(Updated at 5:40 p.m.) Leon Jia should’ve been working on his neuroscience homework Wednesday night (May 25).
Instead, just 10 days before his graduation, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ) senior was busy reaching out to classmates and various student leaders, and in less than 48 hours, they had potentially half the student body ready to walk out in protest of gun violence.
More than 100 students filed out of the magnet school on Braddock Road at 9 a.m. today (Friday), spurred by the same frustration, grief, and desire for action in the wake of the recent Uvalde, Texas, school shooting that has inspired walkouts across Northern Virginia, including at McLean High School.
“I think this is a voice of anger and of mourning for the lives that were lost and for the events that led to this,” Jia said.
The 18-year-old gunman who stormed Robb Elementary School in Uvalde on Tuesday (May 24) killed 19 kids and two teachers, making it the deadliest school shooting in the U.S. since 26 people died at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in December 2012.
#HAPPENINGNOW: Students are walking out of Thomas Jefferson HS to protest gun violence. @wusa9 pic.twitter.com/XSTi7eSOLv
— Jess Arnold (@JessArnoldTV) May 27, 2022
As TJ’s student body president, Jia says multiple people approached him on Wednesday, asking if there were plans for a walkout in response to the shooting. He soon learned that a couple of groups were planning protests and started working with them to coordinate their actions, including communicating their plans to the school administration.
While this was Jia’s first time helping organize a school walkout, many of the students involved had prior experience. More than 800 TJ students participated in the widespread protests after the Parkland school shooting in 2018, and this past March, students walked out to call for action on climate change.
Talking to FFXnow yesterday (Thursday), Jia said he feels walkouts have become almost “mundane somehow,” so he wanted the upcoming protest to be one that “has impact.”
“The issue of school shootings has gone on for so long and there have been so many,” Jia said. “It’s like clockwork. They just rhythmically puncture the fabric of America, but at the same time, there’s a certain responsibility that we can’t stay silent and do nothing.” Read More
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Arlington Doughnut Shop Plans Tysons Kitchen — “Good Company Doughnuts & Café has inked a lease for roughly 5,000 square feet at 8524-G Tyco Road…for a kitchen commissary, where it will produce and assemble its products for off-site retail sale…Good Company hopes to have the commissary operating by the end of 2022, [co-owner Charles] Kachadoorian said.” [Washington Business Journal]
Metro Introduces Navigation App to Help Blind Riders — “Metro has partnered with Waymap, a new UK-based start-up, to bring the technology to the Brookland, Silver Spring, and Braddock Road Metro stations…The app will be available in at least 30 Metro train and nearly 1,000 bus stops by September; the entire system is scheduled to be brought online by early 2023.” [DCist]
Cybersecurity Company Moves Within Tysons — “Codehunter…relocated from 1660 International Drive to 1775 Greensboro Station Pl. and expanded their corporate headquarters. Codehunter, represented by Timothy Jacobs and Edward Saa, needed to expand their office footprint due to business growth while also needed to re-strategize their office footprint to support their hybrid work model.” [CityBiz]
New School Board Student Representative Chosen — “Michele Togbe, a junior at South County High School, has been elected by the countywide Student Advisory Council (SAC) to serve a one-year term as student representative to the Fairfax County School Board, beginning July 1…Togbe has three main focuses as student representative: transparency within students’ voices, furthering civic education, and maintaining an equitable lens.” [FCPS]
Local Students Relax with Yarn — “About a dozen third, fourth, fifth and sixth graders gather at lunch several times a week at Little Run ES to knit and loom together. The program was initially launched as an after-school effort paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief aid, or ESSER III funding.” [FCPS]
It’s Wednesday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 64 and low of 56. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]
Kingstowne Man Indicted for Real Estate Loan Scheme — Calling it one of the largest embezzlement cases in Fairfax County history, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office announced yesterday (Monday) that Carlos Camacho has been charged with 15 counts of embezzlement and four counts of forgery. Camacho allegedly used loans to divert more than $2 million from his employer for personal expenses. [DCist]
County Sees Rise in Domestic Violence During Pandemic — “During the first quarter of 2022, our Department of Family Services’ Domestic and Sexual Violence Services (DSVS) division has seen this trend in real time through its Domestic and Sexual Violence 24-Hour Hotline, which has recorded an uptick in the number of domestic violence calls it receives.” [Fairfax County Government]
VDOT to Suspend Highway Work During Memorial Day Weekend — “Based on 2018 and 2019 traffic data, periods of moderate to heavy congestion on those pre-pandemic Memorial Day weekends were most likely to occur between noon and 6 p.m. on Friday and Monday, and midday on Saturday and Sunday, VDOT said in a news release.” [Inside NoVA]
IT Consulting Firm Octo Opens Lab in Reston — “Honored to attend the ribbon cutting for oLab today. With the relocation of groundbreaking companies and the expansion of cutting edge innovation labs in Virginia, we’re going to keep solving problems and making critical breakthroughs right here in the Commonwealth.” [Mark Warner]
Virginia Lawmakers Near a Budget Deal — “State legislators got word Monday that they should return to the Capitol on June 1 to vote on a proposed two-year state budget, even though final details on the spending plan were still being hammered out…Legislators launched the special session in April on his orders but promptly went home because there was no compromise to vote on.” [The Washington Post]
Chantilly Student Collects Medical Supplies and Food for Ukraine — “Nicholas, a student at Fairfax County’s Rachel Carson Middle School, chose to help Ukraine as part of his Eagle Scout project. All donations will be boxed by Nicholas and his fellow Scouts, and then sent to United Help Ukraine, a Maryland-based nonprofit organization founded in 2014.” [Patch]
Deputy Fire Chief Promoted — “Fire Chief John Butler is pleased to announce that Deputy Chief Dan Shaw has been promoted to Assistant Chief with the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. Assistant Chief Shaw will head the Office of the Fire Chief, which includes Data Analytics Management, Fiscal Services, Health and Wellness, Information Technology, Planning, and Public Information and Life Safety Education.” [FCFRD]
It’s Tuesday — Rain in the morning and afternoon. High of 66 and low of 53. Sunrise at 5:51 am and sunset at 8:24 pm. [Weather.gov]
Local Parents Scramble to Find Baby Formula — “In Virginia, the [Women, Infants, and Children] program expanded formula options available to participants after a February recall of Abbott-made formula, but low inventory has forced many parents to search multiple stores, Paula N. Garrett, the state WIC director, said in a statement.” [The Washington Post]
Covid Outbreaks at More than Two Dozen Schools — “Twenty-six schools in Fairfax County are dealing with a coronavirus outbreak, according to the Virginia Department of Health’s COVID-19 dashboard…The Fairfax County school system has the highest number of schools reporting an outbreak in the region.” [Inside NoVA]
Extended I-66 Ramp Closure Coming — “Virginia Department of Transportation will be closing another ramp temporarily as part of the ongoing construction at the Nutley Street/I-66 Interchange…On or around May 13, VDOT will be closing the ramp from Virginia Center Boulevard to West I-66 for approximately six weeks. The closure will begin at approximately 10 a.m.” [Patch]
Undercover Operation Leads to Arrests in Two Armed Robberies — “Detectives from our Major Crimes Bureau began investigating a robbery that occurred prior to 12 p.m. on May 7 in the parking lot of 6600 Springfield Mall. The victim arranged to meet the suspect through an online marketplace to purchase a tablet computer. When the victim arrived, the suspect entered the victim’s vehicle, displayed a firearm and took cash.” [FCPD]
Supervisor Walter Alcorn Had COVID-19 — “The good news is that the vaccines are working at preventing serious illness – I can personally vouch for this after my own bout with COVID-19 several weeks ago. It wasn’t pleasant but was much like having the flu for a few days.” [Hunter Mill District News]
FCPS to Add Meal Designed by Students to Menu — A quartet of seventh-grade girls were chosen to represent Chantilly’s Franklin Middle School in the Real Food for Kids challenge. The students came up with the “Vegejita Wrapadilla,” a quesadilla stuffed with green and red bell peppers, tomatoes and onions that will be added to Fairfax County Public Schools’ lunch menu for the 2022-2023 school year. [FCPS]
McLean Mansion Tops D.C. Area Real Estate Market — Monumental Sports & Entertainment co-owner Roger Mody and his wife Kyle have listed their 5-acre mansion for $39 million. Called The Cliffs, the four-level, 35,000-square-foot home features indoor and outdoor pools, a basketball court, a 22-car garage, and a kitchen “designed with ‘input’ from Chef José Andrés.” [Washington Business Journal]
Vienna Wins Mayor Fitness Challenge — “The results are in, and Team Vienna is the victor in the second annual Mayors’ Fitness Challenge! The friendly competition between the Town of Vienna and Falls Church and Fairfax cities encourages residents to get moving and log their minutes of exercise in the name of community spirit and team pride.” [Town of Vienna]
It’s Thursday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 67 and low of 56. Sunrise at 6:00 am and sunset at 8:13 pm. [Weather.gov]
Students swarmed to the front of Herndon High School yesterday (Monday) to protest a pending Supreme Court decision that could overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
The group gathered for about a half hour after lunch, filling up a road, wearing the color green to show support and displaying signs that advocated for abortion rights. Slogans included “Keep your laws off my body,” which was coupled with a picture of a uterus, and “My body is not a political playground.”
Students chanted phrases such as “My body, my choice” and used a megaphone that the school provided. Herndon High School Principal Liz Noto gave permission for students to hold the rally, and school staff stood by in case they needed to intervene.
“I’m honestly really surprised,” co-organizer Grace Dowell said. “I didn’t think that this many people were going to come out here and support us today.”
Since Politico published a draft opinion by the Supreme Court on May 2, pro and anti-abortion advocates, elected officials, and the public have been grappling with the potential implications of an end to the court ruling that has upheld abortion access as a right for almost 50 years.
While recent polls suggest a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade, 23 states have laws restricting or banning abortion that are currently in effect or that would take effect if the leaked opinion is finalized.
The tension surrounding the issue played out at Herndon High School when a counter-protest emerged in the middle of the group. Students leading the rally urged those advocates to leave.
Dowell said she hopes legislators and the government in general will pay attention to young voices. She and co-organizer Alissa Huq, also a 10th grader, worked with the student-led organization Generation Ratify Virginia, which is seeking ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, to lead their first rally.
The organization said it helped coordinate demonstrations at 45 schools across the state to demand federal and state measures that will codify Roe v. Wade, including the certification of the Equal Rights Amendment in the Constitution.
“I have engaged in countless conversations with students locally and throughout our state, and they long to have their voices respected and acknowledged in the fight for reproductive rights,” Generation Ratify Virginia Policy Director Felix Hedberg said in a statement. “It’s time to listen to youth…Generation Z is ready to capitalize on that attention to ensure Youngkin and Virginia Republicans won’t succeed in rewriting Virginia as a commonwealth against abortion access.”
According to Generation Ratify Virginia, other Fairfax County high schools that planned demonstrations yesterday included Centreville, Chantilly, James Madison, John R. Lewis, Langley, Marshall, McLean, Oakton, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, and W.T. Woodson.
Students at South Lakes High School in Reston were planning to participate as well, but their protest has been rescheduled for Thursday (May 12) “due to admin concerns,” Generation Ratify Virginia State Director Abby Garber told FFXnow.
Christa Anderson, a ninth grader at Herndon High, noted that corpses have rights and questioned how pregnant people’s liberties would compare if Roe v. Wade is rescinded. Her classmate Nora Blythe said the potential Supreme Court decision is upsetting but was glad to see the support of students there.
“It’s our future, and it’s going to affect us,” Dowell said. “I want to get that message out there.”
Police Make Progress on Hannah Choi Murder Case — Fairfax County detectives believe they know the location of the man suspected of killing his ex-girlfriend and dumping her body in a Maryland park, according to Police Chief Kevin Davis. He says the department anticipates apprehending Joel Mosso Merino, who has been on the run since March, “in the very near future.” [WTOP]
Circuit Court Officially Adds First Female Judge of Color — “Tania M.L. Saylor, the first woman of color to serve as a Fairfax County Circuity [sic] Court Judge will be presented her official commission on Friday, May 6, at 4 p.m. in Courtroom 5J of the Fairfax County Courthouse. The public is invited to attend the investiture ceremony.” [Fairfax County Government]
Key FCPS Official Named Fairfax City Superintendent — “The City of Fairfax School Board didn’t look far when picking its next superintendent. The board on Monday offered Jeff Platenberg the role. Platenberg currently works for Fairfax County Public Schools as the assistant superintendent for facilities and transportation services.” [WTOP]
Locally Owned Coffee Shop Opens in Newington — “Two neighbors who live close to the Landsdowne shopping center are now the owners of a new coffee shop. The locally owned Coffee In opened a few weeks ago and will celebrate its grand opening this Saturday at 6432 Landsdowne Centre Drive.” [Patch]
Herndon Foster Mother Starts Nonprofit — The nonprofit Foster the Family “will show up to a foster home, within the first 24 hours, with dinner, clothes, PJ’s, hygiene products and all the supplies a child needs, saving the parents an emergency trip to the store, and helping the child feel comfortable in what can be a scary transition.” [ABC7]
McLean Church Builds Labyrinth — “Trinity United Methodist Church dedicated a labyrinth as its new Prayer Garden on Easter morning between worship services…The labyrinth is surrounded by plantings and benches with lighting to facilitate an atmosphere worthy of spiritual reflection and meditation. It is the most significant labyrinth in scope and size in the McLean area.” [Sun Gazette]
South County Students Send Letters to Seniors — “In Lorton, Virginia, 92-year-old Bernice Alexander reads from just one of the dozens of letters received at her senior living community. They were written by teenagers at South County High School, and some come with artwork, paintings and cheery posters, too.” [NBC4]
County Adopts Bill of Rights for Kids’ Sports — “The Fairfax County Department of Neighborhood & Community Services (NCS), along with the Fairfax County Athletic Council, is pleased to adopt the Children’s Bill of Rights in Sports. Developed by the Aspen Institute Sports and Society Program, this is a new resource designed to ensure that all children have a right to a quality sports experience.” [NCS]
It’s Wednesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 75 and low of 61. Sunrise at 6:08 am and sunset at 8:05 pm. [Weather.gov]
After roughly a decade of relative freedom, Fairfax County Public Schools is sending cellphones back into students’ backpacks.
The Fairfax County School Board is considering restricting the use of personal phones during class for all students as part of several proposed revisions to its Students Rights & Responsibilities handbook, which sets standards for student behavior and discipline.
As proposed during a work session on April 26, the extent of the ban would vary depending on the grade level. Elementary and middle school students would only be allowed to use cellphones before and after the school day, while high schoolers can take them out during lunch and periods between classes.
The revised regulation says teachers could still let students use phones for instructional activities “where they are the most appropriate tool,” but in most cases, the school-issued laptops that most students receive should be adequate.
FCPS has already started to limit phone use in Herndon schools, and Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen said at the work session that the changes have had positive results, WTOP reported last week.
The proposed changes mark a shift away from FCPS’ current policy, which embraces technology as a way of “creating a 21st century learning environment” and permits students to use their personal devices to access the internet and work with classmates.
FCPS introduced its Bring Your Own Device policy about a decade ago, as the system started to phase in the school-issued laptops. The initiative, which notes that the use of phones for “personal or recreational purposes” should be minimized, won FCPS a Governor’s Technology Award in 2013.
Since then, some schools across the country have moved to ban phones in classrooms in response to concerns about distractions and excessive screentime, but with 95% of teenagers having access to a smartphone, others have argued that a more effective approach is to set clear guidelines and teach students how to use technology responsibly. Safety and health concerns are also sometimes cited as reasons to allow phones.
What do you think of the proposed changes to FCPS’ phone policy? Should schools accept cellphones as an integral part of many kids’ lives and even a potential teaching tool, or are they just a distraction?
Photo via Adrien/Unsplash
The McLean Community Center is ready and willing to accept all your spare “Dog Man” and “Magic Tree House” books.
The facility at 1234 Ingleside Avenue is serving as a drop-off site for the latest donation drive by Give a Kid a Book, an initiative started by McLean teenager Alex Pomper to collect children’s books for kids in the D.C. area who might find them hard to come by.
“I grew up around books and realized how much I took that for granted,” said Pomper, a junior at Langley High School. “Many young kids in Fairfax don’t have access to books at home, and I think having books at home is especially important for helping kids get a good start reading, which will help them later in life.”
Launched in January, Give a Kid a Book has collected more than 4,500 books so far with monthly drives. The current effort at MCC started on Tuesday (April 19) and will last through May 20.
Driven by a passion for community service and education, Pomper has been conducting monthly book giveaways with the Arlington Food Assistance Center, a nonprofit food bank.
Donations have also gone to Second Story in Tysons, the United Way of the National Capital Area, D.C.’s Community Family Life Services, and the Latin American Youth Center in Prince George’s County.
Research indicates that access to books has a significant effect on kids’ educational success, and disparities in literacy are largely a reflection of socioeconomic inequality, following racial and financial divides.
According to Scholastic’s most recent “Kids and Families Reading Report,” children in the U.S. aged 6 to 17 have 103 books at home on average, but that ranges from 125 books for families with incomes of $100,000 or more to 73 books for families with incomes under $35,000. Hispanic and Black children also generally have fewer books in their homes than white, Asian, and other children.
Pomper says the need for books in many communities “really hit home” when he started meeting Give a Kid a Book recipients in person, including through the Arlington Food Assistance Center giveaways.
“In-person distributions…showed me how much interest there was in the books I was donating, and I think it’s one of the reasons I’m going to be continuing to run this drive,” Pomper said by email.
Give a Kid a Book accepts donations of new and gently used books for a range of ages, from toddler-geared picture books to young adult books. Donations can be made at MCC or through the organization’s Amazon wishlist and website.
Pomper has seen a particular demand for board books and ones for early elementary school-aged readers, and books in Spanish and other languages outside of English are especially appreciated, according to his mother, Annie Kim.
Pomper, who often gets an assist from his younger brother in collecting and sorting donations, is currently focusing on the AFAC giveaways and obtaining books to give to elementary schools, but he is open to working with any organization that can help get books into kids’ hands.
“I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of organizations that need the books that I am collecting,” he said.
Houston is the place to be this week for the robotics community, and several Fairfax County students scored exclusive invitations.
Fairfax County Public Schools has three teams in the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) World Championships, which kicked off today (Wednesday) at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas.
The annual event caps off months of work and competitions for high school students around the world who have designed, programmed and built industrial-sized robots that face off in sports-like games.
Representing Fairfax County among the 454 teams that qualified for the championships — most of them from the U.S. — are James Madison High School’s Warbots, the CAVEBOTICS from Woodson High School, and Oakton Cougar Robotics.
🤖 Good luck to our @JamesMadisonHS, @OaktonHS and @WTWoodsonHS Robotics teams competing in the World Championships in Houston this week! https://t.co/eYy6xgJdco
— Fairfax Schools 🌟 (@fcpsnews) April 20, 2022
Madison and Oakton have both participated in FIRST Robotics Competitions since 2001, but for the Vienna school, this year marks its first trip to the championships after the Warbots won the school’s first-ever district title on April 9, according to FCPS.
FCPS is part of the Chesapeake District, which includes teams from Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and West Virginia.
Oakton Cougar Robotics previously made the championships in 2016.
Woodson’s CAVEBOTICS are relatively new to the scene. The Fairfax-based school added the team to its cybersecurity and robotics club last year, and it has already grown to over 50 students, according to a Gofundme fundraiser that the team started to support its activities.
With robots costing $6,000 to $12,000 a year to build, fundraising is among the many skills that students learn from the FIRST competitions, along with welding, coding, engineering, and project management, Madison High School said in its post on the Warbots.
A nonprofit founded in 1989, FIRST aims to support science, technology, engineering, and math education through school-based robotics programs for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
The championship will culminate with awards on Saturday (April 23). All of the contests and challenges, along with the closing ceremony, are being livestreamed on Twitch.
(Updated at 4:25 p.m.) As Fairfax County Public Schools nears an announcement of its next superintendent, students, faculty, and community groups have started to voice concerns about the transparency of the months-long process.
Organizers of the Pride Liberation Project, an FCPS student-led LGBTQIA+ advocacy organization with over 100 members, urged the school system to solicit more feedback from students, saying that the community outreach for the superintendent search was inadequate.
“Given the immense influence a superintendent has, it is imperative that FCPS take the necessary steps to hear the concerns of students,” Pride Liberation Project leaders said in a statement shared with FFXnow. “Unfortunately, the recent search process for a new superintendent did not do this.”
Prompted by Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s plans to step down from the position on June 30, FCPS hired the consulting firm GR Recruiting in October to conduct a nationwide search for his successor.
The firm launched its outreach efforts by meeting with FCPS employee groups in December. In January, it conducted a survey, hosted six virtual town halls, and met with stakeholder groups representing students, parents and other community members.
However, an emailed invitation was needed to participate in the survey, and only 9,523 of the 225,761 people who got invited responded, GR Recruiting told the Fairfax County School Board at a work session on Jan. 31.
School board members expressed disappointment at the low response rate for the survey but decided that there wasn’t enough time to consider resending it.
The firm reported that the town halls drew 337 attendees, and a total of 275 individuals were invited to 45 small stakeholder group meetings, including one for 11 students.
John R. Lewis High School student Andrea-Grace Mukuna, a Pride Liberation Project member who participated in the student stakeholder meeting, says the meeting itself went well, but she felt it “was a bit off” that it wasn’t open to more students.
According to Mukuna, the meeting was limited to members of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, which consists of student government representatives from each school, and the Student Equity Ambassadors Leaders program.
She says the invitations to the meeting were also sent out close to when it was scheduled, and it was held shortly after the end of the school day, making it harder for students who were busy or whose schools ended later to participate.
The Pride Liberation Project argues that a group of just 11 students can’t sufficiently convey the needs and perspectives of a student body as large and diverse as FCPS’.
“We need you to hear our voices, and we need you to not only cater to a small group of elite students that you asked to attend these meetings,” Mukuna said. “We want this to be extended to all of the 180,000 students across FCPS so they have the opportunity to put in their voice and what they believe matters in the superintendent search.”
FCPS did not immediately respond to FFXnow’s request for comment on the group’s concerns.
The Fairfax County School Board released a statement yesterday (Monday) asking that the confidentiality of the superintendent applicants be respected after the Fairfax County NAACP publicly identified two reported finalists, one of whom had withdrawn her name a week earlier.
“The hiring of the next superintendent will be confirmed through a public vote by the School Board. We will communicate with you as soon as we are able to add this to an upcoming agenda,” the school board said, stating that a public announcement will be coming “in the next few weeks.”
The Fairfax County NAACP said in a statement that it hopes the school board hires a superintendent with the “qualifications, experience, and knowledge to lead a school system of the size, diversity, and complexity of FCPS.”
The group also expressed support for an open letter released by the Fairfax Alliance of Black School Educators, which advocates for Black students and faculty in Fairfax County.
“The members of FABSE would like to understand the hiring criteria and process of selecting the next superintendent of FCPS,” the FABSE said. “Like the NAACP, our membership was asked to provide input on the characteristics of the superintendent that we’d like in FCPS but were not invited to be a part of the interview panel. Representation, ‘being in the room,’ is a critical strategy in ensuring the voices and perspectives of all stakeholders are affirmed, respected, and included in the decision making of the Board.”
Photo via FCPS/YouTube