Agenda Alexandria: Funding the Future

“A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” said Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) Superintendent Morton Sherman, referring to T.C.’s “Persistently Lowest Achieving” label. “It is an opportunity.” At an Agenda: Alexandria meeting on May 23, Sherman and members of the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria (SFA) discussed the changes and challenges in the school system and the various ways in which the community can support students. Founded in 1986, the SFA serves as an example of community support for students who need financial assistance.

SFA Trustee Sindy Benavides is among the 3400 Alexandria residents who have benefited from the organization’s scholarships. Benavides’ parents emigrated from Honduras to Los Angeles; they later decided to move to Virginia after hearing that Virginia had a strong public school system. “I attended a school that was very supportive,” said Benavides. When Benavides was in fifth grade, her teacher transformed her education by placing her in honors classes. “[My teacher] saw in me a potential I did not see in myself,” said Benavides.

When Benavides entered 12th grade, she wanted to attend college but knew that her family, who at one point had been homeless, could not afford tuition. Although a school counselor encouraged her to join the military or learn a trade, a teacher guided her through the college admissions process and encouraged her to apply for scholarships. “This is where the Scholarship Fund of Alexandria stepped in,” said Benavides. “[It] provided financial help and hope that I could actually go and access a higher education. It changed my life.” Benavides attended Virginia State University, graduated as Valedictorian in three years and went to American University. She continues to be grateful for her scholarship. “There are thousands of students who crave…that opportunity to succeed [but whose families need financial assistance],” said Benavides.

Assistant Secretary of Education Douglas Garcia also benefited from the SFA’s work. He and his family emigrated from El Salvador to escape the civil war and seek opportunities in America. “We came from very humble backgrounds,” said Garcia. He helped his father manage his family’s Italian restaurant and attended Northern Virginia Community College after receiving a scholarship from the SFA. After two years he transferred to James Madison University and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and international affairs.

On Garcia’s graduation day he was unhappy to see that his parents were not in the audience. “As I [was] walking up, they called my name. I was so upset,” said Garcia. “[Then] all I heard was this loud roar from the back of the crowd. My parents had brought 25 or 30 family members.” Garcia’s relatives were almost late because they had to find parking spaces.

“All of their struggles [and] sacrifices paid off,” said Garcia. “It wasn’t just [me] graduating; it was all of us.”

The Scholarship Fund of Alexandria ensures that all students have the opportunity to attend college, even if they cannot afford to do so.

“A small group of Alexandria citizens, including school board members, decided to do something about academically qualified ACPS graduates who could not afford college [tuition],” said SFA Director Susan Yowell. “We are building an educated workforce to ensure the vitality of this city. There are no jobs for young people without higher education in Alexandria.”

Such support is essential to the school system. According to Sherman, the ACPS student population has increased by more than 13 percent during the past three years; the fastest growing group is English Language Learners (ELL), 29 percent of whom drop out. Fifty-six percent of ACPS students are eligible for free or reduced price lunch.

In the 2009-2010 school year, the Virginia Department of Education designated T.C. as “Persistently Lowest Achieving” based on English and Math Standards of Learning (SOL) scores. “It was their way of reaching out,” said Sherman.”[ACPS has] underserved thousands of students for decades.” According to Sherman, T.C. has three years to transform into a school that can be “held as a model for the rest of the country.”

Titans Put Up A Hand To Stop Sex Trafficking

A new mural covers the wall by the Student Help Desk in the E Hallway on the second floor. The mural was created by Sarah Kiyak’s Block Two senior English class to bring awareness and raise money for sex trafficking prevention. The mural is surrounded by student handprints and includes a quote from Elie Wiesel: “Let us remember: what hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” The handprints were purchased for three dollars and the proceeds were sent to Courtney’s House, an organization committed to the prevention of sex trafficking in the D.C. area.

The students’ experience with the book, Sold, by Patricia McCormack, inspired them to create the mural. McCormack’s Sold chronicles the life of a young girl sold into the sex trafficking industry. The book inspired the students to take a stand against human trafficking.

Erin Neff, Assistant Project Manager of Courtney’s House recently visited Kiyak’s class and spoke to the students about the charity and sex trafficking. Courtney’s House was founded by Tina Frundt, a sex trafficking victim and T.C. graduate. Courtney’s House is named after Frundt’s oldest daughter, and allows victims to say they are just, “going to Courtney’s House,” said Neff.

Sex trafficking occurs when older men or women coerce, force or deceive minors into performing commercial sex acts for money. This process is commonly known as prostitution or “pimping.” The “pimps” involved in sex trafficking force young women, men and transgender people into prostitution often by raping and beating them into submission. These victims become known as “hookers” or “sluts.”

“The girl becomes nothing more than a ho,” said Neff.

Courtney’s House helps girls, boys and transgender minors to overcome the process of “pimping.” It also provides services for adults on an emergency basis. The charity, located in Washington D.C., provides case management, counseling, group therapy, medical treatment, food, clothing and toiletries to victims of sex trafficking. Courtney’s House also helps provides a support group and helps victims acquire their GEDs or find lawyers. There is a street outreach program where volunteers go to high trafficked areas of D.C. and provide emergency information. There is also a 24 hour survivor hotline open seven days a week (1-888-261-3665.)

As Kiyak’s students read about sex trafficking, they were appalled by what they discovered. Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal industry according to the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC.)

“The adults involved in sex trafficking are disgusting, immoral human beings who attempt to destroy innocent children’s lives,” said Kiyak.

While illegal in the United States, the laws against sex trafficking are dormant and not as effective when prosecuting the offenders. While the law attempts to catch up with the growing rates of sex trafficking victims, many organizations have begun providing important services to help victims overcome their abuse.

Safe houses, community centers, free clinics, domestic abuse hotlines and the police have worked to provide victims with the resources they need to “get out of the life.” Social services, prosecution of “pimps” and healthcare services are provided to victims.

“We have worked with T.C. kids who have been trafficked. This is something that’s happening in your backyard,” said Neff.

Neff discussed the importance of sex trafficking awareness in the community with Kiyak’s class. Neff said that the media has desensitized the issue of sex trafficking by turning it into something cool.

“A pimp is something cool [in our society],” said Neff.

Songs such as P.I.M.P by rapper 50 cent have glorified the sex trade. MTV has also popularized the act of “hooking” or “gold-digging,” all common occurrences in the sex trafficking industry.

“That song [P.I.M.P] is about child abuse, is about rape and is about sex trafficking,” said Neff.

Neff continued to ask the students what they believed defined a pimp. The students stated that a pimp was a man who could “get” any girl he wanted. These girls were then classified as a hooker, a hoe or a slut. Neff then urged the students to reexamine their view of the word “pimp.” She said that is was okay 50 years ago to call someone the N word, but now it is offensive. Neff told students that the same thing needs to happen to the word pimp.

“[People think] a pimp is something cool. A pimp is a pedophile and a pimp is a child abuser. No one can justify being a pedophile,” said Neff.

For more information about sex trafficking visit: http://www.polarisproject.org/, and for additional information about the non-profit organization Courtney’s House, visit: http://www.courtneyshouse.org/

Emma Beall also contributed to this article.

TC Bails Out SOL Scores

“We are trying the best we can to motivate students,” said Principal Suzanne Maxey concerning the incentives for students who pass their Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. This year, students who pass their SOLs with a score of a 400 or above will receive various rewards.

If a student scores a 400 or better on an SOL, he or she has the option of not taking a final exam and using the score on the SOL as a final grade.

Students who score a 400 to a 450 and choose to be exempt from their final exam will receive a “C,” 450-500 for a “B,” and 500-600 for an “A.”

“All teachers are required to comply with this incentive for regular classes,” said Maxey. “For Honors and AP classes, it will be up to the teacher’s professional judgment to decide if they will comply.”

Students who pass their SOLs will also be entered into a raffle to win prizes such as gift cards and an iPod touch. Students are entered each time they pass an SOL, giving them more chances to win. “Teachers are doing all kinds of things to help motivate their students,” said Maxey.

“Some teachers are taking their students to McDonalds if they pass.”

History teacher Philip Engle has used similar tactics with his tenth grade students in the past. “I have bought Five Guys for lunch for any student who earned a perfect 600 on their SOL,” said Engle.

He agrees with the incentives but does not plan to use SOL to inflate the grades of students taking his higher level classes. “Not every program or idea is going to impact every student,” said Engle. “But if it motivates some [students] to continue to work and take the test seriously, then I’m all for it.”

History teacher Molly Freitag, like Engle, will not be using the SOL scores for her AP classes. “I think the final grade incentives are totally fine,” said Freitag. “I also understand the motivation behind the [raffled] incentives, but at some point you have to consider that it’s as if we’re paying students to do well on a state test that is the minimum of what they should know.” English teacher  and Department head, Sarah Kiyak will not be incorporating SOL scores into her AP students’ final grades but is giving incentives to students who attend her SOL remediation class that she co-teaches with English teacher Patrick Welsh.

“Mr. Welsh and I have been giving students gift cards for outstanding participation during class, and have even gotten them pizza for lunch,” said Kiyak. “I think that the incentives are good because by giving them to students it shows that we care about them and appreciate their effort.”

Students, like teachers, see the benefits in taking SOLs seriously. “I think everyone just wants to pass their SOLs so they don’t have to take their final,” said junior Grand Roberson. “That’s what I’m working for. But I don’t think giving away an iPod is going to motivate students, because most of them already have one.”

Sophomore Cesar Varela leans in favor of the incentives. “I think it’s a good way to motivate students,” said Varela. “Since students can now get a grade for doing well on their SOL, they’ll want to pass the test.” Junior Lauren Gustafson agrees. “I hate taking finals and I usually do well on SOLs, so the incentives are good for me.”

These incentives have been implemented due to T.C.’s Persistently Lowest Achieving (PLA) designation that is based on the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) rating. T.C. has never made AYP since it was established by the No Child Left Behind law in 2001. “The purpose of the incentives is to ensure maximum participation and [student] performance during SOL tests,” said Test Coordinator David Serensits.

T.C. needs 95 percent of students to take the test to meet the AYP participation requirement. Out of those students, 85 percent need to pass Math and 86 percent need to pass English for T.C. to meet the performance requirement.

T.C. is not the only high school in the area that is having trouble making AYP. Hayfield Secondary School, in Fairfax, has not made AYP since 2004. To help the school make AYP, Hayfield does not offer incentives for students who pass their SOL. However, principal David Tremaine said that they have instituted an extra 90 minute period like Titan Up, that they call “Hawk Time.” “The key is collaborative teams or “CTs” meet, assess and group students by name and by need for targeted intervention during Hawk Time,” said Tremaine. “We’re very hopeful and optimistic as we approach the SOL testing window.”

Grassfield High School, in Chesapeake, opened in 2007. The first year it was open, it did not make AYP. Every year since then, it has made AYP and according to their principal Carolyn Bernard, “teacher collaboration” contributed to their success. “We do not provide students with incentives for passing the SOLs,” said Bernard.

In Warren County, Skyline High School has not made AYP since opening in 2007. According to their principal Andrew Keller, Skyline constantly monitors their subgroups which consist of students who are of low socioeconomic class, receive special education needs or are minorities, providing support when possible.

As at Hayfield and Grassfield, they do not give incentives for students who pass their SOLs. “I believe that quality teaching is the most important factor,” said Keller. But  he does point out that “not meeting [the AYP] rating does not mean that our school or your school is not good or is not making progress.”

Although the administration is taking actions to help the school meet the requirements to make AYP, it is not guaranteed that T.C. will make the rating. “Keep in mind that by the year 2013, all students in all subgroups will be expected to pass all standardized tests,” said Keller. “I guess those of us that are PLA will have some company.”

College Bored With Security

Even though most of us seniors are nearing the end of the tedious college process, we are still not free of College Board’s wrath.

The higher-education tycoon, which sends standardized test scores to colleges and connects students with schools that match their academic and extracurricular credentials, recently sent out an email to many of its members stating that there had been a security leak by its email vender Epsilon, possibly exposing these members to spam and security leaks. Epsilon, which has the ability to send out 15 million emails per minute, also had emails hacked from Citigroup, Target, Walgreens and TiVo, to name a few.

On a normal basis I still get biweekly emails from the College Board alerting me that have I “forgotten” to sign up for the next SAT/ACT (last time I checked I was admitted to college and graduating in two months).

I was not too concerned when I received a message from the corporation titled “NOTIFICATION FROM THE COLLEGE BOARD.” The message began by stating that Epsilon had been hacked by unauthorized entry into their system, and that my email address had now been disclosed to “unknown third parties.” After quickly declaring that “rest assured this vender did not have access to my credit card and social security numbers” they comforted me with the statement that my privacy was taken “very seriously.”

If my privacy was taken seriously in the first place, then why was my personal information not guarded initially? And if the information was hacked, then how can we be sure that credit card information and social security numbers were not leaked? While I am sitting here terrified of the possibility of identity theft, probably the worst that will happen is a horde of spam emails clogging our inboxes (because the J. Crew and Nordstrom sales promotions weren’t taking up enough space…).

This is just one of the many examples of how our privacy is often put on the backburner so these companies can use our information for advertising purposes. Even though many politicians claim that our internet is “public domain,” am I wrong in believing that email should be considered confidential personal information? So, thank you, College Board and Epsilon, for allowing our privacy to be violated and exposing us to the onslaught of spam which is about to invade our inboxes.

This scenario is not the only situation which could infringe on the security of college-bound seniors. Prospective students are also required to use their credit card and social security numbers when applying online to schools or using the Common Application. When filling out financial aid forms, they are required to put their family’s complete financial history including tax records and household incomes. If this information were to be leaked, substantial amounts of classified information would then be at risk.

Luckily, since the Epsilon leak I have not received an abnormally large amount of spam and as far as I know no one is running around using my identity. However, putting the information of students at risk for identity and confidentiality catastrophes should not be tolerated, and exposes us to risks that can plague us for the rest of our lives.

Rugby Tackles Being A Sport

The atmosphere of the girls rugby team is one of camaraderie and school spirit, despite the fact that rugby is one of the two club sports not directly affiliated with T.C. sports. Rugby and ice hockey are the official T.C. club sports.

Crew, a former club sport, is now becoming a Virginia High School League (VHSL) sponsored sport due to the large participation.

Rugby is also witnessing a jump in participation numbers from previous years. As the participation in rugby increases, many players, coaches and supporters are wondering if or when rugby will become a VHSL sponsored sport.

The VHSL recognizes sports based on participation numbers and relevance in the community. The minimum participation number is 250 people, and the sport must also have written consent from its School Board to become a VHSL sport. As a VHSL sponsored sport certain guidelines must be met by all involved.

The players must uphold good sportsmanship and fulfill certain non-sports related duties in the community and at school.

Sports such as lacrosse, basketball, football, tennis, swim and dive, cross country, volleyball, golf, gymnastics, wrestling, indoor and outdoor track, baseball, field hockey, soccer, cheerleading and softball have fulfilled those requirements and are recognized by the VHSL. A VHSL sponsored sport receives funding from the state and the school to provide for transportation, practice space, equipment, and necessary services.

The regulations and participation requirements associated with the VHSL have led to the development of club sports, such as rugby. This year, the rugby players have expressed the desire to use the school trainer with the same rate of efficiency as the VHSL sponsored sports. Currently, their main source of aid is the school nurse.

“These kids love to tackle each other without any protection on and they get hurt. It’s a little bit too rough without proper protection,” said T.C. Williams School Nurse Nancy Runton.  However, both professional and amateur rugby is played without protective gear.

The players would also like to hear their accomplishments broadcast on the morning or afternoon announcements.

“I just want some respect from the school. They give us a hard time for no reason,” said senior rugby player, Marjorie Obeng.

The girls rugby team laments the fact that their hard work is not recognized by the school. Many members of the team have stated that they wish they had more privileges that club sports do not receive since they are not school sponsored.

“It’s kind of a pain just cause we don’t get the same benefits like buses and field guarantees,” said rugby coach Mike Colesanti.

Like any other sport, the players would also like to have student support at games encouraged by the administration.

“Rugby is a culture. We’re more about playing and understanding the game [and not just winning],” said Obeng.

In all sports at T.C., sportsmanship and team camaraderie is prevalent. The rugby team shares meals with their opponents after games and remembers to “leave it on the field,” said junior rugby player, Lauren Gustafason.

While rugby participation has spiked, Athletic Director Stephen Colantuoni has said that the qualifications for VHSL status are not a problem within T.C., but in the Virginia area. There are not enough rugby teams in the Patriot District to comprise a VHSL sponsored sport.

“It’s kind of like the economic world: supply and demand,” said Colantouni.

While the Patriot District may not have recognized rugby yet, the players only want to be recognized by the school.

“You can’t really label it [unless] you get to know it. It’s teamwork,” said Obeng. “It’s targeted towards being a team sport [and] everyone adds something.”

Lora Strum also contributed to this article.

The Cyber Life and Times of Students

A recent Theogony study found in one Blue day math class that out of 22 students, 10 had their laptops open and 7 were on Facebook. At T.C., the Internet has become a resource that many students use every day to do their homework and socialize. However, the online world has quickly become a venue for both good and bad Titan behavior. “Facebook is taking over many people’s social lives,” said sophomore Kamera Bracey.

T.C. junior La’Shawn Moultrie said, “Facebook [causes] drama [and] fights,” while sophomore Ben Khaki noted “Facebook is a beautiful thing.”

While Moultrie and Khaki have different opinions, they are both devoted Facebook users. Many students use Facebook for school associated activities, including T.C. junior and aspiring choreographer, Leah Valtin-Erwin, who uses Facebook to communicate with the dancers in the T.C. Modern Dance Society. Other groups at T.C. that use Facebook to communicate include the Sophomore Honor Society, French Honor Society, The Red Cross Club, and the Drama Department. The Red Cross Club used Facebook to advertise its Valentine’s Day Auction, and the T.C. Williams Drama Department has used the social networking site to publicize upcoming shows. Theogony is also an avid Facebook user.

However, Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) parent Karen Helbrecht said, “Any tool can be abused.” Recently, a controversial Facebook page, “T.C. Hoes,” was created anonymously with photos of students followed by inappropriate captions.

Sophomore Ariane Jaffe said “[“T.C. Hoes” is] really just stupid, because you can’t post stuff like that; it’s disrespectful.” However, not every student found the page offensive.

Junior Eugene Abbey said “It’s messed up, but funny.” The page made local news and many T.C. students friended the page before the T.C. administration, in association with Facebook, removed the site.

Shortly after the removal of “T.C. Hoes,” “T.C.’s Beautifulest” was created. “T.C.’s Beautifulest” was anonymously made and asked T.C. students to submit names and photos of the most beautiful people at T.C. to be posted on the site. “There’s nothing wrong with “T.C.’s Beautifulest,” said Moultrice.

While the author of “T.C.’s Beautifulest” may not have meant to offend students, the general consensus for the site was distaste. “It’s stupid,” said Bracey, “and [though] it may seem [that it’s] anti- “T.C. Hoes,” it’s still discriminating against those students not on the site.” Sophomore Hannah Drexler agreed. “It’s a form of cyber bullying to everyone who isn’t on it.”

Currently, “T.C.’s Beautifulest” has evolved into Alexandria’s Beautifulest and now includes George Washington and Hammond Middle School students in addition to T.C. Titans.

“People should own what they say and if they post things anonymously, they’re bullies and immature,” said Helbrecht, referring to ACPS Underground, a recent anonymous blog attacking ACPS Central Office administration. “They should state who they are if they making something. They shouldn’t hide behind screen names.”

The page, written by anonymous blogger, “Voltaire,” at one point compares the protesters in Alexandria, Egypt to ACPS.

The blog also warns viewers that it will soon be blocked by the administration, stating that it is sad that the first amendment stops at the administration’s doors. “I think, although it’s not much better, that ACPS Underground seems to be a bit more intelligent than ‘T.C. Hoes,’”  said sophomore Ben Ribler. “That could be due to the group of people running it.”

Drexler did not think how well written a site is mattered as much. “People are still going to make a big deal about whatever it is.”

Ribler noticed the differences between the blog and the Facebook pages. “‘T.C. Hoes’ was to humiliate and ‘showcase’ girls in our school. ACPS Underground, while still a little mean-spirited, isn’t directly attacking anyone [in terms of sexuality],” said Ribler.

Lataillade agreed, “I think [“T.C. Hoes”] turned into something that just got out of hand and was [trying to] start drama.” Neither Lataillade nor Ribler saw a reason for ACPS Underground to be shut down.

They agreed that people should have the right to complain about the administration. Lataillade even saw the page as a message to the administration. “Those in charge should be aware of [the blog] since it’s obviously something they’re doing that people don’t agree with.” Ribler and Laitallade agreed that ACPS Underground, if taken seriously, could potentially improve the administration.

At press time, “T.C.’s Bait” was added to the list of anonymous Facebook pages. “Who has the time to make all these anonymous pages?” said Bracey. The anonymous pages continue to be a part of T.C. life. As the Internet becomes more prominent in student life, many parents are starting to place restrictions on internet and Facebook use. “I think we monitor the sites that [our children] go on, [and] we have some restricted sites,” said Helbrecht. Even though there is bullying carried out using the Internet, Helbrecht said, “Other peoples’ perception [of you] whether verbal or cyber shouldn’t affect how you feel about who you are.”

Jennifer Veech, an ACPS parent with children in elementary and middle school makes sure her children use the Internet safely. Although her children who are in second, fourth, and sixth grade do not use social networking sites or email, they do play games online.  She said her children do not have access to games that allow communication with strangers.

The idea of them talking to strangers…that makes me uncomfortable” said Veech, “It [the Internet] is just like fire.”

Emma Beall also contributed to this article

Stricter Tardy Policy Rolls In Late

Tardy students now crowd the main entrance in the morning. All students arriving late in the morning must go to the welcome desk to receive a pass and a detention.

The administration has made it very clear that since September there has been a conscious effort to resolve tardy problems at T.C., and this is the reasoning behind the zero-tolerance tardy policy.

Principal Suzanne Maxey said that the day the policy began, she received emails from teachers thanking her for the tardy solution. “There’s a trail of straggling students,” said Maxey.

Since March 22, all late students serve an after-school detention in Mr. Earle’s classroom. Detention slips are handed out to each student a day before the detention is scheduled to be served.

“We thought [detentions] would be a more immediate consequence and also give us a better sense of which kids are having trouble getting here” said Principal of Pathways to Graduation, Mark Eisenhour. If students fail to attend their detentions, they are recommended for Saturday School. If they do not attend Saturday School, extensive measure are taken with their parents and counselor.

Students who seek to present themselves as someone other than who they are will not fool administrators. All students are supposed to carry ID cards on them at all times, and will be asked to present them at the welcome desk. Students without an ID card will be sent to the police office to have one made immediately. “I’m not letting our kids be late and suffer,” said Maxey.

Many students have expressed that if they must get a detention for being only a few minutes late, then they might as well skip the entire day. “I keep thinking that the first time should be a warning,” said junior Eugene Abbey.        The administration is adamant in its efforts to decrease the number of students not arriving to school on time. The administration believes that those who skip school instead of arriving on time or taking their consequence are not serious about their education. “We shouldn’t be running our school based on those kids,” said Maxey.

While many students are upset about the new consequences and tempted to skip, the tardy policy is not expected to go away any time soon. “It’s disappointing that [students] think [being late is okay], but its part of the problem of the culture of ‘I don’t care,’” said Fulton Vinson. “I think some of them are just talking, and the ones who really [skip], they would’ve done it regardless of the policy.”

A goal of the policy is to boost T.C.’s attendance rate and aid the efforts to make AYP (Annual Yearly Progress.). “One of the things we’re measured for on AYP is that 90 percent of the students participate in the test,” said Eisenhour. “Even one percent is a decent sized [number of tardy kids] with a school of 3,000.”

The administration also believes that the excuses given for being late are inadequate. Over-sleeping, missing the bus or simply arriving after the bell will no longer be accepted excuses, nor will notes from parents or guardians be accepted as excused tardies. Only court or doctor’s notes will be accepted as valid excused tardies. If students do not present a doctor’s note or a court note, they can have their parent or guardian call their Learning Community dean to discuss any possible problems.

Although the policy’s main objective is get students to school on time, it has another purpose. “Our overall goal is the change in the culture, change in behavior [and] setting the standard that you’ve got to get here on time,” said Eisenhour. “We don’t ever expect it will be perfect, but we’re always trying to make it better.”

Lora Strum also contributed to this article.

Working Socially: TC Social Workers

Social workers are a big part of the T.C. community.  They work hard to help students with both personal and school related matters and go above and beyond what is in their job description.  There are many aspects to the job as a social worker that most students don’t even realize.

“The social worker job in a school is basically three main things, you’ve got crisis intervention, then there’s truancy and assisting the child harmed,” said David Wynne of his job as a social worker for 10th grade. Social workers both in T.C. and around Alexandria work tirelessly to make sure students have everything they need to succeed in school.  This can mean making home visits and sometimes having to take students to court if they are having severe attendance problems. “If you’re a student, and there’s something prohibiting you from being the best you can be, my job is to get you to where you need to be,” said Wynne.

Though school social workers are linked directly to the school and work out of it, they are involved all over the city.  Social workers at an elementary school here in Alexandria are working to create a program for younger kids with fire fighters and police to go one-on-one with students there to help them succeed.  “Every single social worker in this building and the other ones have got something that you don’t know about them that they do that’s not in their job description, and the minute you think ‘oh yeah I’m doing a great job’… you learn about something else that your co-worker did to win a grant or start an after school program,” Wynne said.

Social work doesn’t just involve academic work; it can also deal with personal issues like working with students who are unable to realize their full potential.  “[A] difficult aspect of the job is to witness the large number of students who do not realize their personal value, self worth or amazing potential. Some continue to live with a deep sense of helpless, sadness, or apathy about life and have given up on themselves and others,” said Tara Newton, another T.C. social worker.  “This is very unfortunate because the truth is that each student here is special and gifted. It is evident that each one has something special and wonderfully unique to contribute to life.”  Many social workers feel that one of the saddest parts of their job is dealing with students who are unable to work towards their full potential.

But social work isn’t all negative; there are many rewarding and positive aspects of being a social worker.   “There are so many rewarding aspects and benefits to the field of social work. But I think one of the most rewarding part of the job is the opportunity to serve hurting people,” Newton said. “Another great aspect of this job is the opportunity to work at school with such a diverse, creative team of students and staff!” Being a social worker comes with many challenges, but some of them can be as minor as a change in venue.

Since the commencement of T.C.’s transformation last year, social workers have seen the changes first hand. Most were relocated to closet-sized rooms after their offices inside the Academies were given to the new counselors hired by the school. The change in location has come with a fresh approach; as social workers, these Titans deal mostly with unfortunate situations but are now focusing on the positive aspects of their work instead of the negative. Joseph Ernest explained that social workers “have always really focused on attendance, but this year we want to see percentages of students attending school rather than skipping.”

A highlight of the transformation in regard to social work has been the increased attention given to students who are struggling or are unable to graduate. Wynne admitted that he believes “[T.C] has done more to help kids academically this year than ever since I’ve been here.” Though social workers are not technically responsible for academics, their counseling often motivates struggling students to achieve better grades in their classes. Even in the unfortunate situations in which students are not be able to complete their schooling at T.C., the social workers continue to assist them in accomplishing their ambitions. “We’re developing alternate goals for students who will not graduate,” said Ernest.

For the social workers at T.C., the heart wrenching stories and difficult situations they are faced with are rewarded with the success of students accomplishing something they never thought possible, be it graduating or overcoming a complicated family situation. In the words of T.C. social worker Newton, “it is an unexplained joy to watch an individual…become empowered, resilient, resourceful, or receive stability and emotional healing.”

Joseph Earnest, a TC social worker at his desk in a former storage closet

Scholarship Fund Gala Photos

Saturday April 30, 2011 the Alexandria Hilton Mark Center was filled with The
Scholarship Fund of Alexandria supporters and student performers attending the
Scholarship Gala. The cast of the T.C. William’s Drama Department’s Winter Production
of Rent performed “Seasons of Love” to a standing ovation. The Scholarship Gala raised
$365,000 dollars to help send T.C. Williams students to business and technical
schools. “It was amazing” said The Alexandria Scholarship Fund Executive Director,
Susan Yowell. “It was a 50,000 dollar performance” said Thomas A. Fullham Jr, Assistant Director of The
Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.
Lora Strum contributed to this post.
Takki Sidley’s Documentary Studies students seniors Corey Lorenz and Ieva Sopaite took the gala photos.