Tens of thousands of students in Northern Virginia go back to school

<p>Auburn Middle School Principal Matt Yonkey greets students at the Fauquier County school on Aug. 10, 2022. (Courtesy Twitter/FCPS1News)</p>
Auburn Middle School Principal Matt Yonkey greets students at the Fauquier County school on Aug. 10, 2022. (Courtesy Twitter/FCPS1News)
Stafford High School students going to school
Stafford High School rolled out the red carpet to welcome their students to the first day of school. (Courtesy Twitter/SCPSschools)
students at Stafford High
Students are greeted by cheerleaders at Stafford High School on Aug. 10, 2022. (WTOP/Neal Augenstein)
<p>Auburn Middle School Principal Matt Yonkey greets students at the Fauquier County school on Aug. 10, 2022. (Courtesy Twitter/FCPS1News)</p>
Stafford High School students going to school
students at Stafford High

Backpack. Check. Peanut butter sandwich. Check. There is an air of excitement in Northern Virginia as roughly 73,000 students in six school districts head back to classes Wednesday.

Students went back in Stafford County, Spotsylvania County, Fauquier County, Culpeper County, Rappahannock County and Manassas City Public Schools. Students in Fredericksburg City started school Monday.

Stafford County tried something new this year, with a non-instructional transition day. Kindergartners, sixth graders and ninth graders went back Tuesday.

“This year has also a renewed focus on school safety, and setting new expectations and renewed expectations for positive behaviors. And that’s really the focus of this year as we try to reestablish a culture of high academic performance,” Thomas W. Taylor, superintendent of Stafford County Public Schools, told WTOP Wednesday morning before school started.

This year, high school schoolers in Stafford County will have an hour for lunch.

“We do have an hour lunch at our high schools, which our students can leverage time to meet with teachers for remediation, but also enrichment activities, as well as student activities, clubs and different programs that they happen to be engaged with, as well as spend time with their peers,” Taylor said.

Taylor said drivers need to realize that there will be school buses on the roads.

“I know I speak for every school system in Northern Virginia and in the D.C. metro area when I say please be flexible with your bus drivers over the first couple of weeks of school. The first couple of weeks are always a challenge as we unload and offload some of our youngest learners,” Taylor said.

While Stafford County has managed to fill all of its bus driver slots, neighboring districts continue to hire.

In Spotsylvania County, the school system also continues to hire educators. A message from interim Superintendent Kelly S. Guempel says that the school board added 60 new positions this year, but Guempel adds that those positions come as enrollment increases.

“It is important to note that the number of enrolled students has increased as well as many of our students returned to in-person learning. With that in mind, you may see class sizes higher than in past years,” Guempel writes.

Fauquier County administrators spent much of their time ahead of the new school year bolstering security and mental health resources to ensure students feel safe in the classroom. On his podcast, Fauquier County Public Schools Superintendent David Jeck said meeting students’ emotional and physical needs is vital in order for them to learn.

David Graham, Fauquier’s assistant superintendent for administration, said the district’s biggest safety factor for the new year is that it is now fully staffed-up with School Resource Officers and School Safety Officers trained to prioritize the well-being of others in the event of an emergency.

“We’re not waiting — if there’s a crisis or a problem in our school, we’re going after it, there’ll be no delays,” Graham said. “(SSOs) are there to isolate a threat, and deal with a threat. Unfortunately, they may pay an ultimate price for that, but they’re there to buy us time so we can get the people there to take care of whatever the problem might be and get our kids safe.”

WTOP’s Neal Augenstein reported from Stafford County.

Alejandro Alvarez

Alejandro Alvarez joined WTOP as a digital journalist and editor in June 2018. He is a reporter and photographer focusing on politics, political activism and international affairs.

Colleen Kelleher

Colleen Kelleher is an award-winning journalist who has been with WTOP since 1996. Kelleher joined WTOP as the afternoon radio writer and night and weekend editor and made the move to WTOP.com in 2001. Now she works early mornings as the site's Senior Digital Editor.

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