Fairfax County School Board Considers Pitch to Excuse Absences for Protests and Rallies

The Fairfax County School Board is considering a plan to grant middle and high school students an excused absence for taking part in protests, rallies and walkouts.

The board’s governance committee discussed the proposal earlier this week. If approved, students would be given one excused absence from school per year to take part in “civic engagement activities by providing prior notification to the school with evidence of a sponsored/organized event or activity,” according to the draft proposal.

In a letter submitted to the board in February, board member Ryan McElveen said county schools enforced inconsistent policies when students organized walkouts in response to recent school shootings. He wrote the following in his proposal to the board:

A year ago, the devastating tragedy in Parkland galvanized students, parents, and citizens around the country to call for an end to gun violence, a powerful movement demanding action by our elected representatives that continues to this day. The Fairfax County School Board amplified this advocacy through our Resolution on Gun Violence Prevention, which became a national model for School Board resolutions around the country. School systems cannot oppose nor endorse any specific calls to action, but they are constitutionally obligated to recognize and uphold the first amendment rights of students choosing to engage in political activities that do not infringe on the rights of others or disrupt the instructional day. While FCPS provided guidance to schools about how to respond to students who wanted to walkout in support of gun violence prevention in 2018, there was inconsistent enforcement of those procedures in schools, including how schools designated excused student absences. I have spoken with many community members who would like clearer policy guidance in the event of future civic engagement activities.

The discussion is expected to continue on October 2.

At a September 4 meeting, board members sought to ensure that the proposal would not interfere with the school system’s efforts to curb chronic absenteeism. The school board is still seeking information on the absenteeism status of the county’s schools, whether or not other school districts have adopted similar proposals and the projected impact of the proposal on absenteeism.

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Herndon Teen Wins National Scholarship for Method to Diagnose Parkinson’s Disease

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development has selected a Neeyanth Kopparapu, 17, of Herndon as a 2019 Davidson Fellows Scholarship winner.

The senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology is one of 20 students across the country selected for the program, which offers scholarships between $10,000 and $50,000 for developing projects that have the potential to benefit society in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, literature, and music.

Kopparapu developed what the institute said is the first diagnosis system for early-stage Parkinson’s disease using an MRI scan. The Herndon resident was inspired to create the system — which is accurate nearly 97 percent of the time — after his grandfather was diagnosed with the disease at a late stage and was unable to use commonly-prescribed medication to fight the disease.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Davidson Institute for this recognition of my work in artificial intelligence,” said Kopparapu in a statement. “I am looking forward to meeting other Fellows and becoming part of the Davidson Fellows Scholarship community.”

Siona Prasad, 18, of Vienna, was also selected for the scholarship. Her work to measure and monitor greenhouse gas emissions successfully predicted an emission inventory for Washington, DC. A reception program to honor the fellows is set for Friday, September 27 in the District.

“I am incredibly grateful to the Davidson Institute for this recognition of my work in artificial intelligence,” said Kopparapu, a rising senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria. “I am looking forward to meeting other Fellows and becoming part of the Davidson Fellows Scholarship community.”

Photo via Davidson Institute for Talent Development

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Greater Reston Arts Center Challenges Students to Create Exhibit-inspired Artwork

As photographer Nate Larson’s work on centroid towns goes on display at the Greater Reston Arts Center later this month, the nonprofit organization is challenging students to create artwork inspired by its overarching theme and supporting concepts.

The new Emerging Visions program is part of GRACE’s efforts to take “its mission beyond the center walls” and create opportunities for students to interact with contemporary art in the classroom, according to its website.

GRACE worked with Fairfax County Public Schools to create an educators’ packet that relays the messages and themes explored by the artwork.

Larson’s upcoming exhibit — which is on display from September 28 through January 4 — explores centroid towns, which the U.S. Census Bureau classifies as the mean center of a population as it moves steadily west and south.

Students can respond to a theme by creating their own artwork in any medium. GRACE’s staff will select student artwork to be exhibited in the Emerging exhibition at GRACE from June 6 through June 27 next year. An opening reception is set for June 5.

For more information about the program, contact education and public programs manager Sarah Benz.

Photo via GRACE

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Free and Reduced-Price Meal Options Available for Students in Need

With schools officially in session, students in need of free or reduced-price meals have several options at Fairfax County Public Schools.

More than a dozen county schools — including Dogwood Elementary School — will offer breakfast and lunch daily through the Community Eligibility Provision program.

Students at other schools can have access to free or reduced-price meals depending on their household size and where they fall in the maximum household income bracket. Households that receive benefits from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program may also be eligible, along with children who are homeless, migrant or runaways. Applications are available at schools and online.

Afterschool meal and snack options are available for students at Dogwood Elementary School, Herndon Elementary School, Herndon Middle School, Hutchison Elementary School

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Local Mothers Launch Electric School Bus Campaign

A group of mothers from Fairfax County are banding together to push county schools to use electric school buses.

The group, Mothers out Front Fairfax, recently formed a local chapter of the national climate advocacy group Mothers Out Front.

“Our county has a chance to be on the cutting edge of technology and to be a national leader in providing our kids with healthy air and clean energy future,” said Kathy Keller, a nurse at Inova Fairfax hospital, Mothers out Front Fairfax member and a mom with two children in county schools.

The group formally launched its campaign at Patrick Henry Library in Vienna on Tuesday (August 20). Fairfax County Public School’s school board member Pat Hynes spoke at the event.

Here’s more from the group about their initiative:

Electric school buses, with no tailpipe emissions, eliminate children’s exposure to dangerous diesel exhaust during their ride to school. They have lower global warming emissions than diesel, even when the source of electricity is taken into account. They have no engine, muffler, or alternator that requires tune-ups, meaning a lifetime fuel and maintenance savings over diesel buses of up to $170,000. They have a lower center of gravity than diesel buses and are therefore less likely to roll over. They are safer for our kids and cleaner for our environment.

The health and environmental benefits of electric school buses are well documented. Studies show that that exposure levels to harmful chemicals can be between 4 and 10 times higher on school buses than in the surrounding environment.

The county has the second largest public school fleet of buses in the country, behind only New York City.

Mothers Out Front is a national advocacy group. Members are mothers who aim to “ensure a livable climate for all children,” according to the organization’s website.

File photo

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Local High School Students to Receive School-Issued Computers This Fall

Students at Herndon and South Lakes high schools will go home with a school-issued laptop in the fall as part of a new countywide initiative when schools begins in late August.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) plans to issue a computer to all high school students in the county through FCPSOn. By 2023, all students in the county could go home with laptops.

School officials say FCPSOn will transform learning for students and educators by providing “equitable access to meaningful learning experience and technology to support their learning.”

Devices will not replace teachers. Teachers are supported through ongoing, dynamic professional learning for teachers that will result in purposeful, collaborative student learning experiences,” FCPS wrote in a statement.

SLHS and HHS staff plan to distribute laptops during Teacher Advisory classes during the first week of school. A community meeting to discuss the initiative is planned for August.

The program requires an annual $50 fee for high school students. The fee covers technology support services and the potential costs of replacing equipment in need of repair.

FCPS also allocated $4.3 million in the fiscal year 2020 budget for the initiative. The budget was approved on May 23.

Students can use their own laptop instead of a county-issued laptop, but they must receive approval from their school to do so.

A pilot program first began in 2016 for schools in the Chantilly Pyramid.

More information about the rollout of the program in Reston and Herndon will be available over the summer.

Video via FCPS

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South Lakes High School Boys State Champion Soccer Team Embodies ‘International Spirit’

Over the weekend, South Lakes High School won its first state championship in boys’ soccer. School officials attribute the team’s success to partnership and cooperation between a team that is mostly composed of first and second generation immigrants.

Many of the players are English Language Learners who are assimilating into the general student body. 

“Not unlike its broader student body, the soccer team has drawn its strength from its diversity to bear the odds to make history,” Emily Burrell, an SLHS news liaison, wrote.

Last Friday, the halls of South Lakes high school were resonating with sounds of cheer and support as the community gave the team a royal send off to their semi-final and final games. This victory will resonate in the hearts and minds of the students as they build on their experience as part of the South Lakes soccer family and move ahead in pursuit of their version of the American dream. One can but wonder if this is not what Robert Simon envisioned when he spoke of creating an equitable community where “the importance and dignity of each individual be the focal point for all planning, and take precedence for large-scale concepts.”

Students are from more than a dozen countries, including Taiwan, Nigeria, Sudan, Japan, Guatemala, Turkey and Afghanistan — a testament to the international nature of the sport itself.

The program was built by Coach Marty Pfister over the past 12 years. Because many students have jobs to help with family expenses, the team’s coaches were flexible throughout the year to help economically disadvantaged students balance school, work, and sports.

Assistant Coach Aanand Vasudevan says the struggle to juggle jobs and schools has helped make the students stronger on and off the field.

Photos via SLHS

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Herndon School Earns Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence

Carson Middle School is among four schools in the state to earn the 2019 Governor’s Award for Educational Excellence — the highest recognition awarded for schools that excel in academics in the state.

The recognition, which is part of the Virginia Index of Performance awards, recognizes schools that go beyond state and federal accountability standards and achieve excellence goals set by the governor and the Board of Education.

The school met all state and federal achievement benchmarks and checked off on goals for elementary reading. Two schools in McLean — Chesterbrook Elementary School and Cooper Middle School — also got a nod from the governor, along with Longfellow Middle School in Falls Church.

In the county, 28 schools were named recipients of the Board of Education Excellence Awards and 22 schools earned the Board of Education’s Distinguished Achievement Awards.

Photo via FCPS

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Renovations for Armstrong Elementary School a Few Years Away

Renovations for Armstrong Elementary School are in the works, but it’s going to be a few years.

A 10-year forecast shows the renovation process spread out from fiscal years 2022-2026 in the Fairfax County Public School CIP.

Planning for the project is expected to start in FY 2022 with funding from a 2021 bond, with permitting beginning the next year.

The school first opened in 1986 and since then, according to county documents, there’s been no substantial renovations except for capacity enhancements in 1990.

The Hunter Mill District’s School Board Representative, Pat Hynes, noted in a newsletter that Armstrong, Crossfield and Louise Archer elementary schools are all planned for additions and renovations over the next 5-10 years.

Photo via Facebook

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With End of School Year in Sight, South Lakes HS to Host Teen Job Fair

The end of the school year is approaching, which means that many students are thinking ahead about summer jobs.

South Lakes High School will host a job fair for teens on Thursday (March 28) to help connect students to potential employers.

The fair is set to take place in the main corridor outside of the cafeteria during the school’s four lunch sessions, according to Fairfax County Public Schools.

Reston-area employers will set up tables to offer applications and answer students’ questions about part-time employment.

Employers that have signed up already include:

Some of the employers are looking to hire teachers during the summer, according to FCPS.

File photo

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Virginia Lottery Surprises Aldrin ES Student with Prize for Art Contest

An Aldrin Elementary School student received a surprise celebration in front of her classmates today (March 21) for her artwork.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m., Aldrin students assembled in the lobby of the school for an announcement by Principal Shane Wolfe. The Virginia Lottery then surprised fifth-grader Elizaveta G. with the news that she is one of three winners statewide in the “Thank a Teacher Art Contest.”

Jennifer Mullen, the public affairs and community relations manager at Virginia Lottery, told the students that the lottery started the artwork contest last year as an addition to its notecard writing to thank teachers during Teacher Appreciation Week. Three students’ pieces were selected from 700 entries, Mullen said.

The Virginia Lottery presented Elizaveta with a $150 gift card along with $1,000 for Aldrin’s art department.

Elizaveta’s original design will be used on thousands of thank you notes that will be distributed to public school teachers in Virginia during National Teacher Appreciation Week in May.

Wolfe facilitated a Q&A between Elizaveta and her classmates, who asked questions about her favorite color (“blazer blue and red”), how long it took to make the art (“one to two hours”) and who told her about the contest (her mom).

The other two winners have not been announced yet.

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South Lakes High School Teen Earns Silver Medal for Self-Portrait

A South Lakes High School teen was among the 21 students from Fairfax County public schools who earned national medals in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards program.

Gabrielle Baughman will receive a silver medal for a painted self-portrait, FCPS said in a press release.

In June, an award ceremony at Carnegie Hall in New York City will honor the national medalists, according to the press release.

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards recognize student artists with categories including architecture, ceramics and glass, comic art, design, digital art, drawing, editorial cartoon, fashion and more.

Image via Scholastic Art & Writing Awards/Facebook

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Fairfax County Public Schools to Open Two Hours Late Friday

Public schools in Fairfax County will open two hours late tomorrow as wintry weather sweeps the county tonight and tomorrow morning.

FCPS announced the decision on Twitter around 6 p.m. today (Feb. 27) “based on the winter weather advisory in effect overnight.”

Locals can expect 1 to 3 inches, according to the National Weather Service.

File photo

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McNair ES Partners with College Board for Student Art Contest

Calling young artists. Sixth-graders at McNair Elementary School in Herndon have the chance to show off their masterpieces and compete in a contest.

Fairfax County Public Schools recently announced that the school partnered with the College Board to host an art competition.

Contestants can send their portraits to the College Board’s office in Reston Town Center (11955 Democracy Drive), where the art will get displayed. (The College Board is a McNair Elementary School partner, according to FCPS.)

After the votes are in, a representative from the College Board will deliver a certificate to the winner, who can expect to receive prizes and art supplies during the school’s graduation ceremony in June.

Image via Google Maps

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Fannie Mae Volunteers Give a Helping Hand Around McNair ES

You may have noticed some new faces this February around McNair Elementary School (2499 Thomas Jefferson Drive).

About 15 volunteers from Fannie Mae’s Reston office have been helping out at the school.

“As a new partner, the firm has offered to provide volunteers on a monthly basis as a way to give back to the Reston and Herndon communities,” according to Fairfax County Public Schools.

The volunteers have been busy supporting read-aloud initiatives and the school’s holiday luncheon, according to FCPS.

The school community can expect the volunteers to help through the end of the year.

Image via Google Maps

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