Arlington, VA

Over forty trees are planned to be removed to make way for a new elementary school in Westover, but Arlington Public Schools is hosting one last meeting about potential tree-saving solutions before construction starts.

A discussion is scheduled with neighbors on Monday (Sept. 16) at the edge of the grove will involve discussion of whether any of the trees can be saved. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the basketball court on the Reed site (1644 N. McKinley Road).

The current plans call for the removal of roughly 42 trees to facilitate construction that will add to the building that houses the Westover Library and, soon, a new neighborhood elementary school.

Residents have expressed concerns about the removal of the grove, which includes a variety of maple, cedar and mulberry trees. A presentation on the project noted that an inventory of the trees was prepared by a certified arborist and tree removal was recommended.

According to the presentation:

Decisions on tree removal balanced: Building location and required excavation, site improvements (play areas, universally accessible walkways, etc.) and underground utilities (sanitary, storm, geothermal, etc.).

The designs for the site include adding 82 replacement trees, well above the 49 trees required to be planted according to county regulations.

But the plans have drawn some criticism from neighbors and local environmentalists. County Board candidate Audrey Clement specifically addressed the County Board’s approval of the project for its destruction of the trees at a debate this past Monday  (Sept. 9). Many of the trees are larger, like a silver maple tree 4.5 feet wide.

At the meeting next Monday, the presentation says neighbors will be invited to discuss the removal with an arborist and county staff.

But any moving of the remaining trees will have to occur quickly: construction of the new school is scheduled to start by the end of September.

The Westover neighborhood suffered extensive damage from flooding this summer, but school officials said the new school will include updated stormwater protections.

“Stormwater structures and basins are much enhanced from what exists on-site now as per current state stormwater requirements,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia.

Map via Arlington Public Schools

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A problem with the air conditioning at Washington Liberty High School is prompting an early dismissal.

With temperatures expected to climb into the mid-90s today, school administrators decided to send students home at 10:40 a.m. rather than have them stay in increasingly warm classrooms.

More via a letter sent to W-L families from the school’s principal:

Washington-Liberty Families and Staff:

The HVAC system at W-L is currently not working properly. Based on forecasted temperatures in the mid to upper 90s, we have made the decision to dismiss students at 10:40 a.m. Transportation will pick up bus riders at that time as well.

All after school athletic events will go on as planned unless those families hear from their coach.

The health and safety of our students and staff is our primary focus. Facilities has crews at the school to repair HVAC system and we will update you on operations for tomorrow. We apologize for the inconvenience and disruption to the schedule.

Please call the office if you have any questions.

Sincerely,

Gregg Robertson,
Principal

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(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) The achievement gap, overcrowding, an obnoxious name change debate: there’s a lot on the minds of Arlington’s high school students.

Though a few issues tie all of the schools together, the editors of the student newspapers at Yorktown, Wakefield and Washington-Liberty also said there were certain features that make the schools — and the student coverage — unique. The editors shared the inside stories of life for local students.

United by Overcrowding

Across all three of the schools, all of the editorial teams agreed that overcrowding — thanks to an ever rising student population — was one of the biggest problems.

“It’s especially an issue this year,” said Charlie Finn, one of the head editors of the Yorktown Sentry. “We already have overcrowding and the main problem is crowded classrooms.”

Finn and Joseph Ramos, Yorktown Sentry’s other head editor, noted that the Sentry has worked on reporting overcrowding from within the school. Articles from the Yorktown Sentry detail the challenges students face in overcrowded schools and review proposed solutions.

At Washington-Liberty, the school is so crowded the interview with the students had to be held in a corner of a hallway already packed with students eating or doing work.

“I do think overcrowding is an issue,” said Abby, head editor for the Crossed Sabres, the student newspaper of W-L. At the teacher’s request, interviews with Washington-Liberty students use first names only.

“I’m in an English class with 38 people,” Abby said. “Schedules are being changed to deal with the numbers of students, especially in the [International Baccalaureate] program.”

At the Wakefield Chieftain, editor Carla Barefoot said students learned this year that pep rallies would be held outside rather than inside because the gym can’t fit the entire student body.

But each school also said there are also issues central to each school’s community they’re working to cover.

Yorktown: Investigating the Achievement Gap

At Yorktown, Ramos said one of his goals for the upcoming school year is to highlight the school’s achievement gap.

“We want to focus on the achievement gaps [at Yorktown],” Ramos said, citing figures published by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization. “Black students are 11 times more likely to be suspended as white students and white students are twice as likely to take [advanced placement] classes.”

Ramos also recognized that exploring the achievement gap — an issue inextricably tied to racial disparities in Arlington’s least diverse high school — will require thorough research and a delicate touch.

“In covering the achievement gap, it’s going to be important to look at all the whys and hows to tell the full story,” Ramos said. “It’s a sensitive subject — we can’t do a half baked job.”

Wakefield: Covering Diversity in 2019 Politics

Meanwhile at Wakefield, Arlington’s most diverse high school, the editorial team said all eyes are on the upcoming elections — namely the 2020 U.S. presidential election. The Chieftain’s editors said the student population was keenly interested in how minority groups in America would be affected.

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There are 234 students in Arlington Public Schools who have been granted an exemption from the state’s vaccine requirements for schools, according to APS officials.

The number of unvaccinated students is less than one percent (0.85%) of the total 27,521 students enrolled as of June of 2019. However, these numbers have proportionally doubled since 2015.

“We would need more time to investigate this thoroughly, however I believe it’s best attributed to the increase in student enrollment and how we’re capturing the data,” said Catherine Ashby, the Director of Communications for APS, in an email to ARLnow.

According to Virginia law, a family can request their child skip mandated vaccinations for valid medical or religious reasons.

“We are constantly communicating with APS so they can communicate with families,” said School Health Bureau (SHB) Chief Sarah N. Bell in a press release for the new school year. “What we don’t want is for any child to be excluded on the first day of school.”

The bureau collaborated with APS officials to check whether students are up to date on their vaccinations by the start of the school year.

This school year, Ashby said APS had 100% compliance for TDAP (tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis) vaccines by the first day of school among the families who did not request an exemption. This is an improvement from the group of around 30 students who did not have their TDAP vaccinations up to date by the beginning of the 2018-2019 school year.

Debates around childhood vaccination exemptions came into the spotlight this year due to the onslaught of measles outbreaks. From January to September 5 the CDC confirmed 1,241 individual cases of measles, a disease once considered eradicated, across 31 states.

A July investigation from ABC 7 revealed 8,000 students who live and go to school in D.C. — whether public, private, charter, or parochial — do not meet proper vaccination requirements.

In Maryland, the rate of unvaccinated kindergarteners has nearly doubled over the last decade.

Currently there are four states which do not permit religious exemptions for vaccinations: New York, California, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Maine will remove the exemption in 2021.

File photo

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Yorktown High School was placed in “secure the building” mode this morning after someone reported a man with a weapon near the school.

A community member called authorities around 10 a.m. to report suspicious activity near the Yorktown campus, according to an Arlington Public Schools spokeswoman. ARLnow hears that it was a man walking with a dog while wearing a holstered gun.

Police investigated and the security precautions inside the school were subsequently lifted, according to a message sent to parents, below.

Today at approximately 10 AM Yorktown’s front office staff received a report from a community member who indicated that he had seen someone with a weapon in the vicinity of Yorktown. As a precaution, Yorktown staff implemented our plan to secure the school while the Arlington Police Department investigated the situation. “Secure the school” means that all exterior doors were locked, entry/exit was stopped and students were not allowed outdoors for PE. Instruction continued without interruption. After approximately 10 minutes, the police department advised us to return to a regular school day.

Our first priority is our students’ safety, and at no time was there a danger within Yorktown. We applaud our students and staff for their responsiveness.

File photo

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Arlington Public Schools has implemented a new identification system for all visitors entering schools starting Tuesday, September 3.

Whether picking up a child or visiting a staff member, all first-time visitors — including parents, volunteers, and contractors — must register in the district-wide Visitor Management System (VMS), according to a statement from APS. In order to register, visitors must provide an approved form of identification along with the nature of their visit.

School spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow APS implemented the program “as part of our safety and security enhancements and to streamline visitor management at all schools,” and is fully covered in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

Accepted forms of identification include:

  • United States or foreign issued driver’s license
  • United States or foreign issued driver’s license
  • United States or foreign government identification
  • United States or foreign military identification
  • State Department of Motor Vehicles’ photo identification card
  • United States or foreign government-issued passport
  • Permanent Resident Card (i.e. Green Card)
  • Re-entry Permit
  • Arlington Public Schools Alternate Parent Identification Card

The initial registry includes a screening against the Commonwealth of Virginia and Federal sex offender registries.

In order to qualify for the Alternate Parent Identification, the visitor must be a parent or legal guardian listed on a student’s online information file.

“For example, an aunt who is the emergency contact for an enrolled student who is not the parent or legal guardian would not be eligible [for the Alternate Parent Identification],” wrote officials in the statement.

Once admitted, visitors must wear a temporary printed badge at all times. In order to exit the school, they must go through the same kiosk and use the barcode on their temporary identification to check out.

Following the February 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, then-APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy stressed safety as a top priority, noting APS officials have been strictly “reinforcing” and “double-checking” awareness of school visitors at all times.

File photo

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The school year for Arlington Public Schools starts up again on Tuesday (Sept. 3), and there are a variety of traffic changes around the county for drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians to be aware of.

There are several new traffic patterns around new and newly-repurposed schools. At Dorothy Hamm Middle School in Cherrydale, there are new traffic signals and signs, crosswalks and crossing guards near the school at 4100 Vacation Lane. At The Heights Building on Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn, students will be arriving at buses on 18th Street N., which will be closed to the public The Montessori Public School of Arlington on S. Highland Street is now a countywide school, meaning more buses will be at the school.

Drew Elementary School and the new Dorothy Hamm Middle School are both neighborhood schools now, meaning pedestrians and cyclists to the school are more likely.

According to the press release, drivers across the county should remember to:

  • Obey speed limits which may change during school zone times.
  • Avoid distracted driving and keep your attention on the road.
  • Watch for students walking and riding bikes to school.
  • Don’t pass a stopped school bus loading or unloading passengers. Violations could result in a fine of $250.
  • On a two-lane road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On a multi-lane paved road, vehicles traveling in both directions must stop.
  • On a divided highway, vehicles behind the bust must stop. Vehicles traveling in the opposite direction may proceed with caution.
  • Have all vehicle occupants wear their seatbelts.
  • Pick-up and drop-off students in designated kiss and ride locations.

Pedestrians are reminded to only cross the street at the crosswalk and follow the instructions of crossing guards.

Bicyclists ages 14 and under are required to wear helmets, while helmets are recommended for everyone. Cyclists should keep to the right and ride with traffic, then to lock up the bicycle when not in use.

File photo

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At a ribbon-cutting yesterday (Thursday), Arlington’s Montessori community celebrated the landmark ribbon-cutting for Virginia’s first standalone public K-5 Montessori school.

For years, the Arlington Public Schools’ Montessori program operated as an entity within Drew Model School. But now, the program has launched its own school inside 701 S. Highland Street — formerly Patrick Henry Elementary School.

Faculty, parents and students all celebrated the new opportunities that come with having their own school. School Board member Monique O’Grady compared the change to a metamorphosis befitting the new school’s mascot: a butterfly.

The Montessori Method is an educational philosophy that emphasizes nurturing a love of learning by offering students more educational freedom than what’s found in a traditional public school.

“Our teachers have always done a great job, but here we can carry the Montessori philosophy out of the classrooms and into the halls or outside,” Principal Catharina Genove said. “It adds to their community and it encourages collaboration throughout the hallways.”

The school currently has close to 500 students, selected through a lottery system held every spring. Students in the school traditionally stay with the same teachers for three-year cycles.

The path to the Montessori School’s independent opening was fraught with some controversy, most recently with parents from the Patrick Henry Elementary School saying they felt betrayed by the School Board’s decision to break up that school population.

“No project planning is smooth, but you persevered,” School Board Chair Tannia Talento told the crowd at the ribbon-cutting. “You have advocated and made all the efforts to get us here.”

Students at the opening sang a modified version of the Lil Nas X hit “Old Town Road” before proceeding inside to tour their new classrooms. Inside, teachers greeted old students and helped calm down children who were stressed about the new location.

“As of today, there are 502 public Montessori schools across the country, and [around] 300 of them opened in the last 10 or 15 years,” said Katie Brown, Director of Professional Learning at the National Center for Montessori in the Public Sector. “This shows an increasing demand for a holistic and child-centered approach. It’s [a program] that’s gone from the margins of education into the mainstream.”

“Montessori has been traditionally viewed as a program accessible only to the wealthy due to the high cost associated with it,” said Mrinal Oberoi, a PTA member. “It has been made especially famous by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Stephen Curry, etc. MPSA makes Montessori education accessible to all.”

Students at the opening said they were excited to feel less cramped than in their previous school.

The change also comes with a handful of new transportation changes. Residents will likely notice more busses in the area since the school is a countywide program, according to a press release from APS.

Other changes include:

  • The entrance on S. Highland Street will be bus-only and one way, with buses exiting on Walter Reed Drive.
  • The south entrance to the building, next to the library, will not be available to entry from 7:30-8:30 a.m. to accommodate bus traffic.
  • Parent drop-off is in the nine spaces between the 15-minute parking signs on Highland Street with queuing on 9th Street S.
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Washington-Liberty High School is set to open to students next week, and with the new name come two new logos for the school and the rebranding for an old logo.

One logo — a profile of George Washington outlined against the Liberty Bell — was designed by students and painted to welcome students to the rebranded school, which was formerly named Washington-Lee. The image is similar to the older logo for the school but removes the profile of its former namesake, Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

“There are three logos being used,” Frank Bellavia, spokesman for Arlington Public Schools, said in an email to ARLnow. “The one in the tweet is one and was created by a student.”

The school website uses another logo: a coat of arms with the first president and the big bell emblazoned on a shield. Bellavia said this logo was designed by the Principal’s Student Advisory Board and the Student Athletic Council.

Both logos include a smaller version of the classic W-L overlay, which will continue to be used as another school logo.

Photo 1 via @wl_arts/Twitter, photo 2, 3 via APS

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) There’s still a lot that needs to be done in The Heights, the new home of H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program and the Shriver Program, before the school opens next week.

Construction crews are putting on the finishing touches of the building at 1601 Wilson Blvd even as teachers get their classrooms ready for the start of school next Tuesday (Sept. 3). Much of the state-of-the-art interior is completed.

Demolition for the old Wilson School at the site started in 2017, with crews working since then to build the new, five-story terraced structure. Most of the building is slated to be open and usable when school starts, though the auditorium remains under construction. Jeffrey Chambers, director of design and construction for Arlington Public Schools, explained that there’s still construction work that needs to be done and it won’t be accessible until a few weeks after the school opens.

There are other projects around the school, smaller pieces Chambers described as “finishing up the punch list,” but Chambers said any construction work that would be disruptive to students will be done after hours.

“We’re excited to open in a week,” said Dr. Casey Robinson, principal of H-B Woodlawn. “There’s lots to do and we’re having lots of fun exploring the new space.”

H-B Woodlawn is a secondary program with a focus on students playing an integral role in developing school curriculum and shaping the culture of the school. Robinson was a student at the old H-B Woodlawn and later became a teacher there, so like much of the faculty she’s still adjusting to the new location, but she and the others are approaching it with a smile.

“We’ve been telling ourselves and our students that the comfortable feeling [at the old school] took 40 years to create,” Robinson said. “It won’t happen overnight.”

But artifacts brought over from the old school have helped soften the blow of the move for Robinson, as has an elaborate mural painted across the main common area that includes images from the generations that decorated the walls of the old school. Robinson said a “town meeting” planned with faculty and students will decide how the relics should be displayed.

The lower two floors of the building will be devoted to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Program — formerly the Stratford Program. The two programs will share a common area, cafeteria, auditorium and other school amenities.

“I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am [for school to start again],” said Dr. Karen Gerry, principal of the Shriver Program. “It’s surreal to be in this beautiful building and we’re excited to collaborate again with H-B Woodlawn.”

Plans for the new building haven’t always been happily received by the H-B Woodlawn community, but faculty at the school seemed determined to make the best of the new, more urban location.

“All of your familiar teachers are ready to welcome you back,” Robinson said.

Bill Podolski, director of choral activities at H-B Woodlawn, wore a shirt with an artistic rendering of the school’s former beloved home — which has been transformed into a neighborhood middle school — but seemed happy in a spacious band room with a full wall of multi-floor windows.

“We’re going to make it home,” said Podolski.

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Students and commuters around Arlington can expect some significant traffic changes this school year, Arlington Public Schools officials say.

Fifteen new buses, along with new crosswalks and streetlights, are among the changes expected in the new school year, which is set to start in two weeks for most students.

The changes center around two new Arlington schools — in Rosslyn and Arlington Heights — and the renovated former home of H-B Woodlawn (now a middle school) in Cherrydale.

Rosslyn

The Heights Building accommodate students from H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program as well as the newly-renamed Shriver Program for students with special needs. With more than 700 students now commuting to Rosslyn on a daily basis, APS is working to make sure traffic keeps flowing and students stay safe near the school at 1601 Wilson Blvd.

“All buses will load and unload behind the school on 18th Street, which will be closed to general traffic,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia said. “During the day, there will also be an increase in pedestrian traffic as students leave campus for during the school day.”

The good news is that the 2019-2020 school year marks the end of construction on and around the Heights building.

Cherrydale

H-B Woodlawn and Shriver students used to travel from across the county to attend class in their old school building at 4100 Vacation Lane, now renamed and rebuilt as the Dorothy Hamm Middle School. Now that they’re gone, the middle school students who will take over will be from the neighborhood around the school, and will likely arrive earlier in the morning.

“Now that it is a neighborhood middle school, commuters and residents can expect more students walking to and from school in the early morning hours,” said Bellavia.

The county has taken several steps to keep these neighborhood kids who walk to school safe, including:

  • Adding a traffic light at the school driveway at Old Dominion Drive, and message signs on Old Dominion warning drivers of the new light.
  • Two crossing guards at the intersections of Nelly Custis Drive and Military Road, and Lee Highway and N. Quincy Street and Military Road.
  • Flashing school zone signs on Lorcom Lane, Old Dominion Drive, and Military Road reminding drivers to slow down.

At the “five points” intersection of Military Road, Vacation Lane, and Lorcom Lane near the school, Bellevia says APS worked with the county’s Dept. of Environmental Services to make several changes this year, like:

  • Painting a “high visibility” crosswalk at the intersection of Lorcom Lane and Vacation Lane.
  • Reducing the crossing distance for students at the intersection of Military Road and Vacation Lane by bumping out the curbs, and adding striped crosswalks.
  • Adding a bin with red flags pedestrians can pick up and wave when crossing both intersections — a method the county is also using in Westover.

Arlington Heights 

The new Alice West Fleet Elementary School, where classes start at 9 a.m., is opening on the Thomas Jefferson Middle School campus at 125 S. Old Glebe Road. Middle school classes start at 7:50 a.m.

Because of the varying class start time, Bellavia cautions drivers to watch out for students crossing at 1st Road S. and Old Glebe, and 2nd Street S. and Old Glebe. He also noted that buses will be arriving in the area in the mornings until 9 a.m. and departing in the afternoon until 4 p.m.

APS says drivers can also expect increased Arlington County Police presence in the first month of school, as well as crossing guards to help students cross busy intersections, like 2nd Street S. and Old Glebe. Officers will be enforcing 25 mph school zones speed limits with traffic stops, APS said.

Photo and video via Arlington Public Schools

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