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(Updated at 7:30 p.m.) Braylon Meade’s classmates would know he was already seated by whether his basketball shoes were outside the door.

“He’d get up at 5 a.m. and after a workout, go to class at 7:30. Everyone said he would smell horrible. He would leave his shoes outside the classroom because he smelled so bad,” his teammate, James McIntyre, said with a laugh.

Shoes aside, his hustle garnered the admiration of his teammates, who agreed to him being their leader, overseeing drills and shouting out encouragement and direction during games.

“All the kids respected him because of how much work he put in… he worked so hard this summer to compete and play this season’s games,” W-L Head Coach Robert Dobson said. “He became our glue.”

McIntyre, who has known Meade since the third grade, says he was energetic but quick to share the ball. While not the tallest team member, he always ran to guard the opposing team’s best player.

“He went above and beyond to make himself the best athlete that he could be,” said Mark Weiser, a W-L parent who coached Meade in travel basketball. “He was the kind of player that, if you asked him to run through a brick wall, he’d do it and not complain.”

Meade died just before the start of the season this week and before he could show players across the region and state all the work he put in over the summer and fall. The 17-year-old was killed early Friday morning in a car crash, and a teen driver involved in the crash was charged with a DUI and involuntary manslaughter. On Sunday, hundreds of people turned out at the high school for a candlelight vigil organized in his memory.

In the wake of his death, family and community members are finding ways to honor his legacy. This morning (Wednesday), a scholarship fund in his name for Arlington Public Schools alumni went live on the Arlington Community Foundation website.

“The fund will provide need-based scholarships to graduates of Arlington County’s public high schools,” according to the foundation. “Braylon’s siblings, Bryan and Kerry, and his parents firmly believe that this scholarship fund will perpetuate one of Braylon’s passions, which was to lift up those in need.”

His coach is retiring Meade’s jersey number, 22, and before every game, his teammates will carry out the special handshakes he had for every player and hug his parents.

Dobson says he has already noticed teammates stepping up to try to do what Braylon did for the team.

“Kids who never said a word are now leading the huddle and calling out drills,” he said. “Everybody is doing it as a team.”

But Meade was more than just his sport. His friends and coaches tell ARLnow he worked hard off the court, had a sense of humor and a nerdy side. His girlfriend of three years, Christine Wilson, remembers him as a loyal, communicative boyfriend and a great conversationalist.

“He was such a gentleman and always held the door for me, paid for me, drove, and we would get food somewhere and have great conversation as always,” Wilson said. “Our conversations never got boring and we never ran out of things to talk about, even after three years.”

Weiser said Meade was smart, opinionated and enjoyed lively conversations. He watched basketball closely and often had the same insight into a play as a coach would.

“He was right more often than he was wrong,” Weiser said.

Meade tackled academics and basketball with the same intensity. He took all International Baccalaureate classes and tutored teammates if they asked.

“He had the brightest future of all of us, he never did anything wrong and was always there for me,” McIntyre said. “He was the most hardworking dude I knew for sure, whether it was school, basketball, or beating me in ping pong, he would always practice a lot.”

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(Updated 9:55 p.m.) Marymount University is developing plans to build a new sports facility on an embattled parcel of county property near its campus.

Currently, the property at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive, in the Old Dominion neighborhood, is home to a temporary road salt storage “dome” and a parking lot used for mulch distribution. In 2019, despite opposition from some neighbors, the county demolished a roughly 90-year-old water storage tank, repurposed for road salt, which was on the brink of collapse.

The tank saga came a few years after the county proposed and later nixed plans to relocate Fire Station 8 from Langston Blvd to the Old Dominion neighborhood.

Now, Marymount University, which was recently ranked for the first time as a national university and is showing other signs of growth — including higher enrollment rates, new softball and wrestling teams and new academic majors — is trying its hand at redeveloping the site.

The school, which has its main campus across from the county property and an additional presence in Ballston, first put forward a plan for the property two years ago. It proposes to build a sports field, a children’s playground and an enhanced walking trails to Missionhurst Preserve, according to a map on the university’s website.

In addition, it would replace the existing temporary salt dome with a new, solar-powered one, along with a mulch area.

A little less than a year ago, it also put forward a proposal to build new diamond fields where the Washington-Liberty High School baseball diamond in Quincy Park and the softball diamond on school property are. Since then, it has been in talks with W-L, Arlington Public Schools and the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation.

Marymount has advertised an informational meeting on this proposal, scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 29.

The university said in a statement to ARLnow that the session acts on a suggestion from Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz to “build consensus among community members and inform them of our proposed plans to create a generational green space for Arlington at 26th Street N. and Old Dominion Drive that would improve and expand recreational opportunities for the County’s residents.”

It added that the forthcoming meeting also acts on a suggestion from a neighborhood association to meet with the three impacted neighborhood groups together. Marymount says it notified and invited Schwartz and the Arlington County Board to the meeting.

“We have put a great deal of thought and consideration into both projects, but these are proposals,” the university said. “We are discussing them with the neighborhood associations to receive their feedback after repeated attempts were made to communicate with the County about them.”

But Arlington County released a statement this afternoon (Monday) to clarify it has not endorsed the project.

“The County and APS received notice of Marymount’s November 29 Information Session at the same time Marymount informed the general public,” the statement reads. “The County and APS are not associated with or participating in the November 29 Information Session and do not sanction the materials or proposals presented by Marymount University.”

Per the statement, members of the Arlington County Board and the School Board have met with Marymount over the last year, at the university’s request, to hear the proposed concepts.

“At those meetings, County and APS staff asked clarifying questions but no decision was reached,” the county said. “At no time did County or APS staff indicate that these proposed facilities were feasible or acceptable.”

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A new vintage clothing shop owned by a Washington-Liberty grad is looking to open in Clarendon next week.

People’s Place Blvd is opening up at 3179 Wilson Blvd, a prime spot near Clarendon Ballroom and Spider Kelly’s. The plan is to open on Saturday, Nov. 12, co-owner Fabricio Gamarra tells ARLnow. The store will specialize in buying, selling, and trading vintage clothing.

Gamarra is a 2018 graduate of Washington-Liberty High School and grew up in Arlington. He was previously the manager of the People’s Place location in Manassas but is partnering with that store’s ownership to open his own shop closer to home. It will feature his brand Forbiiidden Vintage.

He’s also the founder of the Barcroft-based pop-up flea market Euphoria, which was so popular two years ago that it went viral on TikTok and resulted in traffic jams in the neighborhood after people flocked to the market from miles around.

Gamarra soon realized the popularity of what he was doing and wanted to expand to a brick and mortar storefront. He found one in the hole-in-the-wall, office and retail space above Spider Kelly’s.

Clarendon is a great place to open his new vintage shop, he said, because of the clientele.

“The area is a popular scene for a lot of kids who are into fashion,” Gamarra said. “Obviously, there’s a lot more income [here]… than in Manassas.”

While he was previously doing plenty of business online and at other local markets, the pull of opening a brick-and-mortar location was too much.

“Having a flea market once or twice a year is cool, but I wanted to open up more opportunities… I like to have that face-to-face connection with other people,” Gamarra said.

There are relatively few vintage clothing shops in Arlington. There’s Current Boutique, which advertises itself as a consignment shop and is located about a half mile away from where People’s Place Blvd is opening. There’s also Amalgamated Costume and Design on Langston Blvd, which is both a store and a rental provider for film, TV and stage productions.

Gamarra said that with more customers turning to small businesses and the “fast fashion” trend waning, people are looking for vintage clothing shops where they can buy and trade back clothes when they are done wearing them.

“People will be able to stop by and recycle their clothing or trade it in for other clothing that they are buying,” he said. “I think buy, sell, trade [shops] are vital.”

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Response to fight at the Pentagon City mall (photo courtesy Alan Henney)

Groups of teens were behind some chaotic scenes in Arlington over the weekend.

The latest Arlington County Police Department crime report has three separate items involving groups of juveniles. The first two incidents happened in Pentagon City, at or near the mall.

The first happened late Friday afternoon, when a group of suspects allegedly threatened a security guard during a shoplifting attempt. Three suspects — ages 18 and 19 — were arrested on assault charges.

ASSAULT BY MOB, 2022-10280198, 1200 block of S. Hayes Street. At approximately 4:21 p.m. on October 28, police were dispatched to the report of an assault by mob. Upon arrival, it was determined a Loss Prevention Officer observed a female subject allegedly conceal a pair of sunglasses before confronting her and recovering the merchandise. A group of male suspects with the female subject then approached the Loss Prevention Officer and allegedly made verbal threats while at least one of the suspects displayed a knife. No injuries were reported. The suspects fled the scene prior to the arrival of police and responding officers located three suspects in the area. Suspect One ignored the commands of officers, resisted arrest and was taken into custody with the assistance of additional arriving officers. During a search of Suspect Two incident to arrest, a folding knife was recovered.

The crime report notes that “all three suspects were released on unsecured bonds.”

That night, police responded to Washington-Liberty High School for a report of four teens sneaking into the football game against McLean (W-L won 43-13), running through the stands and twice pushing someone to the ground. The bike-riding, ski-mask-wearing suspects fled the scene and police are still investigating.

From ACPD:

ASSAULT BY MOB, 2022-10280255, 1300 block of N. Stafford Street. At approximately 9:10 p.m. on October 28, police were dispatched to the report of a fight. Upon arrival, it was determined four unknown juvenile suspects climbed a fence and entered the stands of the stadium. As the suspects were running through the stands, they knocked the male [victim] to the ground twice before fleeing the scene. The victim refused medics on scene. The suspects are described as males wearing black hoodies and ski masks and riding bicycles. The investigation is ongoing.

The next day, around 5:30 p.m., a report of groups of teens fighting inside the food court at the Pentagon City mall drew a large police response.

One girl who was wanted in D.C. was arrested and now faces additional charges after allegedly assaulting police.

ASSAULT & BATTERY ON POLICE, 2022-10290193, 1100 block of S. Hayes Street. At approximately 5:32 p.m. on October 29, police responded to the report of a fight involving groups of juveniles inside a food court. Responding officers separated the groups and no significant injuries were reported related to the fight. During the course of the investigation, one juvenile was determined to be wanted out of Washington D.C. and she assaulted officers as they attempted to detain her. She was taken into custody and petitions for Assault on Police were obtained.

The police response to that incident was noted on social media.

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The parking garage over I-66 near Ballston is falling apart and needs repairs, says the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The garage sits above I-66 between N. Stafford and Quincy streets, next to Washington-Liberty High School. It serves as the primary parking area for the school and is the site of a seasonal flea market, called the Arlington Civitan Open Air Market.

VDOT has launched a public engagement period to brief locals on the garage’s deteriorating condition and the $2.7 million in planned improvements. Through next Monday, Nov. 7, people can provide comments online in a survey and by email or postal mail.

The state transportation department says it aims to minimize traffic disruptions and keep most parking spaces available during construction. VDOT expects to send out the project for bid next summer and to start work in the fall of 2023, with construction wrapping up in about six months.

“The purpose of this project is to address various conditions identified through routine inspections that are likely to deteriorate further if not repaired soon,” a VDOT staff member said in a presentation. “Delaying action could allow some of them to become critical requiring much more extensive, expensive and disruptive repairs down the road. The repairs will ensure the structure remains safe for all users for years to come.”

The garage was built in 1982, and since then, there has been no major work performed beyond routine maintenance, VDOT Communications Coordinator Mike Murphy tells ARLnow.

After 40 years of exposure to the elements — including cycles of freezing and thawing, anti-icing salts, and high temperatures — the garage’s columns and surfaces are worse for wear, according to the state transportation department’s presentation. The presenter said these signs of deterioration are typical of structures this age.

Slides showing deterioration of the I-66 overpass and parking lot (via VDOT)

Some columns on the garage’s lower level need significant repairs to ensure its structural integrity, the presenter said. Leaking water has caused the reinforcing steel within the concrete to corrode, causing the concrete to break in flakes.

Slides showing deterioration of the I-66 overpass and parking lot (via VDOT)

In one phase of the project, traffic lanes on I-66 will be shifted to the outside lane and the shoulder to allow work along the median, per the presentation. Lane closures are expected to be limited to single lanes.

“The majority of repair work occurs on the lower level along I-66, which is isolated from parking areas of the garage,” the VDOT staff member said. “There will be no changes to local traffic patterns or pedestrian flow on N. Quincy Street, N. Stafford Street, or 15th Street N.”

No impacts to the Custis Trail — which runs parallel to I-66 under the garage — are anticipated at this time, Murphy said.

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The logo for ‘It’s Academic’ (via YouTube)

After 61 years with D.C.’s local NBC station, the teen quiz show “It’s Academic” has a new broadcast home: WETA-TV in Arlington.

And the inaugural episode on the public TV station will feature a team of three Arlington students from Washington-Liberty High School, who will face teams from Herndon High School and W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax County.

As early as fall 2024, the show could be produced at the local PBS station’s headquarters in Shirlington, at 3939 Campbell Ave, which are currently being renovated. But for now — due to the pandemic — students are participating via Zoom.

For Senior Vice President and General Manager Miguel Monteverde, Jr., bringing the show to WETA was an obvious decision.

“It was a no-brainer,” he tells ARLnow. “There’s no show more local than one that features… 240 of frankly some of our brightest kids, our future leaders, in an education themed quiz show.”

The last few years have been rocky for the independently produced show, which has aired on WRC-TV (NBC 4) since it started in 1961 and holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for the longest-running TV quiz show.

“It’s Academic” was previously filmed in WRC-TV’s historic Studio A in upper Northwest D.C., near the American University campus, until renovations started on that building. The show then bounced around filming locations while still airing on NBC 4.

Then, the show lost its longtime sponsor Giant, which decided to focus on food-related philanthropy. Finally, the pandemic hit, and filming pivoted to Zoom.

Major funding for the show is now provided by McLean-based MITRE. And now, having a new broadcaster — and eventually a new filming location — provides “It’s Academic” with even more security, Monteverde says.

“I’m glad that all the stars were aligned and that we could work out a deal and keep that show going and bring it to the WETA audience,” he said.

For now, kids will still use Zoom to appear on the show, but as early as the spring, the show could be in-person at a yet-undetermined location.

“The kids are just as smart on Zoom as they are in the studio, but they’re eager for the show to be in the studio,” Monteverde said. “You’ve got the parents and family members in the seats, the team mascot. Schools will bring cheer squads. It’s a more visually interesting, festive experience.”

Washington-Liberty High School students on an episode of “It’s Academic” that premiered April 30, 2022 (via YouTube)

Although renovations to the WETA building could be finished next year, the studio won’t be ready for filming “It’s Academic” until the 2024-25 school year, he said.

“When we’re able to finally get the show in the new WETA studios in a couple of years, it will start to look a little different,” he said. “It’ll still be the quiz show format, but it’ll be in a new studio, so we have an opportunity to give it a fresh look.”

Monteverde approached the producers of “It’s Academic” about switching homes to add to the station’s stock of local shows. He says WETA is investing in local programming to distinguish itself from streaming services and cable television.

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Groups of Arlington Public Schools students walked out today (Tuesday) to protest model policies the Commonwealth says local school boards should adopt regarding the treatment of transgender children.

Released last week, the draft policies from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), among other things, direct schools only to affirm a transgender student’s identity if parents request it. The document is perceived as a rebuttal to last year’s Democratic-led policies, which advised schools to affirm the child’s gender expression regardless of their family’s support.

In less than a week, a student-led LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization in Virginia mobilized kids across the state to protest the proposed revisions. The group said these changes would allow students and teachers to misgender transgender students while forcing those students to use restrooms corresponding to their sex assigned at birth.

In Arlington, walkouts were scheduled at Wakefield and Washington-Liberty high schools, the H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, and Thomas Jefferson and Kenmore middle schools, according to the student group, Pride Liberation Project.

A few dozen W-L teens gathered this morning in nearby Quincy Park (1021 N. Quincy Street), and some — including a few transgender students — made speeches and spoke to the media. The walkout was not school-sponsored, per an email to W-L parents.

“It’s just so bad. I don’t understand why [Gov. Glenn Youngkin] wants to bully these kids, including myself, I don’t see what’s so scary about using the name Matteo, using he/him pronouns, and why that threatens him so much, but it’s really sad that it does,” W-L junior Matteo Hope, a transgender boy, told ARLnow.

Mars Cirtain, a W-L junior, said politicians and family members cannot override how transgender students choose to express themselves.

“For a parent to tell a child that they are not the person they identify as is the same as their parents telling them, ‘You are not the person I raised you to be,'” Cirtain said. “It’s not about what your parents think you are, and it’s not about what your family thinks you can be. It’s about who you are and you get to decide that for yourself, not Gov. Youngkin, or your parents.”

Under the draft, teachers could not be compelled to use a student’s preferred pronouns, and students would use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding to their sex assigned at birth. Schools would only accommodate students who identify as transgender at the written request of their parents. The document says these changes respect parents’ rights and beliefs and reverse Democrats’ attempts to “promot[e] a specific viewpoint aimed at achieving cultural and social transformation in schools.”

Waltz Fellone, W-L senior and a school organizer for Pride Liberation Project, told participants that Youngkin’s policies were “cruel and evil.”

“All of you have made a difference,” they said. “I know it may not feel like it because we are just a small school in Arlington. We might not even be affected by this, but it still means a lot.”

Generally, the W-L students in attendance expressed optimism that Arlington Public Schools would continue to affirm transgender students’ right to self-expression, with support from residents of Arlington, which runs deep blue. W-L junior Sophia Braier said she has “several” friends who would be affected by this decision if they lived in more conservative, rural areas.

“Beyond just protecting people here, we’re doing it to garner attention all over Virginia,” Braier said.

The walkout drew a large crowd at Wakefield this morning, according to Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49), who posted about it on social media.

APS and neighbor Fairfax County Public Schools are adhering to their current policies while they review the updates, ARLnow previously reported. FCPS students also held walkouts at a number of schools today.

Yesterday (Monday) marked the start of a 30-day public comment period in which people can respond to the policies and potentially change VDOE’s approach. APS says it is currently reviewing the draft policies and would not take action until it has reviewed the final document.

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Washington-Liberty High School football game versus Chantilly High School on Sept. 9, 2022 (via YouTube)

(Updated 09/27/22) High school football season is in play, but this year, fewer students in Arlington Public Schools will be in the stands cheering on their friends.

That is because Arlington County Police Department does not have enough officers to staff events, police spokeswoman Ashley Savage tells ARLnow.

Only students who attend the competing schools will be able to sit in the stands this year, according to one parent’s recap of a recent meeting between the Washington-Liberty Parent-Teacher Association and school leaders, which was posted to a Facebook page for parents and shared with ARLnow.

Siblings who attend other schools can attend if they come with their families, the post said. Students of the Arlington Career Center and H-B Woodlawn and those in Virtual Virginia courses can attend the games of their home schools.

This policy applies to all athletic events, not just football, the parent wrote.

Last fall, ACPD advised APS that it would not be able to provide physical security at games and special events for the 2022-23 school year due to ongoing staffing concerns, Savage said. (The police department also announced earlier this year that it would be scaling back some services due to the thinning of its ranks.)

“ACPD continues to work with APS on a plan to ensure a safe school community,” she said. “These security plans are similar to procedures APS implemented when the school board voted 5-0 to remove School Resources Officers.”

School Board members previously said they removed officers in response to arrest statistics indicating Black and Latino kids are disproportionately charged with crimes.

Despite not being in the schools daily, Savage said department participates in the school system’s Threat Assessment Team and School Safety Audit, has a liaison to APS and remains in contact with school leadership on any public safety concerns they may have.

“The decision to revise our admission procedures for high school athletic events is based on our commitment to providing safe, secure environments for students, staff and spectators, as well as to support the school staff who are charged with managing the crowds and maintaining safety and security during these events,” APS spokesman Frank Bellavia told ARLnow on Tuesday. “This has been our previous practice and is not directly related to the absence of police officers at our games.”

But some parents were surprised by the policy change, saying they only learned of it two weeks ago, ahead of the Washington-Liberty High School football game against Chantilly High School on Sept. 9.

The change has already prompted a parent to launch a petition calling for the decision to be reversed. The petition has just over 175 signatures as of publication time and the author, W-L Boosters Club Co-President Kevin Hughes, asked members of the School Board last week at their meeting to drop the policy.

“This is a small community. Many high school students attended elementary and middle school together and remain friends even though they are enrolled in different high schools,” he said in the petition. “By virtue of being an Arlington resident, all high school students should be afforded the opportunity to watch live football games in person regardless of what school they attend.”

Hughes said that most incidents occur after the game concludes, and could be mitigated “proper crowd dispersal procedures.”

APS has had its share of incidents surrounding football games. Police had to use pepper spray to break up a fight during a W-L game in 2016, Wakefield football players allegedly were the target of racial slurs in Fairfax County and some Yorktown students allegedly were sexually harassed during half-time at a game. APS noted last school year that fights were on the rise, particularly among middle-schoolers, as students reacclimated to in-person education.

And Arlington is not alone in taking steps to tighten security at athletic contests.

After a football game ended in a brawl and charges against five people, Montgomery County Public Schools now requires fans to stay in their seats and limits fans to students from the competing schools.

Some parents have expressed mixed feelings about the new APS policy, acknowledging its likely necessity while critiquing its implementation.

“At the end of the day, of course everyone I would rather have this policy — if absolutely necessary — than have them going to restricted attendance or no students at certain games,” said W-L parent Mark Weiser. “There are a lot of questions and not a lot of answers and what irks me is that the policy was thrown out there without a lot of discussion.”

This story has been updated to include comment from Arlington Public Schools. 

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(Updated at 5:35 p.m.) Police and firefighters swarmed Washington-Liberty High School this afternoon after an apparent hoax about an active shooter.

A caller told Arlington’s 911 dispatch that someone shot numerous people in a specific classroom at the school, according to scanner traffic, but no such shooting was located by authorities.

Scanner traffic suggests that Fairfax and Culpeper county schools might have received a similar alarming but false report. InsideNova later reported that “schools in Spotsylvania and Culpeper counties were among several across the state on Monday to fall victim to fake 911 calls reporting an active shooter.”

A Twitter thread details other false active shooter reports at schools around Virginia today — including in Loudoun County, Charlottesville, Norfolk, Fauquier, Lynchburg and elsewhere — and in other parts of the country today and last week. the Loudoun sheriff’s office described the incident as an instance of “swatting.”

A portion of the emergency activity at W-L started clearing the scene shortly after it became apparent that there was no shooter, but police continued to sweep the high school and its annex as a precaution.

Washington-Liberty, one of three comprehensive public high schools in Arlington, was evacuated in October 2021 after a false report of an active shooter. Two people were charged in July after fireworks set off during summer school at W-L prompted another active shooter panic and large emergency response.

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“1619 Project” author Nikole Hannah-Jones (photo courtesy of Arlington Public Library)

(Updated at 10:50 a.m.) Arlington Public Library is hosting Pulitzer Prize-winning “1619 Project” author Nikole Hannah-Jones as part of “Banned Books Week” next month.

The journalist and Howard University faculty member who led the 2019 New York Times project will talk about her book and “the freedom to read.” The event is set to take place on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. in the Washington-Liberty High School auditorium.

“While this event is taking place at Washington-Liberty High School, Arlington Public Schools is not involved in the planning or hosting of this event,” notes the event page on the library website.

The event is “first-come, first-served until capacity is reached,” the page also notes. For those who can’t attend in person, the event will be live-streamed.

The “1619 Project” is an effort to better explain and contextualize slavery’s legacy, as well as Black Americans’ contributions, within the center of America’s history. It’s named as such after the date that the first enslaved African peoples arrived in Virginia.

The event at W-L is part of the nationwide “Banned Books Week,” an annual celebration by libraries and bookstores that highlights the value of “free and open access to information.”

The county’s library director Diane Kresh explained in a 2017 blog post that the reason Arlington Public Libraries celebrates Banned Books Week is that books are expressions of freedom.

“Books are change agents. They challenge our beliefs and biases. They expose us to different experiences and cultures. They help us learn to think for ourselves and not follow the crowd or cult of public opinion,” Kresh wrote.

The lecture is also part of the larger “Arlington Reads” event series.

The “1619 Project” has been both celebrated for its groundbreaking exploration of the topic and criticized for what some say are a series of historical inaccuracies and an emphasis on the significance of enslaved peoples in America’s history over other well-known dates, people, and events. It also sparked political controversy, with conservative members of Congress calling for measures to prevent it from being taught in K-12 schools.

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David M. Brown Planetarium (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

After being closed for nearly three years, the planetarium adjacent to Washington-Liberty High School is wishing upon a star that it will reopen later this fall.

It was back in November 2019 when the David M. Brown Planetarium on N. Quincy Street closed to allow for the overhaul of the adjacent Arlington Education Center at Washington-Liberty. It took longer than expected due to the pandemic, but that $38 million project is basically complete.

With that done, the planetarium is reopening as well with a few notable changes including a new person in charge, a state-of-the-art projector, and the removal of a mural.

The aim is to start running programs again by early November, Friends of Arlington’s Planetarium President Jennifer Lynn Bartlett told ARLnow.

The non-profit is the “booster club” for the planetarium, as Bartlett described it, while APS owns the facility and provides a large chunk of its funding.

While staff and students all missed the planetarium, the three-year closure and the adjacent building’s makeover allowed for much-needed updates, as well as staffing changes.

Earlier this summer, Arlington Public Schools hired Mary Clendenning as the school system’s new full-time planetarium specialist. For those who were regulars at the planetarium, she may be familiar, having presented weekend programming for several years prior to the closing. She also has more than two decades of experience in the classroom teaching science.

“I am thrilled to be Arlington’s new Planetarium Specialist!” she wrote in August’s Friends of Planetarium newsletter. “This new position offers me the opportunity to combine my passions while using a state-of-the-art projection system, the Digistar 7. I am so excited about being part of the reopening of an Arlington treasure, the Planetarium.”

The new projector system that Clendenning mentioned is set to be the star of the show.

When the planetarium first opened more than five decades ago, it had a mechanical optical system — essentially a ball that projected stars, ran patterns of the night sky, and faded lights to simulate the sun’s journey.

Then, in 2012, a new digital system replaced the old one. But like any computer, a system that’s a decade old is out of date.

“The technology is changing so rapidly that to continue to offer state-of-the-art programming, we need to move to more current hardware,” said Bartlett. “We want to continue to offer programs that are being written now about science that’s happening now.”

The new Digistar 7 system cost $209,000, which came from a combination of carry-over funds from last year’s APS budget and Friends-funded contributions.

Bartlett said the new projection system will allow educators to put on programs beyond astronomy, including lessons on oceanography, earth science, and biology.

The new projection system, like nearly all tech these days, needs an internet connection so the planetarium now has Wi-Fi.

Another thing that planetarium goers will notice when they visit later this year is a missing mural.

In the process of connecting some ductwork to the HVAC system of the newly-renovated W-L annex, it was discovered that the exterior shell of the planetarium and portions of the interior entrance hallway contained asbestos. APS decided to remove the asbestos inside and, because of that, it required the removal of a mural that featured planets, the Milky Way solar system, and other galactic images that Bartlett believed were painted sometime in the 1980s.

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