glenn Youngkin as their candidate for governor.

Hat tip to Dave Schutz

0 Comments
Arlington Public Schools students learning on their devices while in person during the pandemic (via APS/Twitter)

Seven years after the initial rollout of Arlington Public Schools’ digital learning initiative, and after a year of heavier use due to distance-learning, opinions on tech in schools remain divided.

For today’s students and parents, virtual learning during the pandemic only highlighted the benefits of and exacerbated the drawbacks to iPads and laptops. Parents say their kids struggle to focus, navigate programs and engage with the material. Students tell ARLnow that the devices can make their learning easier, more efficient and more interesting, but some have also outsmarted controls to watch TV and play games.

“They help you out. You can just search up anything you need there,” said Liam, a rising seventh-grader in APS. He added that it’s easier to stay on top of work and grades online using Canvas, the division’s learning management system, saying “you can see if you have any missing assignments, and if you’re doing well in school or not.”

Views appear to remain as entrenched as they were in 2019, when North Carolina State University studied tech use and support for devices in APS. At the time, 55% of parents supported the initiative, compared to the 85% of teachers and 75% of students who said devices improved the learning experience.

Through its initial rollout, APS aimed to give each 2nd-12th grade student a tablet or laptop for school use by 2017. From 2017 up until the pandemic, APS provided iPads to all students between third and eighth grade and MacBook Airs to high school students.

Today, the school system uses approximately 34,000 student devices, including both individual devices and shared computers, according to an APS spokesperson. This includes all K-2 students, who were given iPads during the pandemic to facilitate virtual learning when schools were closed. This year, K-2 students will continue to have access to individual devices.

Most students will be in-person this fall, using their devices in the classroom setting. About 890 will be learning fully at a distance, due to the pandemic and personal preference. That preference is set to eventually give rise to a full-time, APS-run virtual learning academy for those who want the flexibility provided by learning at home on their own time.

Over the last year, iPads and MacBooks were how students interacted with teachers and classmates and completed assignments via Microsoft Teams and Google Workspace apps, along with apps such as Dreambox, which offers interactive math lessons and games, and Seesaw, which is like the digital equivalent of a homework folder that both teachers and parents can access.

“Our kids are using their iPads for content delivery, for collaboration, and for writing, reading, and simulation. Creatively, they’re also doing activities and learning through research and creating projects,” Arlington Traditional School instructional technology coordinator Marie Hone said.

Rising fourth-grader Spencer suggests that without iPads, virtual learning would have been more difficult.

“We were able to have calls with our teacher and meet together for school, unlike the year before that,” he said.

Pre-pandemic, high schoolers Anthony Doll and Wyatt Shoelson say that they used their MacBooks in just about every class.

“MacBooks make it easier to keep everything in one place. Typing everything out and going on websites for classes is easier. It’s better to do it electronically than on paper,” Doll said. “My high school experience would be a lot more disorganized without MacBooks.”

Still, concerns remain. Rising second-grader Cecilia Leonard tells ARLnow that the approximately three hours she spent on her iPad throughout the school day hurt her eyes. Experts say that kids who spend too much time on screens may experience eye fatigue and sleep problems.

Middle and elementary school students also tell stories of classmates circumventing device restrictions to play video games and stream videos.

“There are these websites that are pretty much educational, but there’s also a non-educational twist to them, and you can play games on them. We also figured out you can watch Hulu on certain websites,” Spencer said.

And parents? Some have been critical of the program since 2014, when they said it was put in the budget with little public input. After watching their kids learn online for a full year, some parents are not convinced they help. Whether during Arlington School Board meetings or on online forums, some parents continue to be concerned about whether iPads and MacBooks help students or hurt them.

“Devices are not the answer to teach kids. Many kids craved paper and were denied. The iPad was a wonderful connection device but difficult for production and navigation of several tabs for middle school kids,” said parent Kelly Alexis, who manages the Facebook group Arlington Education Matters, where much discussion over iPads and laptops has taken place.

Read More

0 Comments
×

Subscribe to our mailing list