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The pressure was on. After a COVID-delay of more than a year, Alexandria sprinter Noah Lyles was finally racing against the top runners in the world at the Tokyo Olympics. The gun fired, and 19.74 seconds later he was the winner of the bronze medal.

Lyles returned to his alma mater, Alexandria City High School, on Tuesday (September 7) to talk about his unexpectedly long journey to the Olympics. In a frank, TED Talk-like speech, he talked about the importance of mental health, and described talking about being depressed with his therapist.

“When 2020 started, it felt like a normal year,” Lyles said. “I’d just come back from doing a whole bunch of interviews and photoshoots with NBC and they’re talking about the Olympics, and ‘How we’re going to be plastering you everywhere. It’s gonna be the biggest thing that summer,’ and (I’m) like, ‘Yes! So excited, This is fun.”

Then COVID hit, Lyles said, and he was forced to put his plans on the back-burner and keep mentally and physically fit until the games were rescheduled.

“All that energy that we had built up in a 2020 year, we had to save on to that stress and that pressure and push it on for a whole other year,” he said. “A lot of people will look at the Olympics this year like something was different with the athletes… Well, it was a lot of difference because we had so much weight that we had to hold onto — about two years. I was no different.”

Lyles continued, “I was disappointed that I didn’t get what I wanted. And I was disappointed that it happened like that. I didn’t get to show my greatest self. I knew walking into Tokyo that I was ready to PR, but I didn’t get to show that. I didn’t have a team with me. And that hurt in the whole Tokyo experience. It was very emotional. And I always thought in my head four years ago, when I went through this, it was going to be others. I was going to be able to celebrate, I was gonna not be alone. But it felt very alone.”

Just weeks after the games, Lyles was asked to return to the track in the Diamond League Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Oregon. At first, he says, he didn’t want to race and spoke with his therapist about it.

“She said, ‘I think you’re scared,'” Lyles recalled his therapist saying. “‘You don’t get defeated often. So, when you do, you didn’t know how to react.’ I said ‘You might have a point.'”

The 24-year-old ended up defeating his Olympic rivals and running the ninth-fastest 200 meters in history, clocking in at 19.52 seconds.

“I feel that even though we’ve been going through this 2020-21 year, and we’ve all been feeling a little bit of pressure that maybe this can help you guys out a little more,” Lyles said of his story.

The event was sponsored by the Lyles Brothers Sports Foundation, Lyles’ mother, Keisha Caine Bishop, also spoke at the event and said that she introduced mental health therapy to her children at a young age.

“We are huge advocates for mental health,” she said. “Sometimes we all need help.”

https://twitter.com/AlexCityTitans/status/1435335090998030343

Photos via Elijah Walter Griffin, Sr.

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With serious and unresolved health-related decisions looming, Alexandria City Public Schools is set to reopen its doors to full-time instruction on Tuesday, August 24.

“I’m looking forward to putting the stressful 18 months behind us,” an ACPS parent told ALXnow. “It’s time to move ahead and get these kids back in school. I know things will look different and we will have some rough patches, but we owe it to the kids to get them back.”

Just days before reopening, the School Board will consider a vaccine mandate for all ACPS employees at its meeting tonight. The school system has been criticized by parents for waiting too long to tackle the vaccine issue, echoing some of the widespread frustration that the school system didn’t open quickly enough last year.

“Together, Alexandria City Public School students, teachers, staff, and families have met the challenges of the past school year during a dual pandemic of COVID-19 and systemic racism,” Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. wrote to parents. “We are excited to make the most of our opportunity for a new beginning as we enjoy the energy and enthusiasm that comes with having our students back for five days a week of in-person learning.”

ACPS reopened to five days a week just last month — for summer school. Also last month, Alexandria City High School principal Peter Balas told ALXnow that his school — the largest high school in Virginia — was ready to fully reopen. Next Tuesday will also mark first school year since it changed its name from T.C. Williams High School.

“ACPS will continue to adjust measures based on the latest health guidance and best practices and update the chart accordingly as changes occur,” the school system wrote in its 2021-2022 Health and Safety Guidance.

With COVID numbers on the rise, the School Board recently decided that all 15,000+ students and staff wear protective face coverings in school. The Virginia Department of Health says unvaccinated residents account for a vast majority of new COVID cases.

Face masks are required to be worn inside school buses and classrooms, except when eating and exercising. Masks are not required outdoors.

Students and staff are also required to keep six feet of social distance and quarantine for two weeks if they are unvaccinated and have been in close contact with anyone who has contracted COVID-19. Vaccinated students and staff who are not symptomatic do not have to quarantine.

Staff and students are also required to complete a Daily Symptom Checklist

“There will be daily online health screenings and temperature screenings in school entrances and procedures to limit the number of visitors in school facilities,” noted ACPS. “If students are closely interacting during recess or by the nature of a sports activity, then the recommendation would be to wear masks. Fully vaccinated people might choose to wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings if they or someone in their household is immunocompromised.”

ACPS is still teaching virtually, but the deadline to enroll in Virtual Virginia expired last month.

According to ACPS, this is what to expect when school resumes:

  • 5 days per week in school
  • Normal classroom capacity to accommodate five days a week, in-person learning
  • Hot breakfasts and lunches will be available every day
  • Bus routes and schedules will return to normal
  • All activities and athletics will be offered in-person
  • All special education services will be offered in-person
  • English for Speakers of Other Languages will be offered in-person
  • Advanced Placement (AP) and Honors program offerings at Alexandria City High School will be offered in-person
  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math will be offered in-person
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Morning Notes

Scott Shaw named Chamber’s 2021 Business Leader of the Year — “For the last six years, he has served as a partner of Alexandria Restaurant Partners (ARP). ARP operates nine restaurants including The Majestic and Theismann’s Restaurant… Outside of the restaurant industry, Shaw established Founders Hall and co-founded ALX Community. His community involvement includes serving as Chair of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. In this position… In 2017, Shaw founded the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, which is dedicated to preserving Alexandria’s rich maritime history through educational programs and entertainment.” [Zebra]

Rep. Beyer says he’s working on securing stormwater management funding for Alexandria — “I’m also working to secure more federal funding for storm and sewer projects in ALX in upcoming infrastructure legislation.” [Twitter]

Alexandria accountant pleads guilty to tax fraud — “An accountant from Alexandria pleaded guilty Wednesday for his role in filing false tax returns that led to over $250,000 in federal tax loss.” [Patch]

Recent T.C. Williams High School graduate dies at 18 — “Tommy Lacey was a towering figure. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, he was a gentle giant with a passion for sports and hanging out with friends at Al’s Steakhouse in Del Ray. A standout lacrosse player, the 2021 graduate of T.C. Williams High School was preparing to attend James Madison University in the fall when he died unexpectedly on Aug. 4.” [Gazette]

Today’s weather — “Partly cloudy. High 91F. Winds WNW at 5 to 10 mph… Scattered thunderstorms during the evening becoming more widespread overnight. Low 72F. Winds light and variable. Chance of rain 80%.” [Weather.com]

New job: Crew member at Trader Joe’s — “If you have a passion for people and a fervor for food, we’d love to meet you. We can teach you the rest.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria runner Noah Lyles is headed to the Olympics. (Courtesy Noah Lyles/Twitter)

From comic books to donuts, Alexandrians have been going all out for the Olympics this year — particularly with T.C. Williams High School graduate Noah Lyles competing in the 200 meter race.

Next week, Lyles’ alma mater — now called Alexandria City High School — will host a viewing party for the Olympic field day.

The party will run from 8-10:30 p.m. at Alexandria City High School (3330 King Street). There will also be door prizes and raffles to be won.

Attendance is limited and tickets are required. Guests will be required to wear face masks. The event is free but a voluntary donation to the Lyles Foundation non-profit is encouraged.

Lyles isn’t the only Alexandrian competing in the Olympics. Local boxer Troy Isley also won his first boxing match at the Olympics earlier this week. Isley’s second match is tomorrow (Thursday).

Via Noah Lyles/Twitter

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What an unexpectedly busy summer week in Alexandria. Here’s the rundown.

Our top story was on an Alexandria woman who claims she was roofied at a restaurant on the waterfront on the evening of July 9. A police report has been filed, and no charges have been made.

This week we sat down with acting Police Chief Don Hayes, who said that he’s thrown his hat in the ring with City Manager Mark Jinks to keep the top job. Hayes, a 40-year veteran of the Alexandria Police Department took over after the sudden departure of Chief Michael Brown last month, and will have to contend against candidates in a national search.

The Tokyo Olympics also start this week, and the games will include three T.C. Williams High School graduates — sprinter Noah Lyles, high-jumper Tynita Butts-Townsend and boxer Troy Isley. In fact, Lyles just had a comic book biography published in the Washington Post. If you’re a fan of the Olympic games, check out this list of local restaurants celebrating with special events and meals.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. Woman claims she was roofied at Old Town restaurant
  2. Residents protest against conditions at West End apartment complex
  3. Developers eye Beauregard redevelopment with West End upgrades on the horizon
  4. Former chef at ‘The Alexandrian’ opening new restaurant in Arlandria on Monday
  5. No injuries after shots fired in Braddock area on Wednesday
  6. DASH takes lessons from D.C., Baltimore and Oregon in eliminating bus fares
  7. ‘Call Your Mother Deli’ signs lease in Old Town
  8. After last month’s Democratic primary, Republican Darryl Nirenberg tops campaign donation leaderboard
  9. New city health improvement plan aims to fix inequities
  10. Poll: Have you been to the Winkler Botanical Preserve?
  11. Lee-Fendall House to throw speakeasy party to finance building repairs

Have a safe weekend!

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Chasing Gold comic, courtesy Washington Post

A special insert to the Washington Post print edition today features a comic book adaptation of Alexandria track star Noah Lyles’ life.

The twenty-page comic book is accompanied by a special section in the print edition commemorating the Tokyo Olympics, with coverage on the athletes, game schedules and more.

“In today’s paper, readers will also be able to find a twenty-page comic book insert entitled, ‘Chasing Gold,'” Washington Post Communications Manager Naseem Amini said in a press release, “which tells the story of track star Noah Lyles who is a favorite for the medals podium, having posted the year’s fastest 200-meter time at the U.S. Olympic trials.”

Lyles, a former T.C. Williams High School student, won the 200 meter race in the June Olympic Trials and is representing the United States at the Tokyo Olympics.

The comic book was written by Washington Post sports reporters Rick Maese and Adam Kilgore, art directed by Washington Post designer Joe Moore and illustrated by comic book artist Andy Belanger.

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Summer school is in full swing, and Alexandria City High School Principal Peter Balas says he and his staff will be ready to open to five days a week of in-person instruction when the 2021-2022 school year starts on August 24.

“We’ll be ready on August 24,” Balas told ALXnow. “I’m excited. Anything other than my kitchen table five days a week would be wonderful… I hope we start in August with no masks, no restrictions.”

Wrapping up his fourth year at the helm of the biggest high school in Virginia, Balas isn’t your ordinary principal. On one bicep he has a tattoo of Madonna, on the other a quote by Shakespeare, and on a recent summer day sported a T-shirt that said, “We are on an anti-racist journey!”

It’s more than just a clever shirt, since his school was recently renamed. For 50 years it was T.C. Williams High School, a name that Balas and many of his colleagues didn’t look too far into until last year, when community activists reminded the School Board that Williams — the former superintendent of Alexandria City Public Schools for three decades — was a staunch segregationist.

“I remember when I first started teaching here, I had no idea who he was,” Balas said.

Now, with about 630 or so students attending summer school five days a week, Balas is hoping to start the next school year at full capacity — nearly 4,000 students — and to open without restrictions. There will also be security challenges, as the City Council recently voted to eliminate funding for the School Resource Officer program, which takes away the presence of armed police officers at the school, and Balas said the security company that ACPS contracts with does not handle criminal activity.

ACPS is reportedly working with the police department to continue a police presence in schools.

“We do have security officers who are contracted employees who help us ask your kids to class, check passes, clear hallways,” he said. “They help us through hallways and they do help us break up altercations. They are unarmed. They help with security, but they are not the people you call if there’s a crime or if there is suspicion of a crime.”

Balas started his teaching career at the school more than a decade ago, before becoming an assistant principal at T.C. for three years and then principal at Mount Vernon Community School for five years. He tears up at the prospect of returning to full capacity next month, and said his staff will need time to share their stories.

“We probably need some trauma processing time together,” Balas said. “I think [educators] need a chance to process with their colleagues what they’ve been through, what it meant for them, what are they looking forward to and what do they fear going forward.”

He says ACHS will see an impact from learning loss.

“There are certain courses where skills are cascading,” he said. “What our teachers are going to have to do is take a look at and measure what that loss was, and what are the gaps that have to be filled.”

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Morning Notes

The story behind Alexandria’s hand-me-down graduation gown — “Five outstanding T.C. Williams High School students, five prestigious universities and colleges, two on-stage graduation performances – and one graduation gown. What began as an unplanned sharing of a typically once-worn garment has become has become an Alexandria tradition.” [Alex Times]

Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial recognized by African American Civil Rights Network — “Contrabands and Freedmen Cemetery Memorial is the oldest and first site in Virginia to be added to the network.” [Zebra]

New diner coming to Bradlee Shopping Center — “Beeliner Diner will be applying for permits to open at Bradlee Shopping Center in Alexandria, occupying the space that was the Atlantis Restaurant.” [Alexandria Living]

Today’s weather — “Scattered thunderstorms in the morning. Cloudy skies late. High 81F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 50%… A few clouds. Slight chance of a shower throughout the evening. Low 62F. Winds NW at 5 to 10 mph.” [Weather.com]

New job: Waxing specialist — “Located in the beautiful Del Ray, Alexandria neighborhood; Waxing the City is the go-to spot for hair removal. Want to work somewhere you are able to perfect your craft, boost client self-esteem, and make great money doing what you love? Waxing the City Alexandria is the place for you! A wonderful blend of talent, dedication, and fun is what made our studio 2017 Rookies of the Year for Waxing the City, and 2017 Best Waxing Studio for Del Ray.” [Indeed]

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Alexandria leaders have acknowledged that the city’s public school system faces major security issues with the elimination of school resource officer funding.

In a joint City Council/School Board Subcommittee Meeting Monday night, School Board Vice Chair Veronica Nolan was highly critical of Council’s 4-3 decision last month to divert the program’s nearly $800,000 in funding to Alexandria City Public Schools mental health and City health resources.

“I just want to own the fact that there is nothing that’s been happening in the school that is going to prevent… potential lives being taken if there was a violent act,” Nolan said. “I just don’t want us high-fiving each other, feeling like we did it, like we replaced what the SROs are providing, and that’s with safety.”

The decision means that SROs — police officers stationed inside T.C. Williams High School, Francis Hammond Middle School and George Washington Middle School — will no longer have offices in those schools. T.C. is also the largest high school in Virginia.

Nolan also cited a recent Washington Post article revealing that, with the pandemic receding, there has been an uptick in mental health-related issues and school shootings nationwide. She said she appreciated the proposed plan, but that it should not be replacing the SRO program.

“We do have situations where sexual assault happens outside of school, but a young lady feels exceptionally comfortable going up to a police officer,” Nolan said. “There’s also going to be fights that were normally deescalated by SROs that are going to take place, and we just cannot expect any of our staff to be able to deescalate those or break up fights or prevent that.”

Mayor Justin Wilson told ALXnow that he has concerns over security, and that Alexandria Police will incorporate the school system into their patrol operations.

“Obviously APD Patrol will continue to answer calls for service at these schools when they are called to do so,” Wilson said. “That dialogue will continue — with ACPS, APD and other entities, to ensure that we protect the safety of the students, faculty, support staff and visitors at our high school and middle schools.”

It is still unclear when APD officers will be inside of the schools, how often, or why.

“At this time, Alexandria City Public Schools is planning for the 2021-22 school year,” ACPS Chief of School and Community Relations Julia Burgos told ALXnow. “Our planning process includes working with the Alexandria Police Department to ensure there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines a framework of police services at the schools as a matter of best practice.”

The School Board passed the bi-annual MOU, which kept SROs in place, last November. Then in April, School Board members asked City Council to respect their decision.

The program was eliminated by City Councilman Mo Seiflendein’s proposal, which was backed by Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, Councilman John Taylor Chapman and Councilman Canek Aguirre.

City staff also reported that the school system is anticipating a “three-fold increase” in the number of students getting mental health referrals, “particularly as students adjust to in-person learning.”

Chapman said that Council will likely not delay making a decision on the matter on July 6.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but (would be) very surprised if we had a majority that wanted to continue to push the decision down the road,” he said.

City Council will consider the following:

  • $567,000 — One therapist supervisor to the Department of Community and Human Services; two licensed mental health professionals; a human services specialist; and a licensed senior therapist for emergency services
  • $122,000 — One new public health nurse at the Minnie Howard campus
  • $101,000 — One new Alexandria Mentoring Partnership coordinator
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The Alexandria Health Department has launched a COVID-19 testing and vaccine clinic at the Teen Wellness Center in an effort to get more 12-to-19-year-olds vaccinated.

The pilot will help the department figure out how to incorporate it into the school system, acting AHD Director Dr. Anne Gaddy told City Council and School Board members in a meeting Monday night.

So far, about 65% of city residents over the age of 16 have been at least partially vaccinated, as AHD works toward goal of getting 80% of that population (106,618 people) fully vaccinated.

“They don’t have to be attending T.C. to be able to get the vaccine,” Gaddy said. “The appointments are open not only to students, but to parents as well as to school staff.”

To date, 75,428 residents have been fully vaccinated and 90,319 residents have been partially vaccinated. There have been 11,880 COVID-19 cases reported in the City, and 139 deaths.

It is relatively easy process to get a vaccine. Anyone over the age of 12 is able to get the vaccine for free.

“Many of our grocery stores and pharmacies have the capacity to be able to offer you a walk-in shot, as do as any of our clinics and many other medical providers,” said AHD population health manager Natalie Talis. There’s really options all over the city, all of them are free, and you do not require insurance or an ID to get your vaccines.”

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