For Students, Not Their Battle This Summer


It wont be brigades of partisan adversaries, rogue potshots across the river or a supply blockade keeping the citys public school students from attending Fort Wards Civil War summer camp this week.

Instead, it will be school itself keeping students from the first of Historic Alexandrias summer learning opportunities.

A late Labor Day last September, the date after which the school year is required to begin in Virginia, along with an exceptional two-week winter break, Alexandria City Public Schools 183-day school calendar and a scheduling snafu on the part of camp organizers have led to the summer camp occurring while city schools are still in session.

Its unfortunate, Ft. Ward curator Diane Bechtol said. We work as much as a year ahead of time to plan some of our events, and weve always had the camp this particular week every year and never had a problem.

One of the citys history-based summer opportunities for children, the Civil War camp for students ages 8 to 12 was scheduled to take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. next Monday through Friday, but ACPS students remain in the classroom with half days through Wednesday.
Because of the scheduling conflict with the two taxpayer-funded city services, ACPS students will have to wait until next year for the Civil War camp.

According to Bechtol, its the first time in the camps seven years that the scheduling did not work out for Alexandria public school students.

We consulted all the area school system calendars before we set the date, but after we set the date and committed to the camp and lined up our re-enactors and so forth, the [ACPS calendar] we were working with changed, she said. We dont know whether it was an error on the website, or something fell through the cracks, but it was not our intention that it be run during the school year.

The Alexandria School Board approved the schools calendar for the current school year on March 6, 2008 upon recommendations from a calendar committee made up of parents and school staff, according to ACPS Director of Communications Amy Carlini.

That school calendar included a two-week vacation straddling Christmas and New Years Day, while most area school districts opted for a much shorter break. That, plus the schools start after a late Labor Day last year, has resulted in the late start to summer for Alexandrias youth.

Carlini said that camp organizers might have been looking at an earlier calendar draft proposal with a different end-of-school date, possibly because of a shorter winter break, but that nothing changed to the 2008-2009 schedule once the board approved it last March.
By comparison, Arlington and Fairfax schools hold their last days on June 17 and June 18, respectively. Most of the areas private schools finished their academic years around the first week of June.

We needed to proceed with the camp, because at the time we planned the camp and checked it, the schedule was fine, there was no school in Alexandria, Bechtol said, but the realization came after re-enactors and instructors had already been booked for the week and applications had started to arrive.

Something happened with the Alexandria school system, were not sure what, but it fell through the cracks, Bechtol said. But wed always checked very carefully before because, naturally, we want as much inclusion for Alexandria students as possible.

If the camp were in the afternoon, the situation might be markedly different. As is, Bechtol said that it would not be easy or allowed for students to start the camp after the first day.
During the camp, kids will be engaging in marching drills, period games and activities, designing their own flags, as well as learning from special instructors and re-enactors, said Amy Bertsch of Historic Alexandria, the city department that operates Fort Ward and six other sites.

With the ACPS calendar approved and posted for the upcoming school year, Bechtol said camp organizers will do everything they can to make sure all Alexandria students attend in 2010 as they start the planning process once events wrap up next week at Fort Ward.