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Privately Funded Science Lab Set to Be Included in Planned Arlington Science Focus-Key Building Swap

County school officials are reassuring nervous parents at Arlington Science Focus School that a state-of-the-art science lab, built thanks to nearly $200,000 in private funding, will be included as part of a controversial building swap with the Key Immersion School in the next few years.

Arlington Public Schools is still sorting out the logistics of the move, which is designed to ease overcrowding at both buildings and address the fact that ASFS is the only neighborhood school in the county to sit outside its own attendance boundaries. The school system has yet to even nail down an exact timetable for the swap, with the change on tap for either 2020 or 2021.

But the building swap is already prompting criticism from parents, including several who have spoken at recent School Board meetings to register their frustration with the process. Superintendent Patrick Murphy has said he does not intend to seek the Board’s approval for the change, arguing it’s within his power to authorize the change on his own.

Among the issues raised by parents is what will become of the ASFS “Investigation Station,” a science lab the school added in 2015. The school’s Parent-Teacher Association successfully raised more than $177,000 to fund the lab over the course of a year, and was described by the school system at the time as a tool for students to “explore the natural world with the aid of hands-on learning tools and cutting-edge technology.”

While there are plenty of details left to be worked out about the swap, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that “Board members and administrators have assured ASFS staff and families that we recognize that moving equipment and other teaching materials will be inherent in any building move for both schools.”

It remains unclear, however, just how the process of swapping the buildings will actually work. APS has yet to work up a cost estimate for the process, and Bellavia said that “it’s still too far out” to know how much work on each building will be required to retrofit each school’s equipment to its new home.

“Questions about the building swap will be addressed as part of the community engagement plan that will be developed and shared with the community in January 2019,” Bellavia said.

In a memo from APS staff in response to School Board questions on the swap, staffers suggested that the school system could “refresh” each building ahead of the change, rather than shelling out for a full renovation.

Notably, Key’s current building has room for about 100 more students than ASFS, and school officials plan to add additional trailers at the Science Focus site to make up for the difference. The staff memo also notes that ASFS’ “two science classrooms will be converted back for regular classroom use” ahead of the swap.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy reassured parents at the Board’s meeting last Thursday (Oct. 4) that APS would continue to engage with the community about the issue. But the school system is also hoping to sort through its contentious elementary school boundary process first, meaning that more detailed discussions of the Key-ASFS swap will have to wait until next year.

“There still needs to be a lot more information and perhaps background around the rationale for the recommendation and I know staff will be doing that from late winter into the spring,” Murphy said.

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APS Plans to Swap Arlington Science Focus and Key Buildings

(Updated at 1 p.m.) The Arlington Science Focus School and Key Immersion School will swap buildings sometime in the next few years — school officials just need to hammer out the details on when.

After the School Board decided last year to convert Key into a countywide option school, meaning it would no longer have set neighborhood attendance boundaries, the school system was faced with an unusual dilemma.

Parents in the area could once choose between Key and Arlington Science Focus, should they not want to send their students to the school’s Spanish immersion program. But after making the change, neighborhoods throughout Northeast Arlington were directed into only ASFS by default. That meant that many students newly mandated to attend ASFS actually lived closer to the Key Immersion School at 2300 Key Blvd, as ASFS now sat outside its own attendance boundaries.

With a new round of boundary changes approaching to prepare for the opening of Alice West Fleet Elementary School next year, Arlington Public School planners are taking another look at ASFS’ status to ease some of that confusion. Instead of adjusting its attendances lines this year, however, Superintendent Patrick Murphy is planning a building swap between Key and ASFS, to take place in either 2020 or 2021.

“This decision is a wise decision because we’re a growing school division, we’re adding capacity, and we really have come to this point,” Murphy told the Board at an Aug. 28 meeting.

He added that he doesn’t see any need for the Board to formally sign off on the plan, which would move the Key program to the ASFS building at 1501 N. Lincoln Street and vice versa, but the Board will get to help APS decide when the move happens.

That prompted a bit of unease among Board members. While no one openly opposed Murphy’s plan, some members did express some reservations about how exactly the process might work.

“I know some people will be excited about the prospect, because for some it means they can walk to school more easily,” said Board member Monique O’Grady. “For others, the walkability is tougher… and when there’s uncertainty about the future, it creates a lot of angst and people will feel unsettled.”

For instance, Board Chair Reid Goldstein pointed out that both schools are currently over capacity — as of 2017, ASFS had 128 more students enrolled than it was designed to hold, while Key is 86 students over its designed capacity. ASFS and Key required six and four trailers last year, respectively, and the division is projecting that both buildings will be even more overcrowded this year.

“It’s a tough nut to crack,” Goldstein said. “That’s going to create problems if and when boundaries are drawn.”

Additionally, Key’s building is designed to hold about 100 more students than ASFS, and 58 more students attended Key than ASFS last year, another area of concern for Board members.

“If the Arlington Science Focus building is smaller and the immersion program is bigger, we’re not going to be able to grow immersion program,” said Vice Chair Tannia Talento. “So we need to think about: what’re our goals for the long term with the immersion program?”

But APS officials argue that the current ASFS site has room for additional trailers to accommodate the larger number of students coming over from Key. The school system also hopes to control enrollment there moving forward, because the immersion program is based on student applications, rather than neighborhood populations.

Lisa Stengle, APS director of planning and evaluation, added that the new Reed school will add additional capacity when it opens in Westover in 2021 and ease some of the strain. She also noted that the school system’s initial plans suggest that “students and staff at both schools could largely remain intact,” though that will depend on when APS executes the swap.

If the school system switches the buildings in time for fall 2020, Stengle points out that ASFS would see its boundaries adjusted immediately afterward, as staffers draw attendance lines to cope with the opening of the Reed school. But if APS waits until 2021, she said officials “might not be able to move everybody together,” scrambling each school’s enrollment a bit more.

By January, the school system plans to publish a “community engagement timeline” to collect feedback on when, exactly, to make the swap.

In the meantime, the Board is set to approve new boundaries for eight other elementary schools later this winter.

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Why Immersion Learning Matters: A Perspective

Applying to college is a scary but exciting process. Picking out schools, writing a personal statement and stacking up all of your best accomplishments.

But there was only one experience that I was never able to put into simple words, and that was the 11 years that I spent in immersion classes.

Arlington County is home to four Spanish immersion programs, at Claremont and Francis Scott Key elementary schools, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

Arlington Public Schools says the goal of the programs is to develop “high levels” of proficiency and literacy in two languages, promote high academic achievement and cross cultural competence.

I started second grade at Claremont Immersion School in 2003. It was the first year the school opened and students came from the immersion programs at Abingdon Elementary and my former school, Oakridge. I spent half my first day reciting the multiplication tables in Spanish, the other half in English.

It was not always easy, I struggled with both science and math as I got older and the content got more complicated. I stuck with it, although it was common for classmates to leave the school so they could thrive in a traditional setting.

Language skills improve even more in middle school, when there are 11 hours of Spanish instruction a week. Because subjects switch throughout the day, there’s a possibility to go back and forth from English to Spanish. It’s a brain workout to go back and forth between the two every 45 minutes. Unlike the elective Spanish classes offered in middle school, the Spanish Language Arts class that immersion students take is structured much like an English class.

High school is the true test. Some students struggle with AP level Spanish, as you don’t practice the language the way you do in middle school. With block scheduling, you may only get one day of Spanish instruction.

Continuing to practice Spanish every day is a valuable commitment. Many of my friends are double majoring or minoring in the language. They have traveled to Spain, Cuba and Costa Rica to practice the language.

“I’ve gotten to travel the world with confidence in my ability to speak the language,” said Peyton Johnson, a senior at James Madison University double majoring in Communications and Spanish.

Aside from learning another language, the other perk of immersion is that I was able to forge lifelong friendships. Because there are designated schools to continue the program means I went to school with the same people from that first day at Claremont until my last day at Wakefield.

“A good portion of my closest friends are from immersion,” said Cathleen Madlansacay, a senior International Affairs Pre-Law major who minors in Spanish. Madlansacay and Johnson are roommates at JMU and met at Claremont in third grade.

Speaking Spanish has helped students forge relationships and have seen how immersion matters in a workforce that values employees who are bilingual.

“I have had unexpected conversations with strangers and have gotten job opportunities,” said Johnson.

Most the students I spoke to were grateful that their parents enrolled them in the program.

“They gave me an opportunity to not only become fluent in another language but also immerse myself in another culture,” said Allie Names, a Geography and Spanish double major at Mary Washington University.

Carolyn Harvey, who graduated from Wakefield in 2016, echoed the sentiment.

“I used to always be mad that my parents put me in Immersion but now I’m thankful,” said Harvey. “I always surprise people when they meet me and hear me speak Spanish.”

The Immersion program has progressed since I started all those years ago. The shiny new Claremont that started with 350 students is expanding its capacity to hold 767 students. Now, Wakefield offers Biology, Economics, and Personal Finance in Spanish.

As I approach my senior year at the University of Maryland, I realize how lucky I was to have such an amazing experience that has made an indelible impact on so many lives.

Brooke Giles is an ARLnow.com summer intern.

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Locals Can Vent About Snow Removal at Public Forum This Month

Snow piled in front of a stop sign during the January 2016 blizzard (photo via Arlington County)Arlington residents unhappy with the county’s snow removal efforts during last month’s blizzard are getting an opportunity to share their frustration with local officials.

The county is set to host a public “Snow Forum” at Key Elementary (2300 Key Blvd) in two weeks on Wednesday, Feb. 24. The discussion is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m.

“We’re asking people to tell us about their experiences during and after Snowzilla, and to offer suggestions for how we can improve our efforts to quickly recover from snow and ice events,” Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz said in a statement.

Those who were happy with the snow removal effort can, of course, also weigh in.

In addition to the event, the county is also asking locals to fill out its online snow survey by next Friday, Feb. 19. Officials will share results from the questionnaire at the meeting.

Residents can register for the forum online.

Photo via Arlington County

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UPDATED: Key Elementary Closed Due to A/C Outage

Key Elementary School (photo via Arlington Public Schools)Update at 9:15 p.m. — Key Elementary has canceled classes on Tuesday due to continued air conditioning issues.

“At this time, the air conditioning at Key Elementary School cannot be maintained at a comfortable temperature for students to return on Tuesday,” the school said in an email to parents. “If APS needs to close Key School on Wednesday, an additional notification will be sent. Otherwise, school will be open on time on Wednesday, June 17.”

“Fifth grade promotion will take place in the Washington-Lee High School auditorium (1301 N. Stafford St.) at 6:30 p.m. Fifth grade students should arrive at Washington-Lee by 4 p.m. for promotion practice.”

Earlier: Key Elementary students were bussed to Washington-Lee High School today due to a lack of air conditioning in the school.

A power outage on Sunday caused Key’s air conditioning system to fail, prompting the evacuation this morning, according to an email sent to parents.

Students will be bussed back to Key in time for normal dismissal.

From Key Elementary principal Dr. Marjorie Myers:

Dear Key Families:

I wanted to let you know that a power outage occurred yesterday that led to an air conditioning failure today at Key. With temperatures expected to be in 90s, for the health and safety of students APS will transport students by bus to Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford St.) for the remainder of the day. Instruction and meals will be provided at Washington-Lee; however, families who wish to pick up their children early may do so at Washington-Lee at any time today.

All students will be transported back to Key Elementary before normal dismissal so they can walk or ride the bus home at the regular time. Students who attend Extended Day will still be able to do so at Key, but families are encouraged to pick up their children as early as possible today.

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Morning Notes

Man cleaning up trash on Four Mile Run Drive

Alleged Bank Robber Was Staying at Retirement Home — The FBI tracked down an accused bank robber in an Arlington on Friday thanks to his cell phone usage. The so-called Bicycle Bandit is accused of a dozen bank robberies, including a robbery in Alexandria just a few hours prior to his arrest. Investigators used phone records to figure out his identity. The suspect, Woosen Assaye, was staying at his father’s apartment at The Carlin retirement home at the time of his arrest. [NBC Washington – WARNING: Auto-play video]

Arlington Named Healthiest County in Va. — A new study has named Arlington County as the healthiest county in Virginia. Albemarle, Fairfax and Loudoun ranked second, third and fourth, respectively. [Associated Press]

Fehr Reads to Key Students — Washington Capitals player Eric Fehr read his new anti-bullying book to students at Key Elementary School yesterday. [NBC Washington – WARNING: Auto-play video]

Board Considers Affordable Housing Report — The Arlington County Board on Monday heard a comprehensive report about affordable housing in the county. [InsideNova]

Blue Line Issues — A Blue Line train suffering mechanical problems offloaded passengers at the Pentagon station this morning, causing overcrowding on the platform. [Twitter]

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Fire at Key Elementary School

The Arlington County Fire Department is on the scene of a reported fire at Key Elementary School (2300 Key Blvd).

Initial reports suggest the fire is contained to the school’s freezer and possibly electrical in nature. The school has been evacuated, according to scanner traffic.

Firefighters on the scene say they were able to extinguish the small blaze after power to the freezer was shut down.

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