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Del. Ken Plum: Back to School

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week I had the opportunity to visit one of my grandsons’ school, and I was genuinely impressed. Parents were invited to come by last week to meet the teachers because his school started on August 15. It was one of the friendliest environments I have experienced–smiles everywhere, genuinely warm greetings for all, and an obvious feeling of caring for all children and parents and grandparents coming into the school. My grandson was clearly eager to get back to school and to see his teachers. He has some special needs that require additional understanding and assistance, and he is clearly getting it in his school setting.

The teachers and administrators wore the school’s special tee shirt and were giving high-fives all around. As one who taught in the classroom for several years, many old memories came back to me. I remember the need to always be “on” in the school day for students who needed help or attention. In most careers we can coast on a bad day and make up for it later; not so with teaching. You are always the center of attention and must be appropriately responsive to student needs whenever they occur. Students can learn as much about life from your body language and attitude as they can from the subject you are teaching them.

While teachers are assigned a grade level or a subject area, ultimately teachers are teaching children more than just content. I am convinced my son who teaches students in automotive technology is teaching as much about attitude, work habits, developing confidence and being a good citizen as he is about an automobile. Our daughter who teaches multiply challenged children at the elementary level is demonstrating for parents, the school, and the community the inherent value and potential for every student regardless of the challenges they might face. My wife who was a preschool teacher and director demonstrated how important it is that young children get off to a good start and is now teaching other teachers to do the same.

Increasingly school divisions are getting an exception to the “Kings Dominion Law” requiring that schools begin after Labor Day. Fairfax County Public Schools is one district now starting before Labor Day. I have always opposed the current law and have voted to repeal it many times. A bill carried over from the past session for further consideration would leave the decision of the starting date for schools up to the local school division based on the unique circumstances of the community.

The legislature can do much more to support the education of our children than dabble in the starting date for schools. Pay for Virginia teachers lags below the national average by about $4,000. Clearly, teachers do not stay in the profession for the money, but they should not have to suffer with low pay because they chose to educate our children. At least in the community, we can express appreciation and offer our thank you to our teachers for the important work they do!

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Del. Ken Plum: Taking the Summer Off

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

As a teacher for a few years I was often chided by friends as having a “cushy” job getting all summer off from work. Other teachers get the same reaction from those who know little about the profession and certainly have no experience being in the classroom. In many jobs if you are having an off day, not feeling well, or just need a break it is possible to let some of the requirements of work slide until the next day.

Not so with teaching: every day in the classroom you have to be on–ready to face eager students and the challenges and opportunities they present. I continue to be impressed by teachers who can be enthusiastic and understanding early in the morning through afternoon five days a week from fall through spring. That’s why that summer break is so important.

And furthermore, you need the summer to take that additional course or workshop for updating your credentials, work that second or third job to balance the family budget, or recharge your mental and emotional batteries. For anyone with a different opinion about the challenges teachers face, visit some classrooms or better still teach for a while or substitute. You will soon learn why teachers are among the people I most admire.

My current “job” of being a legislator may get the same reaction from some who are not aware that the regular session of a couple of months of time spent in the State Capitol is just part of the job. Members of the General Assembly are considered citizen legislators with other responsibilities and are paid as part-time workers. Actually, the position can take as much time as a legislator can devote to it and the voters are willing to tolerate. Having retired from my full-time job in 1996 I happily devote full time to my legislative duties. Every two years I have to reapply to voters to keep my job, and with a two-year term some time every other year is devoted to campaigning.

During every year there are study committees and commissions that meet when the legislature is not in session. This week I participated in a meeting of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) of which I am a member. We provide oversight to the operation of state government including financial and management audit, reviews of the performance of state agencies and conducting studies on topics as requested by the legislature. I also serve on the Joint Commission on Technology and Science (JCOTS) that has meetings in the interim to consider future legislation and emerging science and technology issues. There are many other groups that work between legislative sessions.

Having a break for the summer from going to work as a teacher, legislator or other worker does not mean you are not working. We all need some mini-vacation times of long weekends or a real vacation to recharge our mental batteries. We can do a better job as a result.

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Del. Ken Plum: The Quest for Education

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I can remember the conversation almost word for word even though it occurred decades ago. The counselor in my high school asked me to come to her office, and there she told me it was time for me to start preparing applications to go to college. I was about to fall out of my chair. I explained to her that no one in my family had ever been to college, and there was no way that I could go. Most of my family had never finished high school. She told me that lots of people are the first in their families to go to college and that I could be such a person. I did not know what to answer; it was such a new idea that she proposed to me.

Secretly inside she had set ablaze in me a fire that would never go out. The excitement of the idea that I could go to college and learn about so many new things of which I had been curious was more than I could contain. I was skeptical, however, and I did not go to college the first year out of high school. The next year with lots of fear and trepidation I did start my education at a higher level, and I never have stopped.

From my Bachelor of Arts at Old Dominion College, now University, to my master’s in education at the University of Virginia to a thirty-year career with Fairfax County Public Schools, to the Plum Center for Lifelong Learning being named in my honor, to my teaching at George Mason University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, education both formal and informal has been a fundamental part of who I am. I can still feel the excitement that I have had in being a part of so many different educational experiences.

All these reminiscences about my educational background came back last week as my grandson received his MBA from Virginia Tech. Growing up in a family where the highest educational achievement was a brother who graduated from high school, I now live in a family where I, my wife and our children and grandchildren have among us 14 college degrees with six of those degrees being beyond the bachelor’s level. I am honored to represent a district with constituents who are among the very best educated in the state.

Needless to say, education is among the highest priorities I have as a legislator. I want all students to have access to educational programs that will help them realize their highest potential. Fundamental to me is that our educational system leave all students with a quest for knowledge and the appropriate tools with which to pursue their interests. We cannot afford to have students not like school, nor can we ignore the fact that learning is a lifelong adventure. We have the institutions and the resources to make education at higher levels the best in the Nation. Virginia needs to join the states that are making community colleges free. Can we afford it? The answer is simply that we cannot afford not to!

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Local Middle Schoolers Prepare for ‘Odyssey of the Mind’ World Finals

A seven-member team from Langston Hughes Middle School has advanced to the final round of the Odyssey of the Mind contest, an international educational competition that aims to develop creative problem-solving.

Students apply creativity by solving problems that range from building mechanical devices to presenting an interpretation of literary classics.

The team won second place in the Virginia State Tournament this month, qualifying them for the 39th annual world finals. The championship takes from on May 23 through May 26 at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa.

As the team prepares for the competition, it has launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise $14,000 to finance the journey, which includes expenses for housing, tournament registration and travel.

In March, the team won first place at the regional competition at Thomas Jefferson High School, where they were challenged to present a humorous, documentary-style performance based on a classic.

Photo via Kris Gabor

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Edlin School Student to Appear on NBC Show ‘Genius Junior’

A 12-year-old student from Edlin School (10742 Sunset Hills Road) will appear on the NBC show “Genius Junior” on Sunday (April 15). 

The show, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, airs every Sunday at 9 p.m.. Teams complete challenging brain teasers like spelling complex words backwards, relaying directions to a destination through rote memorization and memorizing the U.S. highway system.

Vinay Ayala, a seventh grader, is playing for the team, “The Fellowship of Genius Schmenius,” also known as FOGS. Other team members include an eight-year-old from Andover, Ma. and a nine-year-old from Kingsland, Ga..

Ayala enjoys building model cities and was part of a team that won first place in the national Future City competition earlier this year. He aspires to become an engineer.

“I love to memorize things,” Ayala said, noting that he can memorize a deck of shuffled cards in fifteen minutes and recite them in correct order.

The winning team will take home a grant that NBC promises will “set the stage for a big and bright future that lies ahead.”

Photo via NBC

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Wednesday Morning Notes

Reston-based Federal Contractor Sold to Private Equity Firm — Whitney, Bradley & Brown, Inc., a contractor with ties to defense agencies, was sold to an affiliate of global private equity firm H.I.G. Capital. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but H.I.G. manages $24 billion in equity capital worldwide. [Washington Business Journal]

Parenting Talk Tonight to Focus on Sexuality Education for Children —  Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and Cornerstones are hosting Dr. Debra Haffner for a talk about sexuality education. Haffner will discuss her award-winning book, “From Diapers to Dating: A Parenting Guide to Sexually Healthy Children.” The book is a step-by-step guide on how to provide accurate information to children and convey values about sexuality to children. [UUCR]

Registration for Reston-Herndon Little League Now Open — Interested applicants can submit registration online. Applications are due by January 1. The league is open to children between 4 and 12. [Reston Herndon Little League]

Discussion on Sue Wrbican’s ‘Well Past the Echo’ Exhibition Tomorrow Night — Molly Donovan, curator of contemporary for the National Gallery of Art, will give a talk on the exhibition and the overlap between surrealism and contemporary art. The event will take place from 6 – 7 p.m. at the Greater Reston Arts Center. [Greater Reston Arts Center via Facebook]

File photo.

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Reston-based STEM Academy Awarded Special Certification

Ideaventions Academy for Mathematics and Science, a Reston-based school for gifted children between  grades 4 and 12, received an award recognizing the school’s emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The school is the first in Virginia to receive the certification, called AdvancED STEM, from AdvancedED, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that involves educational professionals around the world.

School officials said the certification demonstrates the school’s commitment to preparing students for future opportunities. In order to earn the certification, the school had to demonstrate it meets STEM standards across 11 indicators. The organization also interview stakeholders to verify the school’s commitment to connecting learning from the classroom to the local community and the world.

In a statement, Ryan Heitz, head of school, said the certification was a boost for the independent school:

This certification is a reflection of Ideaventions Academy’s commitment to preparing students for top colleges and universities and to becoming the leaders of tomorrow. In this age of tremendous technological revolution, struggling educational systems, and changing workforce needs, the STEM certification acknowledges us as an international model for preparing students for the future with real-world skills and experiences to succeed. It also signals the private-sector that we are committed to exceptional levels of student ability and achievement for their STEM pipeline.

Ideaventions Academy is located on 12340 Pinecrest Road. The academy has small class sizes of 10 students per class or less. To learn more about the certification, email [email protected]

Images courtesy of Dee Donavik

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