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Vienna Schools Focus on Character

It’s "Back-to-School" for Vienna public schools on Sept. 4.

Teachers are returning to their schools with plans and goals, making their classrooms "home."

Football teams are suiting up to prepare for their season openers, and marching bands are practicing in preparation for their choreographed half-time performances.

And youngsters and parents are heeding the summons to buy their "back to school supplies" now, getting ready for the new school year.

<lst>FREEDOM HILL ELEMENTARY

Principal: Tim Stanley

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

<bt>As Freedom Hill enters its renovation stage in early 2008, the theme, "Minds Under Construction," is apropos.

"We are thrilled with our upcoming scheduled renovations, especially the new state-of-the art media center," said Principal Tim Stanley, entering his second year in the position.

The front office area is to be bumped-out, expanding administrative office space and space for specialists. "Our intent, our hope," said Stanley, "is that we will no longer have trailers after the remodeling."

Stanley is proudest of the school’s pre-school program, its moderately-to-severely-disabled instructional program, its "blossoming partnership" with Barnes and Noble, and Freedom Hill’s recently-implemented SMART/Board program.

"SMART/Boards are interactive whiteboards that connect to a computer and an LED projector," said David Fee, Freedom Hill’s school-based technology specialist. "The interactive whiteboard becomes a computer desktop. Students and teacher interact with the SMART/Board to facilitate the instructional process by engaging the children."

Freedom Hill’s before-school flex-language program is hoping to offer Arabic, Chinese, French, and Spanish classes this year, and the school is continuing to develop collaborative teams to use data to improve student achievement.

"We have issues, but we are on a positive course," said Stanley. "The community is so excited that their kids are going to have a ‘new’ school.’"

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WOLF TRAP ELEMENTARY

Principal: Anita Blaine

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

<bt>"The focus for Wolf Trap this year is protecting the environment," said Dr. Anita Blaine, principal at Wolf Trap Elementary School on Beulah Road.

"The PTA, spearheading this project, received a $1,000 Project Learning Tree grant to build Bird-by-Bird Gardens on school grounds. There is a direct connection between learningscapes and protecting the only environment we have to leave our children. The natural learningscapes enhance and enrich what children know about the environment."

The Bird-by-Bird Gardens are a series of species-specific plantings along the school’s woodland path, creating different garden areas to appeal to different bird species. Students will plan, research, and install various native plant species.

On their own time, teachers began trickling into Wolf Trap before their official start dates. Several teachers came in early to look over this past year’s SOL scores, to check weaknesses and to build on strengths, said Blaine.

"Our lead special ed teacher, Shirley Mabon, has been at Wolf Trap since 1977," said Blaine. "She is as energetic today as she probably was when she started. She continues to take classes so she’s always learning what is best for her students."

Blaine singled out 16-year Wolf Trap veteran Ellen Collins for accolades, as well. Collins has the distinction of having been the mother of a Wolf Trap student and an educational assistant before becoming a teacher there. Collins and a colleague, noted Blaine, collaborate on an annual 6th grade musical production.

"It’s a joy to come to work every day when you have dedicated staff and a loving community who values education," said Blaine.

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COLVIN RUN ELEMENTARY

Principal: Sandra Furick

Back-to-School Night: 7 p.m.

Sept. 10, pre – third grades; Sept. 11, fourth – sixth grades

<bt>Principal Sandy Furick opened Colvin Run Elementary School, and today, she is preparing for the school’s fifth anniversary with a series of commemorative events. Kicking off the recognition festivities is the Children’s Fifth-Year Anniversary Celebration, a way to "first honor the children, to get them involved," said Furick.

"The staff is going back to its foundation, looking at our history, where we started and where we are now. It’s our tape measure to see how we’ve measured up."

Colvin Run is unique in that its school population draws from Vienna, McLean, and Great Falls home addresses, but has come together as a cohesive community, Furick said.

"Character education [a Fairfax County strategic goal] takes on the flavor of local schools," said Furick. "It’s who we are."

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LOUISE ARCHER ELEMENTARY

Principal: Michelle Makrigiorgos

Back-to-School Night, Sept. 19, 7 p.m.

<bt>"The sun always shines at Louise Archer" is not only the slogan for Louise Archer Elementary School, but now, the school’s informal logo shines perpetually on the new gym floor, a beaming golden sun.

The wood-laminate gym floor is one of several improvements to the school, said first-year principal Michelle Makrigiorgos.

Beautification of the school and its courtyard is a partnership of the county, community and PTA, said Makrigiorgos. Louise Archer, one of Vienna’s oldest schools, houses a gifted and talented center serving the local community.

Makrigiorgos spent five years as the school’s assistant principal and is continuing programs begun before she assumed the helm.

"As part of the character education program, we started a junior optimist club. We are looking to ‘our students doing service to community,’ such as the students’ inclusion in the Relay for Life.

"Literacy is always a focus."

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CUNNINGHAM PARK ELEMENTARY

Principal: Rebecca Baenig

Back-to-School Night: Sept. 20, 7 p.m.

<bt>"Character counts," said Cunningham Park first-year principal, Rebecca Baenig. "It is using good manners, promoting respect for the community. It teaches the students to become more independent and responsible for their behavior."

In early October, the school hosts its annual Character Education assembly, setting the tone for the new year. Baenig said the school’s staff educates the whole child, encouraging them to become good citizens.

"The kids come to realize the world is bigger than they are; they are taught to respect other people. It’s the culture of the school, a community of parents, students and staff."

Cunningham Park is instituting a Spanish instruction program for all first-graders. Students will meet two times a week for lessons; eventually, the program will be expanded through all grades.

This school year marks the first year that Cunningham Park Elementary School will implement its full-day kindergarten.

"We are focusing on critical thinking skills and technology, preparing the child for the future," said Baenig. "I will work with the staff and the PTA to make opportunities for the children."

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GEORGE C. MARSHALL HIGH

Principal: Jay Pearson

Back-to-School Night: Sept. 27, 7 p.m.

Pot-Luck Dinner for Incoming Freshmen: Aug. 29

<bt>George C. Marshall High School is frequently overlooked as a Vienna-area school, yet half of its student body has a Vienna home address. And it has distinctions that elevate its standing in the academic community: Marshall has the largest Chinese language program in Fairfax County. Marshall has the only International Baccalaureate program in Cluster 2. It is the only high school in the county with a teachers’ leadership development grant. It is featured in a nationally-distributed video as one of two high schools highlighted as models of the professional learning community.

"Our professional learning community is locally and nationally recognized," said Principal Jay Pearson. "We focus on what the kids need to learn and do; we make an assessment, and we intervene when necessary."

Marshall High School has students from 85 different countries, speaking 46 languages, and draws its base from neighboring Vienna and Falls Church.