Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
To inform voters, Progressive Voice asked each candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary for the State House of Delegates to respond to this question: “If elected, on which progressive initiative will you lead that you believe would be beneficial to the constituents of the 49th District?”
During my first campaign, I made a pledge to my community that I would be a champion for our Northern Virginia values — leading the way on issues like protecting the environment, defending civil rights, supporting our schools, standing up for reproductive autonomy, and advocating for our immigrant neighbors.
In the General Assembly, I’ve taken that pledge to heart and have worked tirelessly over the last eight years to secure progressive victories that benefit our community, including:
- Increasing incentives for solar energy projects and jobs in renewable energy
- Raising the outdated felony threshold and combating the school-to-prison pipeline
- Expanding Medicaid access to include immigrant mothers and children and working with the Attorney General to grant in-state tuition to DACA-recipients
In recognition of these efforts, I have consistently ranked among the most progressive legislators in Richmond and am proud of my record working to find solutions to the many problems we face.
In particular, I’m proudest of the bill I passed in 2013 creating the Virginia Housing Trust Fund (VHTF), which has already invested $1.7 million on affordable housing projects benefiting the 49th District.
As our region grows, our housing crisis will continue to worsen — unless Virginia dedicates sustainable funding for affordable housing.
Many of my constituents are deeply concerned about ever-rising rents and property taxes and fear that they’re being priced out of neighborhoods they’ve lived in for decades.
To address those fears, I’ve been fighting for a dedicated source of funding that would increase the VHTF’s budget and keep it on secure financial footing for years to come.
Every Virginian deserves the opportunity to live and work in the community they call home and, if re-elected, I will continue to lead on this issue until the General Assembly properly addresses this crisis once and for all.
May is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Month, but the somber statistics of how many kids do not receive adequate medical care deserve our focus year-round. The obstacles are numerous: untreated mental illness in parents may prevent infants from receiving the responsive care needed for development. Toddlers may miss timely screening for developmental disorders unless childcare providers are trained to make referrals. Even timely diagnosis doesn’t ensure treatment — Virginia ranks 40th in the nation for access to behavioral health care treatment.
Access aside, low-income families may not be able to afford treatment. On top of everything, stigma surrounding mental illness remains.
Yet by neglecting to tackle stigma and invest in screening, training, and treatment options, we are making a terrible choice. If we wait, treatment often is less effective. The criminal justice system may become involved — 90% of incarcerated youth require mental illness treatment. Delaying care disproportionately impacts communities of color, because black youth receive a court referral three times as often as white youth.
I support the General Assembly’s recent efforts to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for psychiatric services and leverage pediatricians for certain mental health treatments. These stop-gap measures help while we implement an adequate system of care. I support funding school counselor positions and peer counseling programs. I want to stop the “schools to prisons pipeline” — Virginia schools have twice the referrals than the national average — by training school personnel in trauma recognition to better address what underlies student misbehavior.
We should increase the availability of crisis-prevention services and encourage community-supervision as a diversionary alternative to costly incarceration. Finally, I will aim to fully fund early intervention services, because provider availability and reimbursement rates have not kept pace with rising enrollment. We must make better choices because children, at the very least, deserve good mental health.
Del. Alfonso Lopez has represented the 49th District (South Arlington and Eastern Fairfax) in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2012, where he serves in Democratic Leadership. During his time in the General Assembly, he has been a Progressive Champion for his community fighting for Affordable Housing, expanding Medicaid to cover over 400,000 Virginians, increasing Teacher and Educator pay by 5%, and fighting for criminal justice reform.
Julius D. “JD” Spain Sr. has always been focused on the well-being of others and has dedicated his entire adult life to public service. A lifetime member of the NAACP and a 26-year Marine Corps veteran, JD believes in uplifting the community and fighting injustice and inequality.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Laura Saul Edwards
From the time I began reading, the image of libraries that came to mind was of a building warehousing books that I checked out and tried returning on time to avoid fines. Thumbing through card catalogues and scrolling through microfiche film joined the memory bank in high school and college.
This outdated view of libraries is as much a historical relic as the Library of Alexandria in ancient Egypt. The Arlington Public Library is more than a mere circulating book collection. It is an indispensable part of Arlington’s infrastructure with a diverse menu of services — and a leading example of data-driven, continual improvement that is a cornerstone of progressive governance.
A reason Arlington stands out among other communities is that our generally well-educated and well-off population places a high value on libraries. Arlington’s 2018 Community Satisfaction Survey reported an overall satisfaction rate with library services of 91% versus 74% elsewhere.
However, this high satisfaction does not mean the library can rest on its laurels. Continual improvement depends upon using data to develop budgets and policies that will make the library even more effective and responsive to public needs.
According to County Board member Katie Cristol, the satisfaction survey is helpful in this regard because it “sheds insight into the relative value that residents place on disparate functions of the government.”
For example, recent survey results revealed dissatisfaction with the rate at which the library was acquiring books. Arlington residents said they wanted more e-books and shorter wait times for borrowing titles. This information led to a $300,000 increase in the library’s acquisition budget, including e-books.
Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.
By Paul Ferguson
Progressive Democrats care deeply about the environment, the dangers of climate change, and the scientific data that support it. During my 12 years on the Arlington County Board, I learned that getting public policy changes done takes a practical, pragmatic approach and a clear-eyed view of what’s actually possible.
It is in this spirit that I want to assess the Green New Deal. Climate change is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately, and the Green New Deal, a non-binding resolution introduced in Congress, has gotten more people talking.
To me, the Green New Deal (GND) stands for the proposition that the time is past for half-measures. We must decarbonize our economy rapidly. If we had acted 20 years ago, we would not be in such a precarious situation. However, we delayed, denied and tiptoed around the issue. The 10-year timeframe called for in the resolution is an aspirational goal. The real timeline will be in legislation that comes later.
Those who do not want to address climate change falsely claim that the GND will outlaw hamburgers, air travel and more. This is not true. There are thoughtful concerns about the GND: that it is a laundry list; that it calls for too much, too fast; that it should focus on climate change and not try to solve many social problems at once; and that it should strive to be bipartisan.
I tend to agree with those concerns. I think they point in the likely directions the GND could take as it evolves toward passage as legislation in the next Congress.
As a first step, if there is any hope of bipartisan support in Congress, legislation will need to separate the environmental components of the GND from the social justice ones. Putting a price on carbon and investing in renewable energy are issues we can achieve consensus on. Policies that focus on income inequity are needed but will be more challenging to enact.
Locally I was encouraged when I recently met with Jim Presswood, former chairman of the Arlington Republican Party. Presswood runs a non-profit dedicated to convincing conservatives to address climate change. Democrats should work hard toward a bipartisan approach that accomplishes what science says is necessary.
The original New Deal in the 1930s was not one thing, but an approach toward ending the Great Depression, getting people back to work and restoring faith in the country’s financial system. Many ideas were debated and some were implemented. Some worked for a while, some failed, and some have stood the test of time.
I expect the same from the Green New Deal. It’s time to do the best we know how based on science and experience. Let’s put a price on carbon; invest more in clean energy research; invest more in renewable energy infrastructure; and ensure that the benefits of the new energy economy benefit all Americans, including those now dependent on the fossil fuel industry.
There are many variations on the New Green Deal. There already is a proposed Virginia Green New Deal that focuses on state policy. There should be a practical Arlington Green New Deal, too. Here are a few ideas to start:
- All new County buildings and schools should commit to be net-zero energy. The School Board should be commended for achieving this with Discovery Elementary School, FleetElementary School and Walter Reed Elementary School.
- Arlington County government should commit to 100% renewable electricity for County operations by 2023.
- Arlington County as a whole should commit to 100% renewable electricity by 2035 at the latest.
- Arlington should commit to converting all of its vehicle fleets to electric power.
- The County should commit to being powered by clean renewable energy across all
sectors by 2050 at the latest.
As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said in 1939, “The most serious threat to our institutions comes from those who refuse to face the need for change.” Today’s Green New Deal is a call to action that can be modified and refined to achieve consensus. My hope is that all of us will collectively face the need for urgent change to protect our climate and environment.
Paul Ferguson has served as the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Arlington and the City of Falls Church since 2008. He served as a Member of the County Board from 1996-2007.
To inform voters, Progressive Voice asked each candidate in the upcoming Democratic primary for State Senate to respond to this question: “What is your one most progressive accomplishment for Arlington citizens and how does that reflect your progressive leadership?”
As an Arlington County Board member, I initiated a coordinated community response to domestic violence and sexual assault; and chaired the roundtable that guided the community response for five years. That effort, now known as Project Peace, continues to educate, protect and empower Arlingtonians.
Project Peace has “buy-in” from the police, judicial system, faith community, non-profit service providers, legal service groups, and the public schools. The goal is to educate the community about domestic violence and sexual assault, enhance the protections offered by the judicial system and address gaps in services. An important component of Project Peace is preventing unhealthy relationships and discussing this topic in an age appropriate manner with both sexes.
As a State Senator, I allocate dollars in a way that ensures a seamless local response to domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, Inova Hospital, with the help of a state grant, was able to expand the number of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) to ensure that survivors could access the exam without long delays in a waiting room. Additionally, I passed legislation to require that a backlog of Physical Evidence Recovery Kits (PERKs) be evaluated by the State Department of Forensics.
On the prevention side, I passed legislation that requires the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission to include lessons in patron safety for bartenders. This idea came from a Project Peace program that voluntarily encourages establishments to join the “Ask Angela” Campaign. If an individual feels threatened or unsafe, she can utter the words “Ask Angela” and the bartender is trained to take corrective actions.
The General Assembly established a Sexual Assault Advisory Committee and I have chaired that committee for the past four years. More needs to be done and I look forward to keeping my pragmatic progressive values at the forefront in Richmond.
Integrating our regional economy is a top priority of what I hope to achieve in Richmond. Two years ago, I wrote in ARLnow about bringing more people to the table to achieve local policy goals. Our planning processes were insular with people from different areas of the county talking past each other and, rowing in their own directions with blinders on.
For the past year I helped lead “Engage Arlington” with the County Manager’s office and the Civic Federation. This brought together, for the first time ever, civic association leaders from all neighborhoods of the county, business improvement districts, apartment property owners and developers, advocacy groups representing groups like renters and environmentalists, and various government agencies.
Our problem of not working together and thus creating inefficient systems is not just an Arlington problem; it’s a regional problem.I wrote about integrating Arlington into a regional economy. Arlington is only 26 square miles and by virtue of our size, the solutions to everything from housing affordability to public transportation, business competitiveness, and even creation of more efficient recycling facilities, must be addressed with regional solutions.
To have Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun working in their own silos to try to tackle these regional problems decreases the efficiency that working through state partnerships could help solve. For example, a regional approach to transportation spending efficiencies could be addressed by an improved process between the big picture-driven Council of Governments and the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, the functional vehicle for transportation funding. With respect to housing affordability, we must regionally increase density and protect renters’ rights, but as we grow be diligent to have adequate infrastructure and schools. I look forward to leading Northern Virginia forward with you and for you — not special interests — to succeed as a region in the global economy.
Merlene is a lifelong Arlingtonian with years of service to the community. She was appointed as an Economic Development Commissioner, has led on the boards of her civic association and the Arlington Civic Federation, and has served as a citizen liaison to the Rosslyn Business Improvement District and various capacities within the Democratic Party.
Sen. Favola serves on Transportation, Rehab and Social Services and Local Government Committees and chairs the Sexual Assault Advisory Committee and the Senate Women’s Healthcare Caucus. She served for 14 years on the Arlington County Board, chairing that body three times; and was recently recognized for her public service from the National Academy of Public Administration.
By Tannia Talento
How do you achieve social justice, equal access to opportunities for all, and access to the American Dream? If it is achievable anywhere, most of us believe it could be in Arlington.
We all seek to be accepting and not prejudiced.
But let’s think about what we see when we see a police officer. What do we see when we see a Black or Latino male walking down the street? What do we see when we see a person with a disability? What do we see when we see a White person? Depending on the lens you bring to this discussion, whether it is the lens of having a disability, being Latinx, being Black, being an immigrant, or being White, you will likely view each of these people differently. For instance, what I see when I see a police officer, as a Latina woman who grew up in a working-class minority neighborhood, is fear for my well-being, a potential negative disruption to my day and potential harm. What I see when I see a Latino male is my brother, my father, my uncle or my cousins.
I see the world around me with my personal lens created by my life experience. I have had to remove my personal lens to understand that some people might see safety, protection, and help when they see a police officer and understand that some might see a gang member, an undocumented immigrant, or a potential criminal when they see a Latino male.
Consider what your lens is showing you.
We consider affordable housing in Arlington a mechanism for keeping our community socio-economically diverse. This is another area in which we need to consider our lenses to successfully support affordable housing in Arlington.
For instance, do you know what it feels like to have severe limits in living choices? Limits on where you can buy food, how much food you can buy, and the type of food you buy simply based on money. Consider the limits on the location of living accommodations that are strictly based on an affordable grocery store being within walking distance and a strong public transportation system to get you to work.
Under these circumstances, you do not get to truly pick your neighborhood, your school, or your community. Depending on when a unit becomes available, if it has enough rooms at a price you can afford, and if it is close enough to a metro or frequent bus line that starts early and runs late, your home picks you. If you have never experienced this, how would you know that a bus line that runs every hour versus every fifteen minutes is a barrier to something as simple as walking your child to school before work? If you have never experienced this how would you know that affordable housing in sections of North Arlington, while affordable, may not be a choice for you if you do not have a car, because there is no grocery store within walking distance or a transit line with frequent service. If you have never been low-income, these barriers are invisible to you.
Consider what your lens is showing you.
If we want to bring about social justice, ensure equal opportunities for success for all and access to the American Dream, the first step is to acknowledge our personal lens created by our backgrounds and experiences. The next step is to put them aside and learn about the lenses of others. We need to see through the different lenses that exist within our community so that we can see where the invisible barriers are located and help to remove them. This is how we in Arlington should support and assist each other in our pursuit of equity and social justice, inclusivity, and the American Dream.
Tannia has lived in Arlington for 15 years and is currently serving as Vice Chair of the
Arlington County School Board. She is a long-time community activist and an advocate
for equitable access to educational opportunities for all.
To inform voters, Progressive Voice asked each candidate in the upcoming Democratic caucus for School Board to respond to this question: “The community has heard a lot about issues regarding a fourth high school, the capacity crunch, and school budget. What is a different major issue affecting students’ future success that you would address as a School Board member?”
Arlington Public Schools are rightly considered excellent, and our students’ achievement is remarkable. But the stress on our students, from demanding classes, competition, peer pressure and just being an adolescent or pre-adolescent are showing up in alarming ways.
The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) is taken by 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th graders nationwide. These are some of the Arlington students’ responses from 2017
- About 340 high school students attempted suicide
- Half of the 8th, 10th and 12 grade girls were sexually harassed
- Illegal use of over-the-counter medications by 6th grade students has increased from 2% in 2013 to 11% in 2016
- More than a quarter of 8th grade students have used alcohol.
This is a big problem and growing worse. To serve our students well, we must do more to reduce their stress.
Student stress is a community health issue that requires a community response. I will continue to support efforts to:
- Push harder on bullying and harassment prevention, making sure every student is acknowledged, accepted and safe;
- Continue expanding the number of social workers and psychologists;
- Support social and emotional learning, particularly in building empathy;
- Teach students how to moderate their stress; and
- De-emphasize academic competition in favor of personal achievement that boosts personal goals.
Programs supporting these goals are essential, not frills.
Students can engage more with each other on similar anxiety topics when they understand that their peers are struggling with the same issues.
Parents need to talk to their children, but empathetically, realizing that the child’s developmental and school experiences are different from the parents’ experiences.
And we all need to pause and remember that we are in this together as teammates, not competitors.
Under the Arlington Public Schools’ (APS) 1:1 Initiative, every student in grades 3-12 (2nd grade is shared) will be provided a personal computing device. Providing digital devices to every student is an ambitious and reasonable proposition in light of the Internet age and the workplace demands for digital literacy. Yet questions remain about the most effective use of technology, both in the classroom and at home, for supportive learning, critical thinking and problem solving skills.
On March 28, 2019, APS with the help of the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, released the 1:1 Study (Phase 1): Preliminary Findings survey which evaluates the use of personal digital devices in the classroom, comparing benefits and drawbacks from the perspective of teachers, students and parents. Among the initial findings, the Institute noted that:
- Students are using their devices 47% of the time in class.
- Teachers report a range of 66-85% positive outcomes on student development.
There is difference of 26-40% in opinion from the parents, with the parents questioning the effectiveness of the program.
While the 1:1 Initiative is essential for digital literacy, it is crucial to ensure that all students have a balance of skills that include mastery in collaboration, creativity and problem solving. As lifelong learning becomes the norm, it is essential that interest based learning is student driven, not technology driven.
The success of all Arlington students cannot be solely dependent on learning any single type of technology or digital platform. As a candidate for School Board I will strive to bridge the gap between the frustrations of parents and the perceived effectiveness of the program by making sure that all voices–teachers, parents and students–are included and remained informed as changes in the program are developed by APS.
Reid Goldstein is a 33-year resident of Arlington. He began his service on the School Board in January 2016 and has been the School Board Chair since July 2018.
Dave Priddy is a native Arlington resident who grew up attending APS Schools. He and his wife Melanie have two children in the Arlington Public Schools system. He enjoys playing basketball, tennis and Muay Thai.
By Jan and Ralph Johnson
It sometimes amazes us where our priorities are in this day of Amazon. Two highly successful programs at Wakefield High School, Cohort (for boys) and United Minority Girls, could be ended with the proposed Arlington Public Schools (APS) budget.
These two programs are led by the Equity and Excellence Coordinator, whose main focus is to guide minority boys and girls through high school, challenging them to take the hardest courses, to study hard and commit themselves to a path to college. Such actions awake in these students of color a world of possibilities never before imagined.
“Those first weeks of high school were overwhelming. I realized how behind I was,” recalled Yoel Fessahaye, a 2014 Wakefield graduate. “Cohort was there to offer me food and brotherhood. Now, I have graduated from Georgetown University and still go back and visit Mr. Beitler regularly.” Fessahaye said, “We all call the Cohort program our salvation from the hopeless future we once felt bound to.”
The success of these programs is unprecedented. Over the past 18 years since Cohort began, 358 Cohort members have graduated and 93% have gone on to college. Over 500 students have been members of United Minority Girls (UMG) and 97% have gone on to college. Other public school systems have come to us asking how Arlington has been so successful as they wish to replicate our program.
But now the Equity and Excellence position has been proposed for elimination. If this position is eliminated, Cohort and UMG are eliminated as well. No longer will there be weekly lunch meetings with fellow program members to discuss their futures. No longer will there be the Equity and Excellence Coordinator to take them on bus trips (privately funded) to visit colleges. No longer will there be that safe place where Cohort and UMG members visit daily to discuss their issues. No longer will there be an advocate for the minority male and female students at Wakefield High School. It will all end.
“Counselors like Mr. Beitler are not just school staff; to communities like mine, they are our champions. And the programs they tirelessly work on are the essential tools that even the playing field for us,” said Fessahaye.
In the APS mission statement, it says “the office of Equity and Excellence advances high expectations, facilitates equitable access and remedies opportunity gaps for Black and Latino students.” This mission has been met at Wakefield High School.
“The strong guidance and encouragement I received from Mr. Beitler and the United Minority Girls program paved the way for someone like me to attend such an outstanding institution as Washington College,” said Bethelehem K. Yirga, a 2017 Wakefield graduate whose family immigrated from Ethiopia in 2011. “I will continue to work hard so that I can become successful and create unlimited opportunities for those who are marginalized by our society.”
By eliminating the Equity and Excellence Coordinator position — thus ending Cohort and UMG — what are we saying to the students at greatest risk in our school system? What are we saying to the minority students in Arlington?
Instead of discontinuing this powerful motivating force, can we instead support it and redouble our efforts? In the words of former Cohort member Fessahaye, such a move would help Arlington “be an inclusive community that empowers all students to explore their possibilities and create their futures.”
Jan and Ralph Johnson are longtime Arlington residents. Jan is a former teacher and Ralph has owned and managed apartment buildings in Arlington.
In the upcoming June 11 primary, one of the local races in Arlington is for the Democrat who will run for Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church. Progressive Voice asked each candidate for this office “What is the main differentiating factor between you and your opponent in relation to progressive values?”
Here are their responses.
Our criminal legal system needs reform, but what does real reform look like? And, can a career prosecutor in the same office for 32 years be trusted to enact real reform?
This we know: the United States incarcerates at a higher rate than any other nation; states account for 90% of incarcerated people; Virginia incarcerates at a higher rate than the national average; and local prosecutors bear primary responsibility for those results.
In Arlington and the City of Falls Church, the Commonwealth’s Attorney prosecuted over 3,200 simple marijuana possession cases in 6 years, 57% of which in the last 2 years were of black people; though only 9% of the county population, black people are 66% of the jail population; the majority of those in jail are on psychotropic drugs; ten year old kids are charged with felonies for school infractions, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney blocks efforts to raise the felony threshold to $1,000, to expunge records of people convicted of minor marijuana and alcohol offenses before they were 21, to restore voting rights to returning citizens, and to prohibit execution of the seriously mental ill.
I will work to eliminate cash bail; expand diversion programs for our youth, and people who are mentally ill, in the grips of addiction, and with special needs; focus on serious crime; use restorative justice to decrease recidivism and help survivors; and share data to make the office accountable.
If I’m fortunate enough to earn your vote this year, in four years, I’ll come back to this page and, instead of a pithy campaign slogan, I’ll show you a reformed justice system that keeps us safe without participating in mass incarceration, criminalizing poverty, penalizing vulnerable people, or tolerating racial disparities–a system you will be proud of and that will reflect our values.
As a Commonwealth’s Attorney for the past seven years, I have been a progressive pioneer on the front lines of the criminal justice system. Whether it was creating Arlington’s first Drug Court program, supporting the creation of our Second Chance program for our youth, expanding criminal discovery or supporting our Bond Diversion program that works to reduce incarceration rates for offenders suffering with mental illness, I have been a leader.
Arlington is a public safety success story because of programs and initiatives I have led on. Second Chance is a robust drug and alcohol intervention program that has diverted more than 500 kids from school suspensions and prosecutions. Our Drug Court, now in its seventh year, helps those on the other side of the spectrum — adults whose lives have been overrun by the disease of addiction. Both programs are built on the belief that we are better off as a community by diverting these folks and getting them the help they need.
I have been a leader in protecting the rights of LBGT crime victims. Long before state law required it, my office insisted that cases of LBGT intimate partner violence be heard in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court because these relationships deserve equal treatment with other intimate partner relationships in the broader community. And it is through my leadership that Arlington has a state-of-the-art protocol dedicated to improving services to victims of sexual assault which is a model for the Commonwealth.
I have more than three decades of experience promoting progressive values to insure fairness to defendants while never forgetting that the criminal justice system exists to provide justice to victims of crime. I will continue to promote these values if I am fortunate enough to be re-elected your Commonwealth’s Attorney.
Theo Stamos, a life-long Democrat, has served as Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church since 2011.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti has nearly 20 years of experience in the criminal justice system, as a public defender and innocence attorney who has fixed the system’s mistakes, exonerated innocent people of the most serious crimes, and worked to make the system more fair and accurate. Parisa has lived in Arlington for 12 years with her husband, a Georgetown University law professor, and their two kids who attend public school.
By Claire Noakes
If you think it is hard getting a reservation at the popular restaurant Komi, you haven’t tried enrolling your elementary school children in the APS Extended Day program. Parents mark their calendars and set midnight alarms because the stakes are high for a limited number of slots. Yet, for two years in a row, the vendor failed, the website crashed and parents became frantic, staying up late at night or missing work to line up in person on registration day.
After being unable to hire a suitable replacement vendor, the Extended Day program chose to end its first come, first serve policy, instead offering enrollment if a student is registered between April 1 – May 15. They instituted a random lottery system at schools receiving more registrations than slots available. Children not enrolled will be on a waiting list.
This lottery creates a random outcome and also fails to address the core issue: demand for Extended Day exceeds the supply of childcare slots. Last year, 271 children were placed on the waitlist because there were not enough slots available, and demand is projected to increase. It’s time to focus on how to better support Extended Day.
Around 4,100 kids participate in Extended Day at 31 Arlington schools, allowing for a seamless handoff before and after the school day, including on early release days. This population is equivalent to filling roughly seven elementary schools.
Yet management of this significant program is anything but seamless. APS operates the Extended Day program, and donates the physical school space, but APS is prohibited by state law from spending a dime of its budget on childcare services. Parents pay fees on a sliding scale to cover operational and staffing costs, but parents can’t buy more physical space from APS to meet the enrollment demand. Arlington County contributes to the cost of building APS schools and subsidizes around $200,000 in sliding fees for lower-income parents, but doesn’t have a direct management role in the program. Under this set up, each stakeholder has limited ability to influence the program in its entirety, and it’s easy for Extended Day to fall through the cracks.
But imagine a world where the program no longer operates:
- Kids would no longer get a safe, unstructured play opportunity with a large number of their peers. Unstructured play with kids of different ages affords unique social development opportunities that can’t easily be replicated.
- Parents would lose a reliable, high quality source of childcare aimed at addressing the mismatch between employer schedules and school hours. Finding a qualified individual to care for your kid for just a few hours a day is a logistical nightmare, and individuals get sick or have emergencies. Many parents would have to cut back on hours or forego a needed second income.
- Commuters could see traffic spike as schools filled up and emptied out completely at bell time, increasing school bus ridership, and traffic and parking management.
- Arlington County’s Child Care Initiative could experience a setback in improving access, availability and quality of childcare for residents.
The Extended Day program provides excellent value to the community. Arlington County, APS and parents must step up and creatively address short and longer-term concerns.
Could the county offer to run the enrollment process this year? Could the county pay for retrofits of flexible space options (such as interior removable partitions) at schools to allow for classroom space to be converted to meet the higher square footage requirements for child care space? Could PTAs brainstorm with principals and Extended Day staff on how to maximize use of existing physical space? Is new school design helping or hurting the capacity challenges of this program?
Parents won’t be setting their alarms at midnight this year, but there is still plenty to keep us up at night worrying about the Extended Day program. It’s time for all stakeholders to look at structural ways to eliminate waiting lists for this high-impact program that benefits so many Arlington working families.
Claire Noakes lives near the East Falls Church metro station, where she enjoys watching her children chase rabbits away from their vegetable garden.
By Daniela Hurtado
When chef Sol Orozco looks at her culinary class, she sees faces full of hope and promise. Her students range from ages 19 to 78, from Bolivians to Palestinians, and they are all looking for better-paying jobs and a path to self-sufficiency. La Cocina VA, a culinary training program housed in a church kitchen, offers that. It quickens the route by which low-income workers can get higher-skilled jobs and improve their English.
“I was excited, I saw this as an open door for me,” says Rahel Kassa, who has lived in Arlington since 2013. Another student, Dawud Abdul-Wakil, born and raised in Arlington, says, “I am learning how to be successful, I am changing who I used to be, to who I want to become.”
At no cost to the students, the 16-week non-profit program prepares unemployed or underemployed people for careers in the food service industry. Its track record is solid: 85% job placement and 78% still employed after two years. These jobs offer hourly rates from $14.30 to $21.00, provided by more than 50 employer partners.
“By using the power of food, we can generate opportunities for social and economic change,” says founder and CEO Paty Funegra. “Workforce, unemployment, lack of entrepreneurship opportunities and healthier eating are problems that we are solving in sustainable ways.”
While some students have previous kitchen experience, the most important quality La Cocina VA looks for is “their work ethics, like being on time. They have to be open, humble, willing to learn,” says Orozco.
Most of the classes take place in the kitchen of Mt. Olivet Methodist Church in Arlington, with 10 or so red-aproned students intently watching Orozco demonstrate everything from knife skills to how to “make a proper rice pilaf.” Making meals, Orozco doles out rapid-fire instructions and responsibility.
“This chicken is burning — who is the owner of this chicken? Check the temperature!”
“Same size, watch for same size when you’re cutting those vegetables.”
When the program started from scratch in 2014, Mt. Olivet was an original sponsor. Since then, corporate partners Wegmans, Capital One, Wells Fargo, Nestle and more have supported the effort. Chefs, nutritionists and business development experts helped dreams take off. Nearby restaurants and hotels, such as Hyatt Regency Tysons Corner, Alexandria Restaurant Group, Hilton Hotels, Wegmans and Sodexo, offer a week of “shadowing” experiences so students can see first-hand what a commercial kitchen’s pressures feel like. They also provide a one-month paid internship.
A workforce development instructor teaches students employment readiness, such as a positive work attitude and techniques for successful job interviewing. Students also improve their English-speaking abilities, through classes customized for the culinary workplace, and complete a ServSafe course on food safety and sanitation.
Now La Cocina VA has branched out to preparing healthy meals for low-income families. Students make 10,000 meals a year for families living in a homeless shelter in Arlington or in affordable housing managed by Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing (APAH). These healthier meals contain at least 50% fruits and vegetables, aiming to help reverse obesity among people receiving the meals.
Another new effort is La Cocina VA’s Zero Barriers Training and Entrepreneurship Center, now being built on Columbia Pike. It will triple the organization’s capacity to serve people from the immigrant community, other people of color and veterans. They can more likely become entrepreneurs since they will get commercial kitchen space, training, and exposure to micro lending and distribution opportunities. The organization also wants to create a self-sustained model by providing catering services for private events and local contracts as well as opening a community kitchen and its own line of food products.
That would be another chapter in progressive values at work, building economic development and self-sufficiency. Or as Funegra says, “By using the power of food, we can help people get on a more solid economic footing and create a healthier community at the same time.”
Daniela Hurtado has been the programs manager of La Cocina VA since 2017. She has worked more than 15 years in the culinary education field and the nonprofit sector.
By Krysta Jones
Growing up as a Black girl in the 1980s and 1990s in the American South, I would not have described myself as a victim of racism. I know that my family members and I have been beneficiaries of affirmative action and outreach programs which were critical in giving Blacks and other minorities equal footing. Yet despite my personal experiences and our progress as a nation in a number of areas, racial disparities still exist.
In the wake of the revelations that Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring posed in blackface, there has been renewed conversation about racial equity and healing. Dialogue on this issue is critical, and a necessary part of how we ensure current and future generations of Black Americans have the opportunity to succeed.
Diversity training combined with the “rising tide lifts all boats” mentality, which has been traditionally employed, can only get us so close to achieving the American dream. The remnants of the peculiar institution of slavery still exist throughout our laws, our culture and our collective psyche. It permeates norms and traditions that are passed down in families. True racial healing is a massive undertaking which can’t be achieved in a few years (or apparently 50+). Northam can continue past gains by focusing on a few key areas.
- It is no secret that pre-Kindergarten is a critical time for learning. By continuing to invest in early childhood education for Black children, we can start them off with the skills they need to succeed throughout their lives.
- According to the Economic Policy Institute the average wealth for white families is seven times higher than the average wealth for Black families. And a recent study called The Racial Wealth Gap: Why Policy Matters co-authored by Demos and the Institute on Assets and Social Policy, noted that an increase in the minimum wage and a direct federal job creation program could help eliminate the racial wealth gap. Virginia could implement a similar program at the state level.
- Reducing sentencing disparities in the criminal justice system is yet another concern. In Virginia, the problem is particularly acute with probation violation sentencing. In 2015, a Daily Press review of records found that 13.7 percent of probation violation charges against Blacks are dismissed or dropped versus 19.2 percent for whites.
- Health should also be a focus. In addition to expanding Medicaid and moving forward with recent commitments to decrease the number of Black women who die in or near childbirth, mental health care should also be prioritized. While there is more attention focused on mental health care today, what is not always discussed are the effects of persistent racism on the psychological state of the Black community.
- Increased political leadership provides a greater opportunity for representation at our decision making tables that is also essential for achieving racial equality. In 2006, I founded Vote Lead Impact (VLI) to increase the number of Black elected and appointed officials throughout the commonwealth. Our model includes not only education on civic engagement and campaigns in a typical classroom setting, but also incorporates mentoring, scholarships, networking and a support system for the Black political community.
In 2018, I held focus groups with Black and white women to discuss common challenges that women often have in building relationships with each other across racial lines. In these gatherings I could feel the weight being lifted off the women. There was a mutual acknowledgement of common struggles and a satisfaction in knowing they were able to be themselves in a space where they often have to pretend. The stereotypes we hold also affect how we treat each other, which has psychological and tangible effects. As Virginia moves forward, our plan of action should be holistic, including policy positions and proven templates for difficult conversations.
You hear a lot about “white guilt.” The best way to repay Black Virginians for the years of slavery and oppression is to implement real policies that allow our children to look back and thank us for what we did today, by ending the rhetoric and fulfilling the American dream which was promised to us as a commonwealth and a nation.
Krysta Jones is Founder and CEO of Vote Lead Impact, Inc., and a graduate of Leadership Arlington, the Sorensen Institute of Political Leadership, and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale.