Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com
Recent collaborations between local governments and school systems in other localities, including Alexandria, San Francisco, and New York City, offer promising new instructional and childcare examples for Arlington to follow.
As I discussed in my last column, COVID-19 has exposed again why certain categories of vulnerable and disadvantaged APS students need the special attention and support that new programs like these will provide.
Making hard decisions regarding which APS students would be eligible, where these new activities would take place, who would staff and supervise them, and other details certainly present challenges. But Arlington can and should rise to the occasion.
San Francisco is planning “an unprecedented educational assistance program for the fall meant to help up to 6,000 children with their distance-learning needs.”
Starting in September, dozens of recreation facilities, libraries and community centers across the city will be transformed into “learning hubs,” spaces where young students who may struggle with remote instruction can go each day to access their digital classwork and the social interactions that virtual schooling cannot provide.
Officials are prioritizing low-income families, children in public housing or the foster care system, homeless youth, and others in living situations that make remote learning particularly challenging. At first, the hubs will serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade, a group that has lower rates of infection, but officials will consider making the hubs available to older students. They will operate five days a week during ordinary school hours and will be staffed by experienced nonprofits and other organizations…”
The barriers for distance learning are not just access to Wi-Fi, it’s making sure that children have a quiet place to even connect in to their Zoom calls, and have the support they need to … submit homework and participate virtually…
The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
In a hastily called meeting before their traditional August break, the Arlington County Board passed an emergency ordinance that prevents groups of four or more from standing closer than six feet to each other in marked public spaces. There was no public discussion or input prior to the surprise announcement.
Under the ordinance, my family could not wait at a traffic light together even if we are wearing face coverings, without the risk of a $600 fine. However, we could walk into a restaurant and sit together without face coverings. Fellow columnist Chris Slatt rightly called it a mess.
The County Board should call another emergency meeting and withdraw the ordinance. If they cannot bring themselves to do that, they should consider rewriting it before the September meeting. It must be made clear whether family units are subject to fines. The Board must also make clear whether it applies to protests or marches.
The final point here is that the County Board should not be taking a break this August. They passed an emergency ordinance in the name of an ongoing public health emergency, but they are not planning to formally meet for nearly eight weeks. It sends mixed messages about how serious they are taking COVID-19 right now in Arlington.
Speaking of mixed messages, the Arlington Public Schools superintendent updated the community about the APS back to school plan in a presentation to the Arlington School Board.
In the presentation, Mr. Durán announced that APS was planning to make child care available to teachers with kids ages four to 11. While Durán acknowledged that child care was a pressing issue for parents as well, the schools are promising to use extended day staff in school buildings throughout the county as child care facilities for teachers. Presumably, these APS staff members will be making sure the children placed in APS provided child care are taking part in their online instruction.
When online learning begins September 8, parents will have to balance their own jobs with making sure their kids are logging in and participating in their school schedule. If your job requires you to be physically present outside the home, you will have to make alternative arrangements. Teachers with the same age kids will have a taxpayer-backed staffer and building available to do it for them.
Also, the Arlington Education Association stated that safety was the paramount concern when they demanded APS reverse course on in-person instruction. Have they weighed in on the safety concerns for the staff and possibly 1,000 children taking part in child care at the schools?
While APS is resisting the idea of setting forth metrics for reopening, the calls for specifics may grow when parents discover teachers are being treated differently when it comes to child care.
Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.
A lot of local businesses are hurting during the pandemic.
Any business that relies on people congregating inside is having a tough time — restaurants, gyms, events organizers, etc. The economic hardship has hit ancillary businesses as well: dry cleaners, for example, are struggling due to few people going to offices and formal events.
Arlington has fared better so far than some other places. While there have been some business closures, it’s been more a trickle of closures than a flood.
That is partially due to Arlington being an affluent place with plenty of government-connected jobs that come with a steady paycheck even during a recession. But it is also, at least in part, due to Arlingtonians going out of their way to support local businesses.
The popular Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group regularly hosts discussions about ways to support locally-owned businesses, for instance, including a “Takeout Tuesday” thread where members say which restaurant they’re ordering from that night.
Making an effort to support more local businesses is certainly laudable, but we wonder whether on balance Arlington residents are spending more or less than they did before the pandemic. After all, you might be ordering more takeout, but perhaps when you used to go out in person you’d spend more on drinks, offsetting any increase.
Take a look at your spending habits and let us know where you stand.
Progressive Voice is a bi-weekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
By Cragg Hines
I’m old and fat. That’s two strikes in the era of novel coronavirus.
But that may be far from the worst problem for many seniors in this plague-like period, especially those who are taking seriously the suggested safety precautions, including social distancing or self-quarantine. The pandemic has only sharpened one of the biggest mental — and, yes, physical — issues that confront older Americans. An ABC report cited “the unspoken COVID-19 toll on the elderly: loneliness.”
The pre-COVID-19 answer for some older Arlingtonians was one of the in-person senior programs at a County-run Community Center. But these are on hold because of the pandemic, and at least one was under the knife before coronavirus hit. Under the current budget, the Lee Community and Senior Center, Lee Highway at N. Lexington Street, is already scheduled to close at the end of the year. Programs are slated to be moved to other centers. Who knows, however, what the stringencies of County budget review will mean to the remaining senior centers?
Well before the novel coronavirus emerged late last year, the National Institute on Aging noted that “research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death.”
It’s been five months since Susan Kalish, who works in Arlington, has seen her 92-year-old father, Jack Kalish, who is in an assisted living center in the area, although they speak by phone almost daily.
“He lived through WWII and the Depression and he says this is difficult in a totally different way,” his daughter said.
As of early August, he was not allowed to leave his floor nor allowed to eat with friends there, but restrictions will be lightening a touch. Visits can now be reserved ahead, so when we spoke, she had just been tested for the virus so she could get on the approved list. She booked one of the 45-minute visits — outside with masks, no touching, no food.
Kalish said her father is longsuffering but once did ask: “Can you remind me what I did to live in solitary confinement.” She told him that he had voted for the wrong presidential candidate.
Even as segments of society have started, often unadvisedly, to “re-open,” most seniors seem to stick pretty close to home. So the pressure on senior services – including opportunities for socialization – remains acute. Locations for congregate meals – with food and interpersonal contact – are still closed, and requests for popular services such as Meals on Wheels remain at high levels, even given the difficulties now with deliveries.
Lucy Theilheimer, an Arlington resident and chief strategy and impact officer for Meals on Wheels America, described the big jump in demand for food assistance and the need for fast adaptation of delivery models. The daily deliveries Monday-Friday and in-person visits have largely disappeared, replaced with fewer deliveries of frozen and shelf-stable food and a safe wave of the hand instead of a chat. And there has been a consequent decline in “eyes-on” checks on seniors. Daily check-in calls by new volunteers and paid staff have helped fill some of the gap.
Rob Swennes, an Arlington civic volunteer, a retired federal employee, and admitted extrovert, said it takes creativity to remain connected. He and his wife began walking regularly and have expanded their range. Activities like that “mentally engage a person and keep you from feeling lonely.” As a sponsor of non-profit farmers markets in Arlington, Swennes has been happy to see an uptick in attendance, with “a lot of people we’ve never seen before,” including more seniors. Yet Swennes knows not everyone can get out and that inability can lead to loneliness.
Arlington County government is battling this loneliness by offering virtual experiences and programs. The Department of Parks and Recreation, which ran a robust group of in-person activities under the 55+ brand, has launched new virtual programs over Zoom. Segments have included how-to tips, such as “Get Organized While You’re at Home,” and entertainment, such as an “Acoustic Hour Online” with rock n’ roll, ballads, folk and blues.
Arlington’s Aging and Disability Services Division is working to make certain that residents who were taking meals at the Social 60+ cafes are getting meals delivered.
Yet protecting vulnerable older adults against social isolation and further health problems doesn’t seem like a job solely for Arlington County.
Many people have a parent, grandparent or older neighbor whose social connections may have frayed during the pandemic. What can you, your company or organization do to knit our community fabric a little stronger?
Investing our time, resources and innovative ideas can protect a vulnerable population. It also helps build a lasting spirit of community in Arlington, and that seems a worthy endeavor.
Cragg Hines is a longtime journalist and former member of the Arlington County Commission on Aging. Photo via Cragg Hines/Facebook.
We’ve weathered a tropical storm and an otherwise slow local news cycle this week, now it’s time to kick back and enjoy what should be a decent weekend.
Without further ado, here are the most-read articles of the week:
- Here’s How Much You Need to Make to Be in the Top 20% of Arlington Households
- Neighborhood Spotlight: The 3 Best Pizza Places in Arlington
- County Board Passes Emergency Ordinance Against Sidewalk Crowding
- Two Dead of Suspected Overdoses as Arlington Battles Opioid Addiction
- Arlington GOP Chair Kicked Out of Local COVID Facebook Group
- Fashion Centre at Pentagon City Remains a Ghost Town Months After Reopening
- Smoke Shop Owner Goes Back on TV to Denounce Burglar Going Free
- Elevated Living: Brand New J Sol Ballston Luxury High-Rise
- JUST IN: Arlington Under Tropical Storm Warning Through Tuesday
- Small Demonstration at Arlington Intersection Yields Loud Response
- Just Reduced Properties in Arlington
- Arlington Nears 3,000 Coronavirus Cases
Feel free to discuss those stories or anything else of local interest in the comments. Have a great weekend!
As the school year begins online for students across the country, parents face the challenge of supporting the educational needs of their children while working at their own jobs.
This challenge is real for all working parents. But the opportunities that parents have to meet their children’s needs vary greatly depending on socio-economic status.
Some families with sufficient financial resources are turning to learning pods. These are small groups of students who will gather in homes or rented spaces with an adult who is paid to supervise them while learning online. Some pods will be led by teachers.
An internet search of “learning pods” reveals many companies that will create pods and provide adults to supervise and/or teach. The websites for these companies offer pods for pre-kindergarten through grade 12, with two students to nine students per pod. Schedules can be five days per week, half-day or full-day.
The cost? One website provides a pod for students in grades K-4, Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. with one educator at a cost of $4,583 per month per child for a three-student pod and $1,528 per month per child for a nine-student pod.
There certainly are benefits for those who can afford learning pods. For students, an adult can provide in-person assistance with their education in a small group setting. And interaction with peers promotes social-emotional learning. Parents benefit too, because they can work inside or outside the home while their children are engaged in distance learning.
But students from low-income families who cannot afford the pod fees are left out. They cannot benefit from a paid teacher in the home to enhance their distance learning and they miss out on in-person interaction with other students. Their parents may have to choose between giving up their jobs outside the home and going to work and leaving their children home alone.
Parents in Arlington, like those around the country, are forming learning pods. One website helps parents connect for free and a local company creates pods with an initial fee and monthly costs.
Long before COVID-19, significant disparities in academic outcomes existed between groups of students in Arlington. These disparities will grow with months of distance learning and the disparate opportunities that students have at home depending on their socio-economic status.
In his Back to School Update during the School Board’s July 30th meeting, Arlington Public Schools (APS) Superintendent Dr. Francisco Duran stated that APS is working with Arlington County Government and community partners to address the need for childcare for families while APS provides distance learning.
Arlington might look to the city of San Francisco, which has committed to opening 40 community learning hubs in September. These will be located at recreation centers, libraries, and non-profit sites, providing full-day supervision for low-income students. Each hub will have access to technology for distance learning, enrichment activities, and meals.
In addition, APS should develop a plan for in-person instruction focused on students most in need. Such an approach is consistent with APS summer school, which is being offered online this summer for elementary students who need strengthening in math and literacy and secondary students who received low grades last school year.
Before APS opted for distance learning this fall for all students, the APS hybrid learning plan offered in-person learning two days a week. If social distancing is required when APS opens schools again, instead of limited, in-person instruction for all students, APS should offer in-person instruction for more hours for students most in need. This includes low-income students who have not had the benefit of small group instruction in learning pods.
Abby Raphael served on the Arlington School Board from 2008-2015, including two terms as Chair. She also led the Washington Area Boards of Education for two years. Currently she co-chairs the Project Peace Prevention Committee and Destination 2027 Steering Committee, is a member of the Board of the Arlington YMCA, and works with the Community Progress Network and Second Chance
The summer heat has arrived and despite holding our collective breath, the coronavirus has not miraculously disappeared. In persevering through a shutdown, a three-phase reopening, and now an emergency ordinance to limit sidewalk traffic, we have learned that we are resilient — but the cracks are starting to show in our population’s mental health.
In fact, nearly 30 percent of Americans are experiencing symptoms of clinical depression as of late July, compared to 6.6 percent last year based on a recent National Center for Health Statistics and Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. The numbers for anxiety closely mirror with 36 percent compared to 8.2 percent last year. The number of online mental health screenings has increased 400 percent. Perhaps the most alarming — albeit uncited — statistic comes from CDC director Robert Redfield, who stated that there have been far greater suicides and drug overdoses than COVID deaths among young people since the lockdown.
I have experienced this upward trend firsthand. There has been a doubling of old and new patients coming into the clinic for ketamine infusions, a relatively new FDA-approved modality used for treatment of depression and anxiety. The most commonly cited reasons I hear include: fear of getting sick, grief from sick loved ones, financial distress, loss of job, loss of community, home-life stress, and reduced access to healthcare. There is also something I call “COVID fatigue”, which is over-saturation of COVID coverage in the news and social media and includes the accompanying stress of teasing out fact from fiction. I realize the irony as I contribute another COVID article to the milieu.
How do you know if you are having depressive symptoms? The challenge is that depression and anxiety are on a spectrum, and sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint if it’s just a “bad day” or something more insidious. However, if feelings such as persistent sadness, emptiness, irritability, guilt, pessimism and emotional distancing occur for weeks and adversely affect sleep, appetite and work, then you may be dealing with pandemic-induced depression or anxiety.
There are measures you can take if you suspect you are depressed or anxious. If the symptoms are severe and debilitating, then contact your mental health professional. If suicidal, check yourself in to the hospital or at the very least call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HELLO to 741741 for the Crisis Text Line.
Here are some additional preventative measures.
Keep a schedule — This is game-changing if you have been laid off or need to take care of children. Interestingly, keeping a schedule for children has been shown to prevent childhood mood disturbances–particularly germane given full distance learning for Arlington Public Schools this fall. Creating goals that can be reasonably accomplished, such as reading a book or daily neighborhood walk, can boost dopamine in the brain and increased motivation and sense of accomplishment.
Connect with loved ones — Set time to reach out to close friends and family by phone, FaceTime or Zoom. Social connectedness is often overlooked, but is crucial in mental well-being.
Reevaluate mindset — While there are undoubtedly many negative things the pandemic has brought, it can be helpful to reframe your perspective and think of how the pandemic has been positive for you. For example, perhaps you have saved significant money from not traveling and dining out, or have gotten closer to family and friends. Doing this will also likely enhance your sense of gratitude once things normalize.
Utilize telemedicine — There is no need to feel medically stranded, as telemedicine use has increased out of necessity. Therapists and psychiatrists have pivoted to using it almost exclusively in many cases.
If your loved one is experiencing depression or anxiety, try to listen and validate the reasons for their feelings as opposed to trying to fix the situation. Let them know there is no weakness in seeking psychiatric help.
“Safer at Home” doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to be home when it comes to mental health. However, unlike COVID-19, there are proven ways to help prevent and treat depression and anxiety, and success starts with recognition of symptoms and seeking appropriate help.
Dr. George C. Hwang, known to his patients as Dr. Chaucer, is a practicing anesthesiologist who also helps to run Mind Peace Clinics in Arlington. He has written for multiple journals, textbooks and medical news outlets, and has been living in Arlington for the past 15 years.
On Friday, the County announced a new emergency ordinance prohibiting pedestrians from congregating on sidewalks in groups of more than three people or ever being less than 6′ apart from any other person.
Targeted quite plainly at young, mask-less patrons waiting in tightly-packed lines for long periods of time outside of Clarendon bars whose capacity has been limited by social-distancing requirements, the ordinance seems well-intentioned but flawed in concept.
The ordinance, as released by the County states the during a state of emergency, “pedestrians shall obey signs and other signals erected on highways, streets, sidewalks, and public spaces adjacent thereto used by pedestrians prohibiting pedestrians from congregating in groups of four or more than four persons in those places and requiring pedestrians to maintain a physical separation from others of not less than six feet at all times.” I will note, however, that the verbiage about “and public spaces adjacent thereto” does not seem to exist in the language passed by the Board during the virtual board meeting.
Problems with the Ordinance
The ordinance appears to criminalize common behaviors: A plain reading of the ordinance would appear to prevent a family of four from walking down one of these signed sidewalks together without maintaining 6′ of distance between all family members, including small children.
The ordinance results in some very strange juxtapositions. Four people sitting at an outdoor dining table eating dinner, mask-less is not just legal, the County has adopted other emergency legislation to fast-track the creation of more outdoor dining space to encourage it. Those same four people, the exact same distance apart, but now standing on the sidewalk outside of a dining area are now all subject to a $100 fine. If those four now all climb into a car together, parked on the street in front of that same restaurant, they are legal again. Read More
“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” — Brene Brown
Those of us who are working to intentionally increase diversity in Arlington are consistently striving to achieve the right balance, in the right way, at the right time. Which diversities are the right diversities? How do we measure progress on diversity? Are diverse people held to a different standard? Are they sometimes expected to be twice as good, but also given more allowances when those in power are searching for diverse representation?
I believe it is important for those with underrepresented backgrounds to see people who look like us, in all fields. I believe that it’s important to have diverse political and ideological views represented to find the best solution. I also believe that how we live each day, in conjunction with our experiences, may give us a unique perspective on life and affect how we approach challenges. The challenge is how we get here.
When I founded Virginia Leadership Institute in 2006 (now known as Vote Lead Impact) our goal was to increase the number of Black elected officials in Virginia. We strived to make the number of African Americans serving in public office, from school board to Congress, proportional to the percentage of African Americans registered to vote in the Commonwealth.
Proportional representation is just one way to measure whether we have enough diversity. While working towards that goal, it is also important to consider the diversity among the groups of people we are recruiting, as no group is monolithic. We may never reach full diversity in Arlington (no matter what our definitions of diversity are) but as we strive for it, here are a few points to consider.
Acknowledge our privilege — No matter what your privilege may be, we have to acknowledge it as we bring new people on board. It is easy to become comfortable in our circles. If we recognize the need for more diversity, inclusion comes after we identify our own circumstances and embrace those who are different.
Avoid tokenism — When we feel like we will be publicly scrutinized for our lack of diversity, it’s tempting to just pick anyone who would “check the box”, without looking at their qualifications. In the long run, selecting the most qualified person who meets all of our criteria, including diversity, is the best option.
Build a pipeline — Developing a pipeline should be a critical component of our growth strategy. Whether we are engaging youth and teaching them about our issue area, holding formal training on how to lead in our field or organization, or recruiting underrepresented populations to serve on subcommittees before joining the board or leadership, it is important to actively prepare future leaders.
Consider our recruitment methods — A common concern with increasing diversity and inclusion is that we can’t find the right people. Before beginning recruitment, we should expand our networks to develop relationships with new groups by intentionally reaching out to organizations and leaders in that community. Many organizations are adopting versions of the Rooney Rule, a National Football League policy that requires league teams to interview ethnic-minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.
Focus on retention — We often put work into recruitment, but not on retention. We can help retain diverse team members by addressing problems immediately, confronting our personal biases and those of our team members, and structuring opportunities for members to learn from each other.
Ultimately, Arlington will have to determine our own calculus on which diversities we prioritize, and when and how we measure progress. As a start, we must sustain the dialogue and action that we have begun, no matter how uncomfortable it may become or how vulnerable we may appear.
Krysta Jones has lived in Arlington since 2004 and is active in local politics and civic life. This column is in no way associated with or represents any person, government, organization or body — except Krysta herself.
We lost a tree in my neighborhood during the storms last month. It was a large tree that provided shade for the nearby tennis and basketball courts. It will take decades for a new tree to provide that benefit for the park. But as a forward-thinking community, we plant trees now knowing that they will provide shade in the future.
This is an apt metaphor for housing affordability. We need to build new housing now so that we have older homes that will be affordable for middle-income families in the future. Therefore, when we evaluate our zoning policy or a site plan, we shouldn’t only judge it by the cost of the new housing that will be produced, but also on the cost of the older housing that it will become.
It is easy to complain about a new apartment building because it will charge extremely high rent when it opens. But this is the beginning of the building’s lifecycle that will eventually end up as a more affordable property.
Searching through advertisements in the Washington Post from the 1960s-1980s, I found many examples of buildings once described as “luxurious” that now have rents affordable to those making 60-80% of the Area Median Income (approximately $50,000-$90,000, depending on household size).
For example, RiverHouse in Pentagon City was described as “luxurious” when it first opened. It was Northern Virginia’s first high-rise apartment building and it had air conditioning, which was rare for homes in 1957. Now, River House one of the most affordable buildings in the area and is home to many long-term residents. Older buildings are cheaper because they have fewer amenities and lack the on-trend upgrades of the newest buildings.
The process can work in the opposite direction as well. Older properties can get renovated and command high prices. Every year, Arlington loses market-rate apartment buildings that are affordable to moderate- and low-income households. Every redevelopment is a noticeable loss because we don’t have a pipeline of aging buildings that can provide affordable options.
Preserving these older, more affordable homes is one strategy for maximizing housing options in Arlington. We can also accept that older buildings will eventually be renovated and made more expensive and rely on a new crop of aging buildings to take their place in our housing ecosystem. When we allow enough housing to meet demand, there will always be a segment of older, less flashy buildings are affordable to lower- and middle-income households.
Blocking new construction because it results in “luxury apartments” is the same as objecting to a newly planted tree because it doesn’t yet provide shade. Let’s plan for future growth that we know is coming so that we can have homes for people at all income levels and at all stages of their lives.
Tweet via @ShaneDPhillips/Twitter
Jane Fiegen Green, an Arlington resident since 2015, proudly rents an apartment in Pentagon City with her family. By day, she is the Membership Director for Food and Water Watch and by night she tries to navigate the Arlington Way. Opinions here are her own.
It’s the last day of July. August is hours away and fall is within sight — mercifully, given the heat wave over the past few weeks.
This post is being written in advance (even editors need a half day of vacation sometimes) so without knowing the topic of today’s Beermonger post, a word of caution to beer fans: stock up on your shandies now, before you know it they’ll be gone and only Oktoberfest and pumpkin seasonal beers will be on the shelves (if they’re not there already).
Here are this week’s most-read articles on ARLnow:
- Petition Asks Arlington Schools to Ditch Microsoft Teams and Use Zoom Instead
- Arlington, Neighborhoods Top Lists of Best Places in U.S.
- Protesters Blocking Key Bridge, Rosslyn Intersection
- New Restaurant Coming to Arlington Heights Neighborhood
- Large Comcast Outage Reported in Arlington
- It’s Time to Ditch the County Logo, Arlington NAACP Says
- Ten Questions You Might Have About Recycling in Arlington, Answered
- 2020 Turns Arlington Online Forums into Dumpster Fires
- Another Carjacking Reported in Arlington Over the Weekend
Feel free to discuss those or any other topics of interest in the comments. Have a nice weekend!
Flickr pool photo by Vincent