The Identity Project, Returning to School and Senior Events
By Lauren Larsen
“We are in the public engagement part of our process here,” said Principal Peter Balas who recently hosted his first Principal’s Chat of the school year over Zoom. Balas was referring to The Identity Project, whose members work to host engagement sessions about the renaming of T.C. Williams High School and Matthew Maury Elementary School.
In November, the School Board will make a decision regarding the name changes. According to the ACPS Website (https://www.acps.k12.va.us/identityproject), “One of the ways that we can move forward is by acknowledging our own history, while refusing to allow that history to define who we currently are as a school division in the present.”
Balas said, “We are developing four lessons for the students at T.C. to learn about who T.C. was as a person and why monuments go up as a namesake.” These lessons are not intended to change anyone’s opinion or overshadow The Identity Project, but rather to provide objective insight on why the school is named after the former superintendent..
The second topic Balas discussed was plans for returning to school during the coronavirus pandemic. Balas said that he participates in weekly discussions about this; the top priority is returning those based on need.
On October 14th, ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings announced: “We hope to begin a phased-in reopening of our school buildings, beginning with a small cohort of students with disabilities enrolled in our citywide program starting November 5th.” In January of 2021, “phased re-entry begins for all students based on a prioritization matrix,” beginning with younger students.
If reopening ACPS schools reaches the high school level, the first round of students to return are those with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), English Learner (EL) students and those with 504’s, a “statute [that] was intended to prevent intentional or unintentional discrimination against persons with disabilities,” according to The U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
Currently, ACPS is monitoring surrounding jurisdictions to see what their next steps are going forward in the reopening process.
In order to honor the hard work of teachers during Virtual+ learning, Scholarship Fund of Alexandria Outreach Advisor Rosie Wiedemer suggested raising money for scholarships in the name of some ACPS teachers.
To recognize the hard work of students, the Student Government Association (SGA) is working to put together socially appropriate functions during this time of virtual learning. One such idea is a “Screen on the Green” movie night. The SGA is also in the process of looking for outdoor venues to host a socially distanced prom in the spring for seniors.
As for maintaining understanding of content at the AP level, Balas is hoping to have students use the Titans Rising Block in the mornings next semester to review the curriculum for the May exams. That way, even if AP students finish courses at the end of first semester, they will have an opportunity to keep up with the information.
Balas will continue to host Principal’s Chats throughout the year in an effort to bridge communication between the administration and parents, which is especially important right now during COVID-19.