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Police presence at Wakefield High School Thursday afternoon (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Wakefield High School is back open, with heavy hearts and extra vigilance.

Last week a student died in the hospital two days after an apparent overdose in a school bathroom. This is the first day of school since his passing.

The school was also locked down Thursday and then closed Friday due to a potentially armed trespasser who was reported to be seeking out a specific student as part of an ongoing dispute, leading to an arrest.

Arlington County police have increased patrols around the school today, with an extra focus on arrival and dismissal times, according to an email to families obtained by ARLnow. That’s in response to rumors of new threats against students circulating on social media.

Parents tell us that the rumors have students worried about a shooting at the school. They say that the trespassing stemmed from a dispute between two gangs and may be related to a recent shooting in Arlington.

“I am not sending my student to school today,” one parent told us this morning.

Another parent, however, noted that the apparent social media threat could also be interpreted simply as a reference to a music video.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the ACPD will provide increased patrols around Wakefield [Monday] including at arrival and dismissal,” Wakefield principal Chris Willmore said in the email to families. “The safety and security of our students and staff is our priority and we will keep you informed of any developments as we are able.”

No marked police units were spotted around the school as of 9:30 a.m., according to ARLnow staff photographer Jay Westcott.

Police have only described the events leading to the trespassing as “an ongoing dispute” between the suspect and a “juvenile victim.”

The full email to families is below.

Dear Wakefield Families:

We are aware of concerning social media posts circulating. The Arlington County Police Department (ACPD) and APS Safety and Security staff have been alerted and are investigating. Out of an abundance of caution, the ACPD will provide increased patrols around Wakefield tomorrow including at arrival and dismissal. The safety and security of our students and staff is our priority and we will keep you informed of any developments as we are able.

I understand this continues to pose a significant strain on our wellbeing as a community. We will have additional counseling support available tomorrow and will structure our day to incorporate community circle opportunities for students to share their thoughts and feelings if they need assistance.

If your student needs to speak with their counselor, please reach out to the Wakefield counseling office […]

Sincerely,

Dr. Chris Willmore
Principal

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Police and firefighters on scene of a reported overdose at Wakefield High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 11:55 a.m.) The teen found unconscious in a Wakefield High School boys bathroom Tuesday after an apparent overdose has died.

“The Arlington County Police Department is conducting a death investigation following the teen’s passing yesterday at the hospital,” ACPD said in a statement this morning. “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner will determine cause and manner of death.”

The name of the student was not given but he was identified in an online fundraising campaign and by a speaker at last night’s Arlington School Board meeting as Sergio Flores. He was reported to be 14 years old in the initial fire department dispatch on Tuesday.

A GoFundMe campaign to help pay for his funeral has raised more than $22,000 as of publication time.

“We want to give Sergio Flores the memorial he deserves, to honor his memory and say our last goodbyes,” said the page. “Sergio was a sweet caring person, he was someone who showed what real love was either family or friend wise.”

“He was someone that made everyone laugh he always had jokes he always wanted to put a smile on his friends and families face,” the page continued. “He would always be dancing with music or no music. Even if he wasn’t having a good day he always tried his best to make people happy and smile and you will be watching over all your friends and family… we love you fly high little one️.”

In recent months numerous parents and advocates have sounded the alarm to ARLnow about opioid use and overdoses in Arlington’s public schools, including middle schools and high schools.

Arlington police responded to Arlington Public Schools buildings seven times for reported overdoses between January and October 2022, according to ACPD stats. APS has been trying to combat a twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health crises among students, leading to what is now at least three student deaths since Christmas.

Still, some parents say there is more the school system should be doing. A parent march is planned in front of Wakefield High School at noon today, though classes were cancelled after yesterday’s lockdown for a potential armed trespasser.

“Say his name. Sergio Flores,” Judith Davis, Wakefield High School PTSA president, said during blistering remarks at last night’s School Board meeting. She accused APS of a “lack of leadership and inaction.”

Every single one of you in this room has been told by parents, teachers, students, PTSAs, and community leaders that we will have someone die at Wakefield. Since we came back from Covid, that has been the constant conversation and you all failed to address it. After what happened Tuesday, the only two people who contacted parents, students or PTSA were (Chief of Staff) Stephen Linkous and (School Board member) Mary Kadera, while her mother was dying. Entirely unacceptable. Stop celebrating your collective lack of performance and lack of leadership. It resulted in a loss of life. Every one of you knew this day would come. Say his name. Sergio Flores. He died. This kid is not going back to his family. The action items you claim were already happening are not in place at Wakefield. Lack of leadership and inaction is what resulted in what happened on Tuesday and what happened today. Where is the accountability for what happened? Do better. Stop celebrating yourself and talk to the community. Talk to parents. Talk to students.

Four other teens were treated by medics at Wakefield on Tuesday, at least some of whom were believed to have drug-related symptoms. Medics were also dispatched to the school yesterday, during dismissal, for a possible student overdose, according to dispatch recordings.

Police are asking the public for any additional information about Tuesday’s fatal overdose.

“This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected],” said ACPD. “Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).”

(Updated at 4:35 p.m.) There was a significant police presence at Wakefield High School today after a possible drug overdose.

One student was transported via ambulance from the school in critical condition after being found unresponsive. Four other students were treated on the scene for unspecified issues, according to the Arlington County Police Department.

Police and medics responded to the school’s medical clinic and an upper floor boys bathroom, where CPR was performed on the student who was then rushed to the hospital, according to initial reports.

A police press release issued this afternoon said the student who was taken to the hospital remains in critical condition.

The Arlington County Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division is investigating an apparent drug overdose at Wakefield High School.

At approximately 9:27 a.m. on January 31, police and fire were dispatched to the 1300 block of S. Dinwiddie Street for the report of an unresponsive juvenile male inside a bathroom. Medics administered emergency medical aid before transporting the juvenile to an area hospital. He remains hospitalized in critical condition. Four additional juveniles were evaluated on scene by medics.

Responding officers processed the scene, collected evidence and spoke with witnesses. Based on the preliminary information, this incident is being investigated as an apparent drug overdose. In accordance with Virginia Code, additional details are not releasable due to the patient’s age.

This remains an active investigation and anyone with information related to this incident is asked to contact the Arlington County Police Department’s Tip Line at 703-228-4180 or [email protected] Information may also be reported anonymously through the Arlington County Crime Solvers hotline at 1-866-411-TIPS (8477).

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, help is available and there are numerous treatment resources available in Arlington.

This morning, during the emergency response, Wakefield’s principal sent an email to families, noting that “students are being held in their second period classes at the request of the Arlington County Police Department.”

The school ultimately dismissed early, cancelled all evening activities and has postponed tonight’s athletic events.

“Due to the disruption caused by the ongoing ACPD investigation, we are dismissing students early,” Wakefield principal Chris Wilmore said in a subsequent email. Students will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. and all after-school and evening activities are canceled. Students will be provided with a grab-and-go lunch if needed as they leave.”

In recent months numerous parents and advocates have sounded the alarm to ARLnow about opioid use and overdoses in Arlington’s public schools, including middle schools and high schools.

Arlington police responded to APS buildings seven times for reported overdoses between January and October 2022, according to ACPD stats. APS has been trying to combat a twin epidemic of opioid use and mental health crises among students, leading to at least two student deaths since Christmas, ARLnow reported earlier this month.

This afternoon, Wilmore sent the following email to families, noting that “additional counseling services will be available for students on Wednesday.”

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Taylor Elementary School (photo via Google Maps)

(Updated at 4 p.m.) After two days off to start the week, Taylor Elementary students will be participating in virtual learning today due to a major maintenance issue.

“Taylor Elementary School will move to virtual instruction on Wed, Jan. 25, due to the repair work underway to restore power and heat in the building,” the school said on its website.

After uncertainty about the reopening, however, the school’s PTA president told ARLnow this afternoon that Taylor is now expected to reopen Thursday.

The several day closure was caused by building system failures.

“There is an issue with the HVAC and electrical systems,” Arlington Public Schools spokesman Frank Bellavia tells ARLnow. “Crews have been working since Monday morning to identify the problem so that we can promptly resolve the issue and return to in-person instruction.”

Parents were instructed to pick up iPads at the school this morning for virtual learning. Several expressed frustration with the situation via tips to ARLnow.

“Families have received no other information and cannot plan accordingly,” one parent told us.

In an email to families last night, the school said “we are all doing our best.”

“In the past three years in education, we have truly learned the importance of flexibility,” the email said. “By participating in online learning tomorrow, we can ensure that our students continue to be connected to school and engaged in some learning activities aligned to grade level standards. “

“If your student is stressed or anxious about online learning, please tell the teacher via email,” the school added.

Taylor PTA President Rebecca Villane says that families are frustrated with the situation.

“The forced closure of Taylor Elementary School for the past 3 days has been frustrating for the Taylor community and particularly challenging for families with limited resources, who depend on schools for meals, intensive educational interventions for struggling learners, and supervision of young children during the workday,” Villane told ARLnow via email.

“The last 72 hours have shed light on tremendous communication, prioritization, and contingency planning issues for continued instruction at APS,” she continued. “We don’t yet know the source of this outage, but in any event we want to see APS provide information on outstanding known issues with our aging school buildings across the county, and a timeline of action that APS is going to take to address these serious deficiencies.”

“[Superintendent] Duran and the Facilities and Operations department owe our students and families better than this situation repeating itself in the future, at Taylor or elsewhere,” Villane added.

Photo via Google Maps

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Former Arlington Education Association President Ingrid Gant delivered remarks during a press conference in September 2021 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) A former president of the Arlington teachers union, who was ousted last spring, has been charged with embezzling more than $400,000 from the organization.

Ingrid Gant, 54, of Woodbridge, was arrested yesterday (Monday) in Prince William County on four counts of embezzlement. She was taken to the county’s jail and later released on an unsecured bond, according to a press release from the Fairfax County Police Department today (Tuesday).

Fox 5 first reported the arrest.

Gant led the Arlington Education Association (AEA) for six years before being ousted last spring along with her executive board.

FCPD says it was notified of her potential theft last September after an internal audit determined she had “failed to provide financial reports and failed to file tax returns,” raising concerns from Arlington Education Association board members, per the release.

“Calibre CPA Group was hired to conduct an audit of the funds. After six months of reviewing the activity, it was determined Gant embezzled $410,782.10 throughout her tenure as president,” the release said. “Detectives were notified and began their investigation, while working closely with the accounting firm and AEA to review the documentation. Detectives determined Gant provided herself with multiple bonuses and used debit cards for unauthorized purchases.”

Gant was terminated on March 30, 2022, according to police. By April, the National Education Association, which represents educators and staff from public school through higher education, was temporarily leading the AEA under an emergency “protective trusteeship,” ARLnow first reported.

At the time, sources said they were frustrated that the organization had effectively stopped operating, just as the collective bargaining process was starting to ramp up. No one would answer the phone, the website was down for two months and the meeting when members were supposed to launch their executive board campaigns was canceled, raising doubts among members about the fairness of the election.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for the Virginia Education Association said in a memo that the union’s finances were in disarray and not communicated to members. Local leaders admitted the disorganization in a memo to members, saying AEA began the 2021-22 fiscal year without a budget and owed $732,000 in dues to the state and national unions.

AEA had also picked up some negative press that year for publishing a press release with a number of grammatical and stylistic errors.

Detectives are asking anyone with information about this case to please call the FCPD Major Crimes Bureau at 703-246-7800. Tips can also be submitted anonymously through Fairfax County Crime Solvers by phone at 866-411-8477 and by web.

AEA headquarters is located in the Bailey’s Crossroads neighborhood of Fairfax County, just over the Arlington border.

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Dozens of Arlington Public Schools students now hop aboard the system’s first electric school buses.

When students returned from winter break, the county and APS replaced two of its 190 diesel engine buses with emissions-free “and almost noise-free” battery-powered electric ones, the county has announced.

The first two buses are transporting students with disabilities and can each carry up to 38 students. They are expected to log a typical 8,000 miles annually.

After the buses arrived in November, drivers and mechanics received vendor training. The third bus is expected to arrive by the end of January.

“Officials will study data, driving and service experiences with the new vehicles to explore possible expansion of the [battery electric school buses] inventory,” per the county press release.

The buses were purchased with a $795,000 state grant awarded in 2021. As part of the Clean School Bus Program, 19 Virginia districts were awarded with enough funding to replace a total of 83 diesel buses with electric or propane ones.

“Funding for the grant comes from the Volkswagen (VW) Environmental Mitigation Trust, intended to provide the state with about $93 million to mitigate the excess nitrogen oxide emissions caused by VW’s use of illegal emissions testing defeat devices in certain VW diesel vehicles,” the county said in a press release announcing the funding in August 2021.

The Arlington Dept. of Environmental Services Equipment Bureau services the school system’s fleet of vehicles as well as the county government’s entire fleet, from the Trades Center in Shirlington.

“The County is recognized as a leader in environmental sustainability efforts,” it said in its announcement. “This month, Arlington announced it had achieved its goal of 100% renewable electricity use at all County facilities, two years ahead of schedule.”

Arlington County adopted in 2019 a Community Energy Plan that aimed to power all county facilities with renewable electricity by 2025. Now, it has two more goals to tackle: By 2035, the county aims to power 100% of Arlington’s electricity with renewable sources, and by 2050, the county aims to be carbon neutral.

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MedStar Capitals Iceplex in Ballston (via Monumental Sports and Entertainment)

More than 800 Arlington Public Schools students are being invited to a special Washington Capitals practice later this week.

Caps star Alexander Ovechkin scored his 802nd career goal last month, passing Gordie Howe on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Now APS students will help Ovie celebrate the achievement.

“Ovechkin scored his 21st and 22nd goals of the season and the 802nd of his career Dec. 23 against the Winnipeg Jets at Capital One Arena, passing Howe (801) for second place on the NHL’s all-time goals list,” the Caps said in a press release. “Ovechkin now only trails Wayne Gretzky (894) for the most goals in NHL history.”

“To celebrate the historic milestone, Ovechkin will host more than 800 children from Arlington Public Schools for a celebration at the Capitals Jan. 13 practice,” the press release continued. “Fourth- through fifth-grade students from five Arlington schools will be in attendance at practice. All students will receive special Ovi 800 T-shirts from Ovechkin and the Capitals. Leading up to the visit, the classes will participate in 800-related number activities in their physical education and other classes, such as math and reading.”

Students will take photos with Ovechkin after Friday’s skate, the Capitals said.

It’s one of several community initiatives launched by the team to help mark the milestone, including a donation to the American Special Hockey Association, programming at local ice rinks, and Ovechkin granting “multiple wishes later this season through wish-granting organizations.”

Contacted by ARLnow, a Washington Capitals spokesperson declined to saw which APS schools are among the five that have been invited to the event.

“We are not disclosing which schools are attending,” the spokesperson said.

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Former Arlington Public Schools internal auditor John Mickevice (via Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington Public Schools appears to be looking for a new internal auditor.

The job posting comes after a national government auditors association told APS that the school system asked John Mickevice, the former internal audit director, to sign a problematic contract, per a letter obtained by ARLnow.

When reached for comment, Mickevice declined to discuss what happened but confirmed he is no longer with APS. The job listing for his former position was posted last Wednesday.

Before his departure, the Association of Local Government Auditors (ALGA) had written to the Arlington School Board, saying Mickevive was asked to sign a contract that conflicts with its own policies as well as best practices. The author — ALGA Advocacy Committee Chair Amanda Noble — confirmed with ARLnow that she sent the letter.

In response to questions about Mickevice’s job status and the letter, a spokesman for APS told ARLnow, “I don’t have any details and I can’t comment on personnel matters.”

According to the ALGA letter, dated as of late August, the contract would have allowed the Superintendent to terminate the Internal Audit Director without cause with 90 days of written notice. It also would have allowed the Superintendent to assign duties to the audit director.

Noble wrote that this conflicts with APS policy as well as with international auditor standards and government auditing standards from the U.S. Comptroller General.

Per APS policy:

The Superintendent shall oversee only day-to-day administrative matters such as authorizing the IA’s leave, travel or minor purchases. The IA shall otherwise be independent of the Superintendent’s supervision. The IA’s annual evaluation shall be conducted by the two School Board members of the Committee.

APS policy and international and national standards alike “protect the independence and objectivity of the internal audit function by placing the internal audit function outside the reporting line of areas subject to audit and preventing management’s interference in the auditor’s performance of work and reporting results,” Noble said.

In other words, such a policy is set up to ensure school officials do not influence the outcome of audits.

Noble says the auditor’s independence would be “greatly strengthened by clarifying district policy regarding appointment and removal of the [Internal Auditor] Director and changing the audit committee composition.”

Currently, the committee that directs the Internal Auditor Director and to which the auditor answers is made of two School Board members as well as the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent. Half of voting members are management, which Noble says increases the chance of interference in the audit process.

Noble says that is not typical of most committees.

“In a recent internal audit benchmarking report prepared by the Council of Great City Schools, no respondents reported that their audit committee included the Superintendent or any member of management,” she said. “All respondents having an audit committee reported the audit committee composition was board members only, community advisors only, or a mix of board members and community advisors.”

The sending of the letter and Mickevice’s departure occurred less than a year after his scathing review of issues that plagued the Virtual Learning Program, which he said earlier this year was “an indigestible meal that is going to make you sick.”

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As a Special Victims Unit detective with Arlington County police, and as a graduate student and a mom, Tiffanie McGuire does not have a lot of free time.

But she makes time for coaching the Dorothy Hamm Middle School girls and boys soccer teams, something she has been doing since 2019 when she was a School Resource Officer. Over the last three years, she has watched her players become leaders who understand personal responsibility and sportsmanship.

“I have seen many players come through and have watched them grow in both the game and in their personality,” she tells ARLnow. “My sixth graders often come in quiet, recently transitioning from elementary school, and are chosen because there is usually something in them that we see that can be developed with time. By 8th grade, they are the leaders of the team.”

As an SRO, she says consistency was key for forming relationships with middle schoolers, who can be a challenging bunch.

“Pre-teens are beginning to find themselves and push boundaries with adults,” she said. “Finding a way to connect with them took consistency and showing them that I was there to be an adult they can trust, not get them in trouble.”

She stuck it out as a coach event after the School Board voted to remove School Resource Officers from school grounds in 2021. The move responded to calls from some community organizations, including the Arlington branch of the NAACP, citing higher arrest rates for Black and Latino kids.

Throughout all that change, she says she has earned the respect of her players, which she considers her proudest accomplishment.

“Many of these players have been under the same coaches for many years and to them, I have to prove that my style will work,” she said. “Kids question and compare their other teams to this one, and we are bringing together players that have all played on separate teams.”

McGuire played travel soccer from middle school through her senior year of high school. She decided to become a police officer in college, when she realized her sports-related injuries would prevent her previous plans to join the Army. Having her daughter directed her toward working with kids as an officer.

“I realized I wanted to be a positive influence in the lives of other children the way I would want someone to be for my daughter,” she said.

After SROs were removed from schools, McGuire moved to the Youth Outreach Unit that ACPD formed to maintain those student connections outside of the school environment.

“Having great relationships with community organizations and the schools meant that we were not starting from scratch, and everyone loved having us come participate in activities,” she said.

Since becoming a detective and taking on a second master’s degree and undergraduate teaching, McGuire has looked forward to the much-needed break from work even more.

“There are times it feels very overwhelming, but everything I do brings me joy and has a purpose,” she said. “I considered giving up coaching, but in my heart, I knew I would hate the decision and miss the kids.”‘ Read More

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4420 Fairfax Drive in Ballston as of June 2021 (via Google Maps)

(Updated 12:40 p.m.) Arlington Community High School is set to take over part of an office building in Ballston next year.

The semi-nomadic school has had many temporary homes over the years, and is currently located in the former Fenwick building (800 S. Walter Reed Drive).

Now, it will move into the fourth and fifth floors, a space totaling 24,288 square feet, of the office building at 4420 Fairfax Drive. The building is also the headquarters of growing catering marketplace Hungry.

The Arlington School Board signed the lease, from January 2023 to Sept. 30, 2026, earlier this month, says spokesman Frank Bellavia.

The School Board heard and took action on approving the lease in its meeting on Oct. 27. Normally, it hears an item in one meeting and acts on it in a subsequent meeting.

The reason for combining these steps, per a presentation, is that “lease negotiations took longer than expected and staff wishes to begin design work immediately to help mitigate project delays.”

APS will move the school over the summer and students will start in this temporary location in September, Bellavia said.

The school system must seek a Special Use Permit from Arlington County to allow educational use in the office building. That use permit request will go before the Arlington County Board in January.

APS will spend an estimated $1.5 million on building modifications and approximately $80,000 a month on the lease. It estimates the rent will be around $90,000 a month in the final year of the lease.

This will be the last temporary home before moving to a building at Amazon’s second headquarters campus in Pentagon City.

Amazon has pledged to house the school in one of the office buildings it will build at the corner of S. Eads Street and 12th Street S. as part of the approved second phase of its HQ2 project.

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Recently, a thriving, 200-plus Whatsapp group for Kenmore Middle School’s Spanish-speaking parents received unexpected membership requests.

They came from Ethiopian and Mongolian parents, who told the group’s moderator, Janeth Valenzuela, they could find ways to overcome the language barrier.

Valenzuela — who has spent years organizing the Hispanic parents so they can navigate and volunteer in Arlington Public Schools — let them in.

“One thing I’ve noticed in all these years in advocacy is that if we only focus on Hispanic parents, we miss out on the parents who are in need, but they don’t have leaders who represent them because their community is smaller,” she said. “Parents need to belong to the school community.”

So she and another parent, Marianne Talbot, decided to expand the parent group and rename it Kenmore Community Families in Action. The group, which launched this fall, provides low-budget family and community events, a family support group, an after-school student club, a speaker series and regular Zoom conversations with Principal David McBride.

“Education goes hand-in-hand between the schools, the parents and the community,” Valenzuela said. “If the three don’t work together well, we don’t accomplish anything.”

Recently, the group invited a representative from a tutoring service APS uses to help a few dozen students set up tutoring accounts on their iPads. But it also does fun things, like hand out certificates to students after they completed a mile run for P.E. class.

“We wanted to show the students who don’t have it easy… that we may not understand and we can’t walk a mile in their shoes but we appreciate them doing it,” Talbot said.

Talbot says the group is a non-competitive alternative to the local Parent-Teacher Association. She resigned as president of the Kenmore PTA after not seeing eye-to-eye with other parents on how it should be run. The PTA did not return a request for comment.

The co-founders said Kenmore Community Families in Action meets the needs of caregivers who don’t typically attend PTA meetings, aren’t used to their structure or don’t feel welcome there.

One reason for low attendance rates among immigrants is lack of representation, says Elder Julio Basurto, who provides Spanish-language interpretation at PTA meetings.

“I have seen as an interpreter that we are underrepresented throughout the county… I went to Drew School, which is almost 50% Latino, and in the last meeting there wasn’t one parent for me to interpret for. That tells you a lot.”

The rebirth of the group comes amid a broader conversation about whether PTAs are representative. School Board-elect Bethany Sutton recently said PTAs and their influence in advisory groups create an “echo chamber.”

“I don’t think PTAs are representative of parents, generally speaking,” Sutton said in an Arlington Parents for Education candidate forum ahead of the election on Nov. 8. “It’s a small microcosm of people who have availability, energy and commitment to do certain things at certain times of the day, week or year.”

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