Progressive Voice is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Wesley Joe
Despite the heroic efforts of Arlington Public Schools (APS) staff, students and parents, our K-12 students are sustaining consequential learning losses this year. The declines are sharpest among more vulnerable students, such as English learners, special education students, and low-income minority kids. By the end of the school year, losses could be disastrous.
Looking at national achievement data from the fall, McKinsey and Co. found that “students of color could be 6 to 12 months behind, compared with 4 to 8 months for white students.” While the community grapples with the challenges of learning during a pandemic, we must also consider measures that enable students to make up the year’s lost ground.
In the hope of initiating a broader community conversation, I offer some suggestions. Planning for these efforts and finding funding must begin now. The recovery measures will cost money, preferably offset by temporary, supplemental state funding. Hence we must encourage our elected officials to put this issue on the agenda of the state legislative session that begins later this month. APS and the County Board also will need sufficient lead time to create alternative funding sources. A School Board member with whom I spoke acknowledged the difficulty of finding substantial new funding.
Recovery work should proceed mostly in face-to-face mode, once it is safe to do so. This view is based on parent feedback I’ve heard as a member of APS’s Math Advisory Committee, and my own experience as both an APS parent and someone who teaches online (albeit postsecondary, which in some ways is easier than K-12). APS students and teachers will recover learning losses more quickly and effectively in a live classroom. That said, virtual options should be available for families who need them.
As a start, APS should offer supplemental coursework to help reduce the learning losses. In high school, current students should be able to take an additional semester of classes. If doing so delays matriculation to college, a student could devote the remaining time to compensated community service, such as tutoring (more about this below), or earning transferable (and probably less expensive) college credits at an area postsecondary school (e.g. Northern Virginia Community College, George Mason University). Richmond should make this financially viable for the next several years, even though it’s expensive, because the long-term costs will be even greater than neglecting the learning losses.
The state, the Arlington County Board, or both should provide funding for APS to hold at least part-time summer school on a larger scale. Students who received D or lower grades, or who received low scores on key assessments, such as the highly predictive Math Inventory (a progress test that students take several times each school year), should be required to take summer make-up classes to achieve at grade-level. If we temporarily need additional teaching staff, hire some qualified, limited-term teachers. Indeed, Martin West at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education found that teachers who join the profession during a recession are at least as effective as those who start during boom times.
Additionally, limited mathematics and English language arts options (such as APS classes, Virtual Virginia, or postsecondary classes) should be available for students who perform at grade level but still need the deeper instructional engagements, such as deeper math work or more complex writing assignments and feedback, that were possibly sacrificed this year.
Summer school alone, however, will not suffice. APS must also offer supplements during the school year. APS could partner with local postsecondary schools to establish a Community Tutoring Corps. This group could be teachers’ “force multiplier” for high-intensity tutoring of small groups of students who have fallen far behind. Qualified college students and high school students could earn some kind of experiential learning course credit or perhaps tuition assistance for assisting with the tutoring.
The need to narrow the learning gap is urgent. I am certain that a community as creative and resourceful as Arlington can come up with even more ideas, which the superintendent and School Board can assess. Delay will only multiply the learning loss damage that is measured in financial costs, mental health problems, dropout rates and diminished prospects in life. Let’s begin that urgent conversation now.
Wesley Joe is a current APS parent, a member of the APS Math Advisory Committee, and a former member of the APS Advisory Council on Instruction. He has lived in Arlington for more than 20 years and teaches at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy.
By Rosaelena A. O’Neil
My daughter finally convinced me to upgrade my cell phone. I had been operating with a device that was about seven generations behind the times. She said, “Mom, it’s an investment worth making. What are you waiting for?”
When I fired up the new phone I couldn’t believe what I had been missing. I have a new appreciation for a “cell phone” – turns out it is a super computer!
In a similar vein, when we talk about higher education – and community colleges in particular – some people maintain an outdated, limited world view. Some believe community colleges like NOVA are “grade 13” or the higher education alternative for those less fortunate.
While the mission has always been to promote economic and social mobility, NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College) has seen an enormous “upgrade” in recent years. NOVA embodies equity and excellence in higher education.
Joel Vargas, a 2011 Wakefield alumnus, went to NOVA and earned his Associates degree in engineering. “My NOVA education gave me skills and perspective that positioned me to be successful leading diverse teams,” says Vargas. Today he is an established business owner and project manager and notes, “In my business we like to groom and grow talent. I see a bright future and long-term career in construction management.”
In education, NOVA has enabled equity through cost (less than half of the tuition and fees of other institutions); access (easy enrollment, flexible schedules, targeted advising and nearby campuses on public transit); responsiveness and agility (wrap-around services that meet students where they are and a key partner to the business community). A few examples:
- NOVA is urgently deploying the Reemploy Virginia Initiative launched by Gov. Ralph Northam in October. NOVA already distributed nearly $1.8MM for tuition and fees to re-skill northern Virginians jobs in high-demand fields who are unemployed or underemployed due to the pandemic.
- NOVA was awarded the Greater Washington Innovation Award for Jump Start, a tuition-free summer online course program for graduating high school seniors to earn college credit – a pandemic rapid-response program.
- NOVA and Arlington Public Schools are partners. Arlington graduates pursue technical and baccalaureate pathways or launch into ADVANCE – a co-enrollment pathway with George Mason University concluding in a four-year degree at a fraction of the cost. Our high school students benefit from increasingly diverse dual enrollment opportunities – college credit-bearing freshman and sophomore courses in English, social sciences, math and specialized science labs.
Kate Bates, President and CEO of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce, notes, “Businesses in Arlington need a well-educated and skilled talent pipeline. NOVA is essential to achieving the goal of an educated regional workforce.” Looking at its range of students, NOVA is a living example of equity, serving high school graduates, adult learners, career switchers, veterans, and individuals wanting to upskill to maintain a competitive edge.
Arlingtonian Kallan Moore, who says she “wandered” after finishing a liberal arts degree, notes, “I’m more confident today in my ability to gain new skills. I credit NOVA for helping me see that I was capable of working in a field that I had perceived as inaccessible and intimidating.” Moore says that “NOVA took the mystery and jargon out of tech. I can see building a career that connects tech with my current work in the law.”
By Matt Royer
The day after an election is often a day of rest and often viewed as the endpoint on a long path. I personally don’t believe that. No matter the outcome, moving forward on the issues you care about doesn’t stop after the election. It rests with the voice of the people to remind our elected officials why they are in office in the first place, no matter their party.
A case in point was in 2018 after the Democrats flipped the U.S. House of Representatives from Republican control to Democratic. Afterward, while some people celebrated the end of a successful campaign, I went to the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center to rally with fellow activists to protect the Mueller investigation. (Listen to “Non-Stop” for all you Hamilton fans if you feel the vibe I’m giving off right now).
After any election, whether the result was what you wanted or not, the issues you care about don’t stop demanding attention, and we still have work to do here in Arlington. Campaigns garner a lot of glory. However, it is in the legislative process and the governing that occurs between election days — especially at the local and state level — that we can make the biggest difference. So, you might be asking yourself, what can I do?
- Follow your local Delegate and State Senator on social media. Sign up for their email updates. Attend their town hall meetings. These are the people who are making decisions in Richmond and in a Dillon Rule state are affecting the way we govern here in Arlington County. If you have an issue you want to see worked on, email and call them.
- Attend listening sessions of the Arlington County Board and Arlington School Board to speak up about your issues. An example of democracy in action is the County Board’s recent review of the ordinance for short-home stays (such as AirBnBs). Renters showed up to explain that the ability to rent your home for short-term stays should not be limited to homeowners, because many renters (who comprise 60% of Arlington residents), could earn extra income to make ends meet while not displacing long-term renters. Ultimately, these concerns were taken into account and the ordinance was adjusted accordingly. This example may resonate with many folks since renters are often seen as not as invested in the local legislative process, yet and if they show up, they may find just how influential their opinion could be.
- Join a neighborhood group or an issue-based advocacy group, such as the Arlington Branch of the NAACP. If you are worried about making the time due to other obligations like family, there are tons of people right there with you — juggling priorities and participating in the democratic process — like Moms Demand Action and Blue Families, that have events geared toward families. Showing up and talking with your neighbors can open your eyes to things happening around you. And through that connection comes the power of collective voices — including yours — to make a change.
- Get involved in a local political party. Attend their meetings and hear what other like-minded people are working on in Arlington and in Virginia. I first got involved this way and I have found a way to connect to folks and our community through so many avenues by just opening this door.
But most important, show up. I use this quote a lot in my daily work and volunteer activities, and it rings true: “Decisions are made by those who show up.” This goes for Election Day and beyond. So, if you are passionate about a local issue and want to do something about it, showing up is an important step in gaining the change you seek.
This goes for Election Day and beyond. If you see a problem in Arlington and want something done about it, show up. If you have something you are passionate about and want other people in Arlington to know about it, show up. If you don’t like the direction we are headed in as a community, show up.
In a democracy, it’s up to you to make a difference. Every voice counts.
Matt Royer is a union member and progressive activist whose work spans campaigns and elections, local party leadership and environmental sustainability. He lives in Crystal City.
By Elaine S. Furlow
A while back, I was tutoring a young Afghan refugee when the time came for a statewide election. For that week’s real-life lesson, I dutifully collected campaign literature from both sides and used it for an invigorating session (I thought) on how Americans choose their leaders and vote.
“And in five years when you become a citizen, you can vote, too!” I concluded.
My friend recoiled in her chair — “Never!” — and instinctively clutched one arm over the other.
“But why?” I asked.
“Because they cut your fingers off if you vote!” came her quick reply.
Indeed, in her homeland there had been a few instances of the Taliban doing this, and rumors and fear had spread through the countryside. She at least had cause for her worry.
Today in the U.S., the reasons registered voters give for not voting are usually less drastic. Research from Pew shows non-voters mainly say, “My vote doesn’t matter,” “I don’t like these candidates or issues,” or “I’m too busy.”
Not good enough. You deserve to have others hear your voice. And your neighbors and family need to have your voice counted. Yes, turnout ratchets up in a presidential election year, (82% in Arlington in 2016), but still doesn’t reflect all our voices.
By Maya Jones
At five, I cast my first ballot for president, during an elementary school mock election.
In that moment, I felt I was making change, but that feeling was fleeting. I soon learned a hopeful child’s voice did not matter, and voting is a privilege. Frustrated, I vowed that at 18, I would exercise this privilege.
Seven years later, in 2008, I witnessed the world change as I watched the votes tally in favor of the first Black president. Being a young Black girl in Atlanta, I prayed my voice would matter someday. On my eighteenth birthday, keeping my childhood promise, I registered to vote. Despite being excited and empowered, I was consumed with worry as I walked up to cast my first ballot. “Did I have my driver’s license?” Because without it, I could not vote.
Now, with the October 13 voter registration deadline approaching for the 2020 election, we must ensure every voter knows they matter. We must resist voter suppression tactics and register all eligible citizens. We must empower voters regardless of race, ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation to be the change they want to see in the world.
In July, there were only 434 net new registrations, in Arlington, compared to the 1,645 net new registrations in 2016. The pandemic’s reduction of person-to-person interaction is partially to blame. However, some Arlingtonians remain unregistered due to the limitations of Virginia’s Online Voter Registration (OVR) system. These eligible citizens may not have access to the internet, possess a Virginia identification card, or simply are new to the area.
That’s why I and many others spent many hot summer Saturdays, standing in front of places like the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC), Shirlington Library Plaza or Penrose Square on Columbia Pike, registering voters (with our faces covered) hoping to encourage community members to join the electorate. Our efforts to help close the gap paid off and, in August, we saw 1,300+ net new registrations in Arlington, keeping pace with the upward trend in Virginia.
Our guiding principle is every person registered is a new voice being heard. A quick glance at history reminds us of the struggles we endured to obtain the privilege of voting and why we must keep fighting the good fight.
By Josh Kaplowitz
At this perilous crossroads for our democracy and our planet, Arlington County’s $50.8 million stormwater bond on November’s ballot is probably the last thing on your mind. But how we tackle Arlington’s growing stormwater problem has an awful lot to do with our current reckoning over equity and climate change.
The County is asking us to approve this stormwater bond to fund upgrades to the mostly-unseen system of concrete pipes and culverts that siphon rainwater from our roofs, streets and parking lots into its streams — and eventually the Potomac River. And it is indisputable that such upgrades are badly needed. Our infrastructure, which was largely built in the 1940s and 1950s as single-family suburban subdivisions consumed Arlington’s farmland, cannot handle more extreme weather fueled by climate change.
I have a personal stake in the issue as the owner of a house near Westover, one of the neighborhoods that was devastated by catastrophic rain in July 2019. Our house was spared flooding by mere inches, but our neighbors were not so lucky.
I am concerned, however, that this bond simply addresses the immediate problem without considering it in the context of our larger challenge: shaping a 21st century Arlington that is more equitable and more climate-resilient. Specifically, the County must do better on two fronts: who pays for these stormwater upgrades and who benefits.
At present, the stormwater bond would likely be repaid through stormwater fees, which are currently a flat percentage of a property’s value. That means the owner of a $1.5M surface parking lot, $1.5M McMansion, $1.5M townhome, and $1.5M condo all pay the same, despite contributing to the problem to wildly differing degrees.
The County is conducting a study that may result in stormwater being funded through fees on the amount of impervious surface (meaning buildings, streets and parking) attributable to your property — and thus the amount your property contributes to storm runoff. (The interim study is here.) But the bond was rushed onto the ballot before the study could be finalized. The County should, at minimum, ensure that the public pays the $50.8M under such a more equitable funding system.
But the County should go further. Single-family residential areas are expensive to maintain for an obvious reason: fewer taxpayers per square mile of infrastructure that needs to be maintained. This means that majority of Arlingtonians who live in high-density housing – including renters – pay more than their fair share for streets and sewers, subsidizing the lowest density (and wealthiest) areas. One way we could promote equity is by creating special tax districts so single-family residents with the biggest stormwater problems — such as within the Westover and Spout Run areas that will benefit most from the $50.8M spend — can more directly shoulder the burden of much needed infrastructure upgrades.
By Arbora Johnson and Doug Snoeyenbos
The coronavirus pandemic, and the associated impact on every level of the economy, has put a tremendous strain on small businesses in Arlington.
These businesses are the lifeblood of the local economy, and a large part of what makes Arlington and its different neighborhoods so special. They provide goods and services tailored to the needs of our communities. And many are owned and staffed by women, people of color, and immigrants — groups which have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and its economic fallout.
Progressives should do all we can to keep small businesses afloat during these difficult times, and to help them to recover as the economy starts to improve.
The Arlington County Board has taken steps to reduce the economic impact of the virus on local small businesses: providing grants of up to $10,000 to almost 400 Arlington small businesses, waiving signage restrictions to allow more advertising, easing parking regulations to help restaurants provide takeout, and approving Temporary Outdoor Seating Arrangements (TOSAs) so restaurants can provide safe spaces for diners.
Mehmet Osman Coskun, the owner of East West Coffee Wine (in Rosslyn and Clarendon), said that the County’s flexibility on outdoor seating has been especially helpful. His customers are more comfortable outside, where they can maintain safe social distancing. Mostly, though, Mehmet is grateful for the community members who have proven loyal customers. “I love Arlington,” he says, “this County is a special place.”
The Board’s steps are welcome and reflect the type of measures — and flexibility — that should be a permanent part of County leadership’s approach. But Arlington needs to do more. Businesses across the board are hurting. Ashley and Cuong Vu, owners of Nova Pharmacy in the Dominion Hills neighborhood, have kept their doors open throughout the pandemic but have seen a drastic drop-off in business — with little formal help. They are not looking for a handout, but how about a County program to connect small businesses like them with retirement homes or families in need to provide prescriptions? Like Mehmet, Ashley and Cuong are grateful to their customers and sincerely hope to stay in business but worry for their future.
“We don’t have that many customers,” Cuong said, “but those we do have feel like family.”
Arlington is blessed with many active community groups and highly engaged citizens. Let’s work collectively to support a thriving local economy that works for all. How can we rebuild the economy so that it works for everyone? Are there ways to help small businesses without directly offering government cash — which will be in short supply for a while to come?
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Cragg Hines
I’m old and fat. That’s two strikes in the era of novel coronavirus.
But that may be far from the worst problem for many seniors in this plague-like period, especially those who are taking seriously the suggested safety precautions, including social distancing or self-quarantine. The pandemic has only sharpened one of the biggest mental — and, yes, physical — issues that confront older Americans. An ABC report cited “the unspoken COVID-19 toll on the elderly: loneliness.”
The pre-COVID-19 answer for some older Arlingtonians was one of the in-person senior programs at a County-run Community Center. But these are on hold because of the pandemic, and at least one was under the knife before coronavirus hit. Under the current budget, the Lee Community and Senior Center, Lee Highway at N. Lexington Street, is already scheduled to close at the end of the year. Programs are slated to be moved to other centers. Who knows, however, what the stringencies of County budget review will mean to the remaining senior centers?
Well before the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, the National Institute on Aging noted that “research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”
It’s been five months since Susan Kalish, who works in Arlington, has seen her 92-year-old father, Jack Kalish, who is in an assisted living center in the area, although they speak by phone almost daily.
“He lived through WWII and the Depression and he says this is difficult in a totally different way,” his daughter said.
As of early August, he was not allowed to leave his floor nor allowed to eat with friends there, but restrictions will be lightening a touch. Visits can now be reserved ahead, so when we spoke, she had just been tested for the virus so she could get on the approved list. She booked one of the 45-minute visits — outside with masks, no touching, no food.
Kalish said her father is longsuffering but once did ask: “Can you remind me what I did to live in solitary confinement.” She told him that he had voted for the wrong presidential candidate.
Even as segments of society have started, often unadvisedly, to “re-open,” most seniors seem to stick pretty close to home. So the pressure on senior services – including opportunities for socialization – remains acute. Locations for congregate meals – with food and interpersonal contact – are still closed, and requests for popular services such as Meals on Wheels remain at high levels, even given the difficulties now with deliveries.
Lucy Theilheimer, an Arlington resident and chief strategy and impact officer for Meals on Wheels America, described the big jump in demand for food assistance and the need for fast adaptation of delivery models. The daily deliveries Monday-Friday and in-person visits have largely disappeared, replaced with fewer deliveries of frozen and shelf-stable food and a safe wave of the hand instead of a chat. And there has been a consequent decline in “eyes-on” checks on seniors. Daily check-in calls by new volunteers and paid staff have helped fill some of the gap.
Rob Swennes, an Arlington civic volunteer, a retired federal employee, and admitted extrovert, said it takes creativity to remain connected. He and his wife began walking regularly and have expanded their range. Activities like that “mentally engage a person and keep you from feeling lonely.” As a sponsor of non-profit farmers markets in Arlington, Swennes has been happy to see an uptick in attendance, with “a lot of people we’ve never seen before,” including more seniors. Yet Swennes knows not everyone can get out and that inability can lead to loneliness.
Arlington County government is battling this loneliness by offering virtual experiences and programs. The Department of Parks and Recreation, which ran a robust group of in-person activities under the 55+ brand, has launched new virtual programs over Zoom. Segments have included how-to tips, such as “Get Organized While You’re at Home,” and entertainment, such as an “Acoustic Hour Online” with rock n’ roll, ballads, folk and blues.
Arlington’s Aging and Disability Services Division is working to make certain that residents who were taking meals at the Social 60+ cafes are getting meals delivered.
Yet protecting vulnerable older adults against social isolation and further health problems doesn’t seem like a job solely for Arlington County.
Many people have a parent, grandparent or older neighbor whose social connections may have frayed during the pandemic. What can you, your company or organization do to knit our community fabric a little stronger?
Investing our time, resources and innovative ideas can protect a vulnerable population. It also helps build a lasting spirit of community in Arlington, and that seems a worthy endeavor.
Cragg Hines is a longtime journalist and former member of the Arlington County Commission on Aging. Photo via Cragg Hines/Facebook.
By Maurine Shields Fanguy
“What if next year school could be like a role-playing game and we could see avatars of our friends online?” my rising fifth-grader asked.
In that moment, I realized I was so mired down in fall logistics, I had not considered new possibilities opened with distance learning (DL). In business, disruption leads to innovation. Perhaps we will find the silver lining of a fundamental transformation in delivering K-12 education in this pandemic, and beyond, if school administrators, teacher, and parents throw out the old rules and ask, “what if?”
School administrators and parents reimagine the school calendar?
With a fundamental change in learning delivery, we have a unique chance to shift from an agrarian-based calendar to a modified year-round calendar. Two-week Fall, Winter, and Spring breaks would allow for intercession learning for students who need strengthening or optional enrichment. Breaks offer a respite for families who must be hands-on with DL. Quarterly breaks also allow time for deep cleaning schools or to re-quarantine.
School administrators also open enrollment countywide in some online elective and enrichment courses?
Could some unique offerings be opened to any Arlington Public School (APS) student, similar to Outschool? Imagine elementary art with recycled materials, middle school yoga, or high school history through a musical theater class open to any APS student regardless of zoning? We might approach discussions on boundaries and equity differently if geographic barriers are sometimes taken out of the equation to allow students from across the county to come together to explore their passions and maximize the impact of teachers with unique expertise.
Teachers transform the school day with bite-sized microlearning and the use of “Agile” principles?
“Agile” is commonly used in software development to improve quality, transparency and flexibility in achieving transformational outcomes. In a school, Agile could encourage regular student-led, teacher-coached reflection on work completed, identifying lessons learned and determining improvement areas for the next sprint. Agile could help bridge the achievement gap with teachers able to customize learning, offer more frequent feedback, and provide interventions earlier.
Studies show bite-sized learning can be more effective than traditional lectures and better matches the human attention span. Khan Academy uses this approach to enable learners to go at their own pace and move on when they are ready.
Could APS use this microlearning model to present shorter, engaging learning blocks with teacher interaction to answer questions or explore content in more depth through the day? This flexibility is critical for families who struggle with providing supervision for learning during the workday, households with multiple children and limited bandwidth connectivity, or for students needing to revisit concepts for mastery. Microlearning could also be a foundation to better outcomes for special education students and English learners.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Yassmina Hassoun
The good reputation of Arlington Public Schools was mainly why I moved to Arlington about five years ago.
But if we want to maintain that reputation, we have to be more inclusive. We have to do our best to include parents who don’t have the courage to speak up. It might look easy to attend a meeting or speak up for something that negatively affects you and your children, but it is not. Many of us feel helpless to make a change because we don’t have the right tools.
One of the most important tools is to understand “the system” — where to go, who to communicate with, say what we want exactly and how to find what we need. Many newcomers, limited-English speakers, and low-income families don’t have these tools. That makes it harder for them to advocate for their kids. This is where the community should play a bigger role to secure an equal education for all students.
I have not always been brave myself. Several years ago in another city, I went to a meeting at my daughter’s school. My English was not so good then. My daughter was having trouble because she didn’t understand the directions they gave her in class. For instance, if she was supposed to draw so many birthday candles to say how old she was, she would draw flowers on the page or something else, because no one explained.
So that night, I started talking. My voice was, you know, sort of shivering at first. But they listened and they started getting my daughter some help. I realized I could help my daughter and other people, too.
Since I moved to Arlington, I felt kind of lost until I was invited to an event called Roundtable, organized by Arlington County and the Community Progress Network. The purpose was to hear from people who usually are underrepresented. This event was unique because they made everyone feel welcomed and that their voice matters. They had translators for the most often-spoken languages to make sure that everyone could fully participate. They also documented participants’ concerns. For the first time since I moved to Arlington, I finally felt that I belonged and that I was included.