A new tech and innovation lab funded by Amazon is expected to launch at Wakefield High School by the end of the year, according to Arlington Public Schools.
Construction is currently underway on the “AWS Think Big Space,” which will provide a dedicated space for hands-on learning in robotics, the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (known collectively as STEAM), and training in cloud computing-based technologies.
“This lab will provide stimulating learning environments for students to work individually or collaboratively on entrepreneurial, STEAM, and Design Thinking projects,” said Wakefield Principal Chris Willmore. “All students in grades 9-12 will be encouraged to extend their learning of STEAM topics beyond the classroom through engagement in the lab. We are grateful and excited that Wakefield was chosen by Amazon for this public-private partnership. All of our students will benefit from this learning environment.”
The Amazon-funded lab, which will open to students across the school system, also has the support of some private community sponsors.
Wakefield High School is first high school in the Americas to receive a Think Big Space, according to APS. It is the second in Virginia, after Amazon funded and built its first lab in 2019 at an elementary school in Prince William County.
Amazon has built similar spaces around the world.
“At Amazon, we are committed to making a positive impact in the communities where our employees live and work,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy. “We are proud to call Virginia home and to support our neighbors as we grow in Arlington. This AWS Think Big Space at Wakefield High School will provide students across the community with the tools and connections they need to build, imagine, and innovate their best future. We can’t wait to see what they will create.”
Wendy Maitland, who most recently served as the Resource Teacher for the Gifted at Wakefield, will oversee the new space.
“We believe that this AWS Think Big Space will act as a significant point of access for students who may not normally take advantage, of or be aware of, STEAM career paths. At Wakefield, we are committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student, especially first generation and low-income students,” she said. “Our partnership with Amazon will allow us to build a community of learners who collaborate, explore, and seamlessly apply technology throughout all aspects of teaching and learning.”
The AWS Think Big Space is expected to receive final School Board approval at a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 28.
Columbus Day Closures — “Most Arlington Transit routes are closed, with the exception of routes 42, 45, 51, 55, 77 and 87, which will run on Saturday schedules. Parking meters won’t be enforced, but all other parking violations will be. The public schools will not hold classes; it’s a professional learning day for staff. Government offices and the public library are open.” [WTOP]
Local Yard Sale Funds Acts of Kindness — “Susan Thompson-Gaines is like a fairy godmother who magically appeared in Marjorie Gonzales’ life to help her conjure up a dress for the ball. ‘Just came out of nowhere,’ said Gonzales, who was in need of a homecoming dress… Thompson-Gaines uses every penny of her profits — more than $12,000 this year — to fund random acts of kindness throughout her community.” [CBS News, InspireMore]
Proposal for Better W-L Baseball Field — “This fall, Healy is working with director of student activities Carol Callaway on a project proposal that they hope to present to county officials in the coming weeks. His vision is of something similar to Waters Field, a multi-purpose artificial turf field that can host games for baseball and rectangular field sports and serves as a central hub in the Vienna community… ‘You could call it a total facelift,’ Healy said. ‘You name it, we need it. You can’t even stand up in the visitor dugout, and the press box is almost a safety hazard.'” [Nova Baseball Magazine]
GMU Groundbreaking Planned — “GMU plans to break ground on the nearly $250 million expansion of its Arlington campus in January. The primary addition to the Virginia Square campus will be the 360,500-square-foot home for the Institute for Digital Innovation (IDIA), its tech research hub, and the coming School of Computing… Bethesda-based Clark Construction will serve as general contractor on the project, which is scheduled to be complete by April 2025, with students moving in by July of that year.” [Washington Business Journal]
Changes Planned for GMU Plaza –“The ‘stay-the-course’ proposal will aim to make the large plaza fronting Fairfax Drive a more useful gathering space, perhaps with a café attached, while potentially adding a mid-level connection between Smith and Van Metre Halls to effectively combine them as one. That was the vision outlined by Gregory Janks, who has led the 18-month planning process for the three main Mason campuses.” [Sun Gazette]
New Art at Central Library — “Arlington residents and Library patrons are in for a visual treat when entering the second floor at Central Library. The newly installed artwork titled ‘North Lincoln Street, Arlington, Virginia’ by Arlington artist Jason Horowitz, features a playful, 360-degree view of a re-imagined Ballston neighborhood landscape.” [Arlington Public Library]
Marymount 5K Race on Wednesday — “Marymount University Doctor of Physical Therapy program hosted the first Marymount 5K in the spring of 2015… Join us in 2021 for the sixth annual Marymount 5K supporting the DPT Program’s foundational pillars of Global Perspective, Service to Others, and Intellectual Curiosity.” [Marymount University]
Nearby: Shooting in Arlandria — From Alan Henney: “500 blk of Four Mile Rd off Mt. Vernon Ave in the City of Alexandria. 15 yr-old boy shot in stomach taken to a trauma center in serious condition. Several suspects fled the scene on foot.” [Twitter, Twitter]
‘Kindness Yard Sale’ in Penrose — “Susan Thompson-Gaines wants to spread kindness. This weekend, she’s doing it through a big yard sale at her house. She says it’s hard to miss the home she shares with her husband, David — it’s the yellow house with purple trim at the corner of South Second and South Fillmore streets in Arlington… what makes this yard sale different is that the proceeds are all spent on acts of kindness.” [WTOP]
Flood Cleanup for Pike Businesses — From WUSA 9’s Matthew Torres: “A dental hygienist sent me this other video of the flash flooding in Columbia Pike in Arlington. Their business had to close today as they clean up the water that seeped through. Other businesses are having to do the same thing.” [Twitter]
More Vaccinations Added to State Stats — “Today, the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) has incorporated vaccination data from jurisdictions in Maryland. Virginians who received vaccinations in Maryland that were not reported through the Virginia Immunization Information System are now included in the locality and statewide dashboards. The updated data reflects an increase in COVID-19 vaccine first dose rates of 0.33% Alexandria, 0.46% Arlington, and 0.39% Eastern Shore.” [Virginia Dept. of Health]
AFAC Gets Donation from Library Program –“Representatives of the Friends of the Arlington Public Library (FOAL), together with the Arlington Public Library and Arlington County Department of Technology Services, presented a check for $4,525 to the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC). The donation represents the number of Library readers who successfully completed the 2021 Summer Reading Challenge. The Library’s popular Summer Reading program helps children avoid the ‘summer slide.'” [Arlington County]
Fmr. County Board Member Dies — “Jay Edwin Ricks, 88, passed away at home in Arlington, Virginia on July 18, 2021 due to complications of Parkinson’s Disease… In 1967, Jay was elected to the Arlington County Board where he served until 1971. During this time, he was active in transportation issues and Vice Chairman of Metro during the critical phase of planning the Metro system.” [Legacy]
Local Church Adapts to Pandemic — ‘As another wave of the pandemic comes at us, we are different as a congregation,’ said the Rev. Amanda Poppei, senior minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Virginia… Poppei’s congregation began hosting outdoor events in spring 2021, including a handbell parade to ring in Pride Month in June and a Flower Communion in May, which they intentionally designed as a multiplatform event.” [UUWorld]
(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) When the U.S. started evacuating Afghan interpreters on July 30, Arlington-based Ethiopian Community Development Council — better known as ECDC — got to work helping them resettle in Northern Virginia.
The organization, founded to help Ethiopians but which has a more global reach today, is one of three agencies authorized to resettle refugees with Special Immigrant Visas in the region.
“The majority of Afghan SIVs, currently, are being placed in the cities of Denver, Silver Spring, Houston, Arlington, and San Diego,” ECDC spokeswoman Emily Gilkinson said. “In the Arlington area, we have received about five to seven SIV holders, along with their families, per week. There have been a few couples or individuals but generally, family sizes range from 4-10 people. They are staying with their U.S. ties, in hotels or Airbnbs until moving into permanent housing.”
The other authorized resettlement agencies in the area include Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington and Lutheran Social Services.
“Catholic Charities resettles the most refugees in the area, followed by LSS, then by ECDC,” said Bryna Helfer, Arlington County’s assistant county manager for communications and public engagement.
Arlington’s branch of Catholic Charities has welcomed more than 2,600 SIV holders to Northern Virginia in the last six years, and resettled 326 SIV holders — most of whom are from Afghanistan — this fiscal year, said Diana Sims Snider, the deputy director of communications for the diocese.
The organization, based in Arlington with migration and refugee offices in Arlington, Manassas, Fredericksburg and Sterling, is one of about 40 Catholic Charities around the country resettling Afghan families, she said.
For the last three weeks, the military has been facilitating flights from Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, some of which have touched down at Dulles International Airport. Nearly 2,000 Afghan interpreters and other refugees eligible for SIVs have gone to central Virginia’s Fort Lee military base, which is operating as a temporary host facility.
Catholic Charities got to work on July 30, welcoming several planeloads of evacuated Afghan SIV holders at Fort Lee, Snider said.
“Catholic Charities staff provided legal assistance for paperwork completion, translation, child activities, and other essential resources to men, women and children at Fort Lee, Virginia,” she said. “Many of these SIV-holders then traveled on to destinations elsewhere in the U.S. to settle with family already residing in this country. About 35 of those Afghan SIV-holders who came to Fort Lee in August are settling in the Diocese of Arlington.”
The situation has become more dire and unpredictable with the fall of Kabul.
“We receive notification of arrivals only a few days before, and therefore it is very difficult to predict how many we will receive,” Gilkinson said. “We are doing our best to be flexible and responsive to the requests and information whenever it comes, as we recognize the urgency of the situation.”
Video: People run on tarmac of Kabul international airport as a US military aircraft attempts to take off. pic.twitter.com/9qA36HS0WQ
— TOLOnews (@TOLOnews) August 16, 2021
not 1 of the people I know on the ground got in and made an evac flight.
what’s the point of the airport being operational if no one can get in? and there are no excuses – there are now more troops in Afghanistan than there have been in years. #EvacuateAfghans pic.twitter.com/JWaPVPQtkM
— Arash Azizzada آرش (@87films) August 19, 2021
How to help
“We greatly appreciate the interest that people from the local community have shown in supporting SIVs upon arrival,” Gilkinson said. “Successfully welcoming and integrating these individuals and other refugees escaping similar dangerous situations across the world is something our agency cannot do alone.”
Amazon Makes $1 Million Donation — “Amazon today announced it will continue its commitment to the Right Now Needs Fund in Northern Virginia for the upcoming academic year with an additional $1 million investment to support students attending Arlington Public Schools, Alexandria City Public Schools, and Fairfax County Public Schools. The Fund, in partnership with Communities In Schools NOVA, helps remove barriers to learning and works to meet the basic needs of thousands of schoolchildren from underserved communities.” [BusinessWire]
New Portion of DCA Has WeWork Vibes — “There’s a cool WeWork feel to @Reagan_Airport’s new section of Terminal C. Prefer these or old school airport seating? Smart marketing on bottom of departure screens, too.” [Twitter]
Some Home Prices Are Dropping — “Prices are dropping for a higher percentage of home listings in the latest sign the Covid-19-fueled housing market may have peaked. About 4.7% of listings for the four weeks ending Aug. 1 had price drops, according to real estate firm Redfin, compared to 3.7% during the same period last year. It is also near the prepandemic level of 4.9% during the same period in 2019 in the latest sign the housing market may be cooling off after a period of rapid price appreciation.” [Washington Business Journal]
Emergency Alert Test Today — From FEMA: “We’ll be conducting a national test in coordination with @FCC of the Emergency Alert System at 2:20 PM ET on Aug 11. The test will go to televisions & radios, while specially configured cell phones will receive an emergency alert test code message.” [Twitter, MoCo Show]
Pupatella Gets Millions for Expansion — “Arlington’s own Pupatella pizza restaurant chain has raised $7.5 million to continue its growth spurt, with plans to open more more than a dozen restaurants in the coming years. The round was fully subscribed and had participation from almost all of the investors who participated in the company’s first round in 2018, when it raised $3.75 million.” [Washington Business Journal]
Steel from WTC Donated to Arlington — “Two pieces of steel from the World Trade Center will now be on permanent display in D.C. and Virginia ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks. The words ‘never forget’ are written on the front of a piece of steel beam unveiled during a ceremony in front of the Arlington County Police Officer Memorial on Sunday.” [WTOP]
Crystal City Getting Cooler? — “Nearly three years after Amazon announced it would be bringing its second headquarters to Arlington — and specifically to ‘National Landing,’ a name conjured by local officials to sell the area as a tech hub — its reputation may be changing.” [Washington Post]
Food Scrap Caddy Being Delivered — “With Arlington’s weekly food scraps collection program launching next month, a County-provided countertop caddy, instructions and even introductory biodegradable bags will be delivered to curbside customer homes beginning this week.” [Arlington County]
Fire Engine Involved in Crash — “An Arlington fire engine was involved in a crash at the intersection of 18th Street S. and S. Fern Street this morning around 9:30. No firefighters were injured. One person in the second vehicle involved was taken to the hospital but is expected to be okay, per an ACFD spokesman.” [Twitter]
CPRO to Mark 35th Anniversary — “As the group’s 35th anniversary looms on the horizon this fall, the recent annual meeting of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) was a chance to take stock of tumultuous times and fly the organization’s flag in the march toward the future.” [Sun Gazette]
Arlington Poetry Book — “I picked up a copy of the ‘Written in Arlington: Poems of Arlington, Virginia’ edited by Katherine E. Young, our poet laureate emerita. Published quietly last fall during the pandemic, it showcases storytelling via 150 poems by 87 poets who ‘live, work, study, worship in or simply pass through… and in so doing, make Arlington their own,’ Young explains. She nodded to famous Arlington-based poets — George Washington Parke Custis, Doors singer Jim Morrison, and Zitkala-Sa.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Crystal City could get more affordable housing under a new agreement between Amazon and Arlington County, announced earlier today.
The tech giant said in a new blog post that it would hand over to the county the rights to $40 million in vacant land within the Crystal House apartment property, on which Arlington County could develop more than 550 new affordable homes.
“Amazon is committed to promoting economic inclusion for all families and fostering a thriving community in and around Arlington,” said Catherine Buell, Amazon’s head of community development.
Construction is slated to begin in 2025, the Amazon blog post said.
The contributions are part of Amazon’s new Housing Equity Fund, a more than $2 billion commitment to create and preserve more than 20,000 units in Amazon’s three primary footholds: the Seattle area, Nashville and Arlington.
This announcement follows up on a commitment Amazon made in January to preserve 1,300 affordable housing units in Arlington as property values are rising amid its expansion. As part of the commitment, the company financed $381.9 million in loans and grants to a D.C. area housing nonprofit so that it could buy and stabilize rent at Crystal House (1900 S. Eads Street), a set of two apartment buildings one block from Amazon’s future HQ2.
The financing allowed Washington Housing Conservancy to preserve units in the existing Crystal House apartment complex, which has 828 units, for low- to moderate-income residents for 99 years.
“We are excited to build on our earlier work to preserve affordable housing at Crystal House in the heart of our new headquarters,” Buell said. “This donation to the County brings us a step closer to achieving up to 1,300 total affordable homes at the site for families earning moderate- to low-incomes.”
If the agreement is approved, the county will be carrying out a development plan that the County Board approved for the Crystal House property in December 2019. This site is set to have six more “Crystal Houses,” adding 820 units in total, as well as two public open spaces and a protected bike lane along S. Eads Street.
According to a county report, WHC does not intend to serve as the property’s developer, so Amazon purchased development rights for the vacant land. It approached the county in early 2021 with its plan to give the property to the county to develop.
According to Arlington County’s map of projects, the project’s status remains “approved.”
The Arlington County Board is set to review the agreement during its regular meeting this coming Saturday, July 17.
“Amazon is demonstrating dedication and commitment to the Arlington community with this game-changing opportunity to increase affordable housing in the County,” said Arlington County Housing Director Anne Venezia. “Future development on the Crystal House site will help bolster critical housing supply goals in an area with limited affordable housing options.”
If the board accepts the gift, the county will embark on a national search for a master developer and sub-developers. The site could have 554 affordable units on it by Jan. 1, 2028, according to a county statement.
Of those units, at least 148 will be committed to households earning 50% or less of the area median income, and at least 406 will be committed to households earning 80% or less of the AMI.
It’s July — Today is the first day in the month of July, named after Julius Caesar around the time of his assassination in 44 BC. Prior to that, the month was called Quintilis. In addition to today being the start of July, it’s also the start of the second half of the year. Expect the month to be especially hot and rainy. [Capital Weather Gang]
New Va. Bike Law Now In Effect — “A new state law requires motorists to change lanes when passing a bicyclist, if the lane of travel is not wide enough to accommodate 3 feet in distance between the motor vehicle and the bicycle. Existing law had allowed, but did not require, a motorist to move into the other lane when passing a bicyclist in order to ensure at least 3 feet of distance.” [Sun Gazette]
ACFD CPR Battle — “Recruit Class 80 was certified in CPR yesterday. Recruits went head to head in partner CPR races. The top recruit team took on the FTA Cadre in a final race. Watch to find out who won! Our manikins give live feedback on the quality of compressions and ventilations.” [Instagram]
ACPD’s LGBTQ+ Outreach — “The unit provides educational outreach to the LGBTQ community on issues of concern to that community, including the types of crime that some LGBTQ people become victims of. Among those issues, he said, are same-sex domestic violence and online dating scams in which criminals pose as a potential dating partner to gain access to a gay person’s home, where they rob and sometime assault the unsuspecting victim. Penn said he was unaware of any anti-LGBTQ hate crimes that have occurred in Arlington in recent years.” [Washington Blade]
CPRO Gets Amazon Donation — “The Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization (CPRO) is pleased to announce a new partnership with Amazon. To kick off this partnership, CPRO has received a generous $25,000 donation from Amazon this month to support three of its upcoming events: the recent Columbia Pike Blues Weekend, the upcoming Columbia Pike Drive-In Movie Nights, and CPRO’s 35th Anniversary Celebration in October.” [Press Release]
Mariflor Ventura made headlines earlier this year for helping her Buckingham neighbors during the pandemic.
Dubbed an “Arlington superwoman” by ABC 7, Ventura has been finding and distributing donations and handing out food and basic supplies for a year — an experience that has changed her life.
But now, she is drowning in donations and buckling under the weight of unyielding need. Still, Ventura is determined to give a leg up to people who have fallen on hard times and is looking for ways to structure and sustain her work.
“I love Arlington,” she said. “Whatever I can do, I’m here.”
Ventura, who is a bus attendant with Arlington Public Schools, began helping her neighbors last year during the lockdowns when school was virtual. Through a local Facebook group, she found items for free and distributed them to her neighbors.
The network expanded quickly, especially after giving an interview in Spanish, which reached immigrant communities as far as Woodbridge.
“This year has been busier than when I started,” she said. “I’m going to have to take a vacation from the donations to spend time with my kids.”
Eventually, Ventura migrated her operation from the “Arlington Neighbors” Facebook group to her own Buckingham Mutual Aid Organization Arlington group. She recently started an Amazon wishlist to facilitate in-kind donations.
“I stopped fundraising because I don’t want to manage money,” which could open her up to criticisms about how it is spent, she said.
The Amazon wishlist goes beyond the basics. There are decorations so families could have proper graduation parties for their older kids and bubble wands, water guns and coloring books to occupy kids this summer.
All these ideas have come from Facebook group members, she said.
“They have good ideas and they like to help,” she said.
But Ventura has a wishlist of her own: A separate space for the donations, a nonprofit designation, and a regular assistant to keep track of appointments and help distribute items.
She has been considering the now-vacant apartment downstairs from her. Even the nearest storage facility is far away and the move might confuse people who are used to coming to her house. There was talk about finding a church basement, but that fell through, she said.
As it stand right now, her home is filled with donated items waiting to be given away.
“There’s no space to clean — there’s a tiny little space where we watch TV in the dining room area,” she said. “Some days, I give up and say, ‘I’m not going to do anything. I’ll just try to relax.'”
She laughs. “Normally, I’m a very organized lady. My mom taught me to have my clothes picked out for the next day.”
Ventura said some connections are working on turning the organization into a nonprofit, but that will take some time. In the interim, she imagines creating some kind of free thrift store.
The Arlingtonian knows what it’s like to have nothing. At one point, Ventura lost her job, her apartment and her car. But someone opened a door for her to start working at the county, and she worked her way up.
“From my experience, I can help more people,” she said.
She said it is hard for many immigrants to adjust to life in the U.S. — to find jobs, seek out assistance or just feel comfortable visiting a park.
“I hear from them that it’s their dream to come here, but when they come, they [realize] it’s not easy to live here,” she said. “It’s hard to find a job and if you don’t have family here, it’s harder. It’s just like they are stuck. Somebody has to help them up.”
Ventura said her neighbors are also returning the favor.
“It’s not like I’m the hero,” she said. “They see how I help and they’re helping in return.”
The first Fill the Cruiser food drive kicked off last summer in response to the growing number of people struggling to put food on the table during the pandemic. That effort yielded 6,509 pounds of donated food. The next is now planned for Tuesday, May 18.
“We saw firsthand the growing need for food assistance and recognize this need remains high due to the ongoing economic impacts of the pandemic,” ACPD spokeswoman Ashley Savage said. “Through generous community donations, we can assist the Arlington Food Assistance Center as they continue their mission of feeding our neighbors in need by providing dignified access to nutritious supplemental groceries.”
Outside of the food drive, officers have also assisted community organizations with bagging and distributing grocery items, Savage said.
AFAC has seen a significant increase in the number of families it serves — a 33% increase in the first few months of the pandemic, according to the organization’s website. Amid the surge in need, however, the nonprofit has reported fewer donations from grocery stores and leaner volunteer ranks.
More on the Fill the Cruiser food drive from ACPD:
The Community Resources Section will be collecting items at drive-thru donation stations on Tuesday, May 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at three locations:
- Giant Food – 2901 S. Glebe Road
- Safeway – 3713 Lee Highway
- Westover Baptist Church – 1125 Patrick Henry Drive
Upon arrival, donors should stay in their car until they reach the unloading areas, where officers will be on hand to remove donations from their vehicle. A separate area will be available for those arriving by bike or foot. All donors are expected to observe proper social distancing guidelines and wear a face covering while dropping off donations.
Suggested Items for Donation
AFAC accepts most unopened, unexpired, and unprepared foods, including perishable items. AFAC is most in need of the following low sodium, low fat and low sugar items:
- Low sodium canned tomatoes
- Low sodium canned tuna
- Low sodium canned soups
- Canned vegetables
- Peanut butter (in plastic jars)
- Low sugar cereal
Those wishing to donate, but unable to attend the Fill the Cruiser events should visit AFAC’s website to find a donation drop-off site near them.
Photo via Arlington County Police Department
Final Departure for Gate 35X — Reagan National Airport’s notorious Gate 35X served its last unhappy passengers last night. A newly-built, fully-indoor concourse opens today. [WTOP, Twitter, Twitter, The Points Guy]
Rosslyn Resident Makes Big Donation to UNC — “The University of North Carolina at Pembroke… has received a $6 million planned gift — the second largest in the university’s history — from former trustee Mary Ann Elliott to name the McKenzie-Elliott School of Nursing.” Elliott is a Rosslyn resident and former aerospace executive. [Yahoo]
Thursday Is Earth Day — “It might be easy to overlook Earth Day this time around, even in Arlington. Vaccine progress indicates better days ahead; in-person classes are returning; the air is visibly cleaner, and winter failed to freeze growth in bike sales and trail use. But Earth Day, April 22, has always offered a good pause to note long-term progress and dig below the surface. Just ask the periodical cicadas, due to reappear any moment after 17 years of silence.” [Arlington County]
History of the Pentagon’s Waterfront — “Today it’s home to the Pentagon, but around the turn of the 20th century, the riverfront area just north of National Landing was a seedy district known as Jackson City. A haven for drinkers, gamblers and daredevils, its attractions included, among other things, a half-mile-long racetrack near the foot of the 14th Street Bridge used for horse racing, and later, drag racing. Some even referred to it as a ‘Miniature Monte Carlo.'” [Arlington Magazine]