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A new tech and innovation lab funded by Amazon is expected to launch at Wakefield High School by the end of the year, according to Arlington Public Schools.

Construction is currently underway on the “AWS Think Big Space,” which will provide a dedicated space for hands-on learning in robotics, the fields of science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (known collectively as STEAM), and training in cloud computing-based technologies.

“This lab will provide stimulating learning environments for students to work individually or collaboratively on entrepreneurial, STEAM, and Design Thinking projects,” said Wakefield Principal Chris Willmore. “All students in grades 9-12 will be encouraged to extend their learning of STEAM topics beyond the classroom through engagement in the lab. We are grateful and excited that Wakefield was chosen by Amazon for this public-private partnership. All of our students will benefit from this learning environment.”

The Amazon-funded lab, which will open to students across the school system, also has the support of some private community sponsors.

Wakefield High School is first high school in the Americas to receive a Think Big Space, according to APS. It is the second in Virginia, after Amazon funded and built its first lab in 2019 at an elementary school in Prince William County.

Amazon has built similar spaces around the world.

“At Amazon, we are committed to making a positive impact in the communities where our employees live and work,” said Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy. “We are proud to call Virginia home and to support our neighbors as we grow in Arlington. This AWS Think Big Space at Wakefield High School will provide students across the community with the tools and connections they need to build, imagine, and innovate their best future. We can’t wait to see what they will create.”

Wendy Maitland, who most recently served as the Resource Teacher for the Gifted at Wakefield, will oversee the new space.

“We believe that this AWS Think Big Space will act as a significant point of access for students who may not normally take advantage, of or be aware of, STEAM career paths. At Wakefield, we are committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student, especially first generation and low-income students,” she said. “Our partnership with Amazon will allow us to build a community of learners who collaborate, explore, and seamlessly apply technology throughout all aspects of teaching and learning.”

The AWS Think Big Space is expected to receive final School Board approval at a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 28.

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(Updated on 10/14/21) There have been 34 positive Covid tests among students at Wakefield High School this school year, more than three times the number at any other Arlington public school.

Many of the cases were recorded recently. At one point last week, the Arlington Public Schools Covid dashboard reported 20 cases over the previous seven days at Wakefield.

APS seven-day student Covid dashboard as of Oct. 7, 2021

Asked about a potential outbreak at the school, APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow that “it’s 16 cases related to athletics/activities.”

The cases are among players of several sports, we’re told. Privacy concerns have previously prevented APS from providing more granular information than that contained in the dashboard.

The rate of new cases at Wakefield appears to be decreasing, with 10 cases reported over the past seven days as of this morning.

Drew Elementary and Washington-Liberty High School have the next-highest case total after Wakefield for the 2021-2022 school year so far, with 10 reported Covid cases apiece. Yorktown, Arlington’s other high school, has had six cases.

APS 2021-2022 school year student Covid dashboard as of Oct. 13, 2021

A geographic disparity is apparent in the APS Covid data.

So far this school year 80 positive cases out of the 185 total student cases across APS are linked to the 22204 zip code, which runs along Columbia Pike. The next-highest zip code — 22206, which includes the Shirlington and Fairlington neighborhoods — has less than a third as many cases, with 26.

APS 2021-2022 school year student Covid dashboard as of Oct. 13, 2021

Among the general population countywide, average daily cases have fluctuated this month, from a low of 29 to a high of 39.

Currently, the seven-day trailing average of new cases stands at 33. Nine Covid-related hospitalizations and two deaths have been reported since Oct. 1, according to the Virginia Dept. of Health.

Covid cases in Arlington as of Oct. 13, 2021 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)
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Arlington Public Schools is preparing to redraw boundaries for a half-dozen schools to relieve high enrollment and over-capacity at three of them.

The boundary process, which will go into effect next fall, is “limited in scope” and will target Abingdon Elementary School, Gunston Middle School and Wakefield High School.

“The boundary process will bring enrollment at these three schools to more manageable levels for the 2022-23 school year by re-assigning some planning units to neighboring schools with capacity to accommodate additional students,” APS said in a School Talk update to parents last week.

For each school, staff will focus on planning units where neither school is in walking distance, according to APS’s 2021 boundary process webpage.

APS says it will move some planning units from Abingdon to Drew Elementary School, which is two miles away. As of Sept. 30, Abingdon has 688 students and a projected capacity utilization rate of 119%, compared to the 433 students and use rate of 76% at Drew.

This direct step to balance enrollment comes on the heels of a less successful attempt to alleviate the overcrowding without redrawing boundaries. During the 2020-21 school year, APS set up a program encouraging families zoned for Abingdon to choose to send their children to Drew, with transportation provided.

Only 12 students took the “targeted transfer” option. School Board members said a dozen students would not make a dent in the schools’ enrollment imbalance and predicted the need for a boundary process.

“[The option] did not come out with numbers that were able to solve the problem,” Board Member Monique O’Grady said during an Aug. 26 School Board meeting. “I did want to point out that we have given the community the choice to go to what I think is a phenomenal school. After trying that, I think we’re at a different point in time, where we maybe need to take more intentional action.”

The renewed focus on Abingdon and Drew also comes three years after another boundary process that would have moved students at both Abingdon and Henry elementary schools to Drew proved controversial.

Some Gunston planning units will be moved to to Thomas Jefferson Middle School, but current Gunston students will not be affected. Gunston has 1,109 students and a projected capacity rate of 112%, compared to Jefferson’s 849 students and 101% use rate.

APS intends to move some planning units from Wakefield to Washington-Liberty High School, but the moves will not impact current Wakefield students. Enrollment and capacity rate margins are closer for the schools: 2,241 versus 2,174 students, and 108% versus 102%, respectively.

APS says the move will also make better use of the additional 500 or so seats at the former Arlington Education Center (1426 N. Quincy Street), which is set to open September 2022.

Despite the limited success of targeted transfers at the elementary level, APS plans to offer them so that current Wakefield students can opt to attend W-L next fall.

During the same August meeting, Executive Director of Planning and Evaluation Lisa Stengle said APS is offering the option because she’s “not sure moving ninth graders will be enough” to balance out Wakefield’s rising enrollment.

“With boundaries we want to be cautious, because we may have to come back and make changes in the future, and we don’t want to have to redo things,” Stengle said. “This way, it’s a choice.”

Community engagement sessions on the boundary process will begin with a virtual meeting on Saturday, Oct. 16. Engagement will run through the end of October.

Superintendent Francisco Durán will propose a more detailed plan during a meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 16. Two weeks later, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, there will be a public hearing. The School Board is expected to vote on his proposal on Thursday, Dec. 2.

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Morning Notes

APS Staff Vax Update — “Overall, 67 percent of all staff and 91 percent of instructional staff are fully vaccinated, and we are following up with all those who have not responded to the survey. This data will be compiled and finalized in early October. Regular testing is required for staff who are unvaccinated or did not respond to the survey.” [Arlington Public Schools]

Dog Reunited With Rescuers — “Arlington County firefighters were reunited with a dog they rescued from under a vehicle in August, according to a post on the fire department’s official Twitter account. Fire units responded on the evening of Aug. 9 for the report of a crash with injuries. Arriving on the scene, fire personnel determined that a dog named Sonny was trapped under a vehicle.” [Patch]

Photos from Wakefield vs. W-L — “In an intra-Arlington rivalry game, Wakefield High School defeated Washington-Liberty, 7-0, in varsity football action at W-L on Sept. 24, 2021. It was the fifth straight Wakefield victory over W-L in football competition.” [Sun Gazette]

Masseuse Misses Commute — “The pandemic changed my commute. It changed everything, of course. First, my commute vanished entirely when I stopped working at a clinic in Arlington, Va., as a massage therapist and instead focused on freelance writing from my home office. No more biking to work… Commutes aren’t generally pined for, but I missed the transformation that happened from door to door.” [Washington Post]

Rowdy Suspect Tased on the Pike — “At approximately 1:00 p.m. on September 28, police were dispatched to the report of an individual screaming and throwing items inside a residential building. Upon arrival, officers heard loud banging from a residence and observed items thrown into the hallway. Officers made contact with the occupant who was acting erratically, disregarded verbal commands and charged towards the officers. A taser was deployed and the subject was taken into custody without incident.” [ACPD]

Yard Waste Issues in Fairfax Co. — “Fairfax County can’t hire enough trash/recycling drivers due to higher-paid jobs at Amazon and Fed Ex. The result – yard waste piling up on curbs.” [Annandale Blog, Twitter]

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Morning Notes

ACPD Hosting Community Chats — “Chief Andy Penn appreciates the important insights our residents and businesses bring to the conversation about the role of policing. He invites community members, organizations and businesses to join him for a series of Community Conversations.” [ACPD, Twitter]

Court Rejects Rouse Estate Suit — “I want to thank Arlington Green Party Chair John Reeder for challenging Arlington County Board’s decision exactly three months to the day to deny local historic designation for the site of the since demolished Febrey-Lothrop-Rouse estate… Unfortunately just yesterday Arlington Circuit Court denied Reeder standing to sue the County, arguing that he is not an aggrieved party, because his property doesn’t abut the estate.” [Audrey Clement]

New Ballston Restaurant Sells Collectables — “If you find yourself wandering through Whino, Ballston’s new immersive art, restaurant, and retail concept, be sure to browse the limited-edition designer toys up for sale. You could get your hands on a reimagined, nostalgic Wonder Woman figurine or a quirky Sriracha-inspired vinyl sculpture that might be worth a chunk of change in the future.” [Northern Virginia Magazine]

Theater Company to Return to Theater — “Dominion Stage, which like most performing-arts organizations has seen its in-person events canceled during the COVID pandemic, expects to inaugurate its 71st season early next month with a performance of ‘The Bluest Eye.’ The drama by Lydia R. Diamond is adapted from a novel by Toni Morrison, and will directed by Eleanore Tapscott. Performances will run Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from Aug. 6-21 at 8 p.m. at Gunston Arts Center, 2700 South Lang St.” [Sun Gazette]

High School Rowing Roundup — “High-school rowing teams had a strong showing at the spring season’s Virginia State Rowing Championships on the Occoquan Reservoir. Girls shells from Wakefield, Washington-Liberty and Yorktown high schools all won gold medals on a hot and humid day of racing near the Sandy Run Regional Park Boathouse.” [Sun Gazette]

Wakefield Grads Get Scholarships — “The Wakefield High School Education Foundation recently awarded scholarships to members of the Wakefield High School Class of 2021. Students attending four-year schools will receive $12,000 each, with others receiving $4,000. In addition, four Beitler Inspiration Scholars were named and will receive one-time grants of between $1,200 and $1,500.” [Sun Gazette]

Reminder: Vote for Your Favorite Dentist — There’s one day left to vote for this week’s Arlies award category: favorite dentist. [ARLnow]

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Morning Notes

Big Changes Proposed for Shirlington — “A proposal to re-imagine the streets of Shirlington is being put forward. Last July, the Arlington County Board approved mixed-use rezoning for nearly ten acres of the Village at Shirlington. Now, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) is putting forth a vision to transform the streetscape throughout the area… Campbell Avenue will be the focal point for these improvements, updated with patterned pavers and interactive sculptures.” [UrbanTurf]

Yorktown Soccer in State Final — “Somewhere in the mess of bodies, Patriots senior Gibson Lusk poked the ball into the net. It gave Yorktown a lead for good and punctuated the full turnaround of a game that started slow and sloppy for the Patriots. Now, they are headed to the Virginia Class 6 title game after a 3-1 victory Monday.” [Washington Post]

Huske Reacts to Olympic Qualification — “In her first on-camera interview since returning from Omaha, Torri talked with 7News sports anchor Scott Abraham about her incredible journey to the Olympic Games. ‘At first it was very overwhelming, I feel like it’s just so unbelievable that this would happen to me of all people,’ Huske told Abraham… ‘I never thought I would be in this position and it’s really weird to think that some little kid looks up to you.'” [WJLA]

Feds Off Hook, But ACPD Still Being Sued — “A federal judge has dismissed multiple claims filed by protesters and civil liberties groups after law enforcement forcefully cleared demonstrators from Lafayette Square Park ahead of Donald Trump’s infamous photo-op at St. John’s Episcopal Church last summer…. The judge did allow litigation to proceed against D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department and Arlington County Police, however.” [DCist]

Amazon Donated Antiracism Books to APS — “The emails show Amazon employees reached out to Arlington Public Schools as part of ‘NeighborGood,’ a program to donate $100,000 to schools and other institutions that ’empower black voices and serve black communities.’ Despite Amazon’s offer to purchase Kindles or other equipment, Arlington Public Schools director of diversity and inclusion Arron Gregory requested copies of [Ibram X.] Kendi’s Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You. Amazon donated between 500-600 copies of the book to Wakefield High School and paid $10,000 to have Kendi’s coauthor Jason Reynolds address students.” [Washington Free Beacon]

Crystal City Metro Mural Finalists Selected — “Six visual artists have been chosen as finalists to paint a new mural at the Crystal City Metro Plaza, according to a release from the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID). The BID put a call out in May for individual artists or teams of artists to submit their credentials by June 1 so judges could determine if they had the experience and the chops to tackle the project.” [Patch, National Landing BID]

Memories of a Local Cicada Expert — “Ann thought of Allard recently because of one of his favorite subjects: the periodical cicada. She hadn’t realized he was an expert in Brood X. Then she found his 1937 paper in the American Naturalist journal. Ann posted her memories on Facebook’s ‘I grew up in Arlington, VA’ page and was surprised at how many other people from the neighborhood remembered the old scientist.” [Washington Post]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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An outdoor celebration was held this past Friday for Arlington’s first-generation college students.

AHC Inc., a local nonprofit affordable housing developer, hosted a “College Signing Day” outside at the Gates of Ballston Community Center for 31 high school seniors who took part in the organization’s College and Career Readiness Program.

Students in the program are attending a multitude of universities including James Madison, Virginia Military Institute, Harvard, Tufts, and Yale — with many receiving scholarships and grants.

The students all come from lower-income families and most live in an AHC community, with 28 out of the 31 seniors in the program being first-generation college students.

In front of the community center, students snapped photos, picked up college t-shirts, and ate pizza. There was a considerable amount of pride, relief, nervousness, and excitement from the students for what lies ahead for them in their future.

“I’m all the emotions,” chuckles Mahia Rahmen, a senior at Washington-Liberty. She’s going to Harvard, earning several notable scholarships. She’s also the first member of her family, which is originally from Bangladesh, to go to a four-year college or university.

“I’m kinda upset about leaving my family and my old life behind,” Rahmen says. “But, overall, very, very excited.”

The College and Career Readiness program began in the fall of 2016 and this is the largest class yet.

Milenka Coronel, the program’s first manager, says the intention is to help 11th and 12th grade students to go through the college admissions process, from applications to applying for scholarships to choosing which institution is right for them. With high school guidance counselors stretched thin, programs like this help fill in gaps and reach those who may need a little extra support.

“What’s unique about us is that we are in their community,” says Coronel. “We are where they live which creates easier access.”

She says a lot of the students are also caretakers, helping parents and younger siblings adjust to this incredibly difficult year for all.

“They are managing so many things at once, but I’m in awe… they preserved,” Coronel says.

It’s clear that the historic nature of the past year has influenced the students, even leading several to rethink what their future might hold.

Elena Ogbe, who’s attending James Madison University after she graduates from Wakefield High School next month, says she still plans on majoring in nursing, but now also wants to minor in African-American studies.

“I’m realizing how much knowledge I’m missing and how much our past history has been overlooked,” Ogbe says, whose family is from Eritrea. “It really woke me up to realize that I need to start learning more and educating myself.”

Abel Geleta is a current Washington-Liberty senior and soon-to-be freshman at Yale. He moved to Arlington from Ethiopia with his family a decade ago. His plan is to study to be a civil rights lawyer.

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A Wakefield High School student’s digital photo titled “Shadows of Democracy” will be featured in the U.S. Capitol.

Charlie Williams, a senior, noted that he took the digital photo of a reflection in a puddle just weeks before rioters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“This is a reflection of the U.S. Capitol after a rainstorm,” Williams said, as quoted in a news release. “I was able to capture the detail in the Capitol Dome through the puddle and tried to convey the emotions in the image.”

Williams said his photo represents “an alternate reality which serves as a premonition of what the government can become if democracy falls.”

A panel with the National Art Education Association chose his artwork among dozens of entries for the Congressional Art Competition in Virginia’s 8th District, Rep. Don Beyer said in the same news release.

“Our nation is still grappling with the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War, and many of the issues raised by the attack on the Capitol still remain unresolved,” Beyer said. “I hope ‘Shadows Of Democracy’ will remind my fellow Members of Congress that our nation continues to wrestle with what happened here, and that our votes and actions reverberate through history.”

It will be displayed in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel, Beyer said, also noting that Williams is the second winner in a row from Wakefield after Kidus Sebil’s photo won the competition in 2020.

Photo courtesy office of Rep. Don Beyer

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A 40-year-old man has been arrested in connection to an incident in which a Wakefield High School student allegedly made threats of violence.

As first reported by ARLnow, Wakefield was placed in “secure the school mode” late Tuesday morning after a student — who was reportedly wearing a bulletproof vest — made threats during an altercation that happened off school property, according to Arlington County police. Officers swarmed the area around the school, located the student and detained him.

This morning ACPD announced charges against a man they say was driving the car the student was riding in just before he was detained. Michael Davis, 40, is facing weapons charges after a gun was found in the car, police say.

Davis, an Arlington resident, previously pleaded guilty to drug and other charges nearly two decades ago. He is also facing trial this summer on drug and weapons charges after being arrested last year, according to court records. He’s due in court on the new charges on July 1.

More from an ACPD press release, below.

An Arlington man is facing charges of weapons violations following an investigation into reported threats near Wakefield High School. Michael Davis, 40, is charged with Carrying a Concealed Weapon and Convicted Felon in Possession of a Firearm. He is being held in the Arlington County Detention Facility without bond.

Just prior to 11:45 a.m. on May 11, the School Resource Officer (SRO) 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 with several other individuals. The student was allegedly wearing what was described as a bulletproof vest and, upon leaving the scene, made a statement to bystanders implying threats of violence.

The student [returned] to the area and was reportedly observed traveling in a vehicle near the school. The SRO Supervisor coordinated a police response and officers located the student outside of the parked vehicle in the area of S. Frederick Street and S. George Mason Drive. The student and the two occupants of the vehicle were detained without incident. In plain view inside the vehicle, officers observed a ballistic vest carrier. During a search of the vehicle, a firearm was recovered from under the driver’s seat. The driver was arrested and charged.

For the safety of students and staff, Wakefield High School was placed on “secure the building status” while police investigated the circumstances of this incident.

This remains an active investigation. Anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact Lt. E. Pilco of the School Resource Officers Unit at [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

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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