The final week of “traditional” summer last week focused on youth. Fairfax County students started back to school before Labor Day, truncating some family vacations, and moving up those last-minute school supply purchases that previously happened during the long holiday weekend. School is back in session, those big yellow school buses are back in the neighborhoods, and the 25 MPH speed limit during school opening and closing, as indicated by the familiar Wink-o-Matic flashing signs, is being strictly enforced. Please be aware, and be careful, whenever driving near a school, a school bus, or children walking to school.
The opening day of school coincided with a very special ribbon cutting at the renovated Little League field at Mason District Park. Despite school being in session, a number of youth baseball players attended the ceremony, hoping to catch a glimpse of some baseball heroes. The youth baseball field, which is readily visible from Columbia Pike, was adopted by the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation, and includes an enlarged field to accommodate younger and older players, a new scoreboard, covered dugouts, shade structures for the bleachers, and an extended irrigation system for the grass turf.
The field is named for Iván “Pudge” Rodríguez, a Hall of Fame catcher who played for the Nationals later in his career. This is the Foundation’s second Legacy Field. The first, in the District of Columbia near South Capitol Street, opened in April 2016 and is named for current Nats starter, Ryan Zimmerman. Both Rodríguez and Zimmerman were on hand to celebrate the new field, and sign mementoes for the young players. Rodríguez spoke to some of the young players in Spanish, and reminded them that dreams can be achieved through hard work, just as he did as a kid from Puerto Rico. Mason District Little League already is planning next year’s opening day activities on the new field!
On Friday, Fairfax County received the Capstone of the Year Award for 2016 by the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy. Competing with nearly 250 other programs for youth nationwide, the county’s Alternative Accountability Program (AAP) was selected for its early diversion option for youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Collaboration across county agencies, schools, and non-profit organizations can create a better juvenile-intake system, based on assessment tools, and change the school-to-prison pipeline for many youth. Team members are working to decrease racial and ethnic disproportionality, and expand diversion options by encouraging all Fairfax County police stations to refer youth to the AAP, and developing new diversion programs for youth. In 2016, 95 percent of youth successfully completed diversion. To accommodate more youth eligible for the program, some future changes in state and county law also may be needed to improve interagency collaboration and data-sharing ability.
Whether in the classroom, on the playing field, or even in judicial situations, learning to make good decisions is crucial to developing a child’s future as a responsible, civically engaged adult. These programs, with their mentors and adult role models/volunteers, will help ensure that positive outcome for Fairfax County youth.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]