Virtual PLUS+ Partner: Alexandria Soccer Association
Across the City of Alexandria, innovative ways to combine childcare and education are popping up.
We visited the Alexandria Soccer Association’s Learning Labs this week to see how ACPS students and families were finding alternative settings to facilitate Virtual PLUS+.
Underneath individual blue canopies, positioned on a sidewalk overlooking the baseball field at George Washington Middle School, dozens of students sat wearing headphones while focusing on class. Not a sound could be heard.
To one side, a sign read “ASA School+ an outdoor learning lab” behind which was a table with marker pens and pencils, board games — and a bottle of hand sanitizer.
For anyone driving down Mount Vernon Avenue these days, this scene of outdoor schooling is hard to miss.
“I like being here”, said Mount Vernon Community School first grader Johanna Weisbecker, although she admitted she missed being home with her cat, Huckleberry.
The six-year-old cited music and art as her favorite subjects but was working on her alphabet and cutting skills when we met her.
“P is for popcorn,” she said proudly..
She added, “School is fun at home too but here I get to eat lunch on a blanket on the field.
“And it’s nice to see other boys and girls because I’m a little sad that I don’t get to see all my friends at the moment.”
At a nearby table Caitlin Vitek, a Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy first grader, is learning about nouns.
She has a shoe on her table to illustrate. “The word shoe is a noun, she explains.
“I prefer coming here to do school. They have a playground. It’s more fun.”
The Alexandria Soccer Association is one of a number of ACPS community partners that have stepped up to provide parents an option that allows them to work without distraction while knowing their children have the support they need to participate in Virtual PLUS+.
ACPS provided the location, the WiFi, the food and, every few hours, janitorial staff who visit the site to clean down surfaces.
Every morning from Tuesday to Friday, 35 students arrive at GW come rain or shine.
Until 2:30 p.m., the kindergarten to fifth graders are occupied with Zoom classes. A high staff to student ratio means that whenever a student needs a helping hand, or a gentle redirection, an adult is nearby to help. When someone needs a screen break, they are able to step away to throw around a football for a few minutes or be supervised on the playground.
Azza Humeida is one of the support staff.
She said, “It’s a really cool and really creative program. I spent the first few days getting to know the kids and getting to know their interests so if they need a little redirection to keep their focus, I know what will work.”
Site director Emily Kruger said that once the school bell rings for the end of the day, it’s all about downtime, playing sports like kickball or soccer or making craft projects. At 3:30 p.m., families arrive to pick them up.
Monday, a day of asynchronous learning for ACPS’s younger students, is reserved purely for fun for around 200 children who have signed up to attend the once a week ASA program at Ben Brennan Park as well as GW.
At the moment, ASA School Plus+ is scheduled to run through the first quarter. Should schools buildings remain closed at that point, plans are in place to continue.
For Tommy Park, ASA’s executive director, this is about the organization doing what it can to support Alexandria’s families.
“It was a case of us saying ‘what can we do to help?, to support the kids beyond soccer. We started brainstorming.
“We knew we wanted to be outside because that is what we are used to and the idea quickly came together.”
He is aware that unpredictable weather may provide a challenge as the year goes on.
There is a large overhang in front of the school gymnasium that they plan to utilize to provide shelter from the rain.
And with patio heaters, sides for the tents and blankets on order, they hope that whatever nature brings them, children will see school as an adventure this year.
Photo Credit ASA (this image only)