Tuesday Morning Notes

Make Halloween a Treat, Not a Truck — “Ghosts, goblins, and ghouls will soon be coming out all over the area. Halloween is a festive occasion that we need to celebrate safely. Traditional jack-o-lanterns with candles are a tremendous fire hazard. A better way to light up your jack-o-lantern is to use a small string of holiday lights with yellow and red flashing bulbs. Additionally, small battery-powered candles can be used.” [Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department]

County to Hold Hearing on Real Estate Tax Exemption — “Fairfax County currently provides income-based real estate tax relief to homeowners based on income and disability. A revision to the Virginia Code in July now allows localities to exclude the disability income of disabled relatives living in a taxpayer’s home from the total combined income calculation.”  [Tysons Reporter]

McDaniel College Names Field in Honor of Reston Couple — “McDaniel College hosted the dedication of Rembert Field at McDaniel’s Kenneth R. Gill Stadium in honor of 1961 alumnus Donald Mosby Rembert, Sr., and 1960 alumna Judith Ellis Rembert of Reston, Va. The ceremony took place during the Green Terror football game against Muhlenberg on Saturday, Oct. 26.” [Reston Patch]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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Local Schools Recognized for Bridging Achievement Gaps in English and Math

Several local schools were acknowledged by Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Braband and the Fairfax County School Board for bridging achievement gaps in English and math.

Aldrin and Armstrong Elementary School were among the top ten schools in the county to achieve the highest average increase across all reporting groups in English.

Armstrong Elementary School, Herndon Middle School and Herndon High School earned the excellence in equity award for the highest average increase in math.

Lake Anne Elementary School was one of the top schools in the county to achieve the greatest reduction in the English achievement gap.

Awards were given based on school performance in the 2018-2019 school year and revised accreditation standards approved by the Virginia Board of Education in 2017.

Photo via Facebook

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Herndon High School to Expand Afterschool Programs for At-Risk Students

Herndon High School and Cornerstones have received $191,000 from the Virginia Department of Education, a grant that will allow the school to expand afterschool activities for at-risk students.

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers grant will help the Herndon High School 21st Century Community Learning Center, which will provide afterschool programming to improve academic performance and support developmental wellbeing.

Students will receive guidance on college, careers, life skills, community involvement, and cultural awareness. An eight-week program will supplement the school-year program.

The program will be open to between 50 and 60 students. The success of the program will be measured through objectives like improved reading and math skills, increased family engagement, reduced dropout rate, and increased emotional and social learning competencies. Rising ninth-grade students will also be involved in the center.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Education covers 32 percent of the total cost of the three-year program. Additional funding will be provided from the following community partners:

  • Herndon High School
  • Fairfax County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services
  • Cornerstones
  • Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services
  • Childcare Resources
  • Herndon United Methodist Church
  • Town of Herndon

Cornerstones will help develop the curriculum and activities for the project.

Photo via FCPS

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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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Virginia Tech Focuses on Working Professionals

Virginia Tech has been making local headlines lately with the announcement of its Innovation Campus in the newly-designated neighborhood of National Landing.

While the new campus will help cement the university’s regional footprint, Virginia Tech has been quietly providing graduate education opportunities in the D.C. area since 1969.

Virginia Tech’s Pamplin College of Business has offered its MBA programs in this region for decades and more recently made the decision to narrow its focus to working professionals in urban centers across the commonwealth.

“What we did at Virginia Tech a few years ago was to say that we really want to focus on the working professional — someone who wants to enhance their career or make a change in the direction of their career, but not at the expense of continuing to be a business professional,” says Pamplin Dean Robert Sumichrast. That allows those students to come into the classroom, he adds, “and use what they’ve learned as part of the experience of the MBA program.”

Arlington is home to the Executive MBA program, an 18-month, cohort-based option for mid-career professionals. The curriculum is centered around experiential learning modules that provide students with hands-on experience in topics like business analytics and leadership and governance.

The nationally-ranked Evening MBA program is based in Falls Church and designed to provide maximum flexibility. Students can change their course load each semester to balance work and other commitments. They also have the option to focus their degree in one of 10 specialization areas, including traditional business topics like finance and management, and some more niche areas like healthcare information technology.

The Professional MBA program is a 24-month hybrid option with once-per-month in-person classes that rotate between Richmond, Roanoke and Newport News.

Visit mba.vt.edu to learn more about Virginia Tech’s MBA programs, or register to attend an upcoming information session.

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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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Del. Ken Plum: Prekindergarten

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.

When asked at a session at the National Conference of State Legislatures what is the most important thing the government should be doing today, the Honorable Robert “J.B.” Pritzker, the 43rd governor of Illinois, responded “preparing young children to be successful in kindergarten.” His answer was not surprising considering that he had written earlier in a publication of his Pritzker Foundation that “preparing young children to learn the first day they enter kindergarten is the single most important step we can take to ensure better K-12 education, healthier kids, lower poverty rates, increased wage-earning capacity, and a stronger, more competitive workforce.”

He is not a former educator turned politician. He is an extraordinary person, however. According to Wikipedia, he holds more private wealth than any other governor in U.S. history and is the second wealthiest U.S. politician to have ever held office, after Michael Bloomberg. Forbes estimates his personal worth at $3.2 billion including his interest along with his family in the Hyatt hotel chain.

Governor Pritzker along with his wife established The Pritzker Children’s Initiative which directs its investments on a single, attainable goal: that all at-risk infants and toddlers in the United States have access to high-quality early childhood development resources, increasing their likelihood of success in school and life. As the Governor explained further, “Early childhood development is an arena that’s long been overlooked by philanthropy and government. Even programs as large as Head Start cover a very small sliver of the population of at-risk kids. It’s an arena attractive for a private philanthropist like me because I see it as a terrific investment.”

There is an abundance of evidence to support the Governor’s conclusion, but government has been slow to invest in early education as he advocates. While Virginia has made some modest beginnings, there is much remaining to be done by state and local government. There are some hopeful signs. Last week Governor Ralph Northam announced release of an Early Childhood Education Needs Assessment and Draft Strategic Plan for public reviews and comment. Echoing the sentiments expressed by his counterpart in Illinois, Governor Northam said that “when children have access to quality, stable, affordable care during their earliest years they build the foundation they need for future success not only for themselves but for their communities.” I encourage everyone interested in this critically important issue to review the draft plan at vcef.org and to submit their comments on it to [email protected] by August 31, 2019. More information on the plan and an opportunity to discuss it is provided on August 14, 10:00 a.m. at the ACCA Child Development Center, 7200 Columbia Pike, Suite 2, Annandale, VA 22003. Sorry for the last minute notice that I just received.

The Virginia State Chamber of Commerce that has been a consistent supporter of early childhood education is teaming up with the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation for a conference in Richmond on “Smart Beginnings for Virginia’s Workforce Pipeline” for legislators and thought leaders to explore a strong, public-private early childhood system in Virginia.

The evidence of the importance of earlier than kindergarten programs must not be ignored by politicians.

File photo 

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Protesters Criticize County School Board’s Transparency With Redistricting Proposal

Dozens of protesters showed up last night to the Fairfax County School Board’s work session on a proposal that would change how local school boundaries are adjusted.

Before the school board began discussing the proposal, the meeting room was packed with protesters. Police blocked the door, telling a crowd of about 30 people outside that they could not go into the room, which had reportedly reached its capacity.

The discussion on the proposal was delayed by an hour and a half as staff worked to set up overflow seating with live streaming of the work session in the cafeteria.

Around 7:30 p.m., Jeffrey Platenberg, the assistant superintendent for the Department of Facilities and Transportation Services, kicked off the discussion on the proposal with a presentation.

The draft policy would look at a new set of criteria for prompting and then establishing school boundaries. Once a school boundary change has been identified, some of the new criteria to create the new boundary include:

  • “socioeconomic and/or racial composition of students in affected schools”
  • “the safety of walking and busing routes”
  • “operational efficiency”

“When boundary changes are being considered by the School Board, the changes shall not be restricted by the boundaries of individual schools, administrative areas, zip codes, or magisterial district,” according to the draft. The proposal would also get rid of expedited boundary adjustments.

Throughout the meeting, protesters in the room waved signs saying “Communities Build Great Schools NOT Boundary Changes” and “Education Excellence NOT Social Engineering.” Several of the protesters said that they thought the process behind how the proposal was created was not transparent.

Some Great Falls residents have banded together to oppose the boundary changes — which could break up the Langley school pyramid. An online petition to keep the pyramid together has gained more than 2,000 signatories.

We want our school board and administration to recognize that redistricting would pull apart our community, will significantly decrease property values of hard-working families who pushed the envelope to move into this community, and most importantly, leaves the underlying problems unsolved,” the petition states.

School board members had mixed reactions to the proposal.

School Board Chair Karen Corbett Sanders said that “significant growth” in the Dulles Corridor that will impact schools and questioned if an outside consultant could help the board and community, since it “seems to be a bit of a disconnect that people don’t feel like we have let people about what we’re doing.”

“I very much support opening the boundary,” Jane Strauss, the Dranesville District representative, said.

Meanwhile, others raised concerns about equitable access outlined in the proposal.

At-Large Member Ilryong Moon said that he’s not convinced that the proposal is an improvement after asking for an example of “equitable access to educational opportunities” and Platenberg told him that school boundaries could change to prevent program placement in different schools.

The school board is slated to approve the draft in September ahead of its incorporation in the Capital Improvement Program draft in December.

Catherine Douglas Moran and Fatimah Waseem reported on this story.

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Reston Hospital Center Awards Scholarships to Local High School Graduates

Seventeen area high school seniors were recently awarded scholarships by the medical staff at Reston Hospital Center.

The student, who are from Fairfax and Loudoun County high schools, were recognized for academic excellence and excitement for pursue careers in healthcare.

RHC offers $15,000 in scholarships to local schools annually. The program has been in effect for the last 21 years.

“We are thrilled to be able to support these young adults as they venture into the world in search of their dream careers,” Dr. Avisesh Sahgal, president of Reston Hospital Center’s Medical Staff, said in a statement.

This year’s scholarship recipients are below:

  • Ansel Sanchez – Briar Woods High School
  • Lindsay Marie Burns – Broad Run High School
  • Anna Kate Erstling – Chantilly High School
  • Ashley Arely Reyes – Chantilly High School
  • Lillian Tran – Dominion High School
  • Riya Hadvani – Herndon High School
  • Christopher Ngo-Khang Nguyen – James Madison High School
  • Mariana Fernandes Gragnani – Langley High School
  • Yanni George Conomos – McLean High School
  • Maxmine Irmhild Ayompe-Mody – Oakton High School
  • Jasmine Chiann Foo – Oakton High School
  • Allison Armstrong – Park View High School
  • Rayness Mollinedo-Rodriguez – Park View High School
  • Chelsea Lazatin – Potomac Falls High School
  • Nicole Post – South Lakes High School
  • Olivia Nicole Chandler – Westfield High School
  • Daisy Allison Lopez Rosa – Westfield High School

Photo via Reston Hospital Center

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D.C. Area Professionals Benefit from Experiential Learning Approach

The working professionals who pursue the Arlington-based Executive MBA at Virginia Tech get a rich education in the fundamentals of business — accounting and finance, marketing, operations, ethics, communications and leadership.

But woven around those foundation courses are “experiential modules” designed to accelerate development in four essential and current areas:

  • Business analytics
  • Entrepreneurship & innovation
  • Leadership & governance
  • Global business

Each module includes two concentration classes plus a “big experience” course that puts the learning to work immediately, says Barbara Hoopes, academic director for Virginia Tech MBA Programs.

Corporate leaders are brought in “to provide guidance and bring real-life projects to students,” adds Parviz Ghandforoush, associate dean for graduate programs in the Pamplin College of Business.

What does this look like on the ground? For the analytics module, which covers BI and data mining along with marketing analytics, Hoopes brought in four software vendors — Microsoft, Qlik, SAS and Tableau — to provide access to their products and act as coaches.

Students addressed pressing issues with U.S. infrastructure using publicly available data to analyze Congressional airport funding and its relationship to economic growth, identify causal factors for large utility outages and predict hazard classifications of dams in order to prioritize inspections.

Hoopes asserts that students really “need to understand how data can be used to support their decision-making.” That means “learning how to tell a story that convinces others” — in other words, traversing that last mile between the data scientist and the people at the very top.

Ghandforoush notes that students often arrive with an expectation that the data work they will do during their MBA is a throw-away “because they don’t need it or they have analysts at work who will do this for them.” And yet faculty hear back from former skeptics that those lessons turned out to be the most valuable in the program “because they’re actually using it at work and they’ve seen the results.”

That’s just what Virginia Tech had in mind when it undertook its redesign of the MBA for working professionals. “It’s not like students graduate and four or five years later we will hear if they have benefited from their MBA,” he concludes. “This is like a laboratory. We get to watch this as it’s happening right before our eyes.”

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SLHS Theatre Director to Retire After 30 Years

A force behind more than 150 performances at South Lakes High School’s Theatre Arts program is leaving the program. Maria Harris, the program’s theatre arts director, plans to retire after 30 years of coaching students, putting on productions, and watching the program grow over the last three decades.

Harris is now turning toward what she calls her final act: her own acting career and production company, Rising Star Productions, and spending more time with her family and aging parents.

“It’s been a good career, but it’s not over yet,” Harris said. She commutes two hours daily from her home in Loudoun County to SLHS.

After teaching for a few years in Michigan — where she was born — and two other Fairfax County schools, Harris landed a full time job at SLHS. She’s worked as the performing arts chair and taught speech, english, theatre and film — watching the program grow from two shows required per year to an around-the-year program. The job has given her the opportunity to travel with her students — including the prestigious American High School Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland where the school was selected to represent Virginia. Her students have also won two state championships in the Virginia High School League’s film competition.

Over the years, she said she has most enjoyed watching her students grow. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here at SLHS. I love, love, love my kids and I’m going to miss them the most.” Before shows, she assembles her students into a big circle and leads them through breathing exercises, passing a squeeze of good wishes down the chain of linked hands until they reach her.

Ryleigh Line, one of her students, told Reston Now that Harris has helped many students realize their full potential.

“The most important thing that she does for us is support us and she pushes us to be the best we can be by having high expectations and constructive feedback for us after every assignment and production,” Line said. “The South Lakes community will miss Mrs. Harris very much and are forever thankful for her.”

For Harris, who calls herself a “Motown girl,” the arts were ingrained in her lifestyle since she was five. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Wayne State University.

While she was working in the school’s program, she launched Rising Star Productions in Reston in order to fill the lack of “cultural theatre” in the community. For years, she worked with her team to bring African American Theatre to Reston Community Center. She has appeared in films including Broadcast News and Accidental Tourist.  Her stages roles include Addapearle in The Wiz, Bloody Mary in South Pacific, Asaka in Once on This Island, and Myrna Thorn in Ruthless! The Musical.

“I wish my students the very best, whether they take their careers into theater or whatever they endeavor to do.”

Photo via Maria Harris

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Great Falls Preschool Program Seeks to Expand Programs

Village Green Day School, a private preschool in Great Falls, is expanding its infant care programs in celebration of its 40th anniversary this year.

The school will offer a new infant program this summer in response to growing parental demand for expanded programs, according to Jason Lody, the Executive Head of School.

“As we reflected on our current community’s needs, we also identified a growing need for infant care in Great Falls and its surrounding communities. Because of this we will start a dedicated infant care program with an environment inspired by the Montessori philosophy and use of the Creative Curriculum to support the child’s development during their time here,” Lody told Reston Now.

Although county approval is pending — the school must modify its special exemption with the county — the expanded program is expected to open its doors on August 26.

No changes to occupancy or the number of on-site employees are proposed. But the school is seeking to restrict the enrollment age from two months to three months. The school does not enroll children who are older than one year.

Lody offered the following description about the program:

Village Green’s Infant Program is designed to provide a stimulating environment where each child is provided an individual routine that supports physical, literacy, language, health, and social/emotional learning.  Guided by standards from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) our infant program allows for each child to experience relationship with caring adults who are specially trained teachers with experience in infant care.

The school’s application is set for a hearing before the Fairfax County Planning Commission on July 17, followed by a vote by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on July 30.

Photo via Jason Lody

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New Education Shelter to Open at Riverbend Park

A new shelter designed to support environmental education programs will open in Riverbend Park in Great Falls this spring. Residents can also reserve the shelter for community gatherings and events.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is set for Saturday, April 27. The $864,000 project — financed through voter-approved park bonds —  also includes 18 new parking spaces and enhanced stormwater management.

Judy Pederson, a spokeswoman for the Fairfax County Park Authority, told Reston Now the new outdoor education shelter “serves a vital role in outdoor education for local school children,” allowing residents to host up to six classes simultaneously. Previously, the park’s facilities only allowed three classes to be held at once — two indoors and one outdoors.

FCPA hopes the new shelter will meet growing demand for additional educational facilities. Buses can also park near boat trailer parking spaces in the lower waterfront parking, Pederson said.

Photo via Fairfax County Park Authority

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GMU’s Schar School of Policy and Government No. 2 for Security Studies Programs

The Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University has been named No. 2 in the country in the 2019 U.S. News & World Report for its security studies programs.

If you dream of a career in international security, homeland security, emergency management or other fields that tackle “wicked problems” around the world, the Schar School has top-rated master’s degrees, graduate certificate programs and PhD programs to help you achieve your goals.

The Arlington, Virginia-based Schar School, convenient to the decision-and policy-makers of Washington, D.C., boasts a faculty that includes program former Central Intelligence Agency and National Security Agency director Michael V. Hayden, former ambassador Richard Kauzlarich and inaugural Carnegie Fellow and terrorism expert Louise Shelley.

Faculty also includes border security expert Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, former president and CEO of the Stimson Center Ellen Laipson, regional economics expert Stephen Fuller and former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.

The Schar School is an important part of George Mason’s Research 1 Doctoral Universities rating as its faculty and students contribute research of consequence in fields including biodefense, homeland security, emergency management, global relations, war, elections, federalism, economics, energy and others.

For more information about Schar School offerings, including graduate programs in Biodefense, International Commerce, International Security, Organization Development & Knowledge Management, Public Administration, Public Policy, Political Science, Transportation Policy and Operations & Logistics, click here.

Join us for an online information session to learn more about the Schar School’s Master’s in International Commerce and Policy program. The webinar begins at noon (EST) on Thursday, April 11. The webinar is free. Register here.

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