(Updated at 4 p.m.) In just seven weeks, engineering whizzes at Bishop O’Connell High School developed an app that NASA may draw from as it gears up to land the first American woman and next man on the Moon, in preparation for missions to Mars.
This week, NASA recognized them as one of top 10 teams in the 2020 NASA App Development Challenge, which occurred last fall. Students crunched lunar terrain data to create an app that visualizes the South Pole region of the Moon, and NASA will be using aspects of the 10 winning apps for its own program to help astronauts communicate on and navigate the Moon’s surface.
As members of a winning team, DJO students Alex Janninck ’22, Daniel Kippenhan ’22, Elaine Ly ’21 and Claire Toia ’23, as well as Sevginaz Gurleyici ’23, from the Madeira School in McLean will be able to participate in a NASA leadership event in February.
“It takes confidence, drive and a lot of perseverance,” Bishop O’Connell STEM teacher and team advisor Melissa Pore said. “This was incredible to see them achieve this.”
Students developed the app virtually, using “Code With Me” — the Google Docs of collaborative coding — and talked via Discord, a growing communications platform that is popular among gamers and teens. At the height of the challenge, Ly recalls taking notes in class with her right hand and coding with her left.
A NASA official said during a live-stream announcement that the students “displayed great team work by maximizing each team’s strengths in completing both the coding and non-coding aspects of the challenge.”
The odds were stacked against the students: The team barely met the minimum size to participate and the school went fully virtual (due to a COVID-19 outbreak) near the tail-end of the challenge. Team members also did not have app experience, and only Janninck and Ly could code proficiently — so they mentored other members in the coding language Python, Pore said.
“What adult groups would have persevered when they had to learn a new code and train others?” she said.
NASA wants to use this technology “right now,” said Pore, adding that the app can visualize any planet and is suitable for color-blind people.
“Good for NASA to use our smartest levels of students to figure out tricks they wouldn’t have thought of,” she said. “You taught the adults some lessons.”
Ly, who wrote about the news for the school, said she “wouldn’t be half as interested in engineering if it weren’t for [Pore].”
Always learning, Pore became a licensed amateur radio operator to build satellites with her students, and is working with the International Space Station so her students can learn about and access opportunities in aerospace engineering.
A senior headed to George Washington University, Ly nominated Janninck to take charge next year.
“He’s a really good leader and programmer,” she said.
As soon as Janninck finds another interesting challenge, he is willing to try it.
“We do need to get rest from coding and working really hard,” he said.
Especially since the next challenge could be a 24-hour competition to develop a floating settlement to flee to if a meteor strikes Earth.
“No sleep — it sounds wonderful,” Janninck said.
(Updated at 6 p.m.) This year, Arlingtonians spread Christmas cheer in new ways to bring hope to people virtually or from a distance.
Choir directors at Arlington Public Schools and Bishop O’Connell High School spent hundreds of hours stitching together student videos to create virtual Christmas concerts. A troop of Brownie Scouts virtually judged a gingerbread contest for folks at a local retirement home. And Santa is making special stops in Arlington in his pickup truck, visiting with children from a distance.
Bishop O’Connell choir director Kyra Stahr burned the midnight candle to publish videos to replace the Christmas concert, which is normally the most well-attended performance, she said.
“I feel like I got more creative in how to make that excitement and cheer possible,” she said, adding that she and her students donned Christmas sweaters and watched all the performances on Zoom.
“It worked out better than I could’ve hoped for,” DJO choir student and junior Tommy Green said. “It was a nice way to exit the year.”
Fellow junior Melanie Greig said “it was almost like we were actually singing together in a concert.”
Meanwhile, Glebe Elementary student and Brownie Scout Leah Meder virtually judged a gingerbread decorating contest at the Sunrise Senior Living facility near the school, on N. Glebe Road, along with other members of Troop 60095. From 11 participants, the young judges awarded the most festive, most creative and most delicious-looking houses, and also created a special holiday greeting for the residents.
“I still felt the spark of holiday spirit when we did this online,” said Meder, who is eight years old. “Since [the residents] are living away from people they know, and can only see them a couple times a year, they can probably have more holiday spirit.”
The festivity creativity in Arlington extends to visits by the jolly one himself.
This afternoon (Wednesday), Santa is parading his sleigh — a converted pickup truck — through Arlington neighborhoods from Foxcroft Heights to Columbia Forest, the final route after two mobile Santa visits through Lyon Park and Ashton Heights.
“It’s a tough year for everybody,” said Lyon Park resident Paul Showalter, who is playing the role of Santa. “It’s really fun to see the faces of the little kids as they see Santa drive up in his sleigh.”
This morning (Wednesday), Showalter said he made a special delivery to a boy named Charlie, who had asked Santa for boxes, thread and tape for Christmas. Neighbors and Glebe Appliance donated the boxes, and Charlie will use the supplies to make a British fleet ship.
Also spreading joy is the Yorktown High School choir, which sent the musical videos it produced to faculty, friends and family, reaching an even greater audience this year.
“That’s how it’s keeping my holidays alive,” she said.
The same gathering on Oct. 31 that took Bishop O’Connell High School online until December has forced St. Thomas More Cathedral School to do the same.
Two St. Thomas More employees tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a Halloween gathering also attended by Bishop O’Connell students who tested positive and prompted the school to cancel in-person classes.
The parochial PreK-8 school in Buckingham told students and staff school would be virtual through next Monday, with in-person instruction set to resume on Tuesday, Nov. 17.
According to the school’s calendar, confirmation, which was set for Monday night, has been postponed and will be rescheduled.
“When Bishop O’Connell closed… my employees went to be tested,” Principal Cathy Davis told ARLnow on Monday morning. “The minute we heard about the positive tests, we looked at our protocols.”
The children and staff of the parochial school are divided into cohorts so that one or two classrooms can isolate if a case appears. But her team decided that the smartest thing to do was to revert to virtual, she said, adding that the transition was easy since the prep work had already been done distributing devices and setting up Google Classrooms.
Davis said administrative staff will be drafting on a report after this series of events and will see what lessons can be learned, such as whether employees have to sign certain COVID-19 commitments. Currently, the school operates on the honor system, with a pledge to prioritizing student safety.
Unlike Bishop O’Connell students, whose return is scheduled for Dec. 1, St. Thomas More students and staff, including the two who tested positive, are slated to return prior to the Thanksgiving break.
“In terms of Pre-K and second-grade children, the better way is in-person,” Davis said. “Our goal is to be in-person.”
When Davis broke the news to parents, she said she “expected unrest,” since 83% of population are dual-working parents.
“Even I have been amazed at how positive everyone is,” she said.
She predicted the school will transition right back to in-person classes.
“Certainly I wish this didn’t happen, but if it has to happen, it’s nice to know we have a strong community who gets this is our new normal,” Davis said.
In October, officials from the Arlington Public Health Division repeatedly warned against celebrating Halloween with trick-or-treating, nightlife and indoor gatherings. Cases in the county, meanwhile, are on an upswing and just reached a fresh peak since the initial spring wave.
Bishop O’Connell High School went fully virtual on Friday, and will remain so until December, out of an abundance of caution after two positive cases came to administrators’ attention.
The two cases were traced to what head of school Bill Crittenberger called “an off-campus gathering” with “quite a few young people” on Halloween (Oct. 31).
The two cases, one confirmed and one presumed, were reported to the school on Wednesday. The second case was confirmed on Thursday. The two students likely came to school on Tuesday, with the 500-student cohort that comes Tuesdays and Thursday, though it’s also possible one or both were in on Wednesday, with another 500-student cohort comes in on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Given the uncertainty and the number of students at the gathering, administrators decided it made more sense to go virtual than to quarantine specific individuals.
“We felt like it’s not as simple as flipping a switch, but staff was seasoned from having done it in the spring,” Crittenberger said of moving to virtual learning. “I’m really proud of how O’Connell transitioned in less than 24 hours,” he said.
The school, in Arlington’s East Falls Church neighborhood, does not itself provide tests for students. Both families independently got tested and notified the school.
Although some schools may be more explicit about asking students to agree to COVID-19 norms, he said the expectation at DJO is that students follow Catholic social teaching and the commandment to “love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
“To be fair, some of the things that this gathering were about put folks in a spot that wasn’t ideal,” said Crittenberger.
Otherwise, everybody has been extraordinarily compliant about social-distancing and wearing masks, he said.
The students and faculty will be fully virtual for two weeks, which leads into the Thanksgiving break. Their first day back will be Dec. 1, a Tuesday.
Crittenberger said the response to the closure was fairly minimal and largely positive, with some suggesting that the virtual learning be reduced to one week.
“We’ve tried to be lockstep with the community,” he said.
Arlington public schools, meanwhile, will remain virtual for most students through the end of the year.
Photo via Facebook
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) Of Arlington’s eight private schools that offer a level of K-12 education, seven have announced plans to bring students to the classroom either five days a week or in a hybrid model.
Full Circle Montessori School is the only school that told ARLnow it is not planning on opening for in-person instruction.
All reopening schools have said they will implement plans aimed at curbing the coronavirus’ spread as cases continue to rise in Arlington. Required mask wearing, physical distancing and general compliance with Virginia’s Phase 3 guidance for schools were the most common strategies schools said they will use.
In other parts of the country, some schools that have reopened to in-person learning are already reporting coronavirus outbreaks. A recent study from South Korea found that while children under 10 are less likely to spread the disease, those ages 10-19 spread it “at least as well as adults do.”
The following list provides a brief outline of each local school’s plan. Only schools where the majority of education is at a K-12 level were included.
Full Circle has an elementary school for 1st-6th grades near Bailey’s Crossroads and Montessori schools at three locations throughout Arlington.
Tatjana Vichnevsky, head of school at Full Circle, told ARLnow in an email she is “not planning on opening Full Circle Montessori School until — at the earliest — the week of October 5.”
Vichnevsky added that her husband, an epidemiologist, is directing the school’s reopening plan using COVID-19 metrics for the D.C. region and Arlington’s population.
Our Savior offers kindergarten through 8th grade instruction to about 120 students at its Barcroft building.
Its reopening plan is based on a modified hybrid model. Students who do not want to return in person can choose distance learning, but classroom lessons will not be available virtually and these students will instead work with an online liaison to their classroom teacher.
Only staff and students will be allowed in Our Savior’s building, and everyone will have their temperature checked upon arrival.
Students must wash their hands when they enter the classrooms and everyone in the building must wear a mask. Socially distant breaks will be provided during the day for students to be without masks.
Rivendell School, located on Lee Highway in the Yorktown neighborhood, has K-8 education for about 150 students.
A spokeswoman said Rivendell “is planning to be at school with a modified schedule and mitigation strategies.”
Parents will also have the option of keeping their students at home for distance learning.
The Sycamore School, based in Ballston, enrolls approximately 60 students in 5th through 12th grades.
According to the school’s website, it announced on July 21 plans to resume in-person instruction five days a week in the fall.
No visitors, including parents, will be allowed in the school. The school’s meetings and community workshops will be conducted over Zoom.
Arlington’s four other K-12 private schools are under the direction of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
These three K-8 schools — with student body sizes of approximately 460, 220 and 400, respectively — will open five days a week for in-person instruction, according to Joseph Vorbach, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Arlington.
Vorbach said the schools’ reopening plans are primarily based on Virginia’s Phase 3 school guidance. The state encourages schools to require face coverings, limit gathering sizes, restrict classes and groups of students from mixing, and mandate six foot distancing whenever possible.
(Updated at 4:15 p.m.) A bear was spotted near Bishop O’Connell High School this morning.
The bear was spotted in the private high school’s parking lot by a construction crew, around 6:30 a.m., as seen in the photo above. It was later spotted around 7 a.m. closer to I-66.
“All the neighbors in the area saw it,” one poster said. “The workers saw it too.”
The Animal Welfare League of Arlington confirmed to ARLnow that its animal control unit responded to the area but was unable to locate the bear.
“Arlington County Animal Control was promptly alerted as was the Arlington County Police Department, Virginia State Conservation Officers, the Arlington County Natural Resource Manager, and Fairfax County Animal Protection Police,” AWLA said in a statement Wednesday afternoon.
“The bear appeared to be a yearling male… Animal Control quickly responded and monitored the area but was unable to locate the bear and there was no property damage,” the statement continued. “The bear did not approach any people, pets, or residences and quickly left the area. If a resident ever sees a bear we ask that they keep a large distance and immediately report to Animal Control at 703-931-9241. Animal Control is continuing to monitor the area to ensure the bear has moved on.”
Alonso Abugattas, Arlington County Natural Resource Manager, also released a statement.
Bears, especially young males, travel away from their families and often, as they don’t know as much as older bears, into new areas that perhaps are not ideal for them. They are shy and almost always try to get away from people, would like for you to leave them alone as well. Eventually they either find their way back to more wild settings or are helped to get there. They are almost always not a danger and just would like to be left alone. If you find one, just calmly report it. If you know they’re around you, don’t leave trash cans, pet food, and bird feeders around that may attract them. This is not an uncommon occurrence as bear numbers have really built up. For example, there are 4 bears this calendar year that have been seen in Fairfax.
A bear was spotted in the Reston area two weeks ago, our sister site Reston Now reported.
“It’s not uncommon to spot bears this time of year as they wander into residential areas in search of food,” Reston Now write. “County officials say that bears may be drawn into populated areas because of the smell of food. Other things that attract bears include garbage, compost piles, fruit trees, beehives and berry-producing shrubs.”
Photos courtesy Animal Welfare League of Arlington
For Families, $100K Doesn’t Cut it Here — “An analysis by personal finance site MagnifyMoney found that in some pricey cities it’s particularly hard to make it on $100,000. ‘The worst metro area for a family earning $100,000 includes Washington, D.C. and neighboring cities Arlington and Alexandria, Va. After factoring in monthly expenses, families would be $315 in the red.'” [MarketWatch]
AWLA Helps Kitty with Gruesome Injury — “Today we urgently need your support for a young orange tabby with a horrific injury. On Valentine’s Day, we received a call from one of our rescue partners in West Virginia who had just taken in a cat who had been shot in the head with an arrow.” [Animal Welfare League of Arlington, WJLA]
YHS Athletes Prepare for Collegiate Competition — “On Feb. 5, I watched the ceremony in the cafeteria of Yorktown High School, where 20 male and female seniors announced plans to play collegiate-level football, soccer, lacrosse, swimming, baseball, tennis and track. Only 1 in 50 high school athletes play at competitive colleges, said activities director Mike Krulfeld.” [Falls Church News-Press]
New Head of School for DJO — “After an extensive national search, and at the recommendation of the search committee, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, Catholic Diocese of Arlington, has named Mr. William Crittenberger the new Head of School at Bishop O’Connell High School, effective July 1, 2020.” [Press Release]
Nearby: Opening and Closing in Seven Corners — A new Food Star store has opened in Seven Corners, following the 2017 closure of the Food Star on Columbia Pike. Meanwhile, the Gold’s Gym in Seven Corners is reportedly closing on March 13. [Annandale Blog, Twitter, Twitter]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
A large fire department response at Bishop O’Connell High School this afternoon has been pared back after a gas odor investigation found no active leak.
Firefighters — including a hazmat team — were called to the school at 6600 Little Falls Road around lunchtime for a report of a natural gas smell in a deep pipe chase. They remained on scene well into the afternoon, investigating the odor with crews from Washington Gas.
Thus far, nothing hazardous has been found. The school was not evacuated.
A portion of N. Trinidad Street was closed during the incident due to the extensive emergency response.
More from the Bishop O’Connell website:
A construction worker at Bishop O’Connell detected what he thought might have been the smell of gas in a utility tunnel this afternoon. The Arlington County Fire Department along with representatives from the gas company have been on site all afternoon. They have detected no sign of a gas leak and they have not recommended any evacuation at this time.
Please know that there continues to be a strong fire department presence at the school. In an abundance of caution, they are monitoring the situation, which remains unchanged at this time.
Afternoon pick-up notes: The front carpool lanes may be closed off this afternoon. Students will be dismissed through the gym and Underwood Street lobbies. Please obey all law enforcement officers, and exercise abundant care as you pick up your students.
We appreciate your patience during these unusual circumstances!
Dorsey Declares Bankruptcy — “Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey, who was penalized Thursday for failing to disclose a campaign contribution to the Metro board in a timely manner, filed for bankruptcy last month after falling behind on his mortgage and accruing tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt… he attributed his personal financial troubles to a drop in income since he was elected to the five-member Arlington board four years ago.” [Washington Post]
Metro Delays During AM Rush — “Blue/Yellow Line Delay: Single tracking btwn Braddock Rd & National Airport due to a signal problem outside Braddock Rd.” [Twitter]
Arlington Among Best Cities for Frugal Dating — Arlington is No. 17 on a new list of “the best cities in the country for budget-friendly dating.” [SmartAsset]
County Aiming for More Budget Feedback — “This week marks the beginning of the FY 2021 budget season, Arlington County’s process to decide how it will spend County dollars. From now through July 2020, you will have multiple opportunities to provide input and inform decisions about the County’s operating budget and capital budget.” [Arlington County]
County Football Teams May All Make Playoffs — “Depending on the outcome of final regular-season games on Nov. 8, there is a possibility that the Wakefield Warriors, Washington-Liberty Generals and Yorktown Patriots could all end up as district football champions. Wakefield (5-4, 4-0) and Yorktown (8-1, 4-0) are in sole possession of first place currently in the National and Liberty districts, respectively, and are guaranteed at least co-championships if they lose Nov. 8.” [InsideNova]
Yorktown Field Hockey in State Tourney — “It took a while, but when the stakes became the highest, that’s when the Yorktown Patriots started playing their best field hockey of the 2019 campaign, in what has become an historic season for the girls team… By reaching the region final for the first time in program history, Yorktown also earned a Virginia High School League Class 6 state-tournament berth, also for the first time.” [InsideNova]
DJO Runners Win State Title — “After not winning the state championship the past two seasons, the Bishop O’Connell Knights have returned to that throne this fall. The girls high-school cross country team won the 2019 Division I state private-school crown Nov. 7 in Mechanicsville by dominating the field with 46 points.” [InsideNova]
Nearby: Potomac Yard Plan Takes Shape — “Just a few days after submitting plans for the Virginia Tech site near the North Potomac Yard Metro station, JBG Smith has submitted early concept designs for the development that will replace Target and the other Potomac Yard stores.” [ALXnow, Washington Business Journal]
Arlington zoning inspectors recently made an unusual discovery — a group of nuns living in a Williamsburg convent is currently running afoul of some county rules.
And in the process of trying to right that zoning quirk, county officials stumbled upon a similarly unique dispute within the neighborhood over how, exactly, the county should hand out a permit to let the nuns continuing living in their current home.
The dispute is set to come before the County Board this weekend, and involves a group of seven nuns who work as teachers at the nearby Bishop O’Connell Catholic High School.
The “Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary” have lived in a home along the 2800 block of N. Rochester Street since winning a permit from the Board last year, according to a report prepared for the Board.
But as county staff commenced a one-year review of that permit, they discovered that the nuns never obtained a “certificate of occupancy,” a document from the county certifying that the building’s occupants were following the terms of the convent’s permit.
Staff notified the sisters and the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, and they’re now recommending that the Board give them three months to straighten out that deficiency.
Yet they’re also suggesting a new condition for the permit allowing the convent to operate, after hearing from one concerned neighbor. That person expressed concern that “the use permit for group living/dormitory could be transferred to another occupant upon sale/leasing of the property to another user that could operate under the use permit without further review by the County Board.”
“If the current owners of the house were to sell the property to another user that agreed to abide by the current approved conditions, there is a possibility that another of the uses that falls within the group living category could occupy the premises,” staff wrote. “As a result, staff is recommending a new condition that would limit the use permit to the current convent use; any other use of the premises for group living would require a review by the County Board.”
If the Board agrees to follow staff’s recommendations, it will take up the matter again in April, when members could renew the convent’s permit for a full year. The matter is slated for the Board’s consent agenda Saturday, which is generally reserved for noncontroversial items to be passed all at once.
Photo via Arlington County