Arlington, VA

(Updated at 3 p.m.) Arlington Transit’s phone system to connect disabled and elderly riders to bus service has been hobbled by technical problems all week, prompting big headaches for people who rely on the program.

ART’s “Specialized Transit for Arlington Residents” service, commonly known as STAR, has been dealing with “technical difficulties” at the agency’s call center since Tuesday (June 26), according to a series of alerts sent out to riders.

The main STAR phone line hasn’t worked since then and remains down today (Friday). County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says ART is working on the issue with service provider Verizon and even the state’s technology agency, with a temporary solution on the way.

“The temporary solution, estimated to be in place later today, will forward the main STAR number to a number provided by Red Top Cab, which dispatches service for STAR,” Balliet wrote in an email. “STAR personnel have been taking calls on this temporary line and will continue until the issue is resolved.”

The phone system is designed to connect riders who might have trouble using ART’s regular service with a scheduled, shared-ride service to take them wherever they need to go around the county. Accordingly, this week’s outages have created big problems for riders with disabilities, in particular.

ART has also dealt with a series of problems with its real-time alert service in recent weeks, not to mention a host of bus maintenance woes necessitating some service disruptions.

Photo via Facebook

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As plans for a new building for the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program move forward, members of the Arlington Special Education Advisory Committee (ASEAC) say the design is not inclusive enough for students with disabilities.

In emails sent to the Arlington School Board, ASEAC and other groups expressed concern about a separate entrance intended for disabled students in the Stratford Program.

“The current design still appears to envision Stratford students entering the school through a separate door on the ground level of the building’s northwestern corner, next to the Stratford offices, with the main entrance being at the center of the building one level up, next to the H-B Woodlawn offices,” said a Jan. 14 email from a coalition of individuals and groups, including the Arlington Inclusion Task Force.

“Designing a building that has a separate entrance for students with significant disabilities reinforces the idea that students with disabilities are inferior, second-class citizens to be kept out of sight and out of mind,” the email continued. “Separate entrances emphasize difference, encourage isolation, and erect barriers, rather than fostering connections and providing opportunities for engagement. Separate entrances are an affront to Arlington’s inclusive values.”

The School Board responded in another email that all three entrances to the building will be accessible to all students.

The new facility, which will replace and demolish the Wilson School property in Rosslyn, has an estimated cost of around $100 million and is expected to be complete in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

ASEAC also criticized what it said was a lack of communication with community members during the design process.

“Feedback from parents, the Inclusion Task Force, and this committee appears to have had little, if any, impact on the final design. Concerns were raised and provided in writing to the School Board and APS staff in October 2015, allowing reasonable opportunity for these concerns to be accommodated,” ASEAC members wrote.

Universal Design principles, as defined by the Disability Act of 2005, were not applied to the new building and should not fall on the responsibility of parents to uphold, ASEAC said. Members called for the school to consider making the best of inclusive spaces such as the cafeteria, library and other common spaces.

In a letter, School Board Chair Barbara Kanninen said Universal Design was included throughout the design process and feedback from parents, administrators and faculty were considered throughout as well.

“We wish to confirm that design and operation of the new school on the Wilson will comply with the principles of Universal Design and inclusion and that students in the Stratford, ESOL HILT, Asperger’s and H-B Woodlawn programs will not be segregated from one another,” the School Board responded.

The full response to ASEAC, after the jump.

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More than 300 Arlington Public Schools teachers have been trained to help students with dyslexia by using an approach that combines various senses and teaches sounds before making them into words.

The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education’s Orton-Gillingham approach trains teachers to have students learn language by listening, speaking, reading and writing. So, for example, a dyslexic student is taught to see the letter A, say it and write it in the air at the same time.

Students are also taught to read and write various sounds in isolation before making them into words, and learn the history of the English language to understand its rules and patterns.

An APS spokesman said training is part of a concerted effort for teachers to support dyslexic students and help them get their reading and writing abilities up to a good standard.

“A few years ago, APS began training teachers to be able to support students with Dyslexia in their classroom,” the spokesman said. “The decision was based on research through the International Dyslexia Association on the best instructional practices for students with dyslexia. APS continues to have a focus on literacy for all of our students and making sure our teachers have the training, tools and resources to meet the needs of all of their learners.”

APS teachers are given awareness training on dyslexia through a 10-minute overview video, handouts with characteristics of dyslexia and training for school psychologists and special education coordinators to help them determine if a student is dyslexic and help parents understand how to help.

According to testimonies provided by IMSE, the use of the Orton-Gillingham approach is paying dividends.

“A student with an Individualized Education Program who came from kindergarten not knowing letters and letter sounds, with significant deficits in memory and attention, after a year with IMSE’s [Orton-Gillingham approach] now has consistent memory of their letter and letter sounds,” one APS first-grade teacher said in a statement. “The sentence dictation has resulted in growth of concept of word as evidenced by spelling, word space and sentence structure.”

The APS spokesman said the Orton-Gillingham approach is just one way the school system helps students with dyslexia. APS paid a discounted rate of $800 per teacher for the training.

“We have trained teachers from all of our schools in not only Orton Gillingham but other structured literacy approaches that provide systematic, explicit and multi-sensory instruction for students who have Dyslexia,” the spokesman said. “Our goal is to build capacity with all of our teachers to know about Dyslexia and then build capacity within each team to be able to offer a variety of interventions and supports for all of our students.”

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(Updated 12 p.m.) As elementary school students, blind triplets Leo, Nick and Steven Cantos were bullied, had few friends and no role models.

But that changed when, at the age of 10, blind attorney and Crystal City resident Ollie Cantos became their mentor after learning about them through a friend at church. He legally adopted them two years ago, and turned their lives around.

“I didn’t have friends, my brothers were the only people, that was it,” Nick Cantos said. “I was essentially shut in for seven years, and I was a violent kid. I got into fights with people, because I was being bullied in school. It ended up getting so bad that I wanted to end [my life]. Dad really saved my life.”

A ceremony on Wednesday night marked how far they have come, having also graduated from Wakefield High School earlier this year. At The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alexandria, the brothers became the first ever blind triplets to be honored as Eagle Scouts in the history of Boy Scouts of America.

To become Eagle Scouts, the highest honor in scouting, candidates must complete a slew of assignments, including tasks like first aid, knot-tying, leadership and orientation. It also requires community service, and six months or more spent in leadership positions at their troop.

Each also had to lead a community service project. Steven Cantos collected school supplies for low-income schoolchildren for nonprofit Aspire! Afterschool. He already volunteered with the organization, which helps children improve their reading, and had intended to collect enough supplies for 90 students.

When the supply drive was over, he had collected enough for 130 students.

“They go in and help kids read in a more advanced way, since they feel that reading is the first thing that kids need to learn, and then they learn other things if they can read better,” Steven Cantos said. “The project stemmed from the fact that I’d already volunteered a bit of time to them, so I wanted to give some more time… I decided that education is important, so let’s give them school supplies.”

Leo Cantos collected blood and blankets for INOVA Fairfax Hospital, a children’s hospital where he spent a month re-learning how to walk. He finished with 88 units of blood and 77 blankets, all donated by local people he had recruited.

“I wanted to give back to the kids, because I saw the kids there and I saw how they were not doing too well,” Leo Cantos said. “I wanted to give them a better experience, kind of like the one I had in the hospital but extended to them as well.”

And Nick Cantos collected donations of hygiene supplies for nonprofit Doorways for Women and Families, which helps people out of homelessness and away from domestic violence and sexual assault. He collected about $2,000 worth of supplies to donate to the organization.

“It took a lot of planning, it took a lot of work and papers,” Nick Cantos said. “The craziest part was seeing all my scout friends and leaders and brothers helping me to do this, and me managing this thing.”

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STAR, Arlington’s bus service for disabled residents, will move to a new call center on Columbia Pike after County Board approval of the plan at its meeting Saturday.

Specialized Transit for Arlington Residents will move to 2301 Columbia Pike, Suite 120, near Penrose Square, after the Board agreed to rent the property from the landlord.

STAR’s existing call center is located at 2300 9th Street S. in the same neighborhood. Its lease on the property expired on June 30, and while it can be renewed on a monthly basis, the landlord plans to redevelop the office building and no longer wanted a long-term tenant.

In a report on the project, county staff noted various positives for the move.

“It is accessible and near a major transit stop with weekend service,” staff wrote. “Because it has its own separately-powered HVAC system, the call center can operate on weekends without incurring the cost of heating and cooling the entire floor. This will yield significant savings for the County in comparison with conventional office space.”

STAR is a paratransit branch of the ART bus system and provides transportation options to the disabled and handicapped who are unable to use public transportation. Those who ride with STAR call ahead to make reservations to be picked up from their home. STAR then routes the ride to pick up other residents who use the system along the way.

The Board will rent 2,337 square foot property for an initial period of 10.5 years (126 months), with a base rent of $4,944.70 per month. That rent will be free for the first six months. Staff estimate it will take three months for the office to be built out and readied to be the call center, during which time STAR will stay in its current location.

The total cost of construction for the new property is estimated at $300,000, part of which will be paid for by the landlord.

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(Updated at 11:15 a.m.) A co-op child care center for Arlington Public School employees has plans to move to a new space in Ballston, possibly splitting it up from a special needs program it has long integrated with.

The Children’s School’s board of directors this week signed a letter of intent to relocate its program to 4420 N. Fairfax Drive for the 2017-2018 school year.

The relocation could separate the center from the Integration Station, a program for Pre-K children with disabilities that allows them to interact with The Children’s School students. Both the daycare and the special needs program have worked together at the Reed School building in Westover for more than 20 years.

The move comes months after a plan from APS Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy to create a new 725-seat elementary school at the site of the Reed School building. Under the proposal, both The Children’s School and the Integration Station would likely have been displaced from their current home.

“APS has consistently informed TCS that they do not have any space and are running a deficit,” TCS board member Alec Strong said in a statement. “Our ultimate goal remains keeping TCS and Integration Station together, but we need APS’s help.”

The prospect of separating the daycare and integration program has worried many parents whose kids are enrolled in them. A group of parents and supporters of the programs spoke out against the plan during a School Board meeting earlier this month.

“As a mother of a student in Integration Station, the culture of Reed is one of safety, love and value to the special needs community, and that is something you just don’t find in a lot of places,” said one parent at that meeting. “Splitting it up would be devastating, both to the teachers, their children, and the special needs community.”

In a statement given to ARLnow.com on Feb. 3, APS said the decision regarding the future of TCS and the Integration Station is a tough one to make.

“While APS will continue to explore options as we move through this process, we cannot guarantee that we will be successful with any of the available space options,” the statement reads. “APS is committed, however, to continuing to provide support for students in the Integration Station program either as a partner with The Children’s School, or integrated into existing APS programs.”

Read a release from TCS about the move below:

The Children’s School Board of Directors signed a letter of intent yesterday to relocate its program to a new location in Arlington for the 2017-2018 school year. This follows confirmation at a School Board meeting two weeks ago that Arlington Public Schools does not have any space during planned renovations of the Reed School for the non-profit program, which has served pre-school aged children of APS teachers since 1987, and special needs students in the Integration Station program for more than 20 years.

In a statement to ARLnow.com, APS said: “While APS will continue to explore options as we move through this process, we cannot guarantee that we will be successful with any of the available space options. APS is committed, however, to continuing to provide support for students in the Integration Station program either as a partner with The Children’s School, or integrated into existing APS programs.”

The TCS Board of Directors maintains that APS has never offered any space or location to TCS. “APS has consistently informed TCS that they do not have any space and are running a deficit. Our ultimate goal remains keeping TCS & Integration Station together, but we need APS’s help,” said TCS Board Member Alec Strong.

In a January 30, 2017 letter to concerned Integration Station parents, many of who spoke at the School Board meeting in support of the two programs remaining together, TCS Director Naseera Maqsood said:

“As of Friday, January 27, 2017, we were informed (by Assistant Superintendent Leslie Peterson) in very clear terms that we need to find a new location. We were informed that there is no space at the Madison Community Center (technically an Arlington County property) and that no Arlington Public School grounds have enough space for us to put relocatables (trailers). Arlington County has also indicated that there is no space for us to use relocatables.”

“We want desperately to keep all of our children together,” Maqsood added. “As educators, we are committed to having our students in integrated classrooms. We will ensure that any space we seek to lease or buy will have room for the Integration Station students. Ultimately though, the decision to keep our programs together is in the hands of Arlington Public Schools, not The Children’s School.”

“We continue to hope and work towards some miracle that will allow us to remain on APS or Arlington County grounds, and to continue providing more than 150 affordable childcare positions to Arlington teachers and parents,” Maqsood added. “We believe this aligns with our shared values, legacy and the desires of the Arlington County electorate.”

Fairfax Drive photo via Google Maps

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A plan to build a new educational facility at the Reed School in Westover has some parents worried for the future of a daycare and special needs program there.

Last year, Arlington Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy announced a renovation project to create a new 725-seat elementary school at the site of the Reed School building in Westover.

The Reed School building currently houses The Children’s School , a co-op child care center for APS employees, and the Integration Station, a program for Pre-K children with disabilities that allows them to interact with The Children’s School students. Both the daycare and the special needs program have worked together for more than 20 years.

But the longtime collaboration may soon come to an end. Under the proposal, The Children’s Center and the Integration Station could be moved out of the building and separated from one another. Arlington Public Schools hasn’t yet announced a home for either one.

The possibility of separating the daycare and integration program has worried some parents whose kids are enrolled in both. A group of parents and supporters of the programs spoke out against the plan during a School Board meeting Thursday evening.

“As a mother of a student in Integration Station, the culture of Reed is one of safety, love and value to the special needs community, and that is something you just don’t find in a lot of places,” said one parent. “Splitting it up would be devastating, both to the teachers, their children, and the special needs community.”

One parent fought back tears as she urged School Board to keep the two programs under the same roof. She described how her son, who is autistic, benefitted from the Integration Station.

“Had he not received the level of special integration care from the staff, I’m sure he would not be where he is right now, which is attending a typical school surrounded by typical kids,” the parent said.

She continued: “Without TCS, the Integration Station is no longer possible and much of its value is lost…  We ask that the board take concrete steps toward ensuring that the children’s school can continue to serve both the staff and the students of the Integration Station.”

In a statement given to ARLnow.com, APS said the decision regarding the future of TCS and the Integration Station is a tough one to make.

Everyone in Arlington knows that APS is facing a period of unprecedented enrollment growth that is creating significant demands on school capacity. Providing seats for the growing number of students in APS has stretched the capacity of our schools and our school sites. APS is working closely with the County and The Children’s School to explore viable options for relocation. To date, TCS wants to continue to pursue additional options beyond those that have been identified.

While APS will continue to explore options as we move through this process, we cannot guarantee that we will be successful with any of the available space options. APS is committed, however, to continuing to provide support for students in the Integration Station program either as a partner with The Children’s School, or integrated into existing APS programs.

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Morning Notes

Doggie dip at the Arlington Forest swim club (Flickr pool photo by Vandiik)

Arlington Golfer Competing for Amateur Title — Psychotherapist Matthew Sughrue, an Arlington resident, has advanced to the championship match of the U.S. Senior Amateur golf tournament. Sughrue, 57, will face 62-year-old Dave Ryan, of Illinois, in a final round today. [ESPN,  USGA]

Local Photographer Has Overcome Many Obstacles — Susan Bainbridge, a freelance news photographer and journalist, has a remarkable story of overcoming obstacles. Bainbridge, who also co-founded Arlington County Crime Solvers, has battled disabilities and a series of debilitating accidents from birth into adulthood. Since 2011 Bainbridge has served as an usher during Sunday evening mass at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, even working through a torn knee ligament and a hip injury from a fall last year. [Catholic Herald]

Letter to the Editor: We Should Welcome Refugees — The closer-in suburbs of Northern Virginia, including Arlington, should be welcoming more refugees, say the writers of a letter to the editor of the Sun Gazette. In Virginia, refugees have largely been placed downstate and in outer suburbs. “They are not threats,” the letter says, addressing the fears some have of refugees. “They are the new Americans.” [InsideNova]

Flickr pool photo by Vandiik

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Morning Notes

Blooming in Barcroft (Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick)

VDOT Holds HOT Lane Meeting — Last night VDOT gave the first formal public presentation of its plan to expand the I-395 HOV lanes and convert them to High Occupancy Toll lanes. The meeting was held at Wakefield High School and addressed issues from toll pricing to transit improvements to sound walls. [WTOP, Fox 5]

Bike-on-Bike Crashes Problematic for the Law — A new article asserts that Arlington County Police normally do not file reports for bike-on-bike crashes. “This is a bike accident. Life happens,” an officer reportedly told a victim after one recent incident. Incomplete or nonexistent police reports have frustrated victims and attorneys seeking legal redress — and led to the hiring of private investigators who try to gather evidence and find witnesses. [Washingtonian]

Disability Advocates Protest in Arlington — Disability rights advocates made their frustrations personal yesterday by protesting in front of the Arlington home of Vanita Gupta, head of the U.S. Justice Department Civil Rights Division. [Disability Scoop]

Proposal: Allow Older Cabs in Arlington — The Arlington County Board on Saturday is expected to consider a policy change that would allow older cabs on the road, among other changes. Currently, cabs entering service may be no older than two years old and then must be retired after reaching seven years old or 350,000 miles. Recognizing advances in vehicle reliability, the new policy would do away with the two year provision and set the maximum age of cabs at 10 years old. [Arlington County]

Free Donuts for Lawyers Today — It’s Be Kind to Lawyers Day and to mark the occasion Sugar Shack Donuts on Columbia Pike is offering a free “house donut” to lawyers today. Sugar Shack is also beginning a promotion that will give select customers free donuts to distribute to their favorite local teachers. “To participate, folks just need to use the hashtag #Treats4Teach to tell us on Facebook or Twitter why they should be picked to deliver donuts to their local school teachers and to which school,” said a press release.

Nice Weather at Last — After this morning’s rain, expect clearing skies and pleasant weather that should stretch into next week. [Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by Dennis Dimick

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Morning Notes

Rainbow over Rosslyn (Flickr pool photo by

Wakefield Advances to Finals — The Wakefield boys varsity basketball squad defeated Potomac Falls last night, 76-67, in the regional semifinals. The Warriors will now face Potomac in the 5A North Region final at 7 p.m. Saturday. [Washington Post, Twitter]

Hough, Laich Tip Big at Don Tito — Caps player Brooks Laich and his fiancée, dancer and actress Julianne Hough, recently left a server at Don Tito in Clarendon a $100 tip on a $24 bill. [Washington Post]

Wakefield Grad to NFL Combine — Former standout Wakefield High quarterback Drew Powell will be competing at the NFL regional Combine in Baltimore tomorrow. Powell just finished his final season as quarterback at Division II Livingstone College, where he broke six school records. [InsideNova]

Spotlight on Developmental Disabilities — The Arlington County Board has declared March 2016 “Including People with Developmental Disabilities Month.” [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by J.D. Moore

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Former Hamburger Hamlet in the shops at Crystal CityThe Crystal City Shops will become more accessible thanks to an agreement reached between property owner Vornado and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

A citizen’s complaint led federal prosecutors to investigate the indoor shopping concourse, which runs along Crystal Drive and connects with the Crystal City Metro station. The complaint stated that portions of the shops are inaccessible to those with disabilities, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As a result of the agreement, Vornado will build ramps or lifts in portions of the shopping center that were previously only accessible by stairs. New signage, accessible parking spaces and accessible restroom fixtures will also be added.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, after the jump.

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