Arlington, VA

(Updated at 3:35 p.m.) Phoenix Bikes, a bike shop and nonprofit located inside the Arlington Mill Community Center, will hold a scavenger hunt across Arlington between October 16-19.

Meant to be a pandemic-conscious alternative to Phoenix Bikes’ annual Arlington Fun Ride, the hunt will take bike riders to little-known sites around the county as they follow a trail of clues.

“We’re inviting people to discover the new, quirky and fun things that have always existed in Arlington, but maybe residents who have even lived here for many years just don’t know exist or have never had a reason to go find them,” Emily Gage,  executive director of Phoenix Bikes, said.

The hunt’s full route will be about 20 miles long, but an option to complete half and a family-friendly route will also be included. Riders can win prizes from Phoenix Bikes as they solve clues at each stop that lead to the next location.

Gage said Phoenix Bikes looked for locations that are visually interesting and not widely known when choosing stops along the route.

While a full list is yet to be announced, Gage said there will be a mix of artistic sites and places with more historical meaning, a number of which will relate to Black history in Arlington.

Donors to the hunt include Lyft, the National Landing Business Improvement District and D.C-based Game Genius.

Riders can complete the route at any time over the event’s four days. Gage said this will decrease traffic and help maintain social distancing at each stop.

Locations can also be reached by scooter, car or walking, but Phoenix Bikes hopes participants will take advantage of the county’s bikeability.

“We want people to understand all of the places in Arlington that they can access by bike,” Gage said. “There’s a lot that’s hard in the world right now, and I think that there are some wonderful things to just enjoy and appreciate about this community.”

Registration for the event is open through October 15.

File photo

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Isabel Samaras, who grew up in Arlington, has illustrated the cover of MAD Magazine’s October issue.

The cover is for MAD’s “Super Spooferheroes” issue and depicts Wonder Woman’s “Lasso of Tooth” extracting a tooth from the magazine’s iconic cover boy. Samaras is only the second woman to illustrate a MAD cover in the magazine’s 68 year history.

In addition to creating art for publication and for sale, Samaras is a professor at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco.

Samaras spent most of her youth in Arlington, attending Glebe Elementary, Swanson Middle School and Washington-Lee (now Washington-Liberty) High School. She describes her younger self as being a bit of an outsider navigating through Arlington Public Schools.

“I was kind of an oddball, out there flapping away on the fringes, a nerd and an art nerd, some kinda double whammy that probably made me socially radioactive,” Samaras said.

Samaras credits her mom for first sparking her interest in art. When Samaras was young, her mother would construct paper dolls for her to play with. Samaras said seeing the possibilities for what an ordinary object could become fascinated her.

“It seemed like an incredible magic trick to me — this ability to make something, to make toys out of humble office supplies,” Samaras said. “I wanted to be able to do that, too.”

In high school, Samaras painted murals around W-L’s building, including seahorses in the cafeteria. She also painted backdrops for the drama department and was the art director for Penman, the school’s literary magazine.

At W-L, Samaras said her art teacher, Roy Anderson, played a huge role in her artistic growth. He encouraged her to try printmaking at a class in George Washington University’s Corcoran School, and motivated her to apply to Parsons School of Design in New York City, where Samaras attended college.

“He really pushed me to try things that were outside my comfort zone,” Samaras said. “I think about Mr. Anderson a lot these days, about the power of a teacher to light candles, to ignite excitement.”

Growing up, Samaras said MAD Magazine was a coveted treat to read. She remains an avid reader of the satirical magazine today, even as its national popularity wanes. To have her work on the cover, and to be the second woman to ever do so, “is a pretty big, tingle down to the toes, thrill,” Samaras said.

“When I was a kid, and for most of my life, I never saw any women artists in MAD, so it didn’t even occur to me as a possibility that someday I’d see my own work there,” Samaras said. “I’m a subscriber — still — so having the issue with my art on the cover show up in the mail was a completely surreal experience.”

The Wonder Woman parody on Samaras’ cover, which keeps with the MAD cover tradition of spoofing pop culture, is also in line with Samaras’ earlier work.

Samaras said her most popular work blends fictional characters with classic historical paintings. She’s painted Frankenstein and his bride as Mary and Joseph in a nativity scene, Batman dressed as a classical lord and a non-frightening Morticia Addams of The Addams Family holding a child.

Lately, Samaras has been doing more personal work, like painting hands to express different emotions. In these pieces, Samaras said she aims to give her audience a glimpse into how she sees the world.

“Ultimately I’m trying to create beauty, but there’s a lot of energy embedded in a painting,” Samaras said. “You spend an enormous amount of time dreaming them up and creating them — it’s not just a metaphor that you pour yourself into them, you really do… But mostly I’m just hoping that there’s a feeling of connection. A painting in a frame is like a tunnel or a window, from my world to you.”

Photos courtesy Isabel Samaras

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Busboys and Poets, a restaurant and arts space with a location in Shirlington, has been holding virtual dinner parties to replace its usual in-person gatherings.

Every Friday evening since late May, the restaurants has invited diners to watch a Zoom conversation between owner Andy Shallal and a featured guest, free of charge.

The restaurant, which has seven locations in the D.C. region, normally hosts in-person poetry, art and discussion-based events. Now, with the pandemic pausing such gatherings, Shallal said the dinner parties are meant to continue the “meeting of the minds” that Busboys and Poets used to facilitate.  

“We’re a place where art, culture and politics collide and we don’t want to lose that,” Shallal said. “We want to continue that collison.”  

Most of the parties’ featured guests have spoken at previous Busboys and Poets events, Shallal said. Recent guests include author Alice Walker, filmmaker Michael Moore and Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Shallal said conversations usually cover a speaker’s background and upcoming projects as well as their thoughts on current events like the COVID-19 pandemic, the national reckoning on race and November’s election. 

Viewers are encouraged to order meals through Busboys and Poets’ pickup or delivery service to accompany the conversation. Shallal said popular takeout items have been the blackened salmon and the chicken panini, as well as signature cocktails.

Busboys and Poets has also been holding open mic nights and poetry slam competitions through Instagram Live. Hosted by one of the restaurant’s regular poets, amateur poets log in to the livestreams and present their work. Shallal said he hopes these programs maintain a sense of community between artists and art consumers while they are forced apart.  

“These are moments when people want to feel connected,” Shallal said. “[People] don’t want to feel like they’re alone. I think these types of virtual conversations and programs that we do help people to recognize that they’re not alone, that there are many, many people out there who are longing for this kind of interaction.”

The next virtual dinner party is Friday, September 11 at 6 p.m. Reverend William Barber II, a pastor and civil rights activist, will be the featured guest.

Image via Google Maps

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An Arlington teen was named as a top 300 finalist in a national science project competition.

Eyuel Berhanu, a rising 9th grader who went to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, is one of the Top 300 MASTERS in the annual Broadcom MASTERS science fair, which is billed as the nation’s premier Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) competition for middle schoolers.

Eyuel, 14, studied mechanically stabilized earth (MSE) in his project. His uncle is a civil engineer, and through him Eyuel became interested in highway entrance ramps and the reinforced dirt that typically supports them.

For his project, Eyuel tested how adding different types of reinforcement to sand affected the sand’s strength.

“We had a little cube with the top open, and filled it with sand then a type of reinforcement,” Eyuel said. “The reinforcement is very strong, so we couldn’t just put weights on it. We had to stand on it, and the most we had was 300 pounds of weight on it and it didn’t crumble.”

Through research, Eyuel identified the most common types of MSE reinforcements used in construction, and tested each. Between metal strips, ladder metal, plastic geogrid and metal mesh, he found geogrid to be the most effective.

The project was based on a paper Eyuel wrote as a part of the Virginia Junior Academy of Science in late 2019. In January 2020, he submitted his work to Thomas Jefferson’s school science fair, and won first prize.

This advanced him to the Northern Virginia regional science fair, where Eyuel placed in the top 10% of competitors and was nominated to Broadcom MASTERS.

From there, he was selected to the top 300 from an applicant pool of 3,476 students. Eyuel said being chosen from such a large group was surreal, and he had trouble believing it when he first read the email telling him the news.

Eyuel said he pursued science projects out of his passion for STEM.

“My love for science and math [got me involved]. I want to be an engineer when I grow up, so that’s what got me into STEM and science projects like this,” Eyuel said.

When Eyuel was in 7th grade, he said he entered his middle school’s science fair and placed third, failing to qualify for regionals. Having now advanced from his school’s fair to the national stage, Eyuel’s dad, Teguwaze Berhanu, said he thinks persistence is a lesson that Eyuel has taken from his journey.

“He worked a lot and he spent a lot of time,” Berhanu said. “He tried in 7th grade and didn’t make it to regionals. And he tried again and did. He learned that by doing things again and again, he can achieve whatever he wants.”

Eyuel is starting as a freshman in Washington-Liberty High School’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program this school year.  He said he is looking forward to challenging himself in higher level math and science courses, and is excited to compete in science fairs at the high school level.

Photos courtesy the Berhanu family

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The Arlington School Board is setting the stage for a process that would evaluate the Arlington County Police Department’s role in Arlington Public Schools.

The School Board heard an update from APS staff on the relationship between APS and ACPD’s School Resource Officers (SROs) last night.

The plan is to form a work group to evaluate how SROs have impacted APS since they entered schools in 1969, to listen to input from the community and the police department, and to ultimately provide a report to the School Board and Superintendent Francisco Durán with recommendations on ACPD’s operations in APS.

The proposed timeline has the group being formed throughout the fall, starting work in December and presenting a report by June 2021.

Since June 1, the School Board has received 265 messages from the public regarding the role of police in schools, according to a presentation given in the session. Attendees of the session said the concerns expressed in these messages, coupled with months of local and national calls for police reform, are what led to a work group being created.

“Due to our national narrative as well as much community input that we have received, we have decided it is time to evaluate and examine our partnership with ACPD and, specifically, to review our long-standing practice of School Resource Officers in our schools,” Durán said.

The group will have up to 48 members representing APS students, parents and staff as well as ACPD and relevant County advisory groups. Potential recommendations could range from making specific adjustments to APS’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ACPD, which sets parameters for SROs, to removing all SROs from schools and ending APS’s relationship with the police department.

Eliseo Pilco, lieutenant of ACPD’s SRO unit, said that under the current agreement officers provide a variety of services to schools. He said duties include educating students on subjects like substance abuse, providing security for sporting events and evening school meetings, and acting as threat assessment supervisors.

Pilco added that officers help make schools more secure and provide a trusted point of contact for reporting drugs, violence or threats in school.

APS’s presentation described a racial disproportionality in student suspension rates during the 2019-2020 school year.

Hispanic students make up 28% of all APS students, but they received 45% of all suspensions. Black students make up 10% of all students, but received 26% of all suspensions. White students make up 46% of students, and received 19% of all suspensions. APS served 779 suspension in the school year, and all school discipline is the responsibility of school administrators and teachers, the presentation noted.

The work group will prioritize community involvement, with the first public hearing expected to take place in January 2021, according to the presentation.

“It is imperative that we have this conversation as a community, that we’re able to ask questions about whether or not our children feel safer now with the new revelations that are being seen across the county,” School Board Chair Monique O’Grady said.

Approving the work group will be an action item in the School Board’s September 24 meeting and, if approved, applications to be a part of it set set to open October 9.

Image via Arlington County

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Project Headphones, a private fundraiser to buy Arlington Public School students in need headphones for upcoming distance learning, has raised over $25,000.

The project launched August 3, after founder Cortney Weber started preparing for her kids to go back to school.

Weber has two children in APS, one in elementary and one in middle school. As an online-only start to the school year neared, she wrote a list of what her kids would need to do their work from home.

Pencils, paper, desks, chairs, internet, a quiet space to work. As the list grew and grew, Weber began to worry about the challenge buying necessary supplies could pose to families already in need.

She wanted to help. APS is already providing PreK-8 students with “distance learning toolkits,” but these do not include some technology-related accessories. Weber started crowdsourcing APS teachers and parents on the Arlington Education Matters Facebook group to see what supplies were still needed.

Headphones, she said, were by far the most common response.

“If you have multiple learners in a small space, paying attention would be very difficult if the child didn’t have headphones,” Weber said. “Communicating with the teacher could be very difficult because if there’s a lot of background noise, then the teacher might not call on a student… Also, these kids are just starving for interaction at this point. Peer-to-peer interaction [through microphones in headphones] is going to be essential.”

Of the donations so far, more than $15,000 has come from a GoFundMe page, while corporate donations total $10,000.

Weber began promoting her GoFundMe everywhere from Facebook to Nextdoor to people she met on the street. At the time of publication, it had attracted around 270 different donors.

APS started working with Weber in mid-August. It recently established a Project Headphones fund for corporations that want to donate. The school system is not itself providing funds to the project.

APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said the grant fund lets corporations make tax-free donations directly to APS for the Project Headphones initiative. ArdentMC, a cloud solutions company with an office in Rosslyn, donated $10,000 through the grant, and Weber stressed that more donations are needed for the project to buy enough headphones.

Weber initially gauged the amount of need by how many APS students receive free and reduced-price meals. According to Bellavia, 8,083 students received these meals in 2019. Next week, though, Weber is emailing all APS school principals and social workers to ask for the actual amount of need at their school.

“I’ve received two types of calls. One has been ‘how can I donate and how can I help?'” Weber said. “The second call has actually been from schools calling me and PTA presidents [of schools] where over 50% of their population is on free and reduced meals. They are like ‘how many are we going to be able to have?'”

She placed the first order of headphones with the $25,025 already raised. This bought nearly 2,500 headphones from a vendor selling at cost.

When the headphones are delivered, Weber will distribute them based on the stated need of each school. She will prioritize elementary school students, since she said older students are more likely to have headphones that came with a personal device and also tend to be better able to concentrate.

Weber said the distribution process, and operating Project Headphones as a whole, has further exposed her to the economic disparities that exist in Arlington.

“The equity issue within Arlington has been enormous for a long time,” she said. “I think this pandemic is only going to, unfortunately, highlight how different some of these schools are, as far as their needs, than other schools in the county.”

Photo by Malte Wingen on UnsplashLogo courtesy Cortney Weber.

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Arlington County’s new police practices review board answered questions from the public about its goals and methods in a virtual meeting Monday.

The board, announced in July by County Manager Mark Schwartz, used the meeting to elaborate on how it would “ensure that the Arlington County Police Department is current with policing best practices and continue to build trust between our police and the community” through its review.

Its work comes in the wake of increased community complaints about ACPD, local activists’ recent demands for police reform and a national reckoning on policing after George Floyd’s killing by police.

Questions were directed at representatives of the review board’s two parts: an external assessment of ACPD by a hired firm, and a 16 person Police Practices Group (PPG) with four subcommittees.

Marcia Thompson, a civil rights attorney and vice president of law enforcement consulting at Hillard Heintze, is leading her firm’s ACPD assessment.

When asked how Hillard Heintze will conduct its review, Thompson said it will first comb through ACPD data to compile a quantitative report on policies and practices like use of force. The firm will then create a qualitative report based on a climate survey and interviews with police officers and community members who have relevant lived experience.

Thompson said the firm will compare its findings to what are considered best practices for community policing, a standard set by the U.S. Department of Justice and policing accreditation groups like CALEA.

She added that reviews like this are typically asked for by police departments dealing with a publicized incident or failure, but she does not think similar pressure compelled Arlington.

“This is a progressive move by a department to actually have someone coming in and look at their practices,” Thompson said. “They have no idea what our outcomes are going to be, so that’s a very bold step that they took to have someone come in to look at their work.”

The remainder of the community’s questions were about the PPG, whose members are largely Arlington-based. The group consists of four subcommittees, with each looking at an ACPD policy area.

“Our end goal is to be able to take the assessment work that [Thompson] and her team are doing and combine it with community engagement work that the PPG group is doing, to present a set of recommendations to the County Manager by the middle of December,” Julie Shedd, the associate dean at George Mason University’s Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution and the PPG’s expert consultant, said.

Each subcommittee chair spoke in the meeting about what their intentions are and methods of analysis will be.

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Arlington Pharmacy, at 5513 Wilson Blvd in the Bluemont neighborhood, will close permanently later this month, owner Henry Herring tells ARLnow.

The drug store’s last day in business is set for Wednesday, September 23.

Herring said he bought the pharmacy last year from founder Won Lee, who opened it in 2001. The pharmacy was struggling when he bought it, according to Herring, and a recovery didn’t work out the way he had hoped.

All existing prescriptions will be moved to another pharmacy, likely the one inside the nearby Bluemont Safeway on Wilson Blvd. Customers can also call to move their prescriptions to the pharmacy of their choice.

Herring also owns Medical Center Speciality Pharmacy, a compounding pharmacy in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Image via Google Maps

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Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. Monday Properties is proudly featuring Shirlington Gateway. Say hello to the new 2800 Shirlington, which recently delivered a brand-new lobby and upgraded fitness center. Experience a prime location steps from the Village at Shirlington shopping and dining hub. Spec suites with bright open plans and modern finishes will be available soon.

Ballston-based FedTech was chosen to build a virtual technology summit for the United States Army.

Though FedTech specializes in advising startups and developers looking to turn deep tech products into profitable businesses, the company also is working to construct a platform for the Army’s online, three-day xTech Summit.

FedTech will build three virtual stages for xTech that attendees can toggle between to hear speakers, panels and companies discussing novel technologies that the Army could potentially use. The event is being held September 9-11 and is open to the public.

“The mission is [for the xTech summit] to be this awesome advanced technology showcase event that is valuable to non-Army eyeballs and the general public that is interested in the types of technologies that are out there in the U.S., but led by” Army-related technology, FedTech Principal Will Dickson said.

On the summit’s main stage, finalists in an Army-run xTechSearch competition will present their technologies and vie for a $250,000 prize.

The competition identifies startups with products that could “tackle the Army’s most critical modernization challenges,” according to its website. Startups are put into an accelerator to prepare it to handle creating contracts with the Army and becoming a commercial company.

FedTech built and operates this accelerator, which companies spend 5-6 months in receiving entrepreneurial advice and education from FedTech employees. The xTech accelerator is similar to one that FedTech offers to other startups.

“Our accelerator is for deep tech ventures, helping those businesses leverage the resources and customers that are within the U.S. government, primarily the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, but also helping them be successful out in the real world,” said Dickson, who is the accelerator program’s lead. “This could include access to venture capital, mentorship, demystification [of government contracts] and educational content. Whatever it takes to get these founders from point A to point B.”

Companies that recently completed the FedTech accelerator and are finalists in the Army’s competition have products like a drug therapy meant to treat battlefield hemorrhage, a rapid infection test that looks for up to 100 different diseases, and a high-performance lithium battery.

Photos courtesy FedTech

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The Arlington Transportation Commission voted 8-2 at its meeting last week to not recommend that the County Board submit a funding application for proposed changes to Route 50.

The project would, among other changes, widen the roadway to add dedicated turn lanes.

The application requests $25.1 million from the Virginia Department of Transportation‘s (VDOT) SMART SCALE funding program to make improvements to Route 50, also known as Arlington Blvd, where it runs between Glebe Road and Fillmore Street.

This stretch of road, according to VDOT, had 247 crashes on it with 61 total injuries between 2014 and 2018.

“This segment of Route 50 experiences congestion in the morning and evening peak periods and a high number of crashes,” VDOT said in an April presentation. “Route 50 averages 62,000 vehicles a day within the study limits.”

Potential changes would come from recommendations made in a yearlong VDOT study of this area. These include adding new left-turn lanes and expanding current ones, as well as installing raised medians in certain high crash areas.

Constructing a new service road where Route 50 runs eastbound between Glebe and N. Jackson Street, and reconstructing a shared-use path in the section, were also recommended by VDOT.

The commission did pass a motion to recommend the County Board direct the County Manager to lay plans for a Route 50 corridor study between Roosevelt Bridge and Fairfax County.

Members voting against VDOT’s recommendation cited issues with the department’s study — including what they said was a limited scope, a failure to consider how changes would impact speed in this section of road, and a failure to account for more cars driving this road — as reasons for their vote.

Commissioner Darren Buck, the most outspoken critic of VDOT’s recommendations during the meeting, said the fact that VDOT’s study only looked at the area between Glebe and Fillmore and not Route 50 as a whole was among his greatest concerns about supporting the plan.

“I do not want to apply to fund this fundamentally flawed project to fill pressing local needs when a more comprehensive study of the corridor is pushed off indefinitely,” Buck said. “I do not think [the state should be] sinking $25 million into a spot improvement that basically determines how the rest of the corridor is going to look when we still haven’t addressed that long-standing open community question of how the rest of the corridor should look and operate.”

Commissioner Margarita Brose, as one of two commissioners voting for recommending the funding application, said the already high number of crashes in the section outweighed concerns over the project’s cost and a widening of the roadway.

“The safety concerns really weigh heavily on me,” Brose said. “I understand it’s a lot of money for a short period but we’ve seen the statistics on the number of cars that go through there and the crashes.”

VDOT said the study’s recommendations were primarily focused on improving the road’s safety.

“The safety aspect is one of the key things that led us to try and find a solution or a way to reduce those crashed,” VDOT said. “That’s one of the key motivating things that got us to start the study and to come up with the alternatives that we reviewed.”

Still, commission members questioned the actual safety added by VDOT’s recommendations.

“We are adding lanes for cars and making the highway more divided so that cars will go faster,” Commissioner Taylor Reich said. “As a result of this, I am unconvinced this project will improve safety, especially for pedestrians.”

VDOT said its plan leaves three through lanes in each direction on Route 50, which is similar to its current state. The road widening, she said, is to allow room for new left turn lanes.

If the County Board approves a SMART SCALE funding application, there is no guarantee the project would receive the money. VDOT describes SMART SCALE funding as highly competitive.

Images via Arlington County

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The National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) is expanding its Farm-to-Families food program to allow for public donations.

The program, which launched in June, gives a weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need with children attending Wakefield High School, Gunston Middle and Hoffman-Boston Elementary.

Members of the public can now help fund this effort. The BID said in a press release that a $15 donation will buy a week’s worth of produce for one family, and $60 will buy enough for a month.

Public contributions will supplement existing funds to give Farm-to-Families greater reach in the National Landing, Shirlington and Columbia Pike communities. (National Landing refers collectively to the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods in Arlington.)

The press release said the BID has so far dedicated $10,000 to the program, which has allowed 150 families to receive the weekly produce supply.

FRESHFARM, a nonprofit that operates farmers markets in the D.C. region, supplies Farm-to-Families with the produce through their local vendors. The BID is also partnered with Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture and parent-teacher associations for Wakefield, Gunston and Hoffman-Boston.

“We continue to be inspired by the giving nature of the Arlington community and encouraged by all the ways that people have stepped up to lend a hand to their neighbors,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director of the BID. “The BID and our many partners are excited to now generate community support for Farm-to-Families and further our collective mission to create a healthier community, especially at this difficult time.”

The BID is also working with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, which recently started a food assistance program of its own, to further expand food access in South Arlington.

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