Press Club

Two Arlington Public Schools programs offering alternatives to traditional high school will soon be housed in the same building.

New Directions Alternative Program, currently located in the Thurgood Marshall Building in Clarendon, will join the Langston High School Continuation Program located in the Langston-Brown Community Center along Lee Highway before the start of the 2021-22 school year.

“We are moving New Directions from the Marshall Building to Langston this summer,” said APS spokesman Frank Bellavia. “This is an efficiency for us since many New Directions staff work at Langston.”

New Directions helps students who have trouble in traditional school settings, need strict monitoring or are under court supervision, according to APS. Students successfully exit the program by graduating, returning to their home high school or transferring to the High School Continuation Program at Langston.

One person who contacted ARLnow questioned whether the new location will be a downgrade for students.

“The program diligently serves justice-involved youth, teaching them to reconnect with the Arlington community while achieving their high school diplomas,” the person wrote. “The location has always been important to their success through partnerships with multiple establishments in Clarendon.”

The building at 2847 Wilson Blvd is privately owned and rented to APS. It also houses the Employee Assistance Program, which provides free, confidential, professional assistance and counseling to APS and county employees and their families.

“EAP will remain in there for a little while longer,” Bellavia said.

Arlington County has a little under four years left on its eight-year lease, said realtor Bill Buck, who has already started marketing the space to potential renters on behalf of Steve Woodell, the owner.

Woodell, who runs a funeral home in Alexandria, has owned the building since 1979, when it was Ives Funeral Home. APS moved in about 21 years ago, he said.

Buck said Langston “is a better facility for the students” and he is happy for the students moving buildings.

“[EAP] will likely also leave before the end of the term,” Buck said. “What’s going to happen in the future, I don’t know. We have had interest from people that wanted to build an office building there, but the county would like to see retail on the first floor.”

Buck said he would like to see the space turned into a 100,000-square foot affordable housing building — not an office or retail space that would contribute to the glut of such amenities in Clarendon.

“I think it’d be great for affordable housing,” Buck said.

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From record early voting turnout to the volume of volunteer requests to the number of first-time voters, the word “first” characterizes many aspects of the 2020 election in Arlington.

But for 83-year-old poll volunteer Bill Thatcher, 2020 is his last year helping people exercise their “supreme privilege of voting.”

For the past 45 years, the Arlington resident has volunteered as a precinct chief at the polls, moving wherever he is needed. This year, he is an assistant chief of early voting at the Langston-Brown Community Center along Lee Highway.

What started a half-century ago as a minor way to give back to the community has become a mission to safeguard a right people have sacrificed everything to secure. Thatcher’s goal is to clear any impediments blocking people from voting and make everyone who walks into his precinct feel comfortable.

“I reflected just last evening, there are people who have shed blood and died for this freedom to vote, to keep freedom free,” he said.

After the election, Thatcher will have more time to focus on his day job as a real-estate broker, which he has had for 50 years. He just renewed his license, and plans to work so long as he is in good health.

2020 is a memorable election year to end on, with more than 50% of active voters having already cast early ballots. It thrills Thatcher, who lives in a neighborhood near the East Falls Church Metro station, to process the votes of many first-timers, several of whom are seniors.

Although lines can stretch up to two blocks, they move at a brisk pace, he said. He thinks the use of early voting to keep the Election Day crowd size down should stay when the pandemic fades because people seem to enjoy early voting. One pandemic precaution — curbside ballot pickup — did not prove popular, however. People want to see their ballots processed, he said.

“A few ask for receipts,” he said.

And it breaks his heart whenever someone has to be turned away. One year, a friend arrived at Thatcher’s precinct about 30 seconds after 7 p.m. and the polls had closed. By law, he could not let his friend in.

“It grieved me,” he said. “He made every attempt to come, he wanted to vote, he was ready, willing and able, registered and everything, but just because of time constraints, was not able to vote.”

Empathy is an important trait for future poll workers, says Thatcher.

“Make sure that you give them the assurance that their vote is important and deserves to be counted,” he said.

He started working at the polls in 1975, on the suggestion of his neighbor and distant relative, who had decided to step back from volunteering. Similar to his relative, Thatcher desires to pass his spot on.

“I just feel I’ve done it for this length of time and I should let someone else enter in now and do some volunteer work,” he said.

If this year is any indication, there are many who are eager to take up the baton. Thatcher said more than 2,000 people responded to this year’s call for poll volunteers.

“It’s fantastic we’ve had a huge influx in new workers this election who are stepping up to cover for those who cannot work due to health risks,” said Eric Olsen, Arlington’s Deputy Director of Elections, in an email.

Olsen said he hopes some of the new volunteers will stay on and have a rewarding experience working the polls for years to come, in the way that Thatcher has.

“People like Bill are the lifeblood of making elections function properly,” Olsen said. “They happen with preparation, trust, and most importantly — people.”

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Four new early voting locations will open in Arlington this weekend.

The Aurora Hills, Langston-Brown, Madison and Walter Reed community centers will all be open for early voting, starting at 9 a.m. Saturday. The voting hours at the community centers are 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays and 2-7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Early voting at the four new locations is in addition to the already-open Courthouse Plaza location, in the former Wells Fargo bank branch at 2200 Clarendon Blvd.

Arlington has seen record levels of mail-in and in-person early ballots. More than 30% of active voters have already cast ballots, Arlington election officials said today, up from 24% last week.

“We’ve never seen volumes this high,” Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s Director of Elections, told ARLnow last week.

Tomorrow’s kick-off of expanded early voting will draw a number of lawmakers to the area for “get out the early vote” campaign stops.

Sen. Mark Warner, along with fellow Virginia Democrats Rep. Don Beyer and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, will be making stops at community and government centers in Arlington and Fairfax County. Here in Arlington, they trio plan to visit the Aurora Hills Community Center (735 18th Street S.) at 11:30 a.m. and the Langston-Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street) at 12:15 p.m.

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