Tysons, VA

The Fairfax Education Association is petitioning Fairfax County Public Schools to remain virtual until August 2021.

“​Science and Health Safety data support and require that no one should return to in person instruction until there is a widely available scientifically proven vaccine or highly effective treatment,” the petition said. “The metric for Safe Reopening should be 14 days of zero community spread.”

So far, the petition has more than 1,000 signatures and is 600 away from its goal. The union, which represents 4,000 staff in the school system, published the petition on Sept. 30, but received renewed attention after a tweet about it went viral.

But not all teachers support the petition, according to one Twitter user.

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McLean High School is one of three Fairfax County public schools that have canceled plans to serve as test centers for the SAT on Nov. 7.

One of the other schools, Hayfield Secondary School in Alexandria, has scheduled a make-up date for Nov. 21, but McLean’s next SAT test date is not until Dec. 5. The third school to opt out of the Nov. 7 testing date — Westfield High School in Chantilly — does not appear to be offering the SAT again until Mar. 13.

Fairfax County Public Schools says it is customary for individual schools to make their own decisions about hosting the SAT, because they are responsible for assigning staff to proctor the test.

“The three schools that cancelled in Fairfax County for November 7 cited various reasons for doing so, primarily due to staffing difficulties,” FCPS director of news and information Lucy Caldwell said in a statement to Tysons Reporter. “Fortunately, students are able to take the exams at any of the schools where it is offered.”

Higher education institutions have long used scores from standardized tests like the SAT to help determine student admissions, but skepticism of this approach has grown in recent years, with critics arguing that the tests tend to be culturally biased and favor students whose families can afford to pay for private tutoring.

According to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, also known as FairTest, more than 1,630 four-year universities and colleges in the U.S. have made reporting SAT or ACT scores optional for fall 2021 admissions, including Fairfax’s George Mason University, which became the first public university in Virginia to adopt a test-optional policy in 2007.

Because of school closures and public health concerns triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, the National Association for College Admission Counseling released a statement on Aug. 26 urging public institutions to make standardized test scores optional for the 2021-22 admissions cycle.

“Inequities caused by COVID-19 disruption – loss of family income, secondary school closures, interruptions in the K-12 educational program – will worsen an already difficult situation for millions of students,” NACAC said. “In this critical time, public colleges must be mindful of their founding purpose of serving students and families and recognize that lifting testing requirements in 2020-21 will be in the students’ best interest.”

College Board, the nonprofit that oversees the SAT, asked colleges to provide flexibility by extending deadlines for receiving test scores, giving equal consideration to students who can and cannot submit scores, and recognizing that students who do submit scores may not have had the opportunity to take the test more than once.

After putting the SAT on hiatus in April, May, and June, College Board resumed administering the test in August, but the organization notes that “there is limited testing capacity in certain areas due to public health restrictions and high demand.”

FCPS high schools hosted an SAT School Day on Sept. 23. A list of schools that will be hosting the SAT on Nov. 7 can be found at fcps.edu/sat.

Students are required to wear masks, complete a health screening questionnaire, and register the exam ahead of time, rather than on-site, among other guidelines.

“Fairfax County Public Schools is committed to the health and safety of all staff, students, and parents/guardians,” FCPS says. “All testing procedures and safety protocols will be followed to ensure testing and cleaning practices meet current health department and division guidance.”

Photo via McLean High School PTSA

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As anyone working from home might have noticed, it can be difficult to work productively when there’s no sort of supervision. The Old Firehouse Center (1440 Chain Bridge Road) in McLean is offering a program that gives students that in-person pressure to stay focused on virtual learning.

“Old Firehouse Learning Connection is a supervised e-learning program held at the Old Firehouse Center, supervised by our staff, designed for students in 7th-12th grades,” the McLean Community Center said on its website. “The program will provide a supervised environment for students to complete their school-led virtual instruction.”

The program includes limited socially distant recreation during breaks and some help from staff with school work, but the focus is on providing a supervised environment.

The program runs rom Tuesday-Friday, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Sessions are each around one month long, and $300-$400.

  • Session 1: 8101.220 — 9/8-10/2 — $400
  • Session 2: 8102.220 — 10/6-10/30 — $400
  • Session 3: 8103.220 — 11/4-11/24 — $300
  • Session 4: 8104.220 — 12/1-12/18 — $300

No transportation will be provided and the program is only available to residents of McLean Small Tax District 1A.

Photo via Google Maps

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As kids return to the classroom, Tysons Reporter wants to know how parents and the community feel about this current school year.

The Fairfax County Public School Board debated the best practices for the start of the school year and ultimately decided to begin with a primarily virtual classroom — incorporating varied in-person learning opportunities for certain ages.

FCPS released a portal to help families work out technical issues that caused confusion in the spring.

Despite attempts to confront potential issues, Fairfax County officials previously expressed concern about the lack of childcare opportunities for parents who work full-time jobs while their kids are in school.

To fix this, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a motion to allow county staff to work with FCPS on ways to improve resources and support systems for working families.

Do you feel that these measures are enough?

Please fill out the poll below and then expand on your opinion in the comments.

Additionally, if you’d like to share your experience with us personally or share a news tip, please send our editorial team an email.

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Tysons theater 1st Stage is continuing its earlier shift towards online classes with a new series of acting courses aimed to help introduce adults or children to acting or continue their education.

Each course consists of six classes with prices starting at $100 per course.

Classes are taught over Zoom sessions. The deadline for registration is Monday, Sept. 21.

Classes for adults include:

  • Playwriting (Tuesdays, Sept. 29-Nov. 3 from 4-6 p.m.) — The class will introduce students to playwriting concepts like idea generation, dramatic action, character and dialogue development.
  • Beginning Acting (Thursdays, Oct. 1-Nov. 5 from 6-7 p.m.) — The class will introduce students to developing believable characters within the play text and teach acting techniques.
  • A Director Prepares (Tuesdays, Sept. 29-Nov. 3 from 1-2 p.m.) — The class will introduce students to direction, particularly on the production, preparation, and conceptualization aspects. The class will also touch on casting and working with designers and actors.
  • Beginning Voice Training (Fridays, Oct. 2-Nov. 6 from 1-3 p.m.) — The class introduces students to healthy singing techniques, including warm-ups and cool downs, vocal exercises, and simple songs.
  • Play Reading and Discussion (Fridays, Oct. 2-Nov. 6 from 7-8 p.m.) — The class will involve reading and discussing plays, as well as discussing analytic techniques.
  • Introduction to Improvisation (Wednesdays, Sept. 30-Nov. 4) — The class is an introduction to the basics of improvisation, like “yes, and…” as well as other foundational improv techniques.
  • Intermediate Improvisation (Sundays, Oct. 4-Nov. 8 from 1-2 p.m.) — Students will build on more advanced improv skills and concepts from the earlier Intro to Improv class, with a focus on creating characters and scenes quickly, bold choices, and working together to form a scene.

Five courses are available for grades 1st through 12th.

Classes include:

  • Drama Games (1st-2nd Grade, Mondays, Sept. 28-Nov. 2 from 4-4:45 p.m.) — The course introduces children to basic acting skills with games, activities and exercises.
  • Introduction to Improvisation (3rd-6th Grade, Wednesdays, Sept. 30-Nov. 4 from 4-4:45 p.m.) — This class will cover the basics of improv concepts and building on natural instincts.
  • Beginning Improv (Middle School, Thursdays, Oct. 1-Nov. 5  from 4-4:45 p.m.) — Similar to Introduction to Improvisation, Beginning Improv will focus on teaching improv concepts.
  • Building Your Book (High School, Fridays, Oct. 2-Nov. 6 from 4 p.m.-6 p.m.) — This intermediate class aims to help advanced singers through warmups, cooldowns and exercises. The class is geared towards polishing songs with vocal, musical, and dramatic performances.
  • Play Reading And Discussion (High School, Saturdays, Oct. 3-Nov. 7, 12 p.m.-1 p.m.) — The class will focus on reading and discussing plays with classic and modern analyzing techniques.
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After noticing gender inequalities in STEM classes and extracurricular activities, the founders of Girls Who Math decided to intervene by setting up a tutoring service for girls and young women.

A free platform created in 2019, the program works by matching mentees with volunteers who have certain areas of expertise, Cynthia Wang, a founding member and the current director at Girls Who Math, said.

Wang is currently a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology and lives in Falls Church. She is a part of the five-person team, which includes a Longfellow Middle School alumnus and a McLean High School student.

The program’s tutors currently help more than 700 students around the world with material for grades K-12 including computer coding, math classes and chemistry, the website said.

Girls Who Math offers more than tutoring — the program regularly hosts seminars that help girls with things like college admissions, Wang said, adding that they try to educate people on other free resources available.

Since the beginning of COVID-19, Wang said that the program has increased in popularity and many families are taking advantage of the service since kids are struggling to adapt to online classrooms.

Despite the group’s growth, Wang said that there are underlying problems beyond a demand for tutoring that need to be addressed. Before the program’s founding, she had been offering casual tutoring services to her peers and began to notice some problematic trends.

“I thought there was a discorporate amount of girls [who sought out tutoring],” she said, adding that she later learned this was because they felt uncomfortable asking questions during class because they would be unfairly judged by their peers.

It turned out that the problems didn’t end there. She also said that she noticed what could be labeled as sexism in other areas of academia as well — noting examples of when she sometimes felt unwelcome at clubs in middle school because the coaches would unjustly assume based on her gender alone that she didn’t have the skills to succeed or the ability to learn.

“It made something click in my mind,” she said.

Though Wang is still often the only girl in many of her clubs and extracurriculars, she hopes that Girls Who Math will empower young women across the globe and close the gender inequality gaps.

Anyone interested in getting involved with Girls Who Math can sign up online to become a volunteer or mentee.

Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

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As families, educators and school systems grapple with how to return to school during the coronavirus pandemic, some parents are turning to “learning pods” this fall.

Learning pods — also known as “pandemic pods” — are essentially micro-schools. Small groups of kids learn together in-person either from a tutor or parents.

A New York Times survey found that most of the families who said they plan to use learning pods said that they address both concerns about health risks at school and desire for in-person education.

Some local parents say that having multiple families chip in makes hiring a tutor more affordable and that the pods will make it easier for them to go back to work than if their kids were learning virtually.

However, the concept has raised questions about the wealth disparity with education.

Fairfax County Public Schools recently brought up concerns about “tutoring pods,” saying that the school system is declining requests from parents to have FCPS teachers lead their pods.

“While FCPS doesn’t and can’t control these private tutoring groups, we do have concerns that they may widen the gap in educational access and equity for all students,” the statement said. “Many parents cannot afford private instruction. Many working families can’t provide transportation to and from a tutoring pod, even if they could afford to pay for the service.”

Let us know in the poll and comments below what you think of learning pods.

Photo by Annie Spratt/Unsplash

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Fairfax County Public Schools will have a virtual start to the year. But a program launched by Fairfax County will offer full-day, on-site programming for children in elementary and middle school.

The program, “Supporting Return to School,” aims to ensure that “all families have equitable access to the services they need to support children’s virtual learning,” according to the county.

Here’s more from the county on the initiative:

SRS will provide support for children’s active and engaged learning during the FCPS virtual academic day and promote children’s social, emotional and physical development. In addition to participating in distance learning, children will have opportunities to explore, engage, relax and enjoy activities that follow the SRS 2020-21 program curriculum, The Great Outdoors: Road Trips Through the Americas. What a perfect time for a virtual journey and to spend real time outdoors!

Enrollment begins on August 24 and space is limited. Each classroom will have a group of no more than 10 children who stay together every day. The program takes place on weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in 37 FCPS schools.

A sliding fee scale is available for income-eligible families. Breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack will be provided.

Photo via Unsplash

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Due to the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has three scenarios for reopening schools this fall.

In May, a task force was created to prepare recommendations for FCPS reopening. On June 9, Gov. Ralph Northam unveiled his phased reopening plan, which provides flexibility for schools in Virginia.

The school board discussed the proposed Return to School plan, which includes three reopening scenarios, Monday afternoon.

The three scenarios are:

  1. virtual learning for all students
  2. in-school learning with health and social distancing
  3. online learning for students with a high risker of severe illness

In the first scenario, students would not be allowed in buildings but the staff would be. Students would have four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Meanwhile, the second scenario has two proposals for attendance in the buildings at any one time — 50% and 25%.

In-school learning would include cleaning of high-touch areas, daily health screening forms, social distancing in classrooms and on buses and restricting buildings to visitors.

Finally, the third scenario would make groups of students and teachers for online instruction. With the online model, students would receive four days of synchronous learning per week and one day of asynchronous learning.

Additionally, FCPS has proposals for what would happen if the pandemic prompted another shutdown. The plan also mentions shared elements of the three scenarios — middle and high school students having access to laptops via FCPSOn — and how they address equity.

Discussion during the meeting today noted that FCPS needs to prepare for the possibility that more than one scenario might happen, especially if there’s a resurgence of COVID-19.

How to keep students and staff dominated the school board’s discussion.

Gloria Addo-Ayensu, the director of the Fairfax County Health Department, said that there aren’t plans to test students prior to them coming back to school. Addo-Ayensu noted that screening forms are a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addo-Ayensu and Benjamin Schwartz, a medical epidemiologist with Fairfax County, said that data on the impact of COVID-19 on kids is limited.

They said that the infection rate is unknown for kids and added that information is emerging on Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome of Children (MIS-C) — a rare but serious COVID-19 complication.

Input from local health data and the Fairfax County Department of Health will inform the final decisions, according to the plan.

“You’re talking hundreds and hundreds of kids coming in at once,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said, adding that social distancing cannot be guaranteed in schools.

Brabrand said that safety procedures are also important for retaining staff: “We don’t want folks resigning.”

FCPS is looking to get face shields for bus drivers and special education teachers, Brabrand noted. Ricardy Anderson, the representative for the Mason District, called for teachers to receive face shields as well.

If FCPS decides to go with an in-person reopening that alternates days for students, childcare could become an issue for families.

Dranesville District Representative Elaine Tholen suggested that FCPS coordinate with the Fairfax County Park Authority so that families and staff have childcare options.

Tholen proposed a “creative idea” to turn outdoor space at the schools and nearby parks into childcare centers contained in tents, adding that kids could access WiFi outside the schools.

Brabrand and Hunter Mill District Representative Melanie Meren agreed that more childcare is needed, with Brabrand calling it a “great idea.”

As FCPS moves forward with plans for the fall, the school board is aware that the botched rollout of online learning this spring puts more pressure on the school system to get the reopening right.

“We can’t risk another failure like we did before,” Providence District Representative Karl Frisch said.

Brabrand addressed the criticism of the distance learning attempts, saying it’s important that FCPS does not overpromise and under-deliver: “We did that before.”

Families will have several opportunities to provide feedback on the recommendations ahead of the deadline for FCPS to announce a reopening decision on June 26.

FCPS plans to host a town hall on Tuesday, June 16, that will talk about the Return to School plans. The town hall is set to run from 6:30-7:30 p.m. and will include Brabrand, the assistant superintendent of Facilities and Transportation Services and the manager of School Health Services.

People can also submit feedback by emailing the superintendent at [email protected] and fill out a survey.

FCPS also plans to hold a virtual public hearing on the Return to School plans at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 18. People can register online to speak.

Photo via Element5 Digital/Unsplash, infographics via FCPS

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A Vienna learning center is helping out kids in need by temporarily supplying them with laptops during this era of online learning.

Stemtree of Vienna typically offers four different science, technology and engineering courses for students but decided to loan laptops to students throughout the community who don’t have access to computers for online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to its Facebook page.

The center’s curriculum director Abdelghani Bellaachia said that the program distributed roughly 10 laptops in the last few weeks and still has availability for students in need. He added that a student doesn’t have to meet any criteria for the free laptop loan besides being in need and a promise to treat the equipment with respect.

Though families might have one or two laptops to share between kids, Bellaachia said he understands this might not meet the demand of online school. “We understand families might need an extra laptop.”

The center has been working with public schools like Westbriar Elementary School in Vienna to ensure the needs are being met, according to Bellaachia.

Anyone interested can register online and then set up a time to pick it up by calling (703) 281-STEM (7836) or sending an email.

All laptops must be returned by June 10 so the center has its equipment to start summer camps on June 15 under the first phase of the reopening plan set forth by Fairfax County and the Virginia Department of Health, Bellaachia said.

Students in the camps will be with peers in groups of 10 or less and have designated equipment for the week, according to Bellaachia, so families and the center can limit risk.

Photo via Stemtree/Facebook

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