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Alexandria School Board members say they want to keep in-person instruction going, but amidst a surge in Covid cases the Alexandria City Public Schools system now has an official plan to revert to virtual learning on a school-by-school basis.

“There may be cases in the future where we have to transition into a virtual learning setting due to that and we want to just prepare for that,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., told the Board Thursday night.

The ACPS Protocol for Transitioning to Virtual Instruction is a roadmap for how schools will operate based on COVID infections within a particular school. Like stoplights, the plan is broken up into three zones — green for in-person instruction; yellow for the consideration to transition to virtual learning; and the full-blown transition to virtual learning.

More than 15,000 ACPS students haven’t been back to school since Friday, Dec. 17. This week’s snowstorm prompted ACPS to take immediate action by reverting to virtual learning, like a test run in case schools have to do the same thing because of a rise in Covid infections.

“The decision to transition temporarily to virtual learning will be made after careful consideration of the factors that impact instruction and operations at each school on a daily basis as conditions warrant,” ACPS said. “Note that regardless of the instructional plan, all students will bring home their devices at the end of every school day.”

With Covid numbers surging since Thanksgiving, the Health Department expected cases to rise again after the winter break. That break was extended, so to speak, after in-person classes were switched to virtual all week after Monday’s snowstorm. Just prior to the winter break, 174 reported cases within the school system in December alone. There have been 411 positive cases reported within ACPS since school began in August.

“I strongly believe that it is of the utmost importance to keep our schools open for in-person learning,” Vice Chair Jacinta Greene told ACPS staff at the meeting. “But there are segments of our community that are truly afraid right now to send their their kids to school. And many we’re not going to send them back this week. You know, had we not had snow they weren’t going to send the kids back because of the extreme surge and Omicron cases.”

Greene asked about the possibility of hybrid learning (both virtual and in-person instruction) for families who are concerned about exposing their children by sending them back to school. Hutchings said that the hybrid model, which ACPS used in the fall of 2020, was not successful.

“The hybrid model, it was just not the best practice,” Hutchings said. “It was not providing for our students who are home, a lot of times (teachers) couldn’t engage with the students who were in class.”

ACPS also reported to the Board that, upon returning to school, all students and staff will get brand new N95 surgical masks.

“I am so exhausted by Covid,” said Board Chair Meagan Alderton. “I just look forward to this being over. I can’t emphasize enough the effect that this has had on our education system. It’s almost dumbfounding at times. I feel like I don’t have words anymore, but I just appreciate everyone for digging in. I appreciate families as well. The uncertainty causes a lot of anxiety, and you know the more that we are all in this together the end will come hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The full ACPS description of the plan is below the jump.

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The Alexandria Tutoring Consortium has chipped away at its $25,000 goal set in August, and can now offer literacy tutoring to students in 11 of the city’s 14 elementary schools for the remainder of the school year.

The most recent donation was made by the AT&T foundation for $16,000, which will help fund one-on-one “Book Buddies” tutoring sessions for 30 first graders at John Adams and Ferdinand T. Day Elementary Schools.

“After a year-and-a-half of interrupted learning, we’re seeing more demand for reading tutoring than ever before,” said ATC Executive Director Lisa Jacobs. “We’re trying to help more kids this year, and it’s donations by community supporters like the AT&T Foundation that put us in a position to run our programming now through May. We could not be more grateful for this investment in Alexandria’s children.”

During the 2020-2021 school year with kids studying attending virtual schooling, there were more than 7,600 “Book Buddies” tutoring sessions.

“We are delighted to be able to support ATC in its efforts to teach Alexandria’s kids to read,” Garrett McGuire, regional director of external and legislative affairs at AT&T, said in a statement. “Getting students on grade level before third grade has been shown to result in better graduation rates and a better chance for lifelong success.”

Via ATC

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Northern Virginia Community College wants to close the achievement gap, and its new vice president of academic affairs and chief academic officer has a plan.

Eun-Woo Chang started work in July by visiting all six campuses and meeting with staff. His job is to take charge of NOVA’s academic initiatives, and says that the college’s ADVANCE program, which allows for a smooth transition to a four-year degree at George Mason University, will be expanded with advisors to help Hispanic students.

“This is going to be a model,” Chang told ALXnow in a recent interview. “If we are successful, we are going to implement this to the other ethnic groups, as time goes.”

Grant funding will help, Chang said, as NOVA has secured millions in grants for the project from the U.S. Department of Education and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. NOVA has also received $40 million from the Virginia legislature to expand its health and trades programs.

With 72,000 students spread across its campuses, NOVA was forced to up its online offerings during the pandemic. In-person classes resumed in August 2020, and a lesson learned from the experience, Chang said, was to increase availability for Zoom classes.

“Forty percent of our classes are in person, 40% of percent of our classes are in a Zoom environment, and virtual classes make up 20% right now,” he said. “We anticipate that virtual online format is going to grow even more.”

All of this is part of NOVA’s adherence to the Virginia Community College System’s Opportunity 2027 Strategic Plan. NOVA’s graduation rate last year was 29%, a 2.6% increase over year before. Approximately 64% of students in NOVA are minorities.

Chang, who was previously in academic leadership at Ashland University in Ohio and Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, moved to the area in 2008 when he was hired as a program director in the Division of Undergraduate Education at the National Science Foundation.

He also says that having First Lady Dr. Jill Biden teaching at NOVA helps the school’s profile.

“It’s an honor for us to have her as a faculty member here,” he said.

Chang says longevity is the key to his success.

“As long as they don’t kick me out, I’ll stay here,” he said. “The longest serving provost has been here more than 15 years. And then the shortest serving provost is five or six years. So, there is a longevity, and that’s why we are successful.”

Photo via NVCC

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If you’re looking to stay busy for a good cause, there are dozens of available volunteer opportunities in Alexandria.

Here’s Volunteer Alexandria’s list of new and upcoming opportunities.

  • Active Shooter Training — Be prepared for the unthinkable by learning the “Run, Hide, Fight” model of an active shooter emergency. Lt. John M. Weinstein of Northern Virginia Community College will provide basic instruction on how to protect yourself and your loved ones if you are ever in this situation. Tuesday, September 28, 7:00 – 8:00 p.m at the Northern VA Community College – Alexandria Campus. Click HERE to sign-up.
  • Alzheimer’s Association – Walk to End Alzheimer’s at National Harbor and the National Mall — Volunteers are needed on the day of the events to help with set up, sign placement, information services, promise flower distribution, cheerleaders, and route monitors. To learn more and register, click HERE for the September 25 Walk at National Harbor and click HERE for October 9 Walk on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
  • Crossing guards needed help children get to school and home safely — ACPS need your help getting our kids to and from school safely. Volunteers will control traffic at already designated crosswalks to allow families to cross streets safely to and from school. Times would be 7:15 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. and 2:25 p.m. to 3:05 p.m. at various schools across the city. Click Here to sign-up.
  • Deliver Meals to ACPS School Children — Senior Services of Alexandria is looking for volunteers to support school lunch delivery to families who have children learning virtually this fall. Volunteers are needed to pick up and deliver meals on Mondays and Wednesdays. Car and valid driver’s license required. Click HERE to express interest.
  • Event support needed for Living Legends of Alexandria reception honoring volunteers — Living Legends of Alexandria is seeking volunteers for the event. Tasks may include assisting with live screening set up, crowd control, parking lot assistance for anyone needing help, and much more. The event is at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 30. Click HERE to sign up.
  • Help with a 5K race — Run! Geek! Run! is a 5K race held each year with the proceeds going to the Child and Family Network Centers. Ironisitic is looking for volunteers to help our runners, assist with the water station, support the finish line, register individuals, cheer our runners along on the route, and clean-up after the race on Saturday, September 26. Click Here to sign-up.
  • Help Beautify a Church – Meade Memorial Church is looking for someone to help maintain church grounds by cutting grass, trimming bushes and hedges, and pulling weeds. Hours are flexible and supplies are provided. Click Here to sign up.
  • Kids games and card making for first responders – Join us at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library on Saturday, September 25 from 10 a.m. to noon to make cards for first responders, police officers, and firefighters. We will also be playing a few games to learn about fire and earthquake safety! Click HERE to sign up.
  • Teach a Child How to Read – Wright to Read volunteers work one-on-one, either virtually or in-person at a public space, with a student to improve their literacy skills for an hour a week. Wright to Read has been serving Alexandria’s children for over 40 years by providing one-on-one literacy tutoring and mentoring to Alexandria City Public Schools students. An online information session takes place on Thursday, September 30th at 6:30 p.m. Click here to sign up.
  • Until Help Arrives – This virtual class will teach you how to recognize violent activities, respond safely, provide immediate rescue tactics to the injured, and report them to 9-1-1 efficiently. These are transferable skills are applicable to countless situations involving traumatic injury (e.g. car accident, household injury, or an active shooter). The next class will be held on Monday, November 1. Click here to sign up.
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Kristin Carpenter’s services are in demand.

This month, she and her team opened The Linder Academy at the corner of S. Washington and Gibbon Streets in Old Town, joining their smaller McLean location, which opened in January.

Right now, she’s got 24 students in McLean and 52 at the Alexandria campus, and when the latter is built out it will have 13 classrooms and be able to hold just over 100 students.

“I never thought I would want to run a private school,” Carpenter told ALXnow. “But as a research specialist and a teacher, it was nice that there was no bureaucracy and we could just teach the kids. We don’t have curriculum contracts, so we could just pick the best materials and the best methods and teach with super small class sizes and problem-based learning — things that just aren’t options at big schools, and we really had a great time with it.”

Still under construction, the Old Town school is located at 601, 607 and 609 S. Washington Street and 710 Gibbon Street. New murals of famous authors and civil rights icons with quotes have been painted on the exterior walls to show the essence of the school’s philosophy.

Carpenter launched Linder Educational Coaching in Arlington in 2008, and focused mainly on interventions outside of school with tutoring and after-school programs.

“But when COVID hit, we just realized there were a lot of parents that needed support,” she said. “My biggest concern was early childhood literacy. Even with the best teacher in the world, you’re just not going to learn on an iPad.”

The school, which costs more than $28,000 a year in tuition, specializes in working with students who struggle with learning disabilities and traditional school settings. Children spend the early part of the day with the most cognitively demanding classes, like math and English, and they day becomes less regulated in the afternoon for electives.

There are six-t0-nine students in each class, Carpenter said.

“I would say weaknesses in social skills is one of the biggest things that we are seeing,” she said. “Outside of that, I think overall that their writing skills are very weak, and that wasn’t helped by being able to type or do voice-to-text this past school year. You know, the actual act of being able to write is important.”

Carpenter said she had no plans to open additional schools in the future.

“God, no,” she said. “I can’t think about it right now. I’m very tired. I just want to sleep for years.”

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The Child and Family Network Centers was all set up to open preschool to kids in low-income families on September 8, but a recently burst sewer pipe inside their Arlandria/Chirilagua-based classroom has put the program on hold for more than a dozen area children.

The nonprofit is launching a $50,000 fundraiser and is tapping into its reserves to renovate the classroom, which is located in an apartment within the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative. The classroom provides critical child care and education for low-income, immigrant essential workers in the heavily Latino section of Alexandria.

“It’s really difficult to find classroom space, especially in Chirilagua right now,” Jackie Didio, the executive director of CFNC, told ALXnow. “If we don’t open on time we’ll have playdates and at least try to get the kiddos at that outside playground in front of the building. We’re going to try our best to support the families as much as we can while we’re fixing the classroom.”

The classroom/apartment has also now become infested with fleas. The necessary work includes plumbing repairs, replacing all of the furniture and classroom supplies, as well as installing new cabinets and carpeting.

“We’re actually in the search this year for even more classroom spaces because the need is so high, but it’s really difficult to find space, especially in Chirilagua right now,” Didio said. “We were open all last year, too, and that was a challenge. We’re trying to serve the families in our low-income communities here in Alexandria… I know we have such an amazing community and with your help, I know that we can do it.”

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The pandemic turned education on its head, and the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium just launched a new fundraiser to expand its virtual one-on-one offerings to kindergarteners and first graders.

“This has been a trying time as the lack of in-school classes has put more rising first graders farther behind than ever,” said ATC Board Chair Frank Stiff. “Despite the challenges, tutors and staff have stayed true to our mission, and the students have benefitted.”

The nonprofit recruits and trains volunteers to tutor kids needing help reading, and in the 2020-2021 school year, all of their tutoring was conducted virtually. In fact, there were more than 7,600 “Book Buddies” tutoring sessions.

“Tutoring occurred entirely virtually this year, with final results showing that 87% of 155 participating students were reading on grade level, poised for success in second grade,” ATC reported. “Of the 155, ATC tutored 122 in its second-ever summer tutoring program, keeping all kids on track and making it possible for 34 of them to move from below to on level reading proficiency.”

Donations can be made on ATCs website or by check payable to the Alexandria Tutoring Consortium, 323 South
Fairfax Street, Alexandria Virginia 22314.

Via ATC

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Sandra Redmore is the executive director of Clarendon Child Care Center at 1305 N. Jackson Street in Arlington, a local childcare facility. She works with the  Virginia Cooperative Preschool Council and the Arlington County Child Care Initiative working group. In 2019, she was awarded the Woman of Vision award by the Arlington Commission for the Status of Women.

She also cannot afford childcare for her own family.

Redmore’s story was one of a dozen similar stories of devotion to an early education field that many said is woefully underfunded despite high need. During a round table discussion today (Friday) at the Campagna Center (418 S Washington Street) with Senator Mark Warner (D) and Campagna Center CEO Tammy Mann, regional educators shared stories illustrating that they and many of their peers are at a breaking point.

There’s a growing acceptance that early childhood education can have a long-term benefit to mental development. Nicole Lazarte, infant lead teacher at the ACCA Child Development Center, said that at birth the brain is 20% developed and neglecting early childhood education misses critical parts of foundation building.

That recognition hasn’t been followed with federal financial support that Lazarte and others at the table said is critical for the field to continue operating effectively after the pandemic pushed new costs onto many already strained education centers.

“At 24 I don’t own a car, I don’t have my own home, and I’m already looking for ways out of this field,” Lazarte said. “I want to stay with the field, but I can’t continue like this. It’s so disheartening.”

Lazarte said teachers she knows are leaving early childhood development left and right, many of them taking jobs in K-12 public schools that are seen as a safer, more economically stable route.

“Our sector was on life support even before the pandemic,” Mann said.

During the discussion with educators, Warner said he recognized their concerns, but said for many in congress the emphasis for infrastructure is limited to roads.

“Republicans are [fund] to do roads and bridges, but it’s hard to get them to care about childcare,” Warner said.

Warner said infrastructure — as part of the necessary investment to return to something resembling a pre-pandemic workforce — requires workers to have options for childcare.

“I’ve been telling my colleagues: don’t just honor childcare workers, put your money where your mouth is,” Warner said.

But on the flip side, Warner also encouraged education advocates to not just seek funding at a federal level, but to press their state and local representatives. Warner said much of the federal resources have been allocated to state and local levels, and with that funding allocation being determined now, Warner said advocates should be working on their “ask” for the state and local legislators.

While Warner said he recognized many concerns about long-term funding for childcare facilities, he also encouraged them to take advantage of shorter-term grants and funding in the 2021-2022 budgets. From there, Warner said educators could use the short-term funding as a food in the door.

“I hear you that longtime funding is more important, but please don’t miss this short window,” Warner said. “Go to your cities and counties.”

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, Mann said the Campagna Center is preparing to move into its summer programming.

“We’re working hard and moving into summer and into our in-person opportunities,” Mann said. “We’re extending our school year program into summer for four year olds.”

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Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was in Alexandria Wednesday, and with Mayor Justin Wilson welcomed U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona to Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.

Northam stopped by Pacers Running at 1301 King Street before the event with Cardona, where he met Wilson and spoke with employees about raising the minimum wage. Pacers has been paying its employees $15 an hour since last year.

“The $15 an hour is definitely better for morale,” Pacers manager Victoria Sanchez said. “We want to have our employees want to stay and to want to come to work every day and be able to afford, living in the area as well.”

Starting May 1, Virginia’s minimum wage will increase to $9.50 per hour, and then to $11 per hour starting Jan. 1, 2022, to $12 in 2023 and then $15 per hour in January 2026.

Northam then met with Cardona, Wilson, National Education Association of the United States President Becky Pringle and Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane at Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School.

Cardona was at the school as part of his “Help is Here” school reopening tour. Also in attendance were Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. and School Board Chair Meagan Alderton.

“It was an honor to welcome Secretary Cardona, the Governor, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the President of the NEA and more to Ferdinand T. Day Elementary School,” Wilson said. “Secretary Cardona pledged continuing support from the Administration as we continue efforts to return students to in-classroom instruction and provide supports for our kids during this time.”

As part of the tour, which launched in March, Cardona has visited schools around the country that have successfully reopened, as well as schools facing reopening challenges.

Images via Jason Taylor and ACPS/Twitter

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Fall 2020 is going to be an unusual start to the school year for all involved, but ACPS is taking some special precautions to help guide parents and students who have the additional challenge of being new to schools.

Within the Virtual+ model ACPS is pursuing, some specific measures are aimed at the school system’s new Pre-K and Kindergarten families.

For starters, the usual kindergarten prep is being replaced with what ACPS staff described as “kindergarten kickoff.”

“All kindergarten teachers who typically do K-prep are going to be making phone calls and having zoom meetings with families that have signed up for kindergarten,” staff said at a School Board meeting last Friday. “They have quesitons we’re going to ask them, like ‘does your child know their colors’ and ‘have they ever had a vision and hearing screening’ to plan for them.”

Once class lists are assigned, staff said teachers will be calling families individually to welcome them. Teachers will also be available to speak with parents during office hours.

“We’re hopeful we’re able to work this out,” staff said.

The plans for how to proceed with early childhood education recognize a common refrain school administrators have said throughout the planning process: that the online learning program is a necessity that does not reflect the best way to educate children.

“Young children benefit from positive adult-child interactions, a predictable routine, and a play-based approach to learning,” ACPS said in its Virtual+ guidelines. “Teachers support children’s learning through differentiation of instruction and by addressing students’ strengths and needs through flexible grouping, support for social-emotional and self-regulation skills, Guided Language Acquisition Development strategies (PreK-GLAD), and one-on-one instruction.”

The Virtual+ model outlined how Kindergarten and Pre-K instructors are expected to handle instruction without being able to communicate with students in-person.

“Evidence-based instructional practices will include actionable feedback, non-linguistic representations, cooperative learning, and work samples,” ACPS said. “Pictures, visuals, real objects, and physical movement will be embedded into the learning. Learning will be synchronous and asynchronous, and access to these opportunities will be facilitated by the district’s provision of tablets for each of our youngest learners. Preschool families will receive a choice board activity packet and materials kit to support and supplement teacher instruction.”

ACPS also announced as part of the changes to Pre-K care, the school system will also expand its technological distribution services to:

  • Ensure each student has a device issued to them, and that these devices will work on private and public as well as school Wi-Fi when available and if needed due to special circumstances ACPS supplied hotspot.
  • Provide PreK through 1st grade students tablets and 2nd grade through 12th grade students with chromebooks.
  • Select a central facility to streamline activities and serve as our main storage and distribution hub. Other satellite and pop-up sites will be made available for support.
  • Provide Wi-Fi and Internet Access so that families have the access that they need.

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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