Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Lauren Harris and Portia Moore were best friends growing up and both ended up launching preschool programs in Arlington. Their experiences highlight some of the differences between North and South Arlington and the county’s deep economic divisions.

Harris is the CEO and Executive Director of Little Ambassadors’ Academy, which has three locations in Arlington along Lee Highway. Moore owns STEM Preschool, which has locations in Fairlington and Capitol Hill in D.C.

“Arlington definitely has a high demand for quality preschools,” Harris said. “I think Portia and I both try to fill that void. The reality of the situation in Arlington is that there are more kids than there are preschool slots… It’s hard to find quality childcare, and harder to find one close to where you live and have that community feel.”

Moore said both of their programs are also very localized to their respective areas.

“It’s about the neighborhoods,” Moore said. “Lauren has the north side locked down. I chose to go to Fairlington because it’s such an amazing family community.”

Moore said it’s also an industry where it’s not unusual for the majority of providers to be people of color. Moore said she likes the diversity of her staff and community, while for Harris that’s a more difficult goal to achieve in North Arlington.

“Arlington is diverse, but on my side of Arlington, it’s significantly less diverse,” Harris said. “My staff are sometimes the only people of color that these children interact with. But I don’t think that we specifically put out that we’re a Black business. We’re preschool owners; we happen to be Black and we happen to be women, but we don’t think of ourselves as Black women-owned. We do great things for the community and we happen to be Black women.”

For Moore, the K-12 schools the children in Fairlington will go into tend to be more diverse.

“For my schools, they all go to other schools where there are all types of diversity and nationalities,” Moore said.

Moore moved to Arlington from Texas when she was ten and said she developed friends here across all sorts of nationality and racial lines. She said there’s a drive towards diversity in the county, but one that sometimes clashes with parents who moved into neighborhoods hoping their students would go to school perceived as being better than others.

“I know Arlington has been trying its best to have different boundaries, so there’s always a fight for integration,” Moore said, “I get the parent’s point too. I paid for a neighborhood I want my children to go there. However, it’s also important for integration, for times like this, for children to have a different mindset and meet someone you may not see in your neighborhood.”

Harris said roughly 97% percent of her school’s population is White. The majority of her students wind up going to Nottingham Elementary School, the student body of which is only 0.4% Black, according to APS data.

“My daughter is the only person of color in her Pre-K classroom,” Harris said. “Absolutely, while we do hope to bring diversity, we bring it to our staff and through our culture that we give and the lessons we teach our children.”

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Like many community members in Arlington, Amanda and Michael Sutton were concerned that the pandemic could lead to a wider education gap between those with resources at home and those without. So they decided to do something about it.

The Suttons have so far raised more than $6,400 via an online fundraising campaign called “My Job Bags.”

“A child’s ‘job’ is to imagine, create, learn and play,” the couple said on the GoFundMe page, which is nearing its $7,000 goal. “We’re working to assemble bags for children in need and to provide them with supplies to learn and be creative while at home. We’re accepting monetary donations as well as donations of the supplies below that will be included in the bags. All money collected will be used to purchase supplies and the bags will be assembled and distributed by volunteers.”

Amanda said she was among those trying to find ways to help out, knowing that many families were losing their jobs and students relied on the public schools for food and support. Other restaurants and teachers stepped up to help cover food needs, but there were other needs that were going unmet.

“We initially looked at ways we could help to provide food, in addition to financial support — and luckily, we found there are many organizations out there to help,” Amanda said. “Then as I was perusing Amazon for more homeschooling activities for my three sons, I couldn’t help but think of all the local families who are unable to do that. With all schools being closed, students are now forced to stay at home without basic school supplies, books and toys.”

That’s when Amanda and Michael came up with the My Job Bags campaign, thinking that children should be focused on playing, creating, imagining and learning.

“The hope was that during this scary and unprecedented time, students may have some comfort in knowing they can still continue their ‘job,'” Amanda said. “We brainstormed what to put in the bags — our goal was to include items that help keep a child entertained for long periods of time, have endless options for play, and enhance imagination and creativity.”

Among the additions to the bags was a jump rope, based on the suggestion of a local PE teacher. In total, Amanda said the contents of My Job Bags are:

  • crayons
  • markers
  • pencils
  • pencil sharpeners
  • dry erase board with marker and eraser
  • construction paper
  • spiral notebook
  • scissors
  • glue stick
  • jump rope
  • bag of Legos
  • book

“I then spent some time researching the cost of these items — and was ultimately able to get the price down to about $7.00 per bag thanks to bulk ordering,” Amanda said. “Once our idea was solidified, my husband and I decided to begin by donating about 250 bags. However, we knew the need was much greater in the community which prompted us to create the GoFundMe campaign.”

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A pair of local nonprofits have joined with Amazon to help families in Arlington’s affordable housing get access to science, technology, engineering and math resources during the pandemic.

Rosie Riveters, an Arlington-based non-profit that focuses on getting girls between 4-14 years old interested in STEM, partnered with Arlington Housing Corporation (AHC) Inc. — a local affordable housing nonprofit — and Amazon to deliver STEM kits to some families. These are kits put together by Rosie Riveters and include the materials for six different projects, access to online lessons, and additional materials like notebooks, pencils and rulers.

Rosie Riveters said Amazon donated gift cards and the supplies to assemble the kits, as well as helped to deliver them to AHC.

An initial 15 kits were given out in the first round, with 30 more planned to be delivered over the next few weeks, Rosie Riveters told ARLnow, adding that the boxes are delivered with Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) distributions.

Eight boxes were also sent to community center participants and the supplies for 60 more boxes will be delivered over the next few days and distributed to other program partners.

“Rosie Riveters is proud to work with Amazon and AHC Inc. to bring fun and engaging STEM kits and essential learning materials to children in need,” said Brittany Greer, Executive Director of Rosie Riveters, in a statement. “Now more than ever enrichment opportunities like these are vitally important. We can not thank Amazon enough for helping to provide the resources and logistics needed to allow Rosie Riveters to continue our mission to engage and inspire girls aged 4-14 in STEM.”

Photo courtesy Rosie Riveters

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Local beekeeper Brad Garmon says raising a new generation of farmers is vital to keeping the budding urban apiary industry alive, and it starts in Arlington County.

“If you talk to anyone involved in this space, [they’ll tell you] the need for young minds and younger people getting involved is dire,” Garmon said.

Committed to backing up that buzz, Garmon is hosting a class early next month to introduce students around the 5th grade age range to bees and beekeeping. The class is part of Arlington Public Schools’ Youth Enrichment Program, a new set of classes offered for local students in late-elementary school and middle school to gain new experiences.

“The Youth Enrichment Program course is not so much a technical course on managing the hives, it’s about understanding the importance of bees and getting people to realize that we have a responsibility to be good environmental stewards and the importance honeybees have,” Garmon said.

Raul Matos, coordinator for APS’ Arlington Community Learning program, said the Youth Enrichment Program started this past September. Matos said many of the programs, like the Help the Honeybees class, are aimed at children who’d rather be in a classroom for their out-of-school enrichment activities.

“It got started because we discovered that not all children, when it comes to enrichment, want to be outside playing soccer or being in the pool,” Matos said. “Some want to be in the classroom, in classes like Japanese and video film editing.”

Matos said students don’t need to be Arlington Public Schools students; homeschool students, students enrolled in private schools, and kids outside of Arlington Public Schools can also take classes.

The Help the Honeybees class is $39 for a 90-minute workshop on March 12. The class is from 4:30-6 p.m.

“There’s a lot of misinformation around honeybees, like when people say ‘my kid was playing baseball and got stung by one,'” Garmon said. “So we look at honey bees vs. wasps and yellowjackets. That way when kids are walking around their yard and see a honey bee on a flower, they’ll know it’s not an aggressive insect. It gets them to go back out to their kids and their parents and teach them what they learn.”

Beyond just an elementary apiary education, Garmon said there’s life lessons for kids to learn from the hive. One honey bee only makes one-twelfth of a teaspoon of honey, and Garmon said there are a lot of kids can learn about the power of collaboration through that.

“There’s a lot of biomimicry,” Garmon said. “These insects only live a couple weeks, but what they live their entire life doing is serving to benefit their community. You can parallel that to these kids, who may feel small and insignificant. They get little straws and run around ‘pollinating flowers.’ Bring some of that nectar back to the hive. Even though these are small droplets of water, the end result is much bigger than themselves.”

Garmon said he hosted an initial class when the Youth Enrichment Program started in the fall and it filled up quickly. There’s only a few slots open left in the March session, but Garmon said he hopes to host another one in May.

Other classes being offered over the next few months include an animation class and a guide to making fascinators. Matos said he’s particularly excited about the math strengthening classes, but those are currently full. This summer, Matos said the Youth Enrichment Program plans to offer STEM-related classes like “Programming through Minecraft” and “Building Fortnite Games.”

Photos courtesy Brad Garmon

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Starting next year, Arlington Public Schools will incorporate cloud-based learning curriculum from Amazon Web Services into the classroom.

AWS Educate is the e-commerce giant’s K-12 initiative, designed to get students comfortable with the basics of cloud computing and artificial intelligence tools.

The service is available online at a fee for all educators and interested students 14 years or older. However, in late September, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) announced a partnership with AWS Educate across select Virginia universities, community colleges, and four K-12 school districts in the state, including APS.

For the participating Virginia K-12 schools, including in Arlington, AWS Educate is expected to be incorporated as either a dual enrollment system with a participating community college or university, or as a resource utilized in exiting STEM classes.

Earlier this month APS staff met with officials from Amazon and Northern Virginia Community College to discuss the best way to introduce the curriculum into the 2020-21 school year.

“At this time, we do not have a finalized course list,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “Courses may or may not be dual enrolled. We need to see from the community college what their requirements are for the teacher before we can give dual enrollment or college credit.”

Northern Virginia Community College was the first area organization to partner with AWS Educate, rolling out a cloud-based degree program in 2018.

On the recent Virginia partnership, Ken Eisner, head of AWS Educate, said “in this way, students can learn about the tech concepts behind things like online gaming and expand their knowledge with more in-depth challenges on concepts like variables and big data. We’re excited to work with school divisions across northern Virginia and the entire Commonwealth to meet students and educators where they are and open up big opportunities in the cloud.”

Additional area school districts and universities partnering with AWS Educate include:

  • Fairfax County Public Schools
  • Arlington County Public Schools
  • Alexandria City Public Schools
  • Loudoun County Public Schools
  • Northern Virginia Community College
  • George Mason University
  • Virginia Tech
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
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Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.com, Startup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

Fresh off a win at the Small Biz Challenge, Arlington startup Boolean Girl is now headed is to Nationwide’s “Pitch to Win” contest as a finalist.

The company sells classroom kits aimed at getting young women interested in coding as part of an effort to combat the gender disparity in the tech industry.

The Pitch to Win competition is scheduled for Oct. 3 and includes an all-expenses-paid trip to the insurance company’s headquarters in Ohio, where the groups will present their business proposals to a panel of judges. The winning business will be awarded $100,000, with the runner up receiving $20,000 and third place earning $10,000.

Co-founder Ingrid Sanden said the winnings from Pitch to Win would help the company expand into middle-school-age sets.

“Winning the Pitch To Win competition would propel Boolean Girl Tech’s efforts to keep middle school girls engaged and excited about moving from basic coding to complex, real-world projects,” said Sanden. “Typically, there is a dramatic drop off in participation in STEM and computer science classes in middle school, so bridging the gap from elementary to high school and beyond is a crucial step as we close the gender gap in STEM careers.”

Boolean Girl will be competing with six other companies from across the country, from a skateboard grip tape business to a company that makes AI-enabled digital stethoscopes.

Boolean Girl launched in 2014 around the same time Google’s lack of diversity was making headlines. Since then, the company has developed a build-it-yourself box set for $169.99 and a kit that including ten boxes, ten monitors and a variety of accessories for $5,000. The company also offers a coding summer camp in Arlington.

Photo courtesy Boolean Girl

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Virginia Tech has been making local headlines lately with the announcement of its Innovation Campus in the newly-designated neighborhood of National Landing.

While the new campus will help cement the university’s regional footprint, Virginia Tech has been quietly providing graduate education opportunities in the D.C. area since 1969.

Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business has offered its MBA programs in this region for decades and more recently made the decision to narrow its focus to working professionals in urban centers across the commonwealth.

“What we did at Virginia Tech a few years ago was to say that we really want to focus on the working professional — someone who wants to enhance their career or make a change in the direction of their career, but not at the expense of continuing to be a business professional,” says Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast. That allows those students to come into the classroom, he adds, “and use what they’ve learned as part of the experience of the MBA program.”

Arlington is home to the Executive MBA program, an 18-month, cohort-based option for mid-career professionals. The curriculum is centered around experiential learning modules that provide students with hands-on experience in topics like business analytics and leadership and governance.

The nationally-ranked Evening MBA program is based in Falls Church and designed to provide maximum flexibility. Students can change their course load each semester to balance work and other commitments. They also have the option to focus their degree in one of 10 specialization areas, including traditional business topics like finance and management, and some more niche areas like healthcare information technology.

The Professional MBA program is a 24-month hybrid option with once-per-month in-person classes that rotate between Richmond, Roanoke and Newport News.

Visit mba.vt.edu to learn more about Virginia Tech’s MBA programs, or register to attend an upcoming information session.

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It seems like summer break just started, but some local organizations are already pitching in to help at-risk students prepare for the upcoming school year.

Arlington-based Offender and Aid Restoration and Verizon Wireless retailer TCC are two of the organizations that are setting up drives for backpacks and other classroom necessities in Arlington.

TCC’s program, School Rocks Backpack Giveaway, first started in 2013. The program has donated 950,000 backpacks stocked with school supplies since its founding. TCC asks that on July 24 from 1 p.m-4 p.m. community members drop off backpacks and supplies at participating stores, including a store at 3141 Lee Highway

Offender Aid and Restoration, which works to improve the lives of the incarcerated population through educational programs, community service opportunities and reentry services into society, is also organizing a backpack drive.

Until August 12, Project Backpack, sponsored by OAR, will collect school supplies for children and deliver them with a note of encouragement from their incarcerated parent.

“It is so crucial to maintain strong family bonds while a parent is incarcerated for both the child and the parent,” said OAR’s executive director. “Incarceration not only affects the person going through the system, but everyone closest to them as well.” 

Anyone interested can also donate to the Project Backpack cause online. Community members may also drop off items physically or mail them to OAR’s Arlington office at 400 N. Uhle Street, Suite 704, Arlington, VA 22201. 

File photo

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The Goddard School — a private early-childhood education franchise — is planning to open a pair of linked childcare facilities 350 yards apart on Lee Highway.

A decision on permits for the facilities at 5328 and 5222 Lee Highway are docketed for the County Board meeting this Saturday, July 13.

The larger of the two projects is a childcare center and school at 5328 Lee Highway, which will host up to 208 children.

“The child care center will serve children ranging from two (2) to five (5) years of age, in addition to before/after school services for school age children ages five (5) to ten (10) years,” says a county staff report. “The applicant proposes to reconfigure the existing office space to create 14 classrooms, one of which can also operate as an indoor gymnasium, as well as several ancillary rooms, including a pantry, teacher resource room, and two offices.”

A portions of the building, which most recently served as an office building, had previously been approved as a child care facility in 2017, but the staff report noted that the proposed facility never opened. The property is attached by a breezeway to United Bank, which the report says is expected to continue operating alongside the school.

Meanwhile, the proposed childcare facility at 5222 Lee Highway will have up to 60 children, ranging from 6-weeks to 2-years-old. The building will replace the former Chevy Chase Bank and drive-thru, which has been vacant for two years.

Under local ordinance, the larger of the two facilities would be required to have 26 parking spaces, but only 18 are available in the parking lot behind the building. The staff report says The Goddard School is asking to have the additional parking be provided off-site at the 5222 Lee Highway location. That proposal has been met by concerns from neighbors.

“Yorktown Civic Association which is adjacent to the subject site, is in support of the proposal, however, has concerns regarding circulation and turning movement around the site,” the staff report says.

The report said pick-up and drop-off would occur from the parking area, accessible via two existing curb cuts, and staff recommended that the County Board find the circulation and parking issues sufficiently addressed.

If approved, the facilities would be the first locations for The Goddard School in Arlington.

Another childcare center — VINCI Early Learning School — has been proposed for 3508 Lee Highway and is also on Saturday’s County Board agenda. Consideration of that facility, however, is expected to be deferred until September “to allow the applicant additional time to meet with the community and address any concerns that they may have with the proposed use.”

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Virginia Tech’s Evening MBA program moved up three places to No. 14 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 rankings of the best part-time MBA programs.

The Northern Virginia-based program now ranks as the top public university part-time MBA in the Washington, D.C. metro area. The report assessed more than 300 part-time MBA programs across the country on factors such as student quality, peer reputation and the ratio of part-time to full-time students.

“This marks the fifth consecutive year that the Evening MBA has featured in the top 20 programs nationwide,” said Dana K. Hansson, director of MBA programs. “We believe the faculty expertise and high level of flexibility we offer are key factors in continuing to attract high quality students to our program.”

The Evening MBA is one of three MBA programs offered by the Pamplin College of Business. With many shared courses and faculty, the Executive and Professional MBA program options offer a similar academic experience to the Evening program, but with alternate formats and locations to better serve a range of students.

“What we did at Virginia Tech a few years ago was to say that we really want to focus on the working professional — someone who wants to enhance their career or make a change in the direction of their career, but not at the expense of continuing to be a business professional,” says Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast. That allows those students to come into the classroom, he adds, “and use what they’ve learned as part of the experience of the MBA program.”

This commitment to serving part-time students contributed to Virginia Tech’s highest ever overall score in the ranking. Another contributing factor was a strong appraisal by other programs.

“We’re particularly proud of the peer assessment score given the high quality of other programs in the nation,” said Dr. Parviz Ghandforoush, associate dean for graduate programs at Pamplin. “In part, we believe the high rating is due to our commitment to offering cutting-edge courses in areas like innovation and entrepreneurship, machine learning/AI and cybersecurity that aren’t available to students in more traditional MBA programs.”

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Startup Monday header

Sponsored by Monday Properties and written by ARLnow.comStartup Monday is a weekly column that profiles Arlington-based startups and their founders, plus other local technology happenings. The Ground Floor, Monday’s office space for young companies in Rosslyn, is now open. The Metro-accessible space features a 5,000-square-foot common area that includes a kitchen, lounge area, collaborative meeting spaces, and a stage for formal presentations.

EdConnective isn’t an Arlington startup, but starting early next year, it will be.

The Richmond-based company was chosen from 64 applicants as the winner of this year’s “Startup Arlington” competition. That means the firm will earn a temporary stay in the county, as well as some exclusive mentoring.

EdConnective’s mission is to provide virtual coaching and customized feedback for teachers. The startup launched in 2015 and has since worked in more than 30 schools throughout Virginia and surrounding states. More than 1,400 coaching sessions have been held with 70 coaches.

“EdConnective is thrilled to have been chosen as the winner of the Startup Arlington competition,” said Erik Skantze, Chief Operating Officer of EdConnective, in a press release. “Having a base of operations in Arlington will provide an enormous opportunity for us to grow our client base and to engage with investors. We look forward to an exciting and productive four months and beyond.”

According to the EdConnective website, participating teachers record a clip of their classroom instruction and share it with a coach, who shares feedback via Skype. These sessions are held twice a week for four to six weeks.

Pricing for the service ranges from $99 per session to $130 per session, depending on the package selected.

According to Arlington Economic Development, EdConnective will receive four months of rent-free lodging at Residence Inn Rosslyn and incubator space in Rosslyn at Spaces, a coworking space located in The Artisphere. The company staff will also receive transportation passes and exclusive mentoring.

The company is scheduled to start its Arlington operations next month.

Image via Startup Arlington

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