Editor: Arlington Public Schools (APS) recently sent out a message stating that “social-emotional learning” and mental health are “priorities.” Unfortunately, the mental health of kids in our neighborhood does not seem to be a priority for APS.
The school system has refused, and continues to refuse, to allow our kids to be assigned to a neighborhood high school with a reasonable number of peers from their middle school.
In 2017, APS adopted new high school boundaries to alleviate overcrowding at Washington-Liberty High School. This boundary change meant that kids from our small neighborhood of Boulevard Manor/Spy Hill would join a tiny group of students from the adjacent Patrick Henry Apartments to attend Yorktown High School, rather than W-L, where we were previously assigned.
As a result of this decision, only about 15 students per grade, or less than 3 percent of Yorktown High School students, come from Kenmore Middle School.
This leaves our students starting high school without peer support and is contrary to APS’s own criteria for making boundary changes, which state that small groups of students should not be separated from their peers when moving between school levels.
Not surprisingly, many of our neighborhood students do what they can to avoid attending their assigned high school by applying to W-L’s IB program, so they can go to high school with their friends. Some take advantage of other high-school “option” programs. APS has admitted that the percentage of students from our neighborhood attending out-of-boundary high school options is significantly higher than average.
Why should our kids have to apply and then be accepted to a specialized, highly rigorous high school program or other high school option program just to have a chance to enter high school with a peer support group?
Boulevard Manor families have lobbied the School Board for years to fix this problem, either by rezoning middle schools or returning us to W-L. Now that 600 new seats are being added at W-L starting next school year, APS has a perfect opportunity to remedy this situation, yet still balks at taking action.
At a recent School Board work session, staff presented various flawed and illogical justifications for this refusal. They argued that, theoretically, there might be a need to relieve future overcrowding at Wakefield and therefore do not want to move our approximately 15 students per year to W-L, that they don’t want to make one high school significantly larger than the others (despite spending more than $37 million in taxpayer dollars to do exactly that), and that our kids are not isolated because at Yorktown they rejoin an average of seven kids per grade with whom they attended elementary school (ignoring the fact that those kids attended a different middle school).
After more than a year of pandemic isolation, we are all keenly aware of the importance of peer support and in-person social connections in our teens’ lives. APS has an easy, simple opportunity to “walk the walk” and show us that it actually cares about our kids’ mental health by allowing our small group of kids to go to high school with a reasonable number of their middle school peers.
It is not the time for excuses; it is time to act.
Cara Elias, Arlington
Elias is writing on behalf of several neighbors in the Boulevard Manor neighborhood.