Arlington, VA

A student allegedly made threats that led to Wakefield High School being placed in “secure the school mode” this morning.

The incident happened shortly before noon, prompting a large police response. It involved a student who was reportedly wearing a bulletproof or similar style vest.

“Just prior to 11:45 a.m., the School Resource Officer Supervisor received a call from a staff member at Wakefield High School regarding a student who had been involved in a physical altercation off school property,” Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow. “The student allegedly retrieved what was described as a bulletproof vest and made verbal threats.”

Multiple police units then started responding to the school and looking for the student.

“The SRO Supervisor coordinated a police response and officers located the student, who was a passenger in a vehicle, traveling in the area of S. Frederick Street and S. George Mason Drive and conducted a traffic stop,” Savage said. “The student was detained without incident. As a result of the incident, Wakefield High School was placed on secure the building which has since been lifted. The investigation is ongoing at this time.”

Arlington Public Schools is currently considering changes to its School Resource Officer program. A work group is expected to make recommendations to the School Board next month.

Jo DeVoe contributed to this report

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Seniors at a pair of local retirement communities are helping seniors at Wakefield High School.

A new pilot program launched last month pairing seniors at Wakefield High School with residents from Goodwin House Alexandria and Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads in an effort to help the students complete their senior projects.

The students and residents meet virtually twice a week. The residents assist the students with finishing their senior project, a year-long research and writing project required for graduation.

Most of the Wakefield students in the program (currently, there are six) come from non-English speaking backgrounds, say Zoe Marcuse of Communities in Schools, a non-profit organization partnering on the program.

“A lot of our students in the English Language Learning Program were kind of struggling to find a mentor or someone to assist in such a big project,” Marcuse says. “[They] often have a hard time finding a mentor due to language barriers and busy work schedules.”

That’s how Meredith and Doug Wade were paired with Muhammad Ahsan.

The Wades were long-time residents of Arlington before moving a few miles down the road to Goodwin House Alexandria. They are on the outreach committee at the retirement community and when this program was presented to them, they knew they could help.

“We are parents of four now-adult kids, so we’ve been through a lot of senior projects,” says Meredith Wade. “We also just want to feel in some very small way… that we’re making a contribution in helping to make our community more welcoming.”

Ahsan moved to Arlington from Pakistan in 2016 with his family. He says he started school two weeks after moving here and it was incredibly challenging.

“I literally only knew how [to say] ‘how are you?’ and ‘thank you,” says Ahsan. “I didn’t understand the other kids. When the teacher talked, I didn’t know what [they] were saying and just followed the other students.”

His English improved quickly and things became easier, but he acknowledged that he still needed help. Between caring for his three younger siblings as well as working to support his family, school could have been an afterthought.

“At some point, you don’t think you can do it all,” Ahsan says. “If you get help, take it. It’s worth it.”

And that’s what this program is offering him, a chance to get help from those that are experienced.

The Wades say that Ahsan is such a motivated student and “charming guy,” that they feel their job is simply to encourage him, provide advice and tips, and help him work through assorted challenges.

“They are such good people,” says Ahsan about the Wades. “They are so friendly.”

Ahsan’s senior project is about the history and culture of his former home, Lahore, Pakistan. He says that he wants to know more about where he grew up.

For the Wades, they are also learning about a place that they don’t know much about.

“We’re learning a lot about Pakistan and Lahore and all the good Pakistani foods,” says Doug Wade. “Muhammad is telling us about all of these recipes.”

Ahsan is on track to graduate this summer after an admittingly tough few years. He’s already registering to take classes this fall at Northern Virginia Community College and wants to focus on computer science and information technologies.

The Wades say what they admire most about Ahsan is that he’s a role model to not only those like him, but his family.

“Muhammad has young siblings and I think this is a wonderful example for them,” says Meredith. “That you persevere and you can ask for help and it’s okay.”

Marcuse says the program has been a success and the hope is to expand it next fall.

Meanwhile, Ahsan is planning on attending in-person classes next fall at Northern Virginia Community College, which is right across the street from Goodwin House. Then, maybe, Ahsan and the Wades can meet in person.

“He promised us he was going to make us [Pakistani food],” says Doug as Ahsan chuckles in the Zoom box below. “We want to taste it all.”

Photo via Screenshot/Zoom

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Morning Notes

Covid Testing Unit Coming to Marymount — “The mobile testing unit, operated by Quest Diagnostics, will operate at the university in the parking lot by Reinsch Library, from April 19 – May 7, open Monday-Friday from 9 AM – 4 PM. It will offer no-cost, no-appointment COVID-19 testing to the general public, as well as Marymount students, staff and faculty.” [Arlington County]

School Board Candidate’s Emails FOIAed — “Arlington School Board candidate Mary Kadera said a political opposition-research effort is unlikely to turn up any dirt on her. In a note to supporters, Kadera (one of two candidates in the upcoming Democratic caucus) noted that a local resident had submitted a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act in order to gain access to all the e-mails she has sent to School Board members over the past two years.” [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Alums Push for Accountability — “Members of the Wakefield High School community are pushing for more accountability and action in the wake of a March 5 football game where players on George C. Marshall High School’s football team allegedly used racial slurs against Wakefield players. In a letter sent Wednesday, alumni, parents and staff members at Wakefield — one of four public high schools in Arlington County — said they were ‘horrified’ by the events that occurred at the March 5 game.” [Patch]

Rosslyn Developer Dies — “Stanley Westreich, a commercial real estate developer whose projects helped define and shape Rosslyn’s skyline, died April 11 at his residence in San Diego. His cause of death was not disclosed. He was 83. Westreich and Westfield Realty… helped establish the Arlington neighborhood with 10 projects, most notably the Gannett and USA Today towers, now known as the Towers at 1000 and 1100 Wilson Blvd.” [Washington Business Journal]

No Founding Farmers at DCA Yet — “It turns out that Founding Farmers won’t open a restaurant inside Reagan National Airport’s new 14-gate concourse, though it is still weighing one elsewhere within the complex. The Kensington-based company has scrapped plans… [it] was expected to join other restaurant and retail tenants there including Elevation Burger, Mezeh Mediterranean Grill and Timber Pizza Co.” [Washington Business Journal]

Nearby: Murder Outside Skyline Target — “A man was found dead this morning inside a parking garage in Bailey’s Crossroads. Officers responded around 3:30 a.m. to the 5100 block of Leesburg Pike after 58-year-old Hernan Leiva, of Falls Church, was found suffering from apparent stab wounds and blunt force trauma to his upper body… [a 22-year-old Alexandria man later] returned to a parking lot near the scene and turned himself into police.” [Fairfax County Police, Twitter]

Flickr pool photo by C Buoscio

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Morning Notes

Manager: Say No to Rouse Historic Designation — “With much of the physical infrastructure on the site now a pile of rubble, Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz wants County Board members to throw in the towel on designating parts of the Rouse estate parcel as a local historic district… While recommending that the County Board reject the historic designation, Schwartz also proposes that staff be directed to come back by October with a report on potential ways the site could be incorporated into Arlington’s historic-preservation and/or affordable-housing efforts.” [Sun Gazette]

Police Looking for Missing ManUpdated at 8:45 a.m. —  The Fairfax County Police helicopter assisted with the search for a missing Arlington man Sunday afternoon. Early his morning, ACPD announced: “[The missing man] has been safely located. Thank you to everyone who assisted by sharing this information.” [Twitter, NBC 4]

DCA Noise Meeting Tonight — “An online public meeting on April 5 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. will discuss aircraft noise north of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. The Aircraft Noise Mitigation Study meeting, to be hosted by Montgomery County (Md.) Council member Andrew Friedson and Arlington County Board member Libby Garvey, is a follow-up of a meeting held last year by those localities.” [Sun Gazette]

Amazon Cites Va. As Example for Voting Rights — “UPDATE: @Amazon says it opposes state efforts to limit voting rights, urges states to follow Virginia’s lead and make it easier to vote.” [Twitter]

Wakefield Makes Football Playoffs — “For the second straight season and third time in four campaigns, the Wakefield Warriors have qualified for the football region playoffs. Wakefield (4-1, 3-1) clinched a 6D North Region Tournament berth with a 13-0 home victory over the Falls Church Jaguars on April 1 in National District action. It was the team’s final regular-season contest in this condensed high-school schedule.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Water Switch in Effect Today — “It’s… that time of year again: the time when your tap water starts to smell a bit like a swimming pool… On Monday, April 5 the disinfectant used in Arlington County’s drinking water will be temporarily switched from chloramine to chlorine.” [ARLnow]

Nearby: New Store Coming to Bailey’s Xroads — “Five Below is moving into the former Pier One space at the Bailey’s Crossroads Shopping Center. Pier One closed in early 2020. Five Below specializes in items for teens and tweens mostly priced at $5 or less. The stores feature toys, snacks, cosmetics, room décor, sports items, accessories, party supplies, and $5 t-shirts.” [Annandale Blog]

Photo courtesy Christina Schnoor

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A group of players and parents from Wakefield High School are speaking out about an alleged racist incident at Marshall High School (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

A group of Wakefield High School football players and their parents are contesting game suspensions and calling for accountability among athletic officials in response to reports of racism on the field.

The athletes say they endured being called “boy” and the N-word, and one student was spat on, during a football game on March 5 at Marshall High School.

On Thursday, Arlington Public Schools issued statements confirming the reports of racial slurs being used. Fairfax County Public Schools said it conducted an investigation and is working on a plan for restorative justice, but these reports are being contested by members of the Marshall community.

Senior Lukai Hatcher, one of the students who posted a widely-shared account of what happened on social media, tells ARLnow the taunting — which built on similar name-calling during basketball season — started early in the game.

“We complained to the ref, who did nothing, and the coaches, who couldn’t do anything,” he said. “Of course, if you leave something untreated, it’s going to grow.”

At the end of the game, Hatcher said a Marshall player spit at him, and he lunged for the player. This launched a brawl between the two teams and resulted in three Wakefield students and one Marshall student receiving three-game suspensions.

“We only got a reaction out of the refs when we did something to protect ourselves,” he said.

His mother, Lydia Hatcher, said that following the game she was in contact with the football coach, the school athletic director and the principal. She told them and Virginia High School League that she disagreed with the suspension on the grounds that her son was defending himself.

“My kids are used to being bumped a little harder, but they’re not used to being called the N-word,” Hatcher said. “If I had been close enough, I would’ve taken my son off the field.”

Both schools worked together to reduce the suspensions for students, said Mike McCall, the director of communications for VHSL.

“As soon as VHSL staff was made aware of incidents surrounding this game, the video of the game was reviewed,” he said. “Additionally, all those within the authority level of the VHSL were involved in conversations surrounding the concerns associated with the game. The schools worked collaboratively together with the VHSL during the entire process.”

Arlington Public Schools confirmed it has been in contact with multiple officials since the game.

“From the beginning, APS and Wakefield officials have been in contact with Marshall High School, VHSL leadership, staff at the Northern Virginia Football Officials Association, and Fairfax County Public Schools about what transpired and the lack of action by the officials after repeated attempts by players and coaches to alert them to the behavior,” the school system said in a statement. “Staff was working behind the scenes to get the Wakefield suspension overturned.”

For Lydia Hatcher, however, the decision was inequitable.

“Had Lukai, as a black young male, spit on someone who was not a person of color, there would have been charges pressed,” she said. “A little slap on the wrist for one game is not acceptable punishment.”

The parents have launched a petition that currently has nearly 5,000 signatures, demanding an apology from Marshall and from VHSL, asking for the suspension on the Wakefield players to be reversed, and mandatory diversity and inclusion training for local athletes, coaches and officials.

Late Friday afternoon, the Arlington branch of the NAACP issued a statement in support of the “#PlayFairNow” petition, decrying “a culture of hate towards black students at Arlington Public Schools with no accountability for bad actors.”

“We’re trying to fight the pandemic, work careers, help kids with schooling, and we have to fight racism,” said Monique Brown-Bryant, whose son Kevin Robinson was on the field that night. “It’s a separate pandemic.”

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Morning Notes

Quarter of Students Staying at Home — “Students in Pre-K through second grade returned to Arlington County classrooms Tuesday, a step that Superintendent Francisco Duran says the school system is prepared to take on. Roughly 75% of the student body took the in-person learning option, while 25% will continue to learn virtually. Staff and students who return will complete a daily screening.” [WTOP]

More Commercial Burglaries Reported — Two more local businesses have been victimized among a spate of commercial burglaries. Arlington County police yesterday reported that business on the 5500 block of Columbia Pike and the 4200 block of N. Pershing Drive in Buckingham were broken into. In both cases, thieves stole cash registers and an undisclosed amount of cash. Police did not reveal the businesses involved; there are two on that block of N. Pershing Drive: El Paso Cafe and Popeye’s. [ACPD]

Wakefield Football Undefeated So Far — “The Wakefield Warriors rallied from a 14-0 deficit to defeat the Edison Eagles, 34-14, in National District high-school football action on Feb. 27… Wakefield stays undefeated on [the] gridiron.” [InsideNova]

W&OD Trail Work Taking Place — From the Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services: “[This] afternoon: W&OD Trail asphalt repairs in Bluemont Park just south of Wilson Boulevard. Will take about 4 hours. Flaggers on hand to direct users onto nearby Four Mile Run Trail. (Rescheduled from earlier this week.)” [Twitter]

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Morning Notes

Reminder: In-Person School Resuming Updated at 8:55 a.m. — “@APSVirginia elementary schools re-open for preK-2nd grade on Tuesday, March 2, followed by 3rd-5th + 6th (middle school) and 9th (high school) grades on March 9, then all returning students on March 16.” [Twitter, Twitter]

County Buying Fairlington Area Apartments — “A push to redevelop the Park Shirlington apartment complex in South Arlington has fallen through, prompting county officials to take the unusual step of buying part of the aging affordable community. Arlington leaders signed off on plans in late January to purchase about half of the property, located along I-395 near the county’s border with Alexandria. The county will end up paying about $27.9 million for 105 apartments on a 6.3-acre parcel should the deal close in August.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Rosslyn Apartments Start Leasing — “Today, Penzance… announced the start of leasing and the opening of their interactive leasing center for Aubrey, the first luxury apartment tower to deliver at The Highlands, a dynamic mixed-use development project along the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.” [Press Release]

Amazon Donates to Wakefield HS — “As part of it’s celebration of Black History Month, Amazon presented a $15,000 donation to support Wakefield High School. This is the latest in Amazon’s ongoing work to support education and racial equality initiatives in communities across the country where its employees live and work. The donation to Wakefield High School of $15,000 will include the book Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You by Jason Reynolds.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Food Stand Operators Expand into Alpacas — “What started as just a food truck eight years ago [and later a food stand in Crystal City] has now turned into an expanded business. The Peruvian Brothers are actually selling a new product — selling alpaca poop. Yes, that’s right.” [WJLA]

Jaywalking Now No Longer a Primary Offense — “Though it didn’t garner as much attention as other police reform measures during the special legislative session that ended this fall, a provision to decriminalize jaywalking in a pretextual policing bill from Delegate Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, means that come March 1, police will no longer be able to stop folks for the act of crossing the street outside of a marked crosswalk.” [Virginia Mercury, NBC 4]

Amazon Funds Affordable Housing in Falls Church — “In response to concerns about the anticipated impact of its second headquarters in Arlington on the region’s housing prices, Amazon pledged $75 million over five years to affordable housing in Northern Virginia… Falls Church will get $3.4 million for a new affordable housing homeownership program and $350,000 to extend the availability of nine committed affordable apartments at the Read Building (402 W. Broad Street).” [Tysons Reporter]

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Wakefield High School has opened its doors to a handful of students in search of better internet connectivity, a quiet place to study or a trip out of the house.

From 8 a.m.-3 p.m., up to 30 students can study at socially distanced work stations in the school’s vaulted atrium, featuring a glass wall that overlooks a courtyard. In the space, students can study without the distractions or demands of family life and they have access to technicians if their computers break.

It’s comparable to a co-working office, but for high school students.

“If you’re having WiFi issues, if you need a quiet study place, or if you simply are going stir-crazy and you need to get out and find a place to study, you’re welcome to come,” Principal Christian Willmore said.

Students seem to enjoy the space, with up to seven coming on average, he said. A few are regulars, while the rest come as needed.

“Honestly, it’s not to the degree that I had hoped, but we’re still trying to get the word out of what it is and what it looks like,” Willmore said. “I’m hoping more students access it, if they need it.”

Wakefield debuted its program on Nov. 5, one day after students with disabilities became the first to return to school. Wakefield had 12 students return for in-person learning, and 20 staff assigned to them, Willmore said.

The pilot is distinct from Arlington Public Schools’ return-to-school plan, which opened school buildings for students with disabilities in its first phase, also called “level one.” Future levels have had their return delayed until 2021, but APS did identify and start providing supports to an additional 150 four to 11 year olds this week.

Other principals are working with Willmore to eventually bring the program to their buildings.

“We want to see how it works at Wakefield first because we’ve been working out the detailed procedures,” Willmore said. “We’ve been able to refine practices and procedures, documents, processes so that people aren’t reinventing the wheel.”

Kids are screened and monitored by staff at the front door and to limit exposure, they cannot leave and come back later. To prevent them from roaming the building, only one bathroom and one drinking fountain are open and running. Students sign up one day in advance on Canvas, APS’ learning management software, affirming they have not been recently exposed to or sickened by the coronavirus.

The day-long study option also allows school staff to connect with students who do not log in for full periods or have fallen behind on work.

“Those conversations are hard to have, so it was nice to have them in person,” Willmore said.

Photos courtesy Frank Bellavia/Arlington Public Schools

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High school athletes can start working out in-person next week, regardless of whether they chose distance- or hybrid-learning, Arlington Public Schools has announced.

Starting Monday, Oct. 12, APS will be using stadiums, tracks and fields for student workouts and athletic activities. While students exercise, the facilities will be closed to public use.

“During the APS athletic workouts, staff will be following COVID precautions and therefore all school facilities (stadiums, track, fields) will be closed to the public,” the school system said. “It is important that the community respect the closure and practice social distancing.”

APS is currently conducting remote learning only, but preparing to bring students back in a “hybrid” model, with most students spending two days per week in schools and other students able to opt to continue a distance learning-only program.

The school system previously said it would be screening kids daily, including temperature checks before participating in sports. Students are encouraged to check with their coach and school’s athletic webpage for more information.

School athletic facilities will be closed on the following days and times, according to APS.

Greenbrier Stadium (Yorktown) and fields
Monday, Thursday and Friday, closed from 3:30-8 p.m; Tuesday and Wednesday, closed from 3:30-7:15 p.m.

Wakefield Stadium and fields
Monday through Friday, closed 3:30-6:30 p.m.

Washington-Liberty Stadium and fields
Monday through Friday, closed 3:30-7:30 p.m.

File photo

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The National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) is expanding its Farm-to-Families food program to allow for public donations.

The program, which launched in June, gives a weekly supply of fresh fruits and vegetables to families in need with children attending Wakefield High School, Gunston Middle and Hoffman-Boston Elementary.

Members of the public can now help fund this effort. The BID said in a press release that a $15 donation will buy a week’s worth of produce for one family, and $60 will buy enough for a month.

Public contributions will supplement existing funds to give Farm-to-Families greater reach in the National Landing, Shirlington and Columbia Pike communities. (National Landing refers collectively to the Crystal City, Pentagon City and Potomac Yard neighborhoods in Arlington.)

The press release said the BID has so far dedicated $10,000 to the program, which has allowed 150 families to receive the weekly produce supply.

FRESHFARM, a nonprofit that operates farmers markets in the D.C. region, supplies Farm-to-Families with the produce through their local vendors. The BID is also partnered with Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture and parent-teacher associations for Wakefield, Gunston and Hoffman-Boston.

“We continue to be inspired by the giving nature of the Arlington community and encouraged by all the ways that people have stepped up to lend a hand to their neighbors,” said Tracy Sayegh Gabriel, president and executive director of the BID. “The BID and our many partners are excited to now generate community support for Farm-to-Families and further our collective mission to create a healthier community, especially at this difficult time.”

The BID is also working with the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization, which recently started a food assistance program of its own, to further expand food access in South Arlington.

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Colton Poythress, a 2018 Wakefield High School graduate and former varsity quarterback, died on last week at the age of 20.

Poythress led the school’s football team to its first district championship in 40 years during his senior season, according to the Wakefield Chieftain student newspaper. He was also a pitcher for the varsity baseball team and helped to end a 20-season losing streak to Marshall High School in 2017.

Poythress wrote for the Chieftain for all four years of high school.

Family and friends reacted to Poythress’ Aug. 12 death on social media.

Cason Poythress, one of Colton’s three siblings and Wakefield’s graduating varsity quarterback, wrote “You’ve been my best friend for my entire life. You take care of everybody up there and I got everyone down here. I miss you more than anything right now but I know I have to stay strong to make you proud.”

Messages were also shared on Wakefield-related Twitter accounts such as the athletic department, the boys soccer team and the lacrosse team’s head coach.

The Poythress family held a celebration of Colton’s life on Sunday in Crystal City.

This is the second publicly-announced death of a local student last week. A Washington-Liberty student died suddenly of heart failure on Aug. 10.

Image via Twitter

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