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Arlington Public Schools headquarters lobby (staff photo)

There are rising regrets about the extended closure of public schools as a result of Covid, the Associated Press reports.

A lengthy article published by the newswire this morning discusses the wide-ranging impacts of pandemic-era learning loss and the inefficacy of “Zoom school.”

From the AP:

But her daughter became depressed and stopped doing school work or paying attention to online classes. The former honor-roll student failed nearly all of her eighth grade courses.

“She’s behind,” said Kargbo, whose daughter is now in tenth grade. “It didn’t work at all. Knowing what I know now, I would say they should have put them in school.”

Preliminary test scores around the country confirm what Kargbo witnessed: The longer many students studied remotely, the less they learned. Some educators and parents are questioning decisions in cities from Boston to Chicago to Los Angeles to remain online long after clear evidence emerged that schools weren’t COVID-19 super-spreaders — and months after life-saving adult vaccines became widely available.

There are fears for the futures of students who don’t catch up. They run the risk of never learning to read, long a precursor for dropping out of school. They might never master simple algebra, putting science and tech fields out of reach. The pandemic decline in college attendance could continue to accelerate, crippling the U.S. economy.

Arlington Public Schools closed in March 2020 at the outset of the pandemic and did not start to reopen, on a two-day-a-week hybrid basis, until March 2021 when mandated by the state and Gov. Ralph Northam (D). During that time, dueling Arlington parent groups formed to alternately push for and urge caution about a return to classrooms.

Most Arlington private schools resumed some degree of in-person learning in the fall of 2020. The Sun Gazette reported this week that APS enrollment is still below pre-pandemic levels; many public schools in the wealthier parts of northern Arlington in particular saw enrollment drop as parents sent students to private schools.

While APS opened classrooms sooner than many school districts in California, for instance, it took awhile to even get most students back in classrooms part time, with the School Board pushing the superintendent later in March 2021 to accelerate the return.

APS finally reverted back to full-time, in-person learning in the fall of 2021 and stuck with it through the Omicron surge that winter. A small minority of students and parents opted for a new full-time virtual learning option, which ended up being beset by problems.

Given what we know now about the health impacts of Covid and about pandemic-era learning loss, do you think — with the benefit of hindsight — APS should have resumed in-person school sooner than it did?

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(Updated at 11:35 a.m.) After being shuttered for more than two years, Stray Cat Bar & Grill in Westover has finally reopened.

The neighborhood staple at 5866 Washington Blvd started serving again last week for the first time since shutting down on March 15, 2020. That was the day after Arlington County declared a local emergency as Covid started to spread locally.

The reopening after 28 months comes with a name tweak, some interior renovations, and an updated menu.

“We wanted to bring the Cat back awhile ago, but the restaurant industry was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Austin Garcia, owner/operator of the restaurant, tells ARLnow. “So, when we did, we really wanted it to knock it out of the park.”

It seems like the right time to reopen as the community appears to be much more comfortable dining indoors, Garcia said.

The Stray Cat Cafe first opened in Westover in 2005 as a sibling restaurant of Lost Dog Cafe, which has Arlington locations on Columbia Pike and in Westover. While the menus of the two restaurants differ, both have the same mission of “helping homeless dogs and cats find forever homes.”

The restaurants support the locally-based non-profit Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation.

When Stray Cat heeded the county’s request to close down dining rooms in March 2020, Garcia said ownership never anticipated it would be more than two years before the restaurant reopened.

But a number of things didn’t work in their favor, including staffing shortages, not being well set up to do take-out and delivery, and the physical layout of the space.

“It’s a really narrow spot. Even when Virginia lifted some regulations to start to allow dine-in, bar seating still wasn’t allowed. Bar seating was, and still is, a big part of the Cat,” he says.

Ownership realized that to reopen, some renovations were in order. That meant knocking out the double-doored vestibule at the front of the restaurant to add more booths. Garcia says the construction has opened the space and has made it feel “much less crowded,” as well as providing space to eventually host live music

Ownership also made the decision to tweak the name and logo, switching from “The Stray Cat Cafe” to “Stray Cat Bar & Grill.”

This change is to better reflect the updated interior and menu, which will focus on “an elevated yet still casual dining experience” that will feature “gourmet comfort foods.” That includes quesadillas, nachos, salads, soups, and burgers.

Garcia says he heard from the community that many missed the Stray Cat’s burgers. So, they’ve decided to lean into that by “elevating that burger experience” along with giving the dishes “whimsical cat-themed names” like “Cat Scratch Fever” and “The Sphinx.” Also new at the restaurant are craft cocktails, something that Garcia says was missing in Westover.

What hasn’t changed at the Stray Cat, though, is the mission to help pets find homes.

Our dedication to the animal rescue is still our, our top priority and part of who we are in this small family,” Garcia says.

This past weekend was essentially a soft opening to work out any kinks. All went well, Garcia reports. For the moment, Stray Cat is only open for dinner except on Saturdays (when open all day) and is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. The hope is to gradually extend hours.

After more than two years closed, Garcia says Stray Cat Bar & Grill is ready to serve the community.

“I’m ready to see us get busy again.”

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Morning Notes

American flag seen in a yard near East Falls Church (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Revamped Clarendon Restaurant Reopens — “With a new menu that offers Mexican food for all, Buena Vida Gastro Lounge is reopening its newly renovated restaurant in Clarendon this week, serving lunch and dinner and brunch on weekends. Buena Vida, at 2900 Wilson Blvd., also has a new executive chef, Jaime Garciá Pelayo Bribiesca, and a new décor created by CORE architecture+design.” [Patch, Instagram]

Group Wants More from Amazon — “While Arlingtonians for Our Sustainable Future (ASF) welcomes a new Amazon presence at PenPlace, we urge county leaders to strike a fair deal in this site plan review. As structured now, Arlington would trade world record bonus density — more buildable space — for unequal community benefits from Amazon.” [Press Release]

Art Exhibit Opening at GMU in Va. Sq. — “A new exhibition of art commissioned by the British Council to interpret an academic and policy report by a professor at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government will be unveiled April 29 at Mason Square (formerly the Arlington Campus). The event is open to the public and features a keynote address from the ambassador from Tanzania and a panel discussion with representatives from international development, public diplomacy, and art agencies.” [George Mason University]

It’s 4/20 — Clear throughout the day. High of 60 and low of 39. Sunrise at 6:26 am and sunset at 7:51 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington County libraries are set to finally fully reopen in the new year, marking the end of nearly two full years of limited service.

Library branch hours are being extended starting January 3, with some branches set to remain open as late as 8 p.m. and Sunday service restored at the Shirlington branch.

The only branch not being reopened is Bozman — formerly known as the Plaza Branch — at 2100 Clarendon Blvd, which is undergoing an extensive 16-month renovation and expansion along with the rest of the county government’s headquarters. The library’s redesign will include modern furnishings, a new children’s book and media collection, and more space for programming like storytimes and author talks. It’s expected to reopen in a year, January 2023.

Since early summer, Arlington Public Library has been slowly expanding services. In June, several branches opened for the first time since March 2020 but only offering express service. A month later, the express service model ended but limited hours remained.

In September, the two remaining closed branches, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn, reopened to the public for the first time since March 2020. Then, the next month, Sunday service was restored at the Central and Columbia Pike branches.

The reason for the staggered and lengthy reopening process to restore library hours and service to pre-pandemic levels was due to a “high number of vacant public service jobs after an unprecedented staff shortage due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent hiring freeze,” as was noted in a September update.

But those shortages are in the process of being resolved, according to library officials.

“The labor market continues to be challenging for everyone, including the library,” wrote library spokesperson Henrik Sundqvist, in an email to ARLnow. “We continue to steadily work through the challenges and will have staff in place to fully reopen the library system on January 3rd.”

By contrast, Fairfax County restored nearly all of pre-pandemic service and operations in May. Alexandria is resuming mostly normal operations later this month.

Central Library’s makerspace “The Shop” also reopened last week by appointment only. Two hour appointment blocks are now being accepted.

The free makerspace opened to the public in April 2019, equipped with wood working tools, soldering irons, circuit parts, sewing machines, 3D printers, and lots of other tools.

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Takohachi Japanese Restaurant sign at Penrose Square (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Takohachi Japanese Restaurant is planning to reopen along Columbia Pike, albeit at a different shopping center.

The restaurant expects to open within the next month at Penrose Square, the owner tells ARLnow, provided it can secure the proper county permits in time.

The sushi restaurant was one of the last holdouts at Westmont Shopping Center prior to the development’s demolition to make way for a six-story mixed-use building. It there in early July, but it was reported at that time that Takohachi was set to move into the space formerly occupied by Josephine’s Italian Kitchen, below the Giant supermarket.

That space in the Columbia Pike development hasn’t been occupied in more than two years and has been somewhat of a revolving door in terms of tenants. Prior to Josephine’s, Marble & Rye and Red Rocks had been in the space. Both eateries closed without making it two years in that location.

The newly-renamed Columbia Pike Partnership helped Takohachi make its move down the Pike.

“Columbia Pike Partnership has been actively engaged with Takohachi, the owner, their representatives, BM Smith, and the County in effort to welcome Takohachi to its updated location on Columbia Pike,” writes CPP spokesperson Andrea Avendano to ARLnow. “We are glad to assist Takohachi in continuing to call Columbia Pike home.”

Initially, Takohachi was expected to open earlier this fall, but supply chain issues (recently, a common refrain) and securing proper permits pushed the timeline by a few months.

While the sushi restaurant has found a new home after exiting Westmont Shopping Center, Mom’s Pizza hasn’t. The pizza and Greek restaurant was on the Pike for more than three decades before being ousted due to the redevelopment. The owners of Mom’s are currently selling a few of their more popular dishes online, but told ARLnow back in March they had no plans to retire and wanted to revive the restaurant elsewhere.

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Morning Notes

County Closures for Labor Day — County-run Covid vaccination clinics and testing will be closed Monday for the Labor Day holiday. County offices, libraries, rec centers, courts and schools will also be closed. Trash will be collected, but parking meters will not be enforced. [Arlington County]

Two Libraries Reopening Next Week — “Starting September 7, 2021, Arlington Public Library will reopen two locations — Cherrydale and Glencarlyn Libraries… ‘The Library continues to make steady progress toward filling an unprecedented number of public service vacancies caused by the pandemic and subsequent hiring freeze. We believe we are turning the corner and look forward to seeing more of our patrons,’ said Arlington Public Library Director Diane Kresh.” [Press Release]

No County Cash for Amazon This Year — “Arlington won’t pay Amazon.com Inc. any cash incentives this year — the second year in a row the pandemic has essentially thwarted that deal… ‘As a result of the continued impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions in place during much of the year, Arlington’s FY2021 Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) revenues did not yield the incremental growth necessary for Amazon to receive a grant for the second year of the 15-year performance period.'” [Washington Business Journal]

VRE Ridership Remains Low — “Despite upticks over the summer months, passenger counts for Virginia Railway Express (VRE) remain well down from pre-pandemic levels. For the weeks ending July 30, Aug. 6, Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, passenger counts were down 85.7 percent, 85.8 percent, 85.8 percent and 86.5 percent from the same periods in 2019, according to information provided by VRE officials to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.” [InsideNova]

New Restaurants Coming to Crystal City — “The Kabob Palace in Crystal City will soon have new neighbors. A halal restaurant franchisee has signed a lease for about 2,400 square feet at 2323 S. Eads St., where it plans to open a combined Peri Peri Original and Kallisto Steakhouse inside an end-cap space where the buffet-style Kabob Palace Family Restaurant had been.” [Washington Business Journal]

Map Chronicles Close Calls — “Developed with the help of Virginia Tech graduate students, the Near Miss Survey allows walkers, bicyclists, drivers, and other road users to report instances where they came close to getting into a crash or accident but were fortunate enough to avoid it. The resulting map highlights specific incidents as well as hotspots that are especially accident-prone, with the goal of helping local transportation and public safety officials see what areas need their attention.” [FFXnow]

Flickr photo by Bekah Richards

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Morning Notes

New Rosslyn Food Hall Now Open — “Assembly, the area’s latest food hall, located above the Rosslyn Metro stop in Arlington, hopes to entice you by taking a something-for-everyone approach, including plenty of healthy-ish options. Their lineup includes Great Lake Diner; Charo’s vegetarian tacos; Asian street food stall Beng Beng; GiGi’s salads, smoothies, and grain bowls; Big Day Coffee; sandwich joint Sammy Pickles; modern-minded bodega PNTRY; and Fog Point, a 40-seat sit-down oysters and seafood restaurant with a separate entrance.” [DCist]

Abduction Suspect Arrested in Va. Square — “The victim was inside a business when the suspect approached and attempted to engage her in conversation. The suspect then left the business, but remained seated outside. When the victim left the business, the suspect followed her into a neighboring building and onto an elevator, where he again attempted to engage her in conversation, advanced towards her, grabbed her waist and touched her buttocks. The victim attempted to step away but the suspect prevented her from exiting the elevator.” [ACPD]

Courthouse ‘DMV Select’ Office Reopening — “‘DMV Select’ services operated by the Arlington Commissioner of Revenue’s office in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles will reopen Sept. 7 after an 18-month COVID shutdown. The office will operate by appointment Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Ellen M. Bozman Government Center, 2100 Clarendon Blvd.” [Sun Gazette]

How Ashton Heights was Sold — “‘Build Your Love Nest in Ashton Heights, Virginia,’ read the ad in the Evening Star a century ago. ‘$500 cash will finance your home; $20 will reserve your lot.’ Exclusive sales agents at the D.C.-based (all female) Kay-Alger Co. were luring federal employees to join the automobile generation’s embrace of suburbanization, to ‘get away from the crowded city and enjoy the freedom of a most picturesque surrounding.'” [Falls Church News-Press]

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“The Red Room” at Barry’s in Clarendon (courtesy of Barry’s)

(Updated at 1:15 p.m.) A year after closing due to the pandemic, Clarendon gym Barry’s is preparing to reopen later this summer.

The gym, which first opened in Clarendon in January 2020, had a short run before it had to shut down operations in August because of the coronavirus. Now, the bootcamp-style gym is gearing up to reopen its doors at 2825 Wilson Blvd this summer, a company representative said.

Barry’s — formerly Barry’s Bootcamp — started in Los Angeles in 1998, and the Clarendon outpost was the international fitness chain’s first Virginia studio. The gyms are known for their difficult workouts and a club-like atmosphere, complete with playlists and dim lighting, to help gym-goers push through.

The gym has not yet determined its new hours of operation, according to the representative.

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(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) With a snip of a ribbon, the newly-renovated Columbia Pike Branch Library officially opened for the first time since March 2020.

The library on S. Walter Reed Drive, which first opened in 1975, underwent a significant makeover including new furnishings, updated carpeting, fresh coats of paint, additional meeting rooms, modernized audio-visual equipment and new lighting.

The 21,000-item collection has been consolidated to the first floor to make room for an expansion of the Arlington Tech high school program. The program is part of the Arlington Career Center, located on the second floor of the facility.

“We didn’t lose any collections, we gained a couple of meeting rooms, and we gained more discrete spaces,” Arlington Public Library Director Diane Kresh tells ARLnow. “[The renovation] opened up what had been a lot of wasted space. It really feels bigger.”

Renovations for the entire project, on the first and second floors, cost approximately $4.45 million, according to a spokesperson from Arlington Public Schools, which owns the building.

Kresh says APS’s ownership of the building presented a chance to make the library better.

“The library has always shared the space with schools. It’s a well-loved facility and showed a lot of wear and tear,” says Kresh. “So, when the schools planned to renovate and increase the space of the Career Center, that gave us an opportunity to consolidate down here and do a redesign.”

Kresh notes that while closing the libraries last year due to the pandemic was difficult for staff and the community, there was a “silver lining” — the renovations could get done.

The library opened to the public on Tuesday, but the celebration was held yesterday evening (Thursday).

With a vaccination rate close to 70% for adults, people packed the community library. There were donuts and cookies, and kids eating said treats while darting one way and another. A magician performed for a rapt audience. After remarks and ribbon cutting, a cover band churned out classics such as “Do Wah Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy.” The entire Arlington County Board was in attendance, as was County Manager Mark Schwartz and Del. Alfonso Lopez.

Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol says celebrating the reopening of this library — her neighborhood library — after such a hard year is welcome.

“It’s a sign of restoration of things, things coming back to normal,” Cristol tells ARLnow. “It is also the first sign of the community being able to come back together, which is definitely what we see going on around here.”

Cristol said her favorite thing about coming to the library was to browse new fiction releases, but that’s changed.

“I now have a two-year old who loves books, so I think my favorite thing about the library is about to be this community room,” she said.

As of Tuesday, library services have expanded at five locations: Columbia Pike, Central Library, Aurora Hills, Shirlington and Westover. This ends the express service model that APL had implemented earlier this year.

Patrons now have full access to library collections with no time limit on browsing. Spaced seating is available to use the public Wi-Fi along with full access to restrooms and water fountains.

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Fifteen months after closing its sales floor during the pandemic, One More Page Books is set to reopen its doors next Tuesday.

Marking the opening day on June 15 will be a virtual book launch with Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the global hit musical “Hamilton” as well as “In the Heights,” which was turned into a movie that’s being released this week. A new book from the musical’s three creators is called “In the Heights: Finding Home,” in which the trio tells the origin story of the bilingual musical that predated “Hamilton.”

The independent bookseller at 2200 N. Westmoreland Street in East Falls Church reopened for appointment-only shopping last Thursday, after celebrating its 10th anniversary while still closed to customers.

Masks will still be required and the number of shoppers in the store at one time will be limited to seven until more people, including young children, are able to be vaccinated.

“Arlington and Falls Church neighbors — plus shoppers from around the world — kept us in business this past year through website sales. We are thankful to have weathered the pandemic with a healthy staff and a strong customer base,” said store owner Eileen McGervey. “After shifting the way we did business several times during the last year, we were so happy when we were able to turn the store back into a welcoming place for book, wine and chocolate lovers.”

When the pandemic hit, One More Page pivoted to online sales and delivery, offering home delivery through the holiday season and curbside pickup. An employee at the time said the store had “the best problem” of being overwhelmed with orders, reaching 10,000 orders in June 2020.

“Customers greatly appreciated all the options we offered, and we will continue to offer 24/7 online sales with curbside pick-up and shipping options,” McGervey said.

The bookstore got by with help from its friends pre-pandemic, too, when it faced rising rents and held an auction to cover the bigger bills.

And COVID-19 did not halt events with authors, although it did take them online. McGervey said One More Page has a full slate of virtual activities to be streamed on Facebook and YouTube this month.

According to the bookseller, no plans have been made for in-person events.

Saturday, June 12 at 6 p.m. — Author Angelina M. Lopez will talk with bodyguard-to-the-stars, Clif Kosterman in honor of the reluctant prince bodyguard hero in her newest book, “Serving Sin.” For more than 13 years, Kosterman was a bodyguard to “Supernatural” stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki, and has also protected Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake and Selena Gomez, among others.

Tuesday, June 15 at 8 p.m. — Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes and Jeremy McCarter will hold a virtual book launch of their new title, “In The Heights: Finding Home,” which tells the story of the show’s humble beginnings, from rehearsals in a bookstore basement to the Broadway smash (and soon-to-be feature film!) that created an unbreakable community and a new kind of family for everyone involved. The musical shook up Broadway with its hip-hop and salsa soundtrack and big, bilingual heart. A ticket and book bundle costs $42.40.

Thursday, June 17 at 7 p.m. — George Mason University alum Matthew Norman will celebrate the release of his latest novel, “All Together Now,” with author Jessica Anya Blau, whose latest novel, “Mary Jane,” was released in May. Both of their books, set on the east coast, will be great summer reads.

Tuesday, June 22 at 7 p.m. — One More Page Books welcomes back a NoVA TEEN Book Festival alum, Tracy Banghart, for the release of her new book, “A Season of Sinister Dreams.” She will talk with Intisar Khanani, author of the “Dauntless Path” series. Fans of young adult fantasy will definitely want to tune in.

Tuesday, June 25 at 7 p.m. — Eileen McGervey welcomes Melanie Rigney and Meg Gilroy for a discussion about middle age, menopause and Rigney’s latest: “Menopause Moments: A Journal For Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Spirit in Midlife.”

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Morning Notes

Car Chase Speeds Through Arlington — “Virginia State Police just chased a U-Haul pickup truck from Arlington into Alexandria on Mt. Vernon Ave, then back into Arlington and finally into D.C. via I-395.” [Twitter, Twitter, ALXnow]

Masks Not Required at Polling Places — “Those headed to vote in the June 8 Democratic primary in Arlington will have to make their own choices about mask-wearing. State election officials this time have not provided local elections offices with specific guidance on masks, although Arlington election officials have issued a request. ‘Several polling places are in schools with mask requirements, so we are still encouraging voters to wear masks, and will have them available for voters who forget one,’ county election chief Gretchen Reinemeyer told the Sun Gazette.” [Sun Gazette]

Chicken Restaurant Eyes Arlington — “It turns out that Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers has a bigger appetite for Greater Washington than the two Northern Virginia locations the Washington Business Journal reported about in May. The Baton Rouge, Louisiana-based chain aims to open around 50 locations across the region… the company is actively pursuing sites in Arlington, Ashburn and Leesburg, among others.” [Washington Business Journal]

AWLA Reopening Shelter to Public — “We are very excited to announce that starting Wednesday, June 2nd, AWLA will be open to the public! Potential adopters no longer need to make an appt to meet our in-shelter pets — just stop by!” [Twitter]

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