Reston, VA

To lift little spirits and keep up an annual tradition, a Sunrise Valley Elementary teacher and her teaching assistants decided to coordinate with her students’ families to decorate t-shirts for the kids while keeping in mind safety and social distance guidelines.

“Every school year they make t-shirts for all the kids, the kids make their stencil designs and then they spray paint it so they can remember their kindergarten year,” Megan Bailey, mother of Alexandra said. “But this year because of the pandemic they had to adjust their way of doing it.”

To work around school closures, teacher Stefanie Marik individually met the families at 18 different homes, where the kids had already prepared a shirt with some sort of stencil pattern, according to Bailey, who added that it took roughly three or four hours.

“My teammates (Miranda Stitzel and Kristen Lauver) and I wanted to give some closure to our young friends, make sure they feel connected and at the same time be Covid safe,” Marik told Reston Now, adding that this tradition has been going on for over 10 years.

Marik also said that the team felt so much love from their community and they were thankful to be able to keep up that bond between themselves and the students.

Alexandra’s mother said that the young girl was almost speechless when she was able to see her teachers and didn’t want them to leave.

“She was so excited, it was really hard on the students. My child is an extrovert so she was really missing the classroom environment,” Bailey said about Alexandra. “Their little five and six-year-old brains can’t really grasp what was going on. She wanted to hug them, but that’s not really possible right now,”  McCue said.

Marik mentioned that other parents, like Sarah McCue, were really touched by the activity and the teachers hope to get a Zoom “class photo” in the shirts.

Photo courtesy Stefanie Marik

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Several Reston schools will participate in the annual walk-to-school day tomorrow.

Kids across the country are encouraged to walk or bike to school on Wednesday, Oct. 2, in order to limit their carbon footprint, live healthier lives and learn safety procedures, according to the National Center for Safe Routes to School website.

“When families decide to lace up their sneakers or strap on their bike helmets to get to school instead of riding in a car, they help reduce the amount of air pollutants emitted by automobiles,” the center said, adding that the program began in 1997 and now has participants from all 50 states and more than 40 countries.

So far, six schools around the Reston area are signed up to participate and are listed below.

  • Aldrin Elementary
  • Dogwood Elementary
  • Forest Edge Elementary
  • Hunters Woods Elementary
  • Sunrise Valley Elementary
  • Terraset Elementary

For parents or guardians concerned about safety, the website says parents can accompany their children to school or see if there are any “walking school-buses” organized by fellow parents.

Contact phone numbers for adults leading walks to specific schools can be found online.

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Monday Morning Notes

Sunrise Valley Elementary School Turns 40 — “When Sunrise Valley Elementary School (SVES) was established in September 1978, it was still under construction. Students were initially bused to South Lakes High School to attend classes. The school officially opened its doors on Sept. 4, 1979 with Principal William “Bill” Berkeley Martin welcoming the first 600 students as they walked through the front entrance, according to the SVES website.” [Fairfax County Times]

County Police to Offer Car Seat Safety Checks — The Fairfax County Police Department is hosting several free car seat safety and install events on a monthly basis this year. The Reston District stations will offer reviews by appointment only on Oct. 17, Nov. 14, and Dec. 12. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Metro to Weigh Fare Increase — Metro could raise fares or make other changes next year, a prospect that is drawing pushback from the Metro Board’s Riders’ Advisory Council… The council had a budget briefing and discussion earlier this month, and urged the board to think more creatively about fare changes that could get riders onto the system. [WTOP]

Photo by Jay Westcott

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Bike to School Day returns to Fairfax County Public Schools tomorrow (Wednesday). The annual event aims to promote physical activity and put a dent into traffic congestion and pollution near schools.

As students bike or walk to school, parents are encouraged to accompany their kids to school and organize bike trains or walking groups.

The event is part of a series of events this month, which is National Bike Month. Bike to Work Day is set for May 17. FCPS provides guidance on the safest routes to and from schools in the county.

Reston schools participating in Bike to School Day include:

  • Aldrin Elementary School
  • Lake Anne Elementary School
  • Sunrise Valley Elementary School
  • Terraset Elementary School

For more information, visit the county’s website.

Photo courtesy of Steve Gurney

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Thursday Morning Notes

Stay away from Lake Audubon and Lake Thoreau — A toxic algae bloom spotted at the lakes two weeks ago remains, so Reston Association staff are encouraging residents to avoid contact with the water. Pets also shouldn’t swim or drink from the lakes. [Reston Association]

Silver Line investigation continues — Metro’s Office of the Inspector General announced Wednesday that it’ll take over an investigation into flawed concrete in phase two of the Silver Line extension project. The effort is currently overseen by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. [The Washington Post, WMATA]

A natural recovery at Sunrise Valley Elementary School — When a renovation project at the school required the removal of trees to maintain line of sight for pedestrians and drivers, Reston Association, the school system and two design firms partnered to restore a natural area at the school. The area is now a natural habitat for birds, butterflies and other animals. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Flickr pool photo by vantagehill

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Students who will be graduating from South Lakes High School next week walked familiar halls this morning to provide inspiration to the community’s youth.

In a new tradition, seniors were able to visit their elementary school alma maters and celebrate with the kids there. Schools documented via social media the occasion, which was described as a moving experience for all involved.

“This is the first year for this Graduate Walk but it went so beautifully that we hope to make it a yearly tradition,” said Emily Burrell, spokesperson for South Lakes High School. “It was an emotional experience for the soon-to-be graduates and their elementary teachers. And the elementary students were thrilled to celebrate the graduates. They even made signs in the South Lakes colors. There were tears of joy all around.”

Students who did not attend an elementary school in Reston were allowed to choose which school they visited, Burrell said.

South Lakes High School’s seniors will graduate during a ceremony Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Eagle Bank Arena on the campus of George Mason University.

Photos courtesy South Lakes High School

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Sara Balcanoff, Sunrise Valley Elementary School

A new way of learning at Sunrise Valley Elementary School is giving students the opportunity to stretch their creative thinking skills like never before.

Sara Balcanoff is the advanced academic resources teacher at SVES, as well as at Greenbriar West Elementary School in Fairfax. She has been helping students for the past year as they are encouraged to visualize, design and create to supplement their learning in core classes.

“The kids are impressive,” Balcanoff said. “They’re very imaginative.”

Balcanoff said kindergarten, first- and second-grade classes come in weekly to use the school’s “Makerspace” to experiment and learn to solve problems in creative and unique ways. Students also use the space to create projects related to units in other classes.

“It looks like trash, but they have to figure out how to make it work for their model,” Balcanoff said.

Projects can be made out of a variety of everyday materials including cardboard tubes, styrofoam blocks, bottle caps and more to help with fundamentals including creating simple machines and learning about force and motion.

“They have to use these materials to design a car,” she said of a first-grade project. “The car has to go a certain speed, it has to go a certain distance, it has to be able to stop in a certain location.”

Kevin West, Sunrise Valley principal, said Balcanoff’s work is an important part of creating a well-rounded learning environment.

“She really works on developing critical thinking with students, creativity, innovation, problem solving and collaboration,” he said. “It’s what we call in Fairfax County the ‘Portait of a Graduate.'”

Balcanoff recently applied for and received a $1,675 grant from Apple Federal Credit Union, which she will use to purchase a class set of programmable robotic toys called Spheros that she says can be used in a variety of educational ways.

“A lot of our students, outside of school, are starting to pursue an interest in coding,” she said. “I really want to bring that into school and into the curriculum a lot more, and have it accessible to more students.”

Balcanoff said she is hopeful the new technology will help get older students into the Makerspace more. Spheros can be used to design and create mazes, obstacle courses and other engineering challenges, she said, as well as to paint and draw.

“They have to code their way through them,” she said. “We can test it with weight limits and speed — there’s a lot that we’re going to work on.”

Balcanoff said she hopes to introduce another new coding toy, the Makey Makey, into the school later this year. The Makey Makey allows users to make everyday objects into keyboards, game controllers and more.

“The possibilities with this are endless,” she said.

West said the school is fortunate to have someone with Balcanoff’s innovative mind on staff.

“She is a great resource for our students and also for our teachers,” West said. “She’s very focused on providing very innovative educational opportunities for our students, a very dynamic learning environment for our kids.”

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Friday Morning Notes

W&OD Trail -- January 12, 2017

Metro Board Members to Hold Forum in Reston — The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce will host Virginia’s WMATA Board delegation Wednesday, Jan. 25 for a public discussion about Metro’s budget. Subjects will include the decision-making process when it comes to increasing fares and reducing train frequency. [Northern Virginia Transportation Commission]

Fairfax County Schools FY2018 Budget Proposed — A $2.8 billion budget for county schools would include $44 million for an average step increase of 2.5 percent for all eligible employees, including teachers and non-teachers. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Sunrise Valley Elementary School Teacher Earns Grant — Six Fairfax County Public Schools teachers, along with five schools, were recently awarded grants from Apple Federal Credit Union. Among them was Sara Balcanoff at Sunrise Valley Elementary School. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Number of Local Events Honor Dr. Martin Luther King — Don’t forget there will be plenty to do in Reston this holiday weekend. Scheduled activities include special speakers, performances and community service projects. [Reston Now]

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Kevin West (right)/Credit: Alexandria City Public SchoolsSunrise Valley Elementary School has a new principal.

Kevin West of George Mason Elementary School in Alexandria will take over beginning July 1, Fairfax County Public Schools Cluster 8 Superintendent Fabio Zuluaga said in an e-mail to SVES parents.

Tim Stanley, a retired FCPS administrator, had been serving as the school’s interim principal for 2013-14 after former principal Beth English retired last year.

From Zuluaga:

It gives me great pleasure to inform you that Mr. Kevin West has been selected as principal of Sunrise Valley Elementary School beginning July 1st 2014. Mr. West comes to us from the City of Alexandria, where he is currently the principal of George Mason Elementary School and where he served with distinction.

Mr. West brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the principalship. Under his leadership, his current school earned a three-year waiver from annual accreditation due to “achievement of SOL passing rates of 95% or higher in all four tested SOL content areas for two consecutive years” — only 5% of schools in the state earned this waiver.

His school also received the Virginia Board of Education Excellence Award for advanced learning and achievement, and was recognized as “Best Elementary School” in Northern Virginia Magazine. In Alexandria, Mr. West served as the Lead Principal for Curriculum and Instruction for the city’s schools.

Mr. West began his career in the Fairfax County Public Schools, serving as a 5thgrade teacher at Crossfield Elementary School and 8th grade social studies teacher at Robinson Secondary School.

In 2004 he moved to Arizona where he taught, served as an instructional and technology coach and instruction specialist. In 2005, Mr. West was promoted to assistant principal and then principal of Canyon Ridge School. Canyon Ridge is the division’s Math, Science & Technology Concept School and also includes the District Gifted Program. Under Mr. West’s leadership Canyon Ridge emphasized 21st century learning and instructional innovation, including problem-based learning, content and technology integration across all grade levels. Mr. West was recognized as a “Visionary Administrator” at Canyon Ridge.

Mr. West earned his B.S. at James Madison University, his Masters of Education at Marymount University, and his Certificate in Ed. Administration at Arizona State University West.

Photo:  Kevin West (right) and George Mason ES student/Credit: ACPS

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Pumpkin Pinocchio  (Photo by Nancy Cole)Fairfax County Public Schools in-house TV network, Red Apple 21, visited Reston’s Sunrise Valley Elementary School recently to showcase its annual Storybook Pumpkin Festival.

The event, organized by librarian Katie Pieruccini, challenges students to make a pumpkin look like a favorite children’s literary character.

The pumpkins will be on display for several more weeks in the school library.

Check out the video here.

(Photo by Nancy Cole)

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