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Zahra Rahimi (staff photo by James Cullum)

Afghan students living in Alexandria will premiere an eight-minute documentary this Friday on their experiences during the 2021 evacuation from Afghanistan.

The eight-minute documentary “Desperate” was produced and directed by Zahra Rahimi, an Alexandria City High School senior who has gained notoriety over the past six months for her work helping her fellow Afghan students learn English. It will premiere this Friday at 6 p.m. at the Del Pepper Community Resource Center (4850 Mark Center Drive).

The documentary chronicles the story of three Afghan girls who fled their home country in the summer of 2021, as well as their challenges arriving in the U.S. Rahimi also tells viewers at the end of the documentary that special immigrant visas need to be processed faster by the U.S. State Department.

“My intention with this documentary is to be a voice for women and girls in Afghanistan who are not here right now,” Rahimi said. “Their rights are taken away from them and they are sitting at home every day. My other intention is for the visas to be processed faster, because there’s thousands of immigrants in other countries such as Pakistan or in refugee camps, still waiting for their visas to come to the United States.”

The film was also produced by Northern Virginia Resettling Afghan Families Together (NOVA RAFT), a nonprofit where Rahimi teaches English to dozens of children. Her work teaching English and founding an Afghan club at ACHS led to her being recognized earlier this year by First Lady Jill Biden as one of 15 “Girls Leading Change” around the country.

NOVA RAFT has helped hundreds of families transition to the U.S.

“Over the past two years, Alexandria has gained several thousand new residents who have made the city home after the tragic fall of their country to the Taliban,” NOVA RAFT founder Dan Altman told ALXnow. “The documentary and the presentation after is also a tribute to all those that incredible people who helped welcome them here; especially their teachers.”

Rahimi founded a club for Afghan students and helped create an English literacy program teaching dozens of refugee children with Northern Virginia Resettling Afghan Families Together.

Dining in Old Town. (Staff photo by James Cullum)

All arguments aside, Alexandria’s equity standards and economic prospects have been declared sound.

Yesterday, the city announced that S&P Global Ratings and Moody’s Investors Service reaffirmed Alexandria’s ‘AAA’ bond rating. The city has maintained the designation since 1992, and it equates to a good credit rating for the city to get low-interest rates from bond investors to provide funding for multiple projects.

“This is the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ for the city’s fiscal management and the state of our municipal balance sheet,” Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow. “This allows the City to borrow at the lowest-possible rates and maximize taxpayer dollars as we invest in critical infrastructure projects, including two new schools.”

This city said that before the end of the year it will issue $258 million of tax-exempt general obligation bonds to pay for capital improvement projects, like the Minnie Howard Redevelopment Project at Alexandria City High School, the newly constructed Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, and to the West End project at the former Landmark Mall property.

The Nexus at West Alex rendering (via AHDC)

Alexandria also announced Thursday that it got a perfect score in The Human Rights Campaign’s 2023 Municipal Equality Index. The city, which got its third annual perfect score, is one of more than 500 municipalities across the country evaluated on the inclusiveness of their laws, policies and services toward LGBTQ+ residents.

Last year, city leaders decried Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin’s recommendations restricting transgender bathroom and pronoun use in public schools. In July, Alexandria City Public Schools put out a statement refusing to comply with the recommendations.

“(W)e want to reaffirm our commitment to all students, staff and families, including our LGBTQIA+ community, that ACPS will continue to both implement and develop gender affirming policies for all ACPS students,” School Board Chair Michelle Rief and SUperintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said in their joint statement. “School Board Policy JB: Nondiscrimination in Education protects students from discrimination due to gender expression, gender identity, sexual harassment and transgender status.”

Wilson said that equity was prioritized by City Council in its 2021 ALL Alexandria resolution, as well as by the city’s LGBTQ+ Task Force.

“I’m thrilled to see that paying off, and our efforts being recognized with another perfect score,” he said. “But this recognition is not the mark of a finished job. We have to keep working to ensure that Alexandria is an inclusive environment for everyone.”

George Washington Middle School (Staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) accidentally shared private student information in a George Washington Middle School newsletter, though an ACPS administrator said fortunately only one person outside of ACPS clicked the link before it was corrected.

In an email to ACPS parents, ACPS Chief of Accountability and Research Clinton Page said the newsletter had information originally intended just for a limited number of staff. Specifically, the newsletter provided access to:

  • student names
  • student identification numbers
  • English learner status and special education status
  • current year attendance
  • measures of academic progress

Page said home addresses and social security numbers were not included in the document.

“It is my understanding that this link was active for approximately 19 hours, and that this information was accessed by only one person outside of ACPS,” Page said. “We have been in contact with this person and they have agreed to delete the link and disregard the information.”

Page said as soon as ACPS was aware of the issue the link was immediately deactivated.

“We are taking steps to ensure that such links can only be accessed by the appropriate staff members through data security improvements and additional staff training,” Page said.

Page said there’s no reason to believe the incident poses a risk to students.

“While some of your student’s information may have been viewed, we have no reason to believe that this incident poses any risk to your student and do not believe you need to take any action,” Page said.

Alexandria Police lights (staff photo by James Cullum)

An Alexandria middle school student allegedly admitted to her parents and police that she sent a threatening message to her school’s Instagram page last month, according to a recently released search warrant affidavit.

On Oct. 11 (Wednesday), at around 5 p.m., a now-unavailable Instagram account sent a direct message to an Alexandria middle school’s Instagram page and said, “Be prepared for October 12, 2023,” and then said that “11th and 12th grade upper school teachers” were targeted and that there were “many more who must suffer.”

“This message was then followed by 5 photos of what appeared to be stock images of firearms, (a) pipe bomb, and machetes,” police said in the search warrant affidavit.

There are only two middle schools in Alexandria — George Washington Middle School (1005 Mount Vernon Avenue) and Francis C. Hammond Middle School (4646 Seminary Road).

School staff alerted police of the threats, according to the search warrant affidavit.

Police contacted Meta, Inc., the parent company for Instagram, which provided a T-Mobile phone number. The number was matched with a home in Old Town, according to the search warrant affidavit. Police then interviewed the account holder, who said that the phone is used by her daughter, who is a student at an Alexandria middle school.

The student admitted to her mother and police that she sent the Instagram messages, according to the search warrant affidavit.

“(The juvenile) explained that she had utilized her black Google Android cellphone to send the threat and had used online sources in her cellphone to research the… photos,” according to the search warrant affidavit.

Alexandria City Public Schools would not say which middle school was targeted, or whether the student was disciplined.

“Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) does not comment on student matters,” Julia Burgos, the ACPS community relations chief, told ALXnow.

A student walkout at Alexandria City High School protesting for a ceasefire to the Israel-Hamas war, Nov. 9, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Students walked out of classes at Alexandria City High School’s King Street campus this morning to support a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Hundreds of students at the school, which has an enrollment of approximately 4,000 students, engaged in a walk-out protest — joining international protests against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.

“There are Palestinian Jews dying every day,” one student speaker said. “We came here for peace. We are not spreading hate today. We are here to help stop a genocide.”

Chants of “No more hiding, no more fear, genocide is crystal clear” were heard from across King Street. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) said news media would not be allowed on school grounds during the walkout.

Most of the students returned to the school after the protest, though some left the campus.

“The protest was great,” one senior in a group of four told ALXnow. “We’re not going back today. We’re ditching school.”

Rabbi David Spinrad from the Beth El Hebrew Congregation stood across from the school with an Israeli flag.

“I’m an American and a Jew, and as an American, I respect the first amendment and people’s freedom of expression,” Spinrad said, “but that freedom of expression doesn’t extend to hate speech, it doesn’t include anti-semitism, which is far more nuanced, particularly in this situation than the vast majority of them have ever been educated around.”

Spinrad said he wants ACPS to ensure the protection of Jewish students at the school during the protests and would be interested to hear about the specifics of a ceasefire.

“If every one of the 248 hostages were immediately returned, if Hamas surrendered unconditionally, then I think a ceasefire is absolutely something that’s appropriate,” Spinrad. “But as long as Israel is fighting a state-sponsored terrorist organization that abuts the state of Israel, their responsibility is first and foremost to their citizens, including those 248 hostages.”

ACHS Executive Principal Alexander Duncan III notified parents via email on Wednesday afternoon that school staff have planned for a “peaceful and safe environment for our students.”

Duncan’s message is below:

It is our understanding that tomorrow (Thurs., Nov. 9, 2023) is a national day of protest related to current events in the Middle East. We have learned that there will be at least one student walkout at Alexandria City High School (ACHS) – King Street Campus that is scheduled for 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. We want to assure you that plans are in place as we work to ensure a peaceful and safe environment for our students.

As students exercise their right to free speech during the school day tomorrow, ACHS administrators and staff, in addition to Central Office staff, will be prepared and positioned to ensure that this walkout is conducted in a safe and respectful manner, with as little disruption to normal operations as possible. As stated in our Student Code of Conduct, we ask students to be kind, respectful and cooperative to prevent problems and solve problems in a peaceful and collaborative way.

For any student who has concerns about these ongoing events and wants to talk to a counselor or another trusted adult, there are resources in place. At ACHS, students can always reach out to a counselor or another Student Support Team (SST) member, administrator, or any trusted adult in the school if they are in need of help. Our students can also reach out to CrisisText and Crisis Link at any time, 24/7, through the contacts below:

  • Text: CONNECT to 85511
  • Call CrisisLink: 703-527-4077

We have collaborated with our Safety and Security Team to ensure that we have adequate security supports in place. The safety and security of our students and staff are of utmost priority.

Students also staged a walk-out protest earlier this year over the cancellation of lunchtime activities.

James Cullum and Vernon Miles contributed to this story

Zahra Rahimi sits outside Alexandria City High School (staff photo by James Cullum)

Zahra Rahimi spoke no English when she and her family moved from Afghanistan to Alexandria four years ago.

Fast forward to October, when First Lady Jill Biden recognized her at the White House as one of 15 “Girls Leading Change” around the country.

The 17-year-old Rahimi, who one day wants to run for Congress, recently sat down with ALXnow to discuss the honor and her journey.  The Alexandria City High School senior is the eldest of six siblings and moved with her family to Alexandria in 2019, where she first enrolled in the International Academy at Francis C. Hammond Middle School.

“That’s the goal,” Rahimi said, when asked of a future Congressional run. “Since childhood, my goal has always been to be a voice for others, and share other people’s voices, because I know how it feels to not have the power, or to be unheard.”

After the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, Rahimi founded a club for Afghan students and helped create an English literacy program teaching dozens of refugee children with Northern Virginia Resettling Afghan Families Together. It was NoVA RAFT founder Dan Altman who nominated Rahimi for the Girls Leading Change award.

Last year, Rahimi was also named as a student representative on the School Board. She says that her work with the Board allows international students to have a seat at the table.

With an eye on becoming a politician, Rahimi is an advocate for women’s rights and, while automatically accepted to George Mason University, is still applying to and waiting to hear back from colleges.

ALXnow: What do you miss the most from Afghanistan?

Rahimi: Aside from my family, I miss Afghanistan. That’s the place where I was born, where I grew up, where I have memories — not one, not two, I have thousands of memories that I made there. It’s just my country. I was born there. I belong there. It’s the place that I will never forget.

ALXnow: How long did it take for you to feel comfortable speaking English?

Rahimi: I’m still learning English, and I still have some difficulties. But after six months, I could communicate or ask questions in English, even though I was still learning.

ALXnow: What’s the best part of attending all of those School Board meetings? Aren’t they boring?

Rahimi: I think it not only gives me but also other students, especially students at the International Academy… someone to be a voice for them or share their opinions in the board meetings. It’s made me aware of how people are thinking, how everything is going on in the community.

Something else that really, really taught me over these past two years is that believing in myself, that I cannot only advocate for myself and for my rights, I also have the ability and opportunity to do it for others.

ALXnow: When you were nominated, you had to do a Zoom call with the White House. What was that like?

Rahimi: I spoke with a group from the White House and they asked about my background and the things that I was doing and what I thought about America. Then I sent an email to Mr. Altman and told him that I just finished the interview, and he told me that he got an email from [the White House] because they were connected and he said that I made them cry.

ALXnow: What was the story you told that made the people cry at the White House? 

Rahimi: I told them about my story, that even though I was very young in Afghanistan, I had a supportive family and my dad and my mom really supported me. But there were people in the community who weren’t really supportive of girls doing anything, and I really wanted to ride bikes.

I was seeing my brothers riding bikes every day, and the only place I could ride a bike was in our yard at home. And it really broke me because I wanted to have that experience of going outside or to the parks, riding a bike, and I couldn’t. And that was something that not only me, but also other girls weren’t having that opportunity.

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The first day at school at George Mason Elementary School, August 21, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) says school modernization and upgrades are the big focal point of the upcoming Capital Improvement Program (CIP) Budget, particularly at George Mason Elementary School.

In a release, Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said the priority of the FY 2025 CIP Budget is modernization projects to meet projected capacity needs.

“We have made a strong commitment to cultivating a bright instructional future for our community, and our learning environments and facilities are vital to this priority,” said Melanie Kay-Wyatt in the release. “This proposed budget, which is in line with our projected capacity needs for years to come, is a testament to our dedication to providing ample room and flexibility to support student growth, learning and opportunity.”

The ten-year CIP is $314 million.

The budget summary says the FY 2025 CIP includes:

  • $67 million for the construction of George Mason Elementary School
  • $10 million for replacement and capacity additions at Cora Kelly School for Math, Science and Technology
  • $6 million for renovation of ACPS’ transportation facility

The lion’s share is for the George Mason project, but the budget item noted it was unclear if ACPS could afford new construction or only renovation of the school, which was built in 1939.

“GM has not had major systems updates due to its established timeline and place in previous CIP Budgets,” the budget said. “Reduction in scope directly impacts total capacity of school, square footage, area for amenities, potential for net zero, and introduces timing disruptions. [The] next step is to evaluate if new construction is feasible or if only a renovation is possible.”

A public hearing for the CIP Budget is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 13, at 6:30 p.m.

The Alexandria City High School Zombie Band marches at the Del Ray Halloween Parade, Oct. 29, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

Nearly 1,200 signatures have been collected in a new petition asking for a holiday for Alexandria City Public Schools students the day after Halloween, on Nov. 1.

According to the petition:

For students of ACPS, along with people amongst the world, the day after Halloween is tough. Feeling ill and exhausted after a long night of walking and eating is not what students want to come to school the next day with. Students will be tired, sick, and overwhelmed, since the educational quarter just ended. Students will be unable to focus and put their best effort if they have a raging migraine, or bad exhaustion. Cancel school the day after halloween!

The petition launched on Oct. 30. In 2019, a similar petition raised more than 4,000 signatures.

There is no change listed in the ACPS calendar, and school is scheduled normally.

A tree planting commemorating the 80th anniversary of Charles Barrett Elementary School, Oct. 25, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

World War II was at its peak when Charles Barrett Elementary School first opened 80 years ago. In recognition of the anniversary, on Wednesday students and school officials gathered in front of the school, planted a baby oak tree and sang the school song.

The tree was donated by the North Ridge Citizens’ Association.

“There are so many people who have made our school community the awesome place for learning that is today,” said Principal Loren Brady, who has been at the school for four years. “Charles Barrett has the deep roots in the community that has helped to support us with useful energy.”

The school was built to accommodate the children living in the ParkFairfax development, which was built to relieve a wartime housing shortage, according to Alexandria City Public Schools. It opened with four teachers and 40 students.

“The school opened on Oct. 25, 1943, with desks and chairs borrowed from other schools,” according to ACPS. “Three weeks after classes began the Alexandria School Board voted unanimously to name the school after Major General Charles Dodson Barrett of the United States Marine Corps, an Alexandrian who was killed in the South Pacific on Oct. 8, 1943.”

The school expanded over the decades and now has 544 students.

“I’m so excited for you in your school community on this big moment,” School Board Member Ashley Simpson Baird said at the tree planting. “I know that Charles Barrett will be here for many, many more years to come and we look forward to all the great work you continue to do.”

Brady said that the school will celebrate the anniversary all year, and that school history is included in this year’s curriculum.

Alexandria City High School senior Mohommed Abir Rhaman (with his AP history teacher, Erin Hudson) was notified last month that he literally aced his AP U.S. History exam (via ACPS)

Alexandria City High School senior Mohommed Abir Rhaman was shocked when he was notified last month that he got a perfect score on the Advanced Placement U.S. History Exam.

The notoriously grueling exam takes more than three hours to finish, and Rhaman is one of 13 students in the world who aced it this year, according to Alexandria City Public Schools.

“I was very shocked,” Rhaman said, of learning his score last month. “This was very early in the morning and I was in school, and I just opened my email and just saw all of a sudden while being in a tired state while my teacher was talking in class. I had to conceal my excitement. Not to be rude, just to not disturb anybody, but I was very, very excited.”

The exam, which Rhaman took in May, generally covers the history of the Americas from Christopher Columbus landing in 1492 to the present. It’s split into three parts — 55 minutes to answer 55 multiple choice questions; 40 minutes for short answers to two questions; and an hour-and-40 minutes to write an essay.

“I can confidently say that the month leading up to the test so throughout April, I probably spent well over a couple hundred hours studying for it,” Rhaman said. “And throughout the school year, I spent a lot of time like studying for mainly AP U.S. History, just mainly because history as a subject doesn’t come to me as easily as like math or science.”

Rhaman is currently taking AP English literature, AP U.S. government, AP computer science, AP calculus, AP economics and AP physics. He’s also applying to colleges and wants to study quantum physics.

“My main interest about physics is just like, it’s kind of an attempt by mankind to try to learn more about the world and try to explain why things are the way they are, and try to expand our boundaries and to what we know or at least what we know that we don’t know,” he said.


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