Our View: Back to school, and back to work

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Photo credit: Cody Mello-Klein
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There’s something magical about the first day of school.

From a kindergartener with her new backpack ready to embark on her educational career, to a senior with his coffee mug awaiting his carpool ride, the start of the school year signifies new beginnings, new opportunities and new challenges.

Yes, we lament the end of summer and the freedom afforded by hot, lazy days.

But there’s nothing quite like getting ready for the first day of school, usually in new clothes, the donning of which is often followed by a first-day photo. With sharpened pencils and fresh, unused binders and notebooks, students embark on the first day with excitement reminiscent of Christmas morning or a birthday celebration.

Like all magical moments, the elation generated by the first day of school is short-lived. Holiday and birthday presents, even if wanted and appreciated, are less exciting once opened. When classes start and homework is assigned, the exhilaration of a new beginning becomes a reality of daily assignments.

Whether or not students realize it, it’s when the new school year transitions from being an idea to a routine that the real magic happens. The student who grew two inches during the summer finds that she’s a better volleyball player. The student who took his summer reading seriously finds himself performing better academically. Being with friends in a safe, structured environment enables emotional growth.

Of course, every student faces challenges, and some Alexandria children must deal with almost unthinkable circumstances. The start of a new school year is perhaps most important for these students, as school can be a refuge from their home lives. And learning can be more challenging for students who hail from one of the 114 countries represented in Alexandria City Public Schools and who may speak one or more of 119 languages.

We have two primary observations as this school year gets underway. First, we think Dr. Gregory Hutchings, Ed.D. and the Alexandria School Board are correct to pursue a multiple pathways approach to learning and careers for ACPS students. Including vocational pathways alongside pre-college courses is wise.

A corollary to that though is that ACPS’ performance relative to the rest of the state on standardized tests, particularly the Standards of Learning, is likely to continue to lag. If measurements can be created that objectively evaluate performance in alternative pathways, city residents might have fewer complaints about SOL scores.

Second, the letter to the right of this editorial, with which some readers may take exception but which took courage to write, is correct in warning that high-achieving students shouldn’t be ignored.

It’s certainly one of the conundrums of education that while we want all students to reach their full potential, that goal is more elusive in a district with many students at either end of the academic performance spectrum. This letter is a reminder that in allocating energy and resources, high-performing students shouldn’t be shortchanged.

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