A senior at Langley High School, a county planner who helped craft an environmental plan for Reston, and a local business dedicated to reducing waste are among the recipients of this year’s Fairfax County Environmental Excellence Awards.
Handed out annually since 2000, the awards recognize residents, county staff, businesses and other organizations “who demonstrate extraordinary leadership within the community and exceptional dedication to the preservation and enhancement of the county’s natural resources,” according to the Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination.
Announced at the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday (Sept. 12), the winners were selected by the Environmental Quality Advisory Council, an advisory group appointed by the board. The council administers the awards with OEEC’s support.
“By giving their time, passion and expertise for the betterment of our environment, these awardees are true climate champions,” said Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, who chairs the board’s Environmental Committee. “We applaud them for leading by example and helping to ensure that our county residents and visitors can enjoy a healthy and beautiful Fairfax County for decades to come.”
The lone winner in the individual county resident category was Mei Torrey, a rising senior at Langley High School who “promotes and actively seeks opportunities to increase awareness of, and take action on, local sustainability issues,” the OEEC says.
Now president of her school’s Saxons Go Green environmental club, Torrey has organized fundraisers and worked with the nonprofit Clean Fairfax to design and distribute reusable bags to local retailers and low-income communities, according to the county.
The 2023 award lineup features three winners in the “county employee” category:
Hugh Whitehead, an Urban Forester with the Urban Forest Management Division. In 2016, Mr. Whitehead initiated a tree planting program in partnership with Fairfax County Public Schools. Since 2016, a total of 494 trees have been planted at twenty-one different K through 12 schools including seven Title 1 schools. This program not only supports the Board’s Sustainability Initiatives, reforestation goals, and recommendations from the Joint Environmental Task Force, but furthers educational opportunities throughout the county.
Joe Gorney, a Planner with the Department of Planning and Development, Environment and Development Review Branch. Mr. Gorney works collaboratively with other county agencies on a diverse range of environmental review topics, working to create a sustainable future for residents and employees. He was the staff lead for the Environmental Plan guidance update for the Reston planning study, designating Reston as “biophilic” community.
Craig Carinci, Director of Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Stormwater Planning Division. Mr. Carinci provides excellence in leadership through monitoring and improving stream health. During his tenure as Director, Fairfax County has restored over 100,000 linear feet of streams, facilitated by his open-minded leadership and business acumen that fearlessly encourages his team to push forward on initiatives and collaborate with partners to achieve cost savings.
The Environmental Excellence Awards for organizations and businesses went to Trace the Zero Waste Store, which can be found at 140 Church Street NW in Vienna, and the grounds committee of the Montebello Condominium Unit Owners Association. Read More
This past spring, Fairfax County Public Schools launched a new Twilight Program to assist students whose “life circumstances” beyond the classroom complicated their ability to attend classes.
The program operates outside of the traditional 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. high school day with the goal of helping students graduate on time, FCPS Special Projects Administrator for the Non-Traditional Schools and Programs Joe Thompson says.
According to FCPS, 90 seniors in the program attended extra classes in-person for three days a week from 4-6 p.m. and worked remotely for the remaining two days of the week. The evening instructional hours are meant to compensate for the classes students may miss in the morning or afternoon for external responsibilities, such as child care or a part-time job.
“A lot of our students are closing down a restaurant and not getting home until they’ve cleaned the kitchen at 3 in the morning sometimes, so catching that bus at 7 in the morning is really a very difficult thing to do,” Thompson said. “Or the parents are working late, and they need to watch them and get their own younger siblings off to school, so they were missing their first couple of classes of the day — not because they didn’t want to be there, but just that they have priorities.”
While numbers haven’t been reported for this past year yet, FCPS reported that 94.2% of the Class of 2022 graduated on time. However, the rate dropped to 82.9% for Hispanic students and 72.8% for English language learners.
The program was piloted at six high schools: West Potomac, Justice, Herndon, Mountain View, Bryant and Fairfax County Adult High School. For students not in areas districted to those schools, Thompson says “alternative schools” were used “to supplement the pilot schools.”
He credits FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid with petitioning principals to voluntarily take on the challenge of implementing the program halfway through the academic year — a busy time for any school.
“During the seventh semester, all the seniors are getting their grades off to colleges, and we’re scheduling for next school year, so for schools to take that on during that time of year was actually pretty surprising and pleasing for us,” Thompson said.
Since the program’s conclusion, Thompson says the pilot schools gave positive feedback on how “powerful” the program has been. Though there were no “set benchmarks” for the program, he believes it was “very successful.”
“We were able to help students get back on track and reengage with school and feel confident about their learning again, so the students were very thankful,” Thompson said. “…It really gave them the confidence to come back into the classroom and feel like people understood their needs and that they could get their education without falling so far behind or having to give up a diploma to help their family.”
“I was so stressed because I knew I was failing a class I needed to graduate,” Madelyn, a Twilight student, told FCPS. “Joining the program was like a second chance and brought so much relief to me.” Read More
Fairfax County Public Schools is proposing some notable updates to its student policies.
At last week’s school board meeting, school officials laid out a number of proposed revisions to its Student Rights and Responsibilities handbook, including how cases of bullying are handled, what’s interpreted as appropriate clothing, and the potential for increased punishment for substance misuse.
The presentation from FCPS Assistant Auperintendent Michelle Boyd was relatively brief due a planned school board work session next week (May 23), which will likely be spent discussing the proposed dress codes updates, Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch noted.
Essentially, FCPS is looking to update verbiage around the dress code, which was last reviewed in 2016. The update will not include a ban on pajamas that was initially proposed earlier this year but has since been reconsidered.
Proposed language includes the dress code supporting “equitable educational access” while not reinforcing stereotypes or increasing marginalization:
FCPS’ student dress code supports equitable educational access and is written in a manner that does not reinforce stereotypes or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, color, national origin, caste, religion, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, medical condition, household income, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, marital status, disability, age, or genetic information.
It also clarifies that the same rules apply “regardless of the student’s age or gender” while providing examples of what isn’t allowed, including clothing that depicts or promotes use of weapons, alcohol, tobacco, or drugs.
Any violation and enforcement of the dress code will continue to be addressed in a “discreet” manner, showing respect to the student, and “minimizes loss of instructional time.”
“Violations of the dress code should generally be treated as minor infractions unless they are repeated or egregious in nature (e.g., streaking, hate speech),” the current code says.
However, this can leave much open to interpretation for school staff and administration. Several school board members noted that some language could be included to ensure a more standardized interpertation across the school system.
“I know we are trying to thread a needle here between what kids recognize as appropriate dress and not,” Springfield District School Board member Laura Jane Cohen said.
Also being proposed is a shift in what happens when there are alleged acts of bullying. The school system is now seeking to require that a principal or staff member notify a parent or guardian of every student involved in an alleged act of bullying within 24 hours of learning about the incident.
The update would also better define that bullying involves a “power imbalance” and what that could look like.
“Examples of a power imbalance include, but are not limited to, greater physical strength or size, access to embarrassing information, or greater popularity or social connectedness,” reads the updated definition.
Also proposed are updated definitions of harassment, hate speech, and hazing, along with potentially more severe punishments. For example, hazing could become a Level 5 infraction, which is the most severe and could result in law enforcement getting involved.
In addition, students with a first-time hate speech infraction would be required to participate in “culturally responsive intervention.”
FCPS is also tweaking its handling of substance misuse in response to recent incidents. While incidents involving alcohol, marijuana, and inhalants customarily result in a two-day suspension, the school principal can decide to levy even more disciplinary action if the conduct has “substantially disrupted the instructional program [or] endangered the well-being of others.”
This could mean a referral to the superintendent and a suspension of up to 10 days. There are number of other changes being asked for, including rewordings and clarity in terms of verbiage, but as Boyd said, those are “relatively minor in nature.”
After next week’s work session, a revised draft is set to be presented to the school board at the end of the month. The school board is expected to vote and adopt the updated students’ rights and responsibilities by the end of June.
In its quest to minimize waste, the vertical farm housed in a shed behind Merrifield’s Luther Jackson Middle School will one day be sustained by fish feces.
Barely the length of a fingernail, the larval tilapia swimming around a small tank in the shed will soon grow large enough to be transferred into a bigger bucket with a filter that separates fish poop and other solids from water.
“The water goes back in the tank, of course, and then, the solids will go down through the filter system, and they will separate from the water and…be turned into sludge we use as fertilizer,” explained Vivian Nguyen, an eighth-grade student at Luther Jackson.
It took two years of research, experimentation and waiting for equipment and permit approvals to get the farm to this stage — long enough that the eighth-grader who first conceived of the project has moved on to high school.
Driven by a desire to build a farm on Mars, the student began researching hydroponics — techniques for growing plants without soil — and other means of making food with limited resources for his Center for Equity in Science, Technology, Engineering, English and Math (ESTEEM) project, according to center director and technology education teacher Mark Smith.
The ESTEEM Center raises funds for STEM resources at the six elementary schools that feed into Luther Jackson. With many students in the Falls Church High School pyramid eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, the center is intended to support kids who otherwise might not have access to specialized STEM programs.
Other projects produced by the center include a solar measuring station installed in front of Luther Jackson.
“When you come to middle school and you join drama, you become part of that tribe, or music, that’s a tribe, but we’re trying to create that for STEM, and then we keep them together,” Smith said. “They go on to get advanced degrees and then they help save the world. That’s the whole mission.”
The students who designed, constructed and now maintain the vertical farm, also known as an aquaponics lab, likely aren’t thinking about saving the world just yet.
Vivian, for instance, joined the project at the behest of a friend who shares her interest in fish. She also wanted to get experience working with a team.
Vivienne Bao, a fellow eighth-grader who got involved earlier this semester, says she enjoys the hands-on experience, even if that means taking care of mundane tasks like cleaning up water leaks or picking beads from the filter system out of fish sludge.
“Everything is connected and one misstep can lead to major problems,” she said. “So, everybody needs to work together to solve it, and then we can be successful and grow vegetables.” Read More
In the year 2030, travelers on The One — the dedicated bus service planned for the Richmond Highway (Route 1) corridor — will be able to wait for their next ride while taking in artwork designed by local students.
Proposed artwork for seven of the nine future Richmond Highway Bus Rapid Transit stations is now online, and county residents can share their preferences by filling out a survey that is open through April 3.
There will also be a drop-in open house on Wednesday (March 29) from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Mount Vernon High School.
Each work is based around themes selected with community input, according to the Fairfax County Department of Transportation. For example, the themes for the Hybla Valley station are retail hub, diversity and multiculturalism.
There are two artworks listed for that station. One features bright colors and “is meant to represent the past making way for the bright diverse future,” according to the included student narrative.
The other is sketched in black and white.
“Students focused on the passage of time, evolution of communication, and how the community has changed and evolved and become more diverse,” the student narrative reads, in part.
Student artwork for the Huntington, Kings Crossing and Beacon Hill stations comes from photography students at Hayfield Secondary School.
“These students created imagery responding to the theme PAST/PRESENT/FUTURE,” the booklet says. “It was their intention to educate citizens and visitors of the Route 1 corridor about the rich history of the land we stand on, while also preserving the present and looking towards the future of our changing community.”
The Woodlawn station got five art submissions — the most of any station. Designs for the Gum Springs and Hyland Center stations have not been completed yet.
Including artwork that reflects “the history, identity, and character of the neighborhoods surrounding each station area” is the goal of the “Community Charm” initiative, according to the Richmond Highway BRT page on the county’s website. The selected windscreen designs will be semi-permanent.
“Student artwork will inspire the first windscreen design, which may evolve or change over time,” the survey says.
Gathering feedback on the artwork is the fourth step in FCDOT’s work to finalize designs for the windscreen area at each station. Next, an executive committee will take a final vote and provide feedback to FCDOT and a consultant design team, which will then make any necessary adaptations to the works.
Sophia Manicone has come a long way from her “Vienna Idol” days.
The 18-year-old Vienna resident recently realized the dream of every theater kid with her Broadway debut in the revival of “Parade,” which officially opened yesterday (Thursday) at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre in New York City.
Starring Tony winner Ben Platt and “The Cher Show” breakout Micaela Diamond, the musical explores racism and antisemitism as a dramatization of the real-life 1913 trial of Jewish American factory manager Leo Frank, a case that stoked the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and led to the creation of the Anti-Defamation League.
Manicone — a senior at the Fairfax Academy for Communications and the Arts with Vienna’s James Madison High School as her base school — plays Iola Stover, a factory worker who testifies against Frank.
She joined the revival’s Off-Broadway premiere at New York City Center (NYCC) in November and learned a month later that she would be part of the transfer to Broadway. She was one of 18 cast members making their debut when the show began previews on Feb. 21.
“It’s so unbelievable. It still doesn’t feel real,” Manicone told FFXnow by email. “Being a part of this incredible cast is so thrilling. I’m performing alongside people I listened to (and sang along with) on cast recordings since I was a little kid. The people in the cast and the creative team have been welcoming and supportive. I feel so lucky!”
Manicone traces her love of theater back to the musical films and cartoons she watched as a young kid. A trip to see “Mary Poppins” on Broadway when she was 3 cemented that infatuation, leading her to pursue her first audition in New York when she was in second grade.
“My parents got us tickets in the last row of the theater in case I wasn’t able to sit through the show,” she recalled. “But apparently I didn’t move an inch and was mesmerized — especially when Mary Poppins flew across the theater!”
Manicone’s journey to the Great White Way began in earnest on the Vienna Town Green, where she made her first big public performances competing in the annual “Vienna Idol” fundraiser, she told DC Theater Arts in 2016.
She was 9 when she won the title in 2014 with “her booming Broadway voice,” The Connection reported at the time. From there came roles in local theater productions, including her first professional lead role in Creative Cauldron’s “Ruthless! The Musical.”
Because of her community theater work, Manicone says her ability to participate in school plays was limited, but in sixth grade, she appeared in “Seussical” at Louise Archer Elementary School. She also sang choir in her elementary and middle school years.
“I had amazing teachers and as a middle schooler, it was wonderful having such a supportive environment where I felt I belonged,” she said. Read More
An app created by a trio of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology students to help kids with autism may someday be deployed in Fairfax County’s special education classrooms.
Sophomores Soham Jain, Rohan Kotla and Samvrit Rao have already earned recognition from Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-10) for RoutineRemind, an app designed to help parents and kids keep track of their schedules.
RoutineRemind was the 10th District’s winner in the 2022 Congressional App Challenge, Wexton announced on Dec. 22. The annual competition aims to encourage science, technology, engineering and math education by inviting students from across the country to develop and submit their own apps.
The 2022 contest drew over 500 submissions, a new record, according to organizers.
“I was so impressed by not only their remarkable technical skills in designing this winning app, but also their ingenuity and care in developing a way to help kids with autism and their families,” Wexton said in a statement, congratulating the TJ students.
A big congratulations to #VA10's Congressional App Challenge winners, team RoutineRemind—Rohan, Samvrit, & Soham!
I was so impressed by their creation of a scheduling app to aid kids with social and cognitive impairments like autism.
Bravo, RoutineRemind! You've made us proud. pic.twitter.com/Q6stdx5rQ2
— Rep. Jennifer Wexton (@RepWexton) December 22, 2022
In joint comments to FFXnow, Soham, Rohan and Samvit said they have regularly worked together on school projects and share an interest in “the intersection between computer science and biology.”
Seeing the challenge as an opportunity to put their tech and teamwork skills to the test, the students turned to personal experience when brainstorming ideas for an app.
In a demonstration video, Rohan said he has a younger brother with autism and has always been interested in finding ways to improve the lives of people with autism and other cognitive disabilities.
His brother sometimes struggles to remember his schedule, leading him to frequently ask for reminders. Individuals with autism often find comfort in routine, but many also experience executive functioning challenges, affecting their ability to plan or focus.
“After surveying the special needs community in [our] area, we found that this is a mutual problem across children with autism, since many of them are schedule-oriented,” the students told FFXnow. “Given the prevalence of the problem, we wanted to develop a simple, adaptable, and user-friendly schedule and reminder app to help those with social and cognitive impairments.” Read More
The McLean Community Center is on the lookout for local teens who are in tune with what kids these days enjoy.
The community center has launched a new MCC Youth Ambassador initiative that invites students from McLean and Langley high schools to provide input on and promote events at their schools and online.
MCC provides programming for older kids and teens through its Old Firehouse Center (OFC) at 1440 Chain Bridge Road. The facility generally attracts middle school-aged students, but attendance dips once kids enter high school, according to minutes from the governing board’s Sept. 28 meeting.
“I think the reason why is that they felt that it was more of MCC telling them to come — rather than it being a high school-oriented and high school-planned event publicized throughout social media,” said Charlotte Loving, who represents the Langley High School area on the board.
Conceived by Loving and Sarah Tran, who represents McLean High on the board, the initiative is open to all students enrolled in those two schools who live in MCC’s tax district, known as Dranesville Small District 1A.
Here’s more on the volunteer positions from MCC’s announcement, released on Friday (Nov. 18):
Youth Ambassadors will serve as liaisons between community youth and the two youth members of the MCC Governing Board, Sarah Tran (Langley High boundary area) and Charlotte Loving (McLean High boundary area). The ambassadors will promote MCC activities via their social media platforms and through resources at their respective schools. They will also assist in planning events and activities targeted to the youth of McLean in support of acquiring their growing participation in MCC programs. Ambassadors will meet monthly at MCC or the Old Firehouse Center to discuss public feedback and plan future activities.
Applications can be found on the MCC website and sent when completed to MCC General Programs Director Michael Fisher at email@example.com. The deadline to apply is Friday, Dec. 9.
According to the website, the ambassador program is currently considered a pilot. If deemed successful, it could expand to allow participants from private high schools in the tax district.
(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Fairfax County police have charged two teens in connection to yesterday’s stabbing at Mount Vernon High School.
A male teen was stabbed in a bathroom “following an altercation with another student,” drawing a police response to the school on Old Mount Vernon Road at 1:17 p.m., the Fairfax County Police Department said in an email.
The student who got stabbed was transported to a hospital with injuries that were not considered life-threatening. Two other teens — both male — “fled the school but were quickly identified and taken into custody by officers,” the FCPD said.
No other injuries have been reported, and police say there was no threat at the school after the teens fled, though a shelter-in-place order was “briefly” issued.
“One juvenile was charged with malicious wounding,” the police department told FFXnow this morning. “The other juvenile was charged with trespassing and principal in the second degree of malicious wounding. Both were taken to juvenile intake.”
The teen charged with trespassing is not a student at Mount Vernon High School, police confirmed.
The FCPD didn’t say what weapon was used, but a local scanner watcher indicated that it was a pocket knife.
Fairfax County Public Schools directed all questions to the police when asked about the stabbing incident.
Photo via Google Maps
(Updated, 3:20 p.m.) Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay believes the county will be on “safe legal ground” if it chooses to not follow Virginia’s recently-proposed model policies that would limit the rights of transgender and other gender-nonconforming students.
Based on conversations with the school board, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), and legal experts since the draft policies were unveiled earlier this month, McKay senses the school system will ultimately stick with its current policies, he told FFXnow yesterday (Wednesday).
The proposed policies would reverse regulations that FCPS adopted in 2020 affirming students’ right to access restrooms according to their gender identity and be called by their chosen names and pronouns. The regulation was updated last year based on state recommendations.
“If we do it and ignore [what] the governor is dictating here…my prediction based on everything I’m hearing is that the legal folks will say you’re on safe legal ground to continue the good practices that you have in place and not adhere to these new ones. That’s certainly what I’m being told preliminarily,” McKay told FFXnow.
McKay noted that, as has been reported elsewhere, legal experts have identified “a myriad of legal problems” with the new proposed policies, including protections from discrimination based on gender identity in the Virginia Human Rights Act.
The cities of Falls Church and Alexandria have already indicated that they won’t adhere to the state policies. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30), who represents parts of Fairfax County, Alexandria, and Arlington County, told FFXnow on Tuesday (Sept. 27) that there could be basis for a lawsuit.
“I think there’s existing law problems. I think there’s case law problems. I think there’s political problems,” McKay said. “And so, my suspicion is that we will likely be able to continue doing what we’re doing.”
The governor may be relying on the Dillon Rule as the rationale for arguing counties must adhere to the guidelines, if they’re adopted, McKay says.
Under that rule, localities only have legal authorities expressly granted to them by the state, but that doesn’t absolve the governor from the “obligation of being consistent with case law that’s already been established,” he said.
When asked whether the school system plans on taking legal action if the policies are adopted by the state, an FCPS spokesperson said they have no comment for now beyond a message that Superintendent Michelle Reid sent to families earlier this month, stating that FCPS was reviewing the draft policies.
“We will share more information when it is available,” the spokesperson said. Read More