Guest Commentary, Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

The Children’s School, the impressive child care facility that benefits Arlington teachers, has settled into spanking new digs on Langston Blvd. at the former site of the Alpine Restaurant.   

   Director Naseera Maqsood told me her team and parents “love the new building,” which she and other participants helped design. Fronted by a bus loop—a partnership with Arlington Public Schools provides transport for some children—underground parking, plus overflow parking across the street is available for the building users (like the Alpine had). There are still a few open slots (for the public too), for children aged infant to 4-years-old, Maqsood said.  .

     Launched by school employees in Westover in 1987, the Children’s School was first in the nation owned and operated by a large school system. It built on ground-breaking Arlington child care projects that reflected the 1940s-‘60s baby boom and women flocking to the work force.

   It was during World War II—when women were called into government and industry—that Arlington’s first day care opened at Rock Spring Congregational Church. As described by church historian Sara Fitzgerald, parishioners Virginia Stitzenberger, Elizabeth Campbell (future WETA founder) and Lois Smith talked in the “meat line” at the grocery while cashing ration coupons. “They shared their own sense of isolation and their need for a place where their pre-school-age children could make friends and attend school.” In 1944, the church opened the first cooperative preschool. (Future county board chairman Jim Hunter was a pupil.)

     With county population growing, the Resurrection Lutheran Church followed suit, opening a center in October 1945 to 52 children of congregation members serving in the Armed Forces, reports the Arlington Historical Society. Then came a private facility organized in Overlee Knolls by Hazel Mahler as Overlee Preschool. (It included kindergarten until Arlington schools began offering it in 1960.)

      Clippings at the library’s Center for Local History show that in June 1966, following creation of the federal Head Start program, a half-day preschool for disadvantaged families opened at Cherrydale, Drew, and Hoffman-Boston elementary schools, offering bus service and free breakfast and lunch.

      With concerns growing over children lacking supervision after school, the Arlington Health and Welfare Council (with future community leaders Ellen Bozman and Evelyn Syphax) in 1969 published a report “The Choice is Ours: A Report on the Latchkey Child.”

      In September 1971, a Montessori preschool opened in the Drew zone. By 1975, 18 Arlington schools were offering Extended Day program mornings and afternoons, following beginnings at Abingdon, Fairlington and Barrett schools.

       In response to threats of abuse and poor quality, the county board in December 1975 passed an ordinance specifying allowable child-adult ratios and educational standards for licensure, including a $300 fine and 30 days in jail for violators.

      By 1988, the county’s Human Services Department was evaluating the direction of licensed early childhood programs at churches, community centers and private nonprofits. That year, the state Senate released a report evaluating the “Educational Effectiveness and Cost of the Extended Day Program” in Arlington and Falls Church.

      Today, my personal contact with our pre-school community involves occasional drop-off and pick-up of my grandchildren, at Westover Baptist Preschool. Like many, Westover has waiting lists—but director Amy Kaetzel says there are still openings for three and four-year-olds.

    They all give kids a head start while freeing parents to take care of business.

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      Metro is showing progress since Covid’s peak in recruiting bicyclists to those $5.9 million anti-theft Bike and Ride cages with racks for 304 cycles.

     The one at the East Falls Church station, after sitting nearly empty for two years, now averages a dozen bikes daily, according to my eyeballing.

     Metro spokesman Ian Jannetta supplied numbers showing the uptick. Usage at East Falls Church rose from 211 in 2020, to 864 in 2021, to 1,443 in 2022 (with a quarter to go). Combined with the cages at Vienna and College Park (the most heavily used), the project has attracted 6,626 bicyclists to ride trains with peace of mind.