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ArlingtonLocal high school gearing up for two pending moves

Local high school gearing up for two pending moves

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If Arlington Community High School had a country-music theme song, perhaps it would be Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again.”

Having bounced around in various locations over the years before landing in a stand-alone building on the Arlington Career Center campus, staff and students will be packing up again next year for another move, with yet another to come three years later.

Although the school’s student body is known collectively as the Mavericks, principal Barbara Thompson offered an alternate name.

“The Nomads, that’s what we are,” she chuckled during a March 17 online presentation for the Kiwanis Club of South Arlington.

The school is being forced to depart in the summer of 2023 for parts as yet unknown – “someplace nice, that’s all I know,” Thompson said – for a temporary sojourn until, in 2026, it is expected to move into purpose-built space in the PenPlace area of Pentagon City.

That new home is courtesy of Amazon, which agreed to provide space to the county school system in exchange for higher zoning of its incoming facilities.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Thompson said of the eventual home. “It brings a lot of legitimacy and public view to us, and that’s a good thing.”

Arlington Community High School (originally Arlington Mill High School Continuation Program) serves a largely immigrant population with both day and night classes. Students learn in a “competency-based” environment; once they prove they have mastered a topic, they move on to another one on the way to graduation.

(That style is beginning to attract some students from Arlington’s more traditional high schools, who perhaps see a way to move to graduation more quickly.)

March 13 marked the two-year anniversary of the Arlington school system’s hunkering down for COVID. While most Arlington students are back in class full-time, Arlington Community High School students have the option to select from in-person and online courses.

“We reinvented school completely,” Thompson said, to “make sure that we’re meeting our students’ needs. It’s been a touch-and-go two years … we’re coming up for air now, I hope.”

Like the Arlington school system as a whole, that high school has seen a drop in enrollment since the pandemic. It serves approximately 210 students per day, down from 280 to 290 pre-pandemic.

Because of the competency-based format, students can come and go as life circumstances permit, picking up where they left off.

The school’s Key Club, an initiative of the Kiwanis Club, is the main student-centered philanthropic effort at the school, and has survived the pandemic. It has hosted fund-raisers for the Arlington Food Assistance Center and the Lymphoma and Leukemia Society.

“We are so delighted that this club keeps going, that things are moving along,” said Kiwanis Club of South Arlington president Andres Tobar.

Students in the Key Club can give back to the community while learning valuable leadership skills.

“We’re thrilled with it,” Thompson said.

The original Arlington Mill High School Continuation Program was located in the western Columbia Pike corridor. When its then-home was demolished to make way for the Arlington Mill Community Center, the school program moved first to Ballston (where it was co-located with a Northern Virginia Community College facility) and then into the Career Center building.

Its most recent move was just next door, when the school – by then accredited as a full-fledged high school – in 2016 moved into the former Fenwick Center, a building that for years had housed county-government public-health offices and other facilities.

Under the current timeline, Superintendent Francisco Durán is expected to present his updated capital-improvement plan to School Board members in May 2022, with adoption a month later. That package will guide facilities planning for the next decade, including the two upcoming moves for the high school.

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