Native American Heritage Month Is Time To Embrace Shared Values, 30-Year FCPS Employee Says

Spotlight Feed 2 weeks 1 day ago
KEMILLER Thu, 11/17/2022 - 13:19 Native American Heritage Month Is Time To Embrace Shared Values, 30-Year FCPS Employee Says Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations November 17, 2022

Rufus “Rick” Kelly knows he could do information technology work anywhere. But the Fairfax County Public Schools’ senior technology specialist says his Native American roots and cultural upbringing led him to a 30-year career in public education.

While working for a large technology company in his 20s, Kelly says he realized he wanted to do something else with his life.

“I was making good money, I was doing fine for myself, but it wasn’t enough,” Kelly says. “I needed to satisfy my social conscience. My parents were teachers, I was familiar with education, and while I didn’t want to be a teacher, there was something about education that appealed to me.”


LaVerne Kelly, music educator and the mother of FCPS Employee Rick Kelly, celebrates her Native American heritage at the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia powwow.


Rufus G. Kelly, Jr., a high school chemistry teacher and father of FCPS senior technology support specialist Rick Kelly, inspired Rick to consider a career in education.

Kelly says he was raised to value education. “We prioritize making sure you are always doing something to take care of those who come behind you,” Kelly says of his tribe’s beliefs.

Over 30 years at FCPS, his work has gone beyond information technology. At one point, the Virginia Department of Education reached out to the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, and asked their chief Lynette Allston to attend a meeting on school curriculum.


Thirty-year FCPS employee Rick Kelly speaks at a professional event for IT staff.

“Our chief was unavailable, but she knew I worked in education so she said ‘please represent us and make sure our voice is heard,’” Kelly said. “I went to Richmond, I sat on a panel and provided input on some changes they were considering making on the state standards of learning as it related to Virginia’s Indians.”

This school year, Kelly again seized an opportunity to share Native American culture through his job. At an FCPS technology event in August, he met new superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid, Ed.D. While conversing with her, he asked if she’d like to join him at the upcoming Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia powwow.


Primary chief of the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia Lynette Allston, FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid and 30-year FCPS employee Rick Kelly at the Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia's annual powwow.

“I knew she was from the Pacific Northwest and she mentioned she had never been to a powwow, so I invited her and she came,” Kelly said. “I serve as the master of ceremonies, so I had her come right up to the front with me where we introduce all our special guests. We had some social dancing, she observed for a while and then she came on in and joined the circle. It was wonderful.”

November is Native American Heritage month, and Kelly says he sees it as another opportunity to “set the record straight.”


FCPS information technology manager Rick Kelly offers a blessing for the governor's inauguration at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va.

“To me, this is a way to celebrate our culture in a way that is attractive, interesting, and pulls people in,” Kelly said. “There is a really rugged history we have and we can talk about broken treaties and things like that, but we can also celebrate the values that bring us together – the belief in family, the belief in education, the desire to take care of your elders, these are Nottoway Tribal values that we share with many people. Native American Heritage month provides a vehicle and gives people an opportunity to focus, whether they are a member of this group or not.”

Come Work for FCPS

Watch NBC4’s Coverage of Rick Kelly’s Story




Transformational! Play Pays Off as Impact of Middle School Recess is Felt Across Fairfax County

Spotlight Feed 2 weeks 4 days ago
JMOULT Mon, 11/14/2022 - 14:50 Transformational! Play Pays Off as Impact of Middle School Recess is Felt Across Fairfax County Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations November 14, 2022

At the beginning of this school year, Fairfax County Public Schools introduced middle school recess after a pilot program showed this age group does better in the classroom when free play factors into their day.

According to principals, students, and teachers, that decision, along with the move to eliminate cell phone usage, is already paying dividends.

Now, on blacktops and playing fields at schools across the county, pick-up football, games of tag, and huddles of UNO take place each day.

With phones “away for the day” conversations have now replaced texting, social media drama has declined dramatically and friendships are being formed and strengthened.

A student from Walt Whitman Middle School enjoys some fresh fall air during the 15-minute break from class.

“Watching everything that is happening during recess is a nice reminder that these children are still only 12 years old and they benefit from unstructured play,” said Walt Whitman Middle School assistant principal, Matthew Johnson. 

He added, “The introduction of recess has been a very positive experience. Kids are running around and getting their energy out. Others are taking the time to socialize and sit with friends. We are seeing that kids are more focused in the classroom and in a better mood. It has been a game changer.”

Whitman Assistant Principal Matthew Johnson joins in a game of UNO with students.


Last April, the Fairfax County School Board voted to update its student and staff health and wellness policy to allow for a 15-minute recess period every day. The change received unanimous support and is aligned with the work being carried about by the division to focus on the social-emotional learning of all our students.

Students from Herndon Middle School have more time to develop friendships thanks to the additional free time.

On the Whitman playing field in Alexandria, it is evident just how appreciated that change in policy is as students rush outside after lunch to make the most of every second. 

In one corner of the field, a game of kickball is taking place, and in another a lively game of football. Elsewhere, students are chatting, others are reading and enjoying the fresh fall air.

Eighth-grader Sharif Gaines, picks up a football and takes his position as star linebacker out on the field each day. He knows how important this time for physical activity can be for his age group.

“We need to move our bodies. I know that I can’t sit still for long periods of time, I’m always moving. If I didn't have this, I’d have to get up and take a walk and stretch during class,” he said.

“Some kids play sports, some just walk around. Everybody does something different.”

On days when the weather isn’t suited to outdoor play, traditional board games and books become the go-to activity. 




Coates Family Academy Has Parents Learning Tips to Support Kids in FCPS

Spotlight Feed 2 weeks 4 days ago
KEMILLER Mon, 11/14/2022 - 12:22 Coates Family Academy Has Parents Learning Tips to Support Kids in FCPS Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations November 14, 2022 Translate this page

On Thursday evenings at Lutie Lewis Coates Elementary School in Herndon, roughly 20 parents are reporting for class.

Instructor Marcelo Ribera is walking the mothers and fathers through a lesson on the importance of opening your child’s backpack every day after school, saying it may contain important communications from the teacher or principal, as well as information about school gatherings or sign-up forms for sports or clubs.

The Coates Elementary Family Academy is intended to be a boot camp of sorts for families adjusting to the American public education system. Family Liaison Solangie McPherson came up with the idea two years ago, when, in the throes of the pandemic, she saw a need to bolster parent-teacher relationships at the school, where almost half of the students are English language learners, and many families are new to the U.S.


A parent attends a Thursday night workshop on family involvement at Lutie Lewis Coates Elementary School in Herndon.

“I soon realized many parents needed training, they wanted to help their children but needed a sort of guide to schools here,” McPherson said. And so, the Coates Family Academy was created: those interested take courses in everything from early literacy supports, to school vocabulary/English language instruction, computer/technology systems and parent rights/responsibilities.

Things that are commonplace in U.S. public education these days, like teachers sending Sign-Up Genius forms to parents to volunteer in class or schedule a conference, or knowing how to operate a laptop to assist a child during virtual learning, were proving challenging for some parents, McPherson said. Buzzwords in the school system, like the shorthand of AAP for Advanced Academic Programs, or IEP for individualized education program, a term used in special education, were also unknown to many newcomers to the U.S., she says.

“Disadvantaged families need assistance across the board,” said Jorge Figueredo, executive director of Edu-Futuro, a regional nonprofit that is an FCPS Ignite Partner, and provides the curricula, funding for meals, childcare and other costs -- including paying instructor Ribera for his time -- tied to the Family Academy.


Edu-Futuro staff member Marcelo Ribera leads a Thursday evening parenting resource workshop at Lutie Lewis Coates Elementary School in Herndon.

“Things that are simple for many families, like how to complete online school forms, are not simple for some of the families we serve,” Figueredo said. “They don’t have a computer at home, and they didn’t know they could use their cell phone to do these things, so we teach them how to use their smart phones, and how to use a laptop and we start with the basics like what the enter key means and we build their skills from there."

Those who complete at least four courses in five different subject areas over the course of the school year will become official Coates Family Academy graduates come June. This past year, 16 parents earned that distinction.

Every Thursday, participants meet at 6 p.m. and start by eating dinner together.

“The idea behind this is we’re going to give you everything you need to be supported in your learning as parents,” McPherson said. “Usually parents are getting off work at 6pm, this way they aren’t rushing home after school and work and trying to eat quickly in the hopes of getting out the door to attend this program. They come here, they eat together, there’s no rush and they focus on learning.”

After dinner, the children attend free-of-charge tutoring, provided by FCPS students from nearby Rachel Carson Middle School who patiently listen to young elementary students read aloud to them, and then, after they spent time on academics, the elementary students attend extracurricular activity classes like Hip-Hop dance or soccer.

The parents, meanwhile, are hitting the books. Sometimes it’s an Edu-Futuro sponsored class that aims to help parents of tweens and teens learn how to set limits, create goals, and help their children avoid peer pressure, other times it is a class on positive discipline for elementary students run by a division of FCPS.

On this particular Thursday in October, Marcelo Ribera, an immigrant from Bolivia and an FCPS parent himself, is running a Jeopardy-type game for the parents to play as they brush up on their knowledge of parental rights and responsibilities in the school district.

“Can parents visit their children’s classes?” Ribera asks the group in Spanish. Most of the parents shout “No!” in response. Ribera shakes his head and says in Spanish: “Actually, YES. Parents have the ability to visit classes and have lunch with their children, when they make an appointment in advance and clear it with the teacher and principal.”

Ribera then lists off ways in which the school would appreciate parent involvement, such as volunteering in the library, assisting in the cafeteria or chaperoning a field trip.

Sprinkled throughout the game are questions about what constitutes an excused absence from school (being sick, having a medical appointment or an emergency such as a death in the family were all acceptable answers) and what actions to take if your child is having problems in class (first make an appointment to speak with the teacher).

Yesika Cruz, a Honduran immigrant who is the mother of a fifth-grader at Coates, says she attends the weekly sessions because she wants to know what the expectations are for parents within FCPS.

“I am learning how to talk to teachers, who needs to be contacted when my child is sick, what types of questions I should ask at conferences like what different levels mean for reading and math, how I can help at home,” Cruz says.


An instructor assists parents in a Coates Family Academy night class about ways to support your child's education.

Fellow Coates parent Ada Flores, who moved to the U.S. from El Salvador, says she’s learned that the American education system expects more two-way communication with parents.

“We are all coming here because we want to be better for our kids, we want to be empowered parents, there is so much information here, we just need to know how to use it,” Flores said.

Their hard work is showing, Coates Elementary School Principal Paul Basdekis says of those who attend the Family Academy.

“It sends a clear message to our children that we are all learners,” Basdekis says. “These parents commit to an ongoing progression of learning so that they can lead and strengthen their families.” 

Some of the parents who attend have even wound up becoming salaried FCPS employees working at Coates themselves, he adds.

McPherson, the school’s family liaison who created the program with the support of Edu-Futuro, says she sees the payoff for parents who commit to attending.

“The parents who have taken these classes are very independent now,” McPherson said. “We gave them the resources, they are now doing it on their own. You can see they feel more confident, even if English isn't their first language, that they can be involved and can support their kids and they know how to ask for help if they need it."

Learn More About FCPS Ignite Partnerships

Explore Family Engagement in FCPS



Cappies Review of Woodson's Production of One Man, Two Guvnors

Spotlight Feed 3 weeks ago
AJGRUNIG Fri, 11/11/2022 - 13:44 Cappies Review of Woodson's Production of One Man, Two Guvnors Spotlight Communication and Community Relations November 11, 2022

Fairfax County Public Schools students are talented actors, musicians, and visual artists. Many FCPS high schools participate in the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theatre, otherwise known as the Cappies.

The Cappies is a program through which high school theater and journalism students are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, write reviews, and publish those reviews in local newspapers. There are fifteen Cappies chapters across the United States and Canada. 

Editor's Note: This review of Woodson High School's production of One Man, Two Guvnors is written by Josie Amspaugh of Langley High School.

Working two jobs is stressful. Watching someone work two jobs is entertaining, and it makes one hilarious comedy.

"One Man, Two Guvnors" was a thrilling comedy based on the classic commedia dell'arte play, One Man, Two Masters. Following the archetypes commonly found in dell'arte works, the play followed Francis, the Harlequin, as he attempted to juggle working for two different governors, and the slapstick comedy that ensued as he tried to outwit both of them in hopes of just getting a good meal. Often calling upon audience members to aid him in his schemes, One Man, Two Guvnors was a delightful treat all the way through.

Francis was played by Diya Selvan, a natural comedian with a great British accent and a knack for improv. Her performance was engaging, hilarious and very entertaining. Her exaggerated movements enhanced the tension, and her jokes always managed to land. Selvan was able to carry each scene she was in, and her stage presence extended to the entire auditorium as she filled the space with laughter. It's just like she said: "Everyone loves a clown!"

The rest of the title was of course made up by the two "guvnors," Roscoe Crabbe and Stanley Stubbers, played by Alyce Visioli and Farooq Khan respectively. In a wild twist however, Roscoe was actually his twin sister Rachel! Visioli was able to keep the air of the intimidating gangster, but naturally and immediately switched into her more feminine persona. The sheer magnitude of her performance and her smart direction choices made the character feel larger than life, and bounced excellently off Khan, who played her lover. The scene where they both realized that their partners aren't actually dead was beautifully constructed and radiated with chemistry, while still kept the light and funny tone.

Other lovers include Pauline and Alan who managed to be an even more comedic duo. Pauline, played by Maddie Keene, was as dumb as a brick, and hopelessly in love with her wannabe actor boyfriend who was played by Peter Gardner. Their physicality and dramatic facial expressions had audiences dying from laughter as they ran around the stage. And who could forget Alan's iconic relationship with buses! 

Nothing was more iconic than the performance of audience member Christine, who was played by Charlotte Willmore. At first, she appeared to just be a random audience member plucked to be on stage, and it only becomes apparent that she's an actor when she was sprayed with the prop fire extinguisher (which was very well designed!), and only because that wouldn't be legal otherwise! Willmore's character felt so genuine and convincing, it left other audience members in shock that she wasn't actually one of them! Her acting was remarkable and created one of the funniest moments in the entire show.

Finally, it would be remiss not to mention the amazing costumes in One Man, Two Guvnors designed by Katy Nguyen and her phenomenal costume crew. The 1960s fashion was not only stylish, perfectly able to capture each character, but also intelligently designed. Complementary colors were used with each color, while parent-child duos chose to wear matching colors. Alan's flamboyant teal scarf was characteristic of a thespian, as opposed to the more muted blue worn by his father. 

Overall, One Man, Two Guvnors is a hilarious romp and definitely worth the watch. Come prepared to laugh and then laugh some more, thanks to the incredible W. T. Woodson theatre program!



"Veterans Day Means Thank You:" Orange Hunt Elementary Events Highlight All That Goes Into Military Service

Spotlight Feed 3 weeks ago
KEMILLER Fri, 11/11/2022 - 08:24 "Veterans Day Means Thank You:" Orange Hunt Elementary Events Highlight All That Goes Into Military Service Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations November 11, 2022

Physical Fitness. Sacrifice. Teamwork. Medals of Honor. Orange Hunt Elementary School in Springfield, Va., uses Veterans Day to ensure students are aware of all that goes into military service.

The school, where one-third of students come from families with a parent who is active-duty in the military, organizes “celebration stations” to honor the spirit of military service from many different perspectives: Students gathered in one space outside the school listen to service members and veterans talk about their life experiences. They learn that military service goes beyond the battlefield, with some parents working in the military as lawyers, medical professionals or even trumpet players.


An Orange Hunt Elementary School parent and service member reads to students as part of Veterans Day celebrations at the school.

Around the corner, the school’s band and chorus are performing the Star Spangled Banner and other patriotic tunes for the community.


Orange Hunt Elementary band director Eileen Fraedrich leads students in performing a variety of patriotic songs.


An Orange Hunt Elementary student plays the tuba in the Veterans Day band performance.

On a field behind the school, an elaborate obstacle course has been set up with students cheering for each other as they walk across a moving plank, crawl under hurdles, and bob and weave in steps through hula hoops on the ground in a mock basic training set-up that reminds them that the military values physical fitness and teamwork.


Students tackle a mock boot camp that aims to highlight the importance of physical fitness in the military at Orange Hunt Elementary School's Veterans Day celebration.


An Orange Hunt Elementary student weaves through cones during a mock boot camp session at the school's Veterans Day celebration.

At the final station, students are engaged in making their own medals of honor using construction paper and yarn.


An Orange Hunt Elementary student makes a medal of honor out of construction paper and yarn during the school's Veterans Day celebrations.

“This is a time-honored tradition here at Orange Hunt, we have parents and students involved in every part of it,” Principal Karen Tuttle says. “It means a lot to the families to have this every year, even those who’ve graduated from our school, sometimes come back to participate in the celebration”.

U.S. Army Captain Chad Boone, whose family moved to Northern Virginia in April from Germany, says he volunteered to assist in the event because he wanted to talk to students about how different military careers can look.

“I think it’s important for kids to know the military is not just marching and taking orders,” Boone said. “As a community, this event highlights how many service members we have in this area, the sacrifices they make and it also reinforces for kids with parents who serve that there is a sort of cohesiveness, they are not alone, there are other students just like me who adapt to making new friends, and changing schools.”

Eight-year-old Nathanial Ojo, a second-grader, says on Veterans Day he thinks of his uncle in the Navy and his great-grandfather who served in the Army during World War II.

“Veterans Day means thank you to people who protected us and honored us so our country can have peace,” Ojo said.  The Orange Hunt Elementary celebration is important, he says, “so all our classmates, even those without family members who are veterans, can think about what it means to have other people sacrifice so we call can have peace.”

His classmate Connor Mock, also 8, agrees.

“My dad worked in the Air Force,” Mock said.  “He works to create things that can help us safe. I really love my Dad, and I like people to thank him and other veterans.”

Watch WJLA/ABC 7’s coverage of Orange Hunt’s Veterans Day activities

Learn more about FCPS resources for military families


FCPS Students to Perform at Virginia Music Educators Association Conference November 17-19

Spotlight Feed 3 weeks 4 days ago
AJGRUNIG Mon, 11/07/2022 - 16:00 FCPS Students to Perform at Virginia Music Educators Association Conference November 17-19 Spotlight Communication and Community Relations November 07, 2022 Translate this page

The Virginia Music Educators Association will sponsor three honor groups at the state music conference November 17-19 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Students throughout the Commonwealth went through a rigorous audition process to compete for a position in these groups.  

Fourteen students from Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) will participate in the All-Virginia Jazz Band Concert on Thursday, November 17, at noon under the direction of jazz musician and teacher, Dr. Barry Long and performer, recording artist, composer, and educator Dr. Longineu Parsons. 

One FCPS student will participate in the All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble concert on Thursday, November 17, at 1 p.m. under the direction of Grammy Award-winning composer and recording artist Andrew York.

Thirty-one FCPS students will participate in the Senior Honors Choir on Saturday, November 19, at 1 p.m. under the direction of Dr. Edith Copley, professor emeritus, Northern Arizona University.

FCPS students selected for 2022 All-Virginia Jazz Band:

•    Henry Bangerter, Lake Braddock SS
•    Jesse Chon, Chantilly HS
•    Addison DeMoney, Westfield HS
•    Nina Howell, Madison HS
•    Jonas Kupchella, Chantilly HS
•    Benji Loeffler, Justice HS
•    Josh Lugo Zambrano, Chantilly HS
•    Brady Markin, Chantilly HS
•    Lucy Montgomery, Westfield HS
•    Lucas Pederson, Fairfax HS
•    Spencer Read, Chantilly HS
•    Keith Scroggs, Chantilly HS
•    Justin Smith, Madison HS
•    Kyle Wilson, Justice HS

FCPS student selected for the 2022 All-Virginia Guitar Ensemble:

•    Genevieve Kopp, Madison HS

FCPS students selected for the 2022 Virginia Senior Honors Choir:

•    Sydney Ashworth, West Potomac HS
•    Eric Bach, South County HS
•    Anne Barata, Woodson HS
•    Akhil Bhatt, Marshall HS
•    Sarah Brotemarkle, Lake Braddock SS
•    Catherine Browne, West Springfield HS
•    Lily Chopus, Langley HS
•    Jackie Copeland, Centreville HS
•    Ella Fox, Lake Braddock SS
•    Christoper Frost, Westfield HS
•    Corey Furukawa, Madison HS
•    Julian Gaines, Langley HS
•    Ashika Ganta, Chantilly HS
•    Natalie Ghofrany, Marshall HS
•    Nathan Huang, Langley HS
•    Catherine Knecht, Langley HS
•    Caleb Ludlow, Langley HS
•    Paul MacDonald, Madison HS
•    William McKinstry, Oakton HS
•    Nico Morandi-Zerpa, Langley HS
•    Luke Mudrick, Madison HS
•    Christina Nguyen, Centreville HS
•    Jadyn Nguyen, Herndon HS
•    Mariela Palencia, Falls Church HS
•    Maya Pattison, Edison HS
•    Sara Porjosh, Marshall HS
•    Siam Salam, Lake Braddock SS
•    Ramzy Tabbah, Annandale HS
•    Abril Tello Cornejo, Fairfax HS
•    Sydney Topoleski, Madison HS
•    Ivan Tysarczyk, Woodson HS

FCPS alternate for the 2022 Virginia Senior Honors Choir:

•    Grace Brown, West Potomac HS

For more information, contact Katrina Chaney at [email protected]

Related Content: 

Fine Arts Overview - Learn what is offered to FCPS students.


In the video below, Teacher Alberto Rodriguez conducts the Mount Vernon HS orchestra as they play "Free Fall," created by composer Selena Ryan for the school orchestra to debut.


Seniors Make a SUBstantial Difference in FCPS Schools

Spotlight Feed 3 weeks 4 days ago
KEMILLER Mon, 11/07/2022 - 09:41 Seniors Make a SUBstantial Difference in FCPS Schools Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations November 07, 2022

Bunni Cooper, or Ms. Bunni as she’s known to students, has had students ask her to serve as a fill-in grandma. She’s also had a group of “feisty” sixth graders ask her to join them at their cafeteria table for regular lunches – and she obliged. Cooper, who worked at the World Bank for 23 years before retiring and becoming an Fairfax County Public Schools substitute, gets hugs in the hallway and warm greetings from students she passes in the hallway on their way to recess.

“I’m not the type to just sit at home and do nothing, so when I retired I looked for a way to pay it forward,” Cooper says. “I’m 76 – but you don’t act it when you’re around kids all day. They taught me a few years back how to do the `dab’ – I’ve learned all sorts of different dance moves in this job. I just have fun with them.”

Apply to Become An FCPS Substitute

Cooper, who became an FCPS substitute teacher in 2013, has focused her time almost exclusively at Bull Run Elementary School in Centreville for the past nine years. There is a near-daily need for her assistance, and the ability to concentrate on one school has led to deeper ties with students, families and the school staff itself, Bull Run Principal Jason Pensler says.


Retiree Bunni Cooper, a regular substitute at Bull Run ES, has gotten to know many students during her nine years of working at the school.

“The consistency is mission critical – knowing we have Ms. Bunni – or several other regular substitutes like her who are also retirees, means they know the students, they come right in and start working,” Pensler said. “Our teachers trust this group as well, meaning they leave more in-depth lesson plans because they are confident this group will deliver on the continuity of instruction.”

“Having someone ready and willing to jump in feet first and say we got this, we can take care of this makes a huge, huge difference in the daily operations of a school,” Pensler said.


FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid visits a classroom taught by substitute Bunni Cooper during her recent visit to Bull Run ES.

School districts across the region and the country are experiencing a substitute shortage, and looking for creative ways to encourage qualified applicants to apply. A new FCPS program provides bonuses to substitutes based on the number of days they work – those who work 50 days as a substitute receive a $200 bonus, with the program maxing out at $900 in extra pay for those who log 150 days of subbing this school year.

The school district is also offering bonuses for those who sub on so-called “high volume” days when administrators expect many staff may be out on leave. People who fill in for teachers on those days, which include a number of Fridays throughout the school year, will earn an extra $80 per day, and those who serve as substitute instructional assistants will earn an additional $55.

Bull Run Principal Pensler says an average day at his school will have two or three teachers out – whether due to illness, family emergencies or personal leave. High volume days can mean twice as many teachers are absent, he says, adding he hopes the new financial incentives make those times easier to manage.

A reliable and trustworthy substitute like Ms. Bunni is a great asset to school operations, he adds.

“She has a can-do attitude, there is no fear with Ms. Bunni, yet she is also very welcoming and nurturing,” he says. “Our kids love talking to her, and that type of relationship develops when someone is here day in and day out showing they value the students and are here for them.”

Cooper works in all grades – from Kindergarten to sixth – and can also be found serving as a stand-in librarian, music instructor, or assisting with special education, depending on the day.

“When they come and have a class with Ms. Bunni, I try to be very firm,” Cooper says. “I know that’s necessary to be in control of the classroom, but I also want them to know they are worthy, they are important and if they set their mind to doing something – they can do it.”

Cooper says she was drawn to substituting because she loves kids, which she notes is important for anyone interested in the work.

“I thought well, what can I lose? I’ll try it,” Cooper said. She says other retirees should know that teachers leave you with detailed lesson plans for the day, and school staff are available should they ever need assistance. Substitutes can also choose which grade levels, subjects and schools they would like to assist, and stipulate which days they are available to work.


Substitute Bunni Cooper, 76, worked at the World Bank for 23 years before deciding after retirement she wanted to try teaching because she enjoys helping students learn.

“Retirees have so much experience they have acquired in their lifetimes that is so good to share with young folks,” Principal Pensler says. “I’d tell all retirees to consider this – please share your knowledge with students, staff and community. I hope more will consider this good work because it is truly needed and truly valued.”

Now nine years after she first became a substitute, Ms. Bunni typically works five days a week and has no plans to stop.

“These kids give me energy and purpose, they give me so much joy,” Cooper said. “I feel like I am helping these students in some way establish the road to their success.”

“And I don’t plan on quitting until the good Lord tells me to quit.”

Apply to Become An FCPS Substitute


Marching On: Student Who is Deaf Shines on the Woodson Drumline

Spotlight Feed 1 month 1 week ago
JMSELLERS Wed, 10/26/2022 - 11:36 Marching On: Student Who is Deaf Shines on the Woodson Drumline Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations October 26, 2022

Under the Friday night lights at Woodson High School, the excitement mounts as the Cavalier football team prepares to take the field. In the stands, the Woodson marching band is outfitted in their blue and white uniforms, ready to hype up the crowd for the big game. But for one member of the marching band, there’s an additional piece of equipment needed to perform: a cochlear implant. Michael Gouin, a junior at Woodson HS, is completely deaf, but you wouldn’t know as you listen to him play his snare drum. 

“I’ve been playing for about four years,” said Michael. “Other instruments have different sounds and it’s very hard for me to hear. The drum only has one sound. It’s louder than other instruments, so it works well for me.”

Two drumsticks in hand and a cochlear implant tucked behind his right ear, Michael is on beat with the rest of the drumline. He keeps an eye on an erasable white board at the front of the group with written instructions. During his second year in the marching band, Michael has found a system that works, but not without challenges. 

“Last year I was in the pit. We didn't move around,” explains Michael. “Now I’m on the drumline and it’s very difficult compared to the pit because we have to move around and look at the drum major at the same time. It’s very challenging, but that’s why I like it.”

The pit, or a stationary group of percussionists, was Michael’s assignment during his first year in marching band. But he wanted to go one step further for his junior year and tried out for the drumline.

“It’s been a real growing experience for me as a teacher,” said Woodson Band Director Aaron Morgan. “I went from being a little skeptical to seeing that it’s 100% fine. It’s been great seeing him fulfill his dream of marching with a snare drum. It’s cool to see him get so excited and work really hard at it.”

Last year, Michael requested the assistance of an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for football games, but now that he’s more familiar with the process, he no longer requires an interpreter for game performances. The interpreters do attend band practice to help Michael learn new music or choreography. 

“I love when students get involved in extracurricular activities,” said Woodson ASL interpreter Alice Maggio. “It gets them involved with a new group of students and it’s a great opportunity for everyone. We also travel with them to competitions so that’s always very exciting.”

Michael Gouin and Alice Maggio, an ASL interpreter at Woodson HS. 

Michael hopes to continue drumming in a college marching band, and eventually hopes to join the Baltimore Marching Ravens, the largest musical organization associated with the National Football League (NFL). He hopes younger generations of deaf or hearing-impaired students will follow his lead and pursue their dreams. 

“Being deaf doesn’t mean you can't do it,” said Michael. “You can do anything you want no matter what your disability. You are still a normal person. You’re the same as anyone else. We’re all the same.”

Learn more about FCPS Services for Students Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing. 

Learn more about the W.T. Woodson Band.



A Virtual Journey into the Human Body: Students Board High-Tech Bus from GW to Explore Healthcare Careers

Spotlight Feed 1 month 1 week ago
JMSELLERS Fri, 10/21/2022 - 12:32 A Virtual Journey into the Human Body: Students Board High-Tech Bus from GW to Explore Healthcare Careers Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations October 21, 2022

Hop aboard the giant blue bus parked outside West Potomac Academy and you’ll enter a futuristic world of learning focused on exploring the intricacies of the human body. Augmented reality, artificial intelligence (AI), and holograms are all being used to give FCPS medical science students the chance to get hands-on experience in a virtual setting. The 45-foot bus, or Immersive Learning Center (ILC), is a new educational program from the George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences and Medi-Corps Program, aimed at helping high school students explore careers in the healthcare field. 

As students step in front of one of the large screens on the bus, they are transported to a situation where a football player has broken his leg. Students are able to participate as the athlete is treated by EMS professionals and taken to George Washington University Hospital where he receives care from nurses, radiologists, pharmacists, and surgeons. The journey from the field to the hospital gives students a glimpse into the variety of medical professions required to treat a broken bone. 

“The students' enthusiasm to get up and interact in the immersive learning is so phenomenal to watch,” said West Potomac Academy Career Specialist Maria Kappel. “On the iPad, the technology allows the skeletal system to come to life. They can add different layers of the body in a 3D model. It is very cool and helpful for students.”

Ten FCPS students were trained on the technology before the program launched to all medical science students at West Potomac Academy. The students who were trained walk their peers through the different activities and help them make the most of the virtual experience.

“This program definitely helps students learn,” said senior Spencer Taylor. “I’ve heard other students say ‘oh I’ve heard of this body part before, but I never knew what it looked like!’” 

The ILC’s first stop is the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy at West Potomac HS, and will also travel to the Governor’s Health Sciences Academy at Falls Church High School and the Governor’s STEM Academy at Chantilly High School later this school year. 

“GW recognizes the need to attract more young people into health science careers,'' said Teri Capshaw, the Director of the Community MediCorps Program at GW. “We are committed to bringing technology to high school students who have expressed an interest in health sciences so they can pursue that career with the help of this high-tech programming.” 

As students and staff become more familiar with the technology over the next few months, they will be able to choose activities that reinforce the curriculum being taught in the classroom.

“We are thrilled to provide opportunities for students to explore health literacy and make connections outside of the classroom,” said West Potomac Academy Administrator Jennifer Alpers. “This state of the art technology is putting our students in a position to learn the same material being taught at top colleges and universities, which is very exciting.”

Whitney Ketchledge, coordinator of career and technical education for FCPS adds, “The mobility of this lab allows us to ensure that all of our health and medical students, regardless of the school they attend, will be able to engage in this amazing learning opportunity.”

GW received a grant from GO Virginia to create the ILC program.

Learn more about the ILC on GW’s website

Learn more about the West Potomac Academy. 

Watch this video to learn more about how FCPS students are engaging with virtual reality aboard the ILC.


Kilmer Middle School Student Organizes First Ever Nationwide Spelling Bee for Mongolian Immigrants

Spotlight Feed 1 month 2 weeks ago
JMOULT Wed, 10/19/2022 - 08:03 Kilmer Middle School Student Organizes First Ever Nationwide Spelling Bee for Mongolian Immigrants Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations October 19, 2022

For the past 18 months, a Kilmer Middle School eighth-grader has been giving up his Friday evenings to offer free spelling tutoring to dozens of Mongolian immigrant children across the US.

Mongolian by descent and a Spelling Bee ace, Erdem Dulguun has the skills and desire to offer academic coaching to an underserved community in need of support. As if that wasn’t enough, he went a step further.

Now, on Saturday, Oct. 22, the 13-year-old will be welcoming many of these children as they arrive at The World Bank in Washington, D.C. to take part in his latest venture;  a first-ever community spelling bee for American Mongolian students that has Scripps' support.

Special guest at the event is none other than Batbayar Ulziidelger, the Mongolian Ambassador to the U.S. The Mongolian Embassy will host the participating students and their families on Friday for a meet and greet.

“I wanted to help the Mongolian community because I love keeping my ties with this country, it’s very important to me. I’m not exactly the best teacher, I'm not that much of a public speaker because I get nervous but it is a good feeling to share what I know. Yes, I am helping these kids learn but sometimes they are even helping me learn which is the best part of this.” 

On Friday evenings, Erdem holds Zoom spelling classes for up to 40 students.

Speaking of Saturday, he said he was both “nervous” and “excited” about the event that he organized with the help of mom, Bolormaa Jamiyansuren, and Eliza Morss, the spelling bee coordinator for the Fairfax County Council PTA (FCCPTA) which is the Regional Partner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee Program in Fairfax County and Alexandria City.

Erdem was born in the U.S. but returned to live with his grandparents in Mongolia as a toddler while his mother finished grad school here. When he returned to America as a kindergartener, he had to relearn English.

His own spelling skills were honed at Westbriar Elementary School in Vienna when as a sixth grader he finished as the 1st Runner-Up in the Fairfax County Spelling Bee 2021 and was our region's alternate to go to the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

Jamiyansuren proudly posted about Erdem's Spelling Bee success on Facebook to the U.S. Mongolian community. Many were amazed that participating in an English-language spelling bee was a possibility - or even permitted  - for non-native English speakers. 

So Erdem took what he heard from these Mongolian students across the U.S. and now most Friday evenings he holds Zoom classes for dozens of youngsters. The help he gives is invaluable to this community that often struggles because of the difficulties of learning a vastly different language to their native Mongolian.

As these students' skills improved, they told him that they wanted to be able to participate in the Scripps National Spelling Bee just as he had. However, many of these students live in low-income communities, and their schools cannot afford to enroll in the Scripps' program. 

A selection of Erdem's spelling trophies that he has collected over the years.

Erdem and his mother came up with the idea of holding their own spelling bee just for the Mongolian community. They enlisted the help of Morss and, working together, they were able to successfully seek approval and support from Scripps. 

Morss said, “I loved the idea, and I contacted Scripps, told them the story, and immediately received Scripps' approval both to participate in the event as well as to use - for free! -  Scripps' copyrighted Bee materials from a past year for this "community spelling bee". 

The Spelling Bee will be held on Saturday, October 22, 10 AM - 1 PM in an auditorium at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.  Thirty-four contestants are coming from eight different states, including California, Washington, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Florida. 

Erdem's mother has been a great support and has helped him make the contacts he needed to organize Saturday's event.



A New Way to Play: Elementary School Creates Sensory Experience on Blacktop

Spotlight Feed 1 month 3 weeks ago
JMSELLERS Mon, 10/10/2022 - 15:54 A New Way to Play: Elementary School Creates Sensory Experience on Blacktop Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations October 10, 2022 Translate this page

Bright colors, interactive design, and creative play is on full display just outside the back doors of Beech Tree Elementary School in Falls Church. Staff spent the summer creating multiple sensory pathways on the blacktop to help children engage and challenge the traditional recess activities. 

“The students are structured all day long, so it’s great to provide them with these designs on the blacktop.” said art teacher Greg Skrtic. “When the students first came out here they asked ‘how do you play this game?’ And I told them they have to create their own!” 

The project was headed by Skrtic and school counselor Yolonda Adams. They wanted to create something that would be both physically and mentally stimulating. After picking out the designs, staff and their families spent countless hours in the summer heat using stencils and spray paint to bring their vision to life. What was once a plain black asphalt surface soon transformed into a playful and vibrant outdoor space. 

“These are called sensory pathways because the students can take whatever path they want with the different things we have out here,” said Adams. “It gets their blood pumping and flowing. It helps with focusing when they go back inside. It helps them get the wiggles out. They are able to learn problem-solving out here as well.” 

Art teacher Greg Skrtic works on a map of the United States. 

There are a variety of designs laid out on the blacktop including yoga poses painted on the ground, a map of the United States, a bean bag toss, and a conflict resolution circle. 

“I really like the yoga poses because if you’re mad you can go over there and calm down,” said 2nd-grader Oliver Escobar Morales. 

A student favorite: the yoga poses spray-painted on the ground offer a quiet place to unwind. 

With all the hours spent creating the blacktop for students, staff say they are thrilled to finally see the sensory paths in action. The space is bringing new life to recess, as children think outside the box and play with their friends in new ways. The students at Beech Tree ES say they are very thankful for this new outdoor learning experience. 

"I think it’s amazing how everybody decided to work together throughout the summer to paint everything. It’s really fun!" said 5th-grader Josie Rosenthal.


Thank you, Custodians!

Spotlight Feed 2 months ago
MMHINES Tue, 09/27/2022 - 12:01 Thank you, Custodians! Spotlight Communication and Community Relations September 27, 2022 Translate this page

October 2 is Custodian Appreciation Day. Thanks to our custodians, we all have a clean, safe place to learn, teach, and work. Across the division, Fairfax County Public Schools employs more than 1,300 custodians, field custodians, and building supervisors. 

One fantastic example of custodial employees is the 2022 Outstanding School-Based Operational Employee Frank Sarfo, custodian at Little Run Elementary School. 

“The title of custodian does not embody all that Frank is to the Little Run staff, students, and families,” his Honors recognition stated.

Mr. Frank, as he is affectionately known, is originally from Ghana, where he was a soccer player. Mr. Frank cares not only about the Little Run building, but also for everyone who uses it. 

“Frank is a leader in our school as he demonstrates the innate ability to show care and genuine concern for the school community he serves,” says Little Run Principal Christie Yarn. “Frank comes to school every day to do his assigned job, but he also models kindness and contributes to our caring culture. He is incredibly relatable to the students and staff as he takes pride in sharing aspects of his culture and love for soccer. He has a lasting impact on the people he has encountered.”

Mr. Frank has been known to fix a student’s bike during the school day so the student could ride home. When a kindergartener was anxious and refusing to go to school, he began to excitedly greet him and walk him in. He is a super star in the annual 6th grade vs. school staff kick ball game (dressing head to toe in his Ghanan soccer uniform).

“Frank is an integral part of our school community,” says Julia Haywood, chair of the Special Education Department. “Not only does Frank excel as a custodian, but he also brings joy to both students and staff. Frank always fosters an environment that makes everyone feel welcomed and appreciated. We are lucky to have Frank as a part of our Little Run community.”

For Mr. Frank, and all the custodians throughout the division, today, we thank you! 

Columbia Elementary School custodial staff  Blanca Chicas, Le Pham, and Jacqueline Candray.



Mosaic Elementary School Named 2022 National Blue Ribbon School

Spotlight Feed 2 months 1 week ago
MMHINES Mon, 09/19/2022 - 09:24 Mosaic Elementary School Named 2022 National Blue Ribbon School Spotlight Communications and Community Relations September 19, 2022 Translate this page

Mosaic Elementary School has been named a 2022 National Blue Ribbon School by the U.S. Department of Education. The Fairfax County public school is among seven schools in Virginia and 297 schools in the country receiving the honor this year.

The Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes high performing schools and schools making exemplary progress toward closing achievement gaps. Mosaic was commended as an Exemplary High Performing School based on high achievements in reading and mathematics during the 2018-2019 school year. More specifically, Mosaic ranks near the top in overall reading and mathematics performance, and its performance rate for English Learners, students with disabilities, white students, and Asian students. 

“Our name, Mosaic Elementary, encapsulates the wonderfully diverse nature and context of our school,” Principal Mahri Aste wrote in the school’s application. “A mosaic is composed of many different small pieces combined in one big picture to form a stunning masterpiece. Our school community is composed of students from 40 different countries who speak 28 languages, yet when all the different cultures are put together, we are a beautiful picture. By providing what is needed for safety, inclusivity, and equity, we are committed to developing engaged and inspired learners who will become independent, responsible, and ethical citizens.” 

Mosaic staff focus on helping students develop the 21st century skills of creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Character education is exemplified by all through a practice of respect, responsibility, honesty, self-discipline, and caring. As their mission states, “Mosaic Elementary School is a place where the mind and the heart are nurtured to help students become leaders for tomorrow's communities.”

“This award recognizes the tremendous hard work of our students, teachers, and families and means the world to our entire Mosaic community,” Dr. Aste says. “I am so proud to lead our Mosaic family and grateful for the honor. I extend my thanks to the staff at Mosaic, who each work diligently to know each student by name and by need. Mosaic’s strength lies in the culture of belonging that has been created, where everyone who walks through our doors is valued and celebrated.”

The National Blue Ribbon Schools Program has recognized more than 9,000 schools since the program began 40 years ago.

Mosaic has also been recognized as a Virginia Distinguished Purple Star School for supporting military connected students.

For more information, contact the Office of Communication and Community Relations at 571-423-1200


Marshall Senior Lands First Quad Axel

Spotlight Feed 2 months 2 weeks ago
MMHINES Fri, 09/16/2022 - 16:28 Marshall Senior Lands First Quad Axel Spotlight Communications and Community Relations September 16, 2022 Translate this page

“HISTORY HAS BEEN MADE!” tweeted U.S. Figure Skating as Ilia Malinin, a senior at Marshall High School, successfully landed the first quadruple axel in competition. (View the tweet to see the skill.)

“We are so very proud of Ilia! This is an incredible accomplishment,” says Jeffrey Litz, principal of Marshall. “It is amazing to me how Ilia can perform at such a high level while also balancing his schoolwork and social life. He is an incredible young man.”

He completed the skill—a four-and-a-half revolution jump—in the lower-level US Classic in Lake Placid, New York. 

“It felt really good. When I’m practicing it, it’s pretty easy for me to figure out how to get the right timing and everything to have it be a good attempt,” said Malinin in an AP story. “To do it in competition is a different story because you have nerves and pressure that can get in the way of that. So I have to treat it like I’m at home, and it feels pretty good.”

Malinin served as the first alternate for the Olympic Team earlier this year in Beijing. 



Puerto Rico Recruitment Brings Mother-Daughter Teaching Pair to FCPS Immersion Program

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KEMILLER Fri, 09/16/2022 - 14:18 Puerto Rico Recruitment Brings Mother-Daughter Teaching Pair to FCPS Immersion Program Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations September 19, 2022 Translate this page

When Lesliean Luna, a teacher for almost 20 years in Puerto Rico, was approached by a friend to attend an educator recruitment session for a Virginia school district, she says she agreed to go out of curiosity.

Two weeks later, Luna had decided to uproot her life and accept a job teaching in the Spanish immersion program at Laurel Ridge Elementary School in Fairfax County. Fairfax County Public Schools boast 17 elementary schools with language immersion programs, including 12 that are Spanish language.

“I still remember my interview with my principal – she asked me what could be expected if she visited my classroom,” Luna said. “I said you may find me with maracas, singing the multiplication tables and I said I liked it when my kids dance during the day. That interview changed my whole life.”

Luna, who was hired in 2016 as one of the first FCPS educator recruits from Puerto Rico, has taught in the Spanish immersion program at Laurel Ridge ever since. After marrying a man from Puerto Rico that she met while living in Virginia, she also recruited a sister-in-law who was a teacher on the island to come teach in FCPS. And this year, her daughter was hired to teach in FCPS via the same recruitment program after getting her college degree and becoming a licensed teacher in Puerto Rico.


Gabriela Muriente, a third-grade Spanish immersion teacher recruited from Puerto Rico, teaches a lesson at Bailey's Upper Elementary School.

“I used to go visit my mom’s classroom a lot and I fell in love with the program,” said Luna’s daughter, Gabriela Muriente,  who is now a third grade Spanish immersion program teacher at Bailey’s Upper Elementary School. “I love that you have so many students from different countries. In Puerto Rico, most people are from Puerto Rico. Here, you are teaching in Spanish to a kid whose parents may be from Guatemala, or maybe they are from Virginia or maybe they are from Africa. I love that.”

Luna, who also teaches third grade Spanish immersion, says she decided to make the leap to move to Virginia because she envisioned an easier life for her family. Back home in Puerto Rico, in addition to teaching, she also worked as a babysitter. And a clown. It was necessary as a single mother of two girls to work several jobs in addition to teaching to make ends meet on the island, Luna says.

“Now I can just focus on being a teacher,” Luna said. “I am making three times as much as I did back home, I don’t have to dig into my pockets for supplies. It is very hard when the salary is lower and the resources aren’t there.”


Laurel Ridge Elementary Spanish immersion teacher Lesliean Luna leads a small group lesson with her third grade students.

She also says she enjoys professional development programs that encourage her to rely on data-backed models for instruction.

“I am much more intentional with what I do in the classroom, I finally know why I need to do things a certain way as a teacher,” Luna said.

Both mother and daughter note the system works well for FCPS as well, because hiring teachers who are native Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, is much easier in terms of license transfers than hiring from other countries.

Four of the seven Spanish immersion program teachers at Laurel Ridge hail from Puerto Rico, Luna says.

The recruitment program “is the only reason we can offer Spanish immersion to this extent here,” Bailey’s Upper Elementary School Principal Marie Lemmon said.

Luna’s daughter, Muriente, says she is always reminding her students how they will benefit later in life from knowing multiple languages.

“I say just think how much Spanish you will know by the time you reach college, this is going to open doors for you in the future,” Muriente says. “I’m finding it goes both ways too. Sometimes if I say something in English that isn’t quite right, a student will say: oh no, Senorita Muriente, you don’t say it like that. You say it like this.


Third grade Spanish immersion teacher Gabriela Muriente is hugged by her students on the playground

I say: `We are both learning from each other huh? You are learning Spanish while I’m improving my English,’” Muriente says.

Their students say they’re grateful to be learning from a teacher whose first language is Spanish and can share about life outside the mainland U.S.

“I know my teacher is from Puerto Rico and that it’s hot there and they have lots of mangoes,” Laurel Ridge ES third-grader Nalini Agarwal says.  “Her first language she ever knew was Spanish and now I can use what she’s taught me to visit other countries and understand more.”

Learn about FCPS language immersion program offerings.

Become a teacher at FCPS

A Sweet 'Thank You' for Hardworking FCPS Bus Drivers

Spotlight Feed 2 months 3 weeks ago
JMSELLERS Fri, 09/09/2022 - 14:11 A Sweet 'Thank You' for Hardworking FCPS Bus Drivers Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations September 09, 2022

It was a sweet surprise before sunrise for bus drivers with Fairfax County Public Schools as they were served scones and other goodies before their morning routes Friday. The tasty treats were made by local bakery Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates, which employs several former FCPS students with intellectual disabilities. 

Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid was joined by her leadership team and members of the FCPS transportation team to hand out the goodies bright and early, greeting drivers with a smile and thanking them for all they do. By the time the buses were rolling off the lot, more than 1,600 scones and baked goods were handed out. 

“We’re up early to say thank you to our wonderful transportation folks,” said FCPS Chief Equity Officer Dr. Nardos King. “They have the first important job in the morning and last important job in the evening, transporting our students to and from school each day.”

FCPS is looking for more hardworking folks to drive school buses. FCPS offers paid training, competitive pay starting at $23.83 per hour, and excellent benefits. There is also a signing bonus of up to $3,000 for new drivers who meet requirements. Learn more about becoming a bus driver for FCPS.

Friday’s event was made possible thanks to a donation from Apple Federal Credit Union (AFCU). 

Cameron’s Coffee and Chocolates is located in Fairfax, and is a FCPS partner serving Fairfax High School. Their mission is to provide employment to adults living with intellectual disabilities through a supported group environment by teaching work and life skills to further independence. Learn more on their website



Special Delivery! Davis Career Center Students Bring Handmade Cookies and Joy to Superintendent Reid

Spotlight Feed 2 months 3 weeks ago
JMSELLERS Wed, 09/07/2022 - 14:30 Special Delivery! Davis Career Center Students Bring Handmade Cookies and Joy to Superintendent Reid Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations September 07, 2022

Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid got a taste of the “Davis Magic” Wednesday when young adults with disabilities hand-delivered cookies they made from scratch to her office. The students from FCPS' Davis Career Center are enrolled in the Culinary Arts program which teaches students skills like baking, cooking, catering, and food service. The apple and flower-shaped cookies, adorned with colorful icing, were a sweet surprise for the new superintendent. 

“These look incredible! Wow! My cookies never look this good!” Dr. Reid said in delight as culinary student Isvar Komakula handed her the cookie bouquet. 

The students, dressed in their white chef coats, said they wanted to deliver the cookies to welcome Dr. Reid to a new school year at FCPS. They explained how they made the cookies using a cookie cutter to create the flower and apple shapes, then used piping bags to decorate with royal icing. Culinary teacher Lauren Forshay said the process is a lot of hard work, but the students light up when they see what they’ve accomplished. 

“To be able to see a product from start to finish is very educational and very rewarding for these students,” Forshay said. 

“My favorite part of this class is probably icing the cookies,” said culinary student Susan He. “I have to slow down. I struggled a bit with the outline, but I’m getting better!”

Student Susan He works on icing cookies with teacher Lauren Forshay at Davis Career Center. 

Davis Career Center serves students ages 18 to 22 who have a range of special needs including intellectual disabilities, autism, visual impairments, and deaf or hard of hearing. In addition to culinary skills, students learn basic career building skills such as showing up on time, being flexible, and working in a group setting. 

“I call it the ‘Davis Magic' because there’s a blossoming that happens when they come to our center,” said principal Chad Clayton. “You see them gain a ton of independence and confidence through the year.”

Kendall Head, Juan Ramirez Ramirez, Isvar Komakula, Dr. Reid, Susan He, and culinary teacher Lauren Forshay. 

“I love working as a team,” said culinary student Kendall Head. “We have to all be on the same page. I love working with my friends.” 

Over the next few months, Davis culinary students will prepare food and provide catering services for local businesses, school sporting events, and holiday gatherings. 

“The joy these students bring to their work is amazing,” Dr. Reid said. “I love hearing about their teamwork and their team building skills. They have so much pride in their work. We can all learn something from slowing down and appreciating what goes into these baked goods that bring joy to others.”

To learn more about booking catering services through Davis Career Center, please visit their website


Chantilly High Seniors Seek Patent for Automatic Walker Designed to Help Parkinson's Patients

Spotlight Feed 3 months 1 week ago
KEMILLER Thu, 08/25/2022 - 09:46 Chantilly High Seniors Seek Patent for Automatic Walker Designed to Help Parkinson's Patients Spotlight Office of Communication and Community Relations August 29, 2022

Two Chantilly High School seniors are seeking a patent for a pandemic project that resulted in the creation of a specialized walker to encourage mobility among Parkinson’s Disease patients.

Kaavya Karthikeyan and Akanksha Tibrewala, both 17, have been friends since preschool – attending Greenbriar West Elementary School, Rocky Run Middle School, and now Chantilly High together. They also live on the same block. With a little extra time on their hands in the height of the pandemic, the two neighbors started playing around with modifying a traditional walker to make it more helpful to people with Parkinson’s.

“We wanted to do something together, and something that would make a difference,” Akanksha said. “We both want to go into biomedical engineering. In that field you have people who invent things, so we both brainstormed together, and realized we both knew people whose lives were affected by mobility issues.”


Kaavya Karthikeyan and Akanksha Tibrewala stand in front of AutoTrem, an automatic walker they designed to assist people with mobility issues.

Akanksha’s great-grandmother suffers from paralysis on the right side of her body, and Kaavya’s neighbor has a grandfather with Parkinson’s Disease.

“Our personal experiences had shed light onto the issue of people with degenerating muscles, it is a huge, huge problem worldwide and we wanted to do something to help address that,” Akanksha said.

And so, AutoTrem was born. The walker on wheels will automatically move forward with the press of a button, and is equipped with a sensor at the front that stops movement if an obstacle is detected in its path.


A close-up view of AutoTrem, the walker designed by two Chantilly High School students to assist people with mobility issues.

A laser on the top bar of the walker shines light on the ground, and users are directed to try to have their foot reach where the light is – with the goal of increasing stride length over time. The device also includes a theraband at the front of the walker, and users are encouraged to have their knee hit the theraband when moving.

“Elderly people tend to slide their feet instead of lifting them, the goal is to get people to lift their knees to hit the band instead of sliding their feet across the ground,” Kaavya says. “All of our features are designed to increase confidence, increase security, and give motivation to move more so instead of losing muscle, they gain muscle.”

Their work involved consulting with actual patients at physical therapy offices and senior centers, getting their feedback and making adjustments along the way.

“A lot of the feedback we got was so simple: things like please just have one button to start and one to stop,” Akanksha said.

The most popular feature seemed to be the sensor that detects obstacles in a person’s path, she added.

“The seniors told us it was so, so nice to have a safety feature that will stop it if something gets in their way so they can remain focused on movement,” she said.

The two FCPS students entered their creation this year in the Fairfax Area Student Shark Tank competition, sponsored by the Fairfax Area 50+ Technology Committee, and came away the big winners with a $2500 cash prize for their efforts. Akanksha and Kaavya say their work isn’t over yet though.


Kaavya and Akanksha won a Fairfax Area Student Shark Tank challenge that resulted in a $2,500 cash prize.

They hope to put their winnings towards the patent process, they say.

“We are so invested in this, we definitely want to take it to the next level,” Akanksha says.

“There is nothing like it out there,” Kaavya says. “An automatic walker seems like a simple fix but there is really nothing on the market right now. So: we want to make it AutoTrem.”

Learn more about the Fairfax Area Student Shark Tank Technology challenge.



Superintendent Community Conversations

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Superintendent Community Conversations MMHINES Tue, 08/16/2022 - 14:05 Spotlight Communication and Community Relations August 16, 2022 Translate this page

Dr. Michelle Reid is hosting Community Conversations across the division to get to know our communities. Events will be held at the high school in each pyramid through November, unless otherwise noted below. Each Community Conversation will be held in person, allowing Dr. Reid an opportunity to better connect with participants. If you are unable to attend your pyramid's event, please consider attending another one. Schools will share registration information with families and employees. We look forward to seeing you soon!

All events will be held from 6:30-7:30 p.m. Interpretation services, child care, and light refreshments will be provided.

Date  Pyramid Event Registration 8/23/22 TJHSST event complete 8/24/22 Woodson HS event complete 8/25/22  Special Education Centers and Schools held @ Key Center (in-person and virtual) event complete 8/29/22  Lake Braddock Register 8/31/22 Chantilly Register 9/6/22  Madison Register 9/7/22  South Lakes Register 9/8/22  McLean Register 9/12/22 Hayfield Register 9/13/22 Falls Church Pyramid - held @ Jackson MS Register 9/14/22 Edison Register 9/19/22  Herndon Register 9/20/22 Westfield Register 9/21/22  South County Register 9/22/22  Marshall Register 9/29/22 Robinson Register 10/3/22  Mount Vernon Register 10/11/22 Oakton Register 10/17/22 Fairfax Register 10/18/22  Centreville Register 10/25/22 West Springfield Register 10/26/22 Langley Register 10/27/22 West Potomac   Register 11/10/22 Lewis Register 11/21/22 Justice Register 11/29/22 Annandale Register

Many factors were considered when scheduling the Community Conversations. Our focus was on holding events from August 23-October 31, allowing the superintendent to meet with families and employees as soon as possible in the new school year. Dates in November were added to ensure all pyramids were represented. Working with the superintendent's availability, we also weighed considerations impacting the availability of a high school's auditorium or cafeteria including:

  • Back to school events.
  • Other major events including fall sports and fine arts.
  • Events booked by community organizations.

Our goal was to accommodate pyramids with Title 1 schools early in the schedule, where possible. Days of the week also played a role in scheduling the events. For example, the School Board holds their regular meetings every other Thursday evening, and we realize that Fridays evenings are the start of the weekend.

If you are unable to attend your pyramid's meeting date, we encourage you to attend another pyramid's event at your convenience. Please contact [email protected] with any questions. 

Stay Connected Stay up-to-date on Superintendent Reid's community engagement activities. Visit Dr. Reid's Community Engagement page. Community Conversation Program View details about the Community Conversation events and Superintendent Reid's background. View the program.
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