ARLINGTON – Adults can learn a lot on an organized field trip to Arlington schools that gives a first-hand look at life in the halls and education in the classroom.
On a community tour hosted by Arlington Public Schools Thursday, one of day’s best pieces of advice came from a district administrator whose priority is safety.
“Never get between a middle schooler and their lunch,” Executive Director of Operations Brian Lewis said jokingly, as a hungry rush of students filled the hallway at Haller Middle School on their way into the cafeteria.
Residents came away with that tip and many other more academic-related lessons during a “Know Your Schools” tour.
“Know Your Schools has been a long-standing tradition in our district,” Assistant Superintendent Kathy Ehman said. “This is an opportunity to go out and visit our schools, and see some of the programs that our schools offer.”
Attendees met in the Byrnes Performing Arts Center for a light breakfast prepared by the high school’s culinary arts students.
Parents, community members and administrators boarded a bus to visit a handful of schools, with stops at Weston High, Haller Middle and Presidents Elementary.
First stop was Weston.
The building in Smokey Point near the airport has become a school of choice able to offer a variety of alternative ways to earn a diploma or general equivalency diploma (GED).Since enrollment is small – about 120 students – there is a close-knit familial quality to the learning, school officials said.
On any given day, the commons area can be used to bring together students and teachers to talk about issues, or even physical education on days when the weather outside is bad.
“We use circles and a process called restorative justice as a way to work through problems, and discuss issues that come up, but it’s also a fun way to make connections,” said Julie Shaughnessy, Special Services teacher.
The leadership team also has an ongoing recognition program called Panther Bingo, which rewards students who making positive contributions to the culture at Weston, Principal Will Nelson said.
At the heart of learning at Weston are credit achievement plans. In a typical school, you collect credits when you finish and pass a class at the end of the semester. At Weston, students are able to capture a little bit of credit as they go.
“That way, like if you were at Arlington High School kind of skating by and barely passing, and then you take the final and bomb it, you get none of the credit for that class,” Shaughnessy said. “Here, at least you can, and earn as you go.”
Senior Olivia Klein started at Weston last year after attending Arlington High and giving online schooling a spin. Olivia said the smaller class sizes suit her better. “A smaller class size helps me more with school work and everything,” she said. “It also makes it a closer community, so we students get to know each other better.”
Her current first period has less than 10 students, while the number in general can run between four and 15.
During a stop at teacher Christopher Hauk’s class, students were working on digital photography projects and 3-D animation. Students worked on coding for a digital coin flip program. The program simulates 100 coin flips.
“You can see each time you run it, it’s going to be different,” Hauk said. “We’re creating a function that tracks how many heads, and how many tails.” On this visit, the random count was 52 heads, 48 tails.
Student Dustin Berelson demonstrated 3-D animation by introducing attendees to their first 3-D model image, “primitive man.” On the computer screen, he showed how students coded a few-second series of movements to simulate walking, then snapped him onto a path to walk on, then set him up to jump off the path.
Two innovative learning tracks shared with guest s are the Open Doors Youth Reengagement Program and Alternative Online Program.
The Open Doors program launched last year give syoung people ages 16-21 who may have dropped out of school an option to get their diploma or GED.
Renee McArt, Open Doors case manager, said enrollment has continued to expand. Last year ended with 46 students and their first student to go through commencement, and the program should have 60 enrolled by the end of this month.
Weston also offers an Alternative Online Program that enables students to earn credits working online at home or in the school’s computer lab using the APEX learning platform. Though online, weekly contact is required with the AOP instructor.
“Online works because some kids think they can get through it faster than how they would sitting in an actual class,” AOP instructor Kailyn Otto said.
Both programs are tailored for people with inflexible schedules, including those who work full- or part time, have children at home, or both.
At Haller Middle School, visitors stopped by Earth Sciences teacher Verlaine Meyers’ seventh-grade class, where student groups were busily recording density measurements for water, oil, vinegar and corn syrup.
The exercise required gathering data and is important to industries to determine the characteristics of a material, for example, whether marbles will sink or float.
“We do a lot of lab work,” said student Nathan Mathison, who likes science classes. “There is a lot of hands on.”
Student Landon Harper said he likes the atmosphere at Haller and would even if he wasn’t heavily involved in the Associated Student Body Executive Council.
“Kids always feel comfortable talking to teachers, because teachers trust the students and students trust the teachers,” he said. “It’s less of a jail feel, and more like a friendly feel. “
Harper’s also a big fan of the lunch choices.
“We have a bunch of different food items, unlike the younger kids at other schools that have more basic lunches,” he said. “We have pizza slices – my favorite – but there’s also a vegetable cart and water, juice.”
Holly Sloan-Buchanan, a retired nurse and volunteer chaplain with the Arlington police and fire departments, said she impressed with the focus that students and teachers are putting into their day’s work. “I value an excellent school system,” she said.
As a volunteer coordinator with Arlington Dollars for Scholars, Sloan-Buchanan said the trip was a good opportunity to connect with students to remind them about scholarship options they may not know about. “Through the tour I got to interact with people here in the schools, and community members that attended,” she said.
Ehman said she hoped that participants came away with more well-rounded impression of how learning takes place in Arlington schools today. Ehman encouraged enrollees to tell their friends, parents and family members about attending future tours, which last about three hours.