Fairfax Co. middle school plans Saturday conference to help students make up for lost time

Kimberly Cruz-Cruz’s experience with virtual learning rarely changed.

The Fairfax County, Virginia, eighth-grader would log on a few minutes early and wait for class to start, engage with her peers as much as possible online and then shift her attention to virtual clubs in the afternoon. It was often difficult to focus because interacting with the teacher was challenging.

And when it came to clubs, Cruz-Cruz said, participating virtually was awkward. Students didn’t get to connect with other group members, and small talk in an online group forum wasn’t feasible.

Now back attending classes in-person, Cruz-Cruz said she and her peers at Glasgow Middle School in Lincolnia don’t really talk about the challenges of virtual learning. Instead, the conversation is about how it feels more exciting to be in school.

To make up for the missed face-to-face time, Cruz-Cruz is among 260 students and parents registered for a Saturday conference at the school aimed at improving academic skills.

Principal Victor Powell planned the event with funding that the federal government provided school districts to overcome pandemic-related challenges. Fairfax County schools received $188.8 million in assistance, the county said.

The conference comes as the school said it “took a dip” in student writing scores, according to data provided by the county. It also reported that 82% of sixth grade students don’t have “good baseline knowledge” in fifth grade standards.

“I signed up for this conference because it’s more about college and what I can do in the future to set up for my success and future,” Cruz-Cruz said. It’s also “an opportunity to get to know more and engage with my community,” she said.

Powell, who has planned other conferences that featured yoga classes and painting exercises and activities like an algebra boot camp in the past, said the Saturday school function will feature sessions to reinforce math, English and wellness concepts. It will include vendors and a keynote speech from Lynette Henry, who works in the county’s college and career readiness office, as well.

In addition to providing students the chance to learn and review material, Powell said the conference also gives parents the opportunity to see what goes on in classrooms, something many haven’t been able to explore since the start of the pandemic.

“Parents just have not been a part of being in the physical structure of the building in so long, so we wanted to make sure that we were inviting our families and they could see what that instructional piece looks like and interact with our staff in that way.”

Saturday’s event, Powell said, will likely be the first in a series of activities “outside the master schedule” aimed at overcoming what he called “unfinished learning.” Additional boot camps over the summer are under consideration.

“We’re hitting standards, we’re hitting curriculum, we’re hitting activities that kids just did not have the opportunity to get over the last two years,” Powell said. “We’re making sure we’re building that into our schedule.”

For Cruz-Cruz, the return to in-person activities has been welcoming. Virtual math class, she said, was difficult, because most exams were testing for knowledge and retention.

The return to in-person learning also allows for more freedom — in lieu of a trigonometry exam in her Geometry class, she was recently assigned a comic book project to learn the sine, cosine and tangent functions instead.

The importance of the in-person connections, such as this weekend’s event, have become clear after the pandemic forced a transition to virtual learning, she said.

“Having these conferences and also more opportunities at Glasgow, it really helps us build our community back together,” Cruz-Cruz said. “With virtual, I felt this disconnection with others. It was hard to connect with many people, talk to others.”

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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