The 14,895 Arlington students and the 1,061 Falls Church students expected to return Sept. 3 to the world of blackboards, study halls and lunch periods will find more computers in their classrooms, some expanded writing programs and a greater emphasis on safety at the elementary level.
Meanwhile, school officials in both Arlington and Falls Church will be taking a hard look at the problem of underachievement among students and taking steps to implement programs to help students with learning problems.
This year's freshmen will be the second class affected by tighter standards for the state's public high school curriculum, adopted by the Virginia State Board of Education in 1983. The board raised the number of credits required for graduation from 18 to 20 and, at the same time, created an optional "advanced studies" diploma.
Under the advanced studies degree, students starting ninth grade enter a program requiring three years of math, three years of science and three years of foreign language. Freshmen who choose not to enter the advanced studies program will be required to take two years of math, two years of science and a third year of math or science.
The state's 1983 decision has a limited effect on schools in Arlington and Falls Church, however, because graduation requirements in both jurisdictions have been stricter than the state's graduation requirements. For a number of years, seniors graduating from George Mason Junior-Senior High School in Falls Church have needed 21 credits to graduate and two years of both math and science. In Arlington, graduation requirements were raised in 1982 so that Arlington students who will be seniors this fall will need 20 credits and two years of both math and science to graduate.
During the past school year, partly in response to the stiffer graduation requirements, parents and educators in Arlington pushed to increase the high school work day from six to seven periods to give students a greater opportunity to schedule electives. In February, the Arlington School Board approved a seven-period day at the county's three regular high schools on an optional basis.
Under the new program, which will begin this fall, students choosing an additional elective course will take it in place of one of their required courses during the regular school day and take the required course in 85-minute periods following regular school hours three days a week.
"It's not a perfect solution," said J. Boyd Webb, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "The student has to give up some degree of participation in extracurricular activities. But it provides an option for students who presently have difficulty scheduling all the courses they want to take."
Webb said about 200 of the approximately 4,600 students at the three schools have opted for the seventh period.
Falls Church has had a seven-period day for grades six through 12 since 1979.
In the area of computers, both school systems have continued to acquire new equipment. Arlington's 18 elementary schools and Special Education Center picked up about 80 computers over the past year bringing the total to about 250, according to Michael Johnson, teacher specialist for academic computing. Johnson said the computers will be used in two ways: to enhance learning in other subjects and to teach elementary school students computer language and programming.
Falls Church schools obtained about 30 computers over the past year, bringing the total to about 95, said Director of Instruction Nancy Sprague. In addition, two new computer courses will be offered this fall, including a required course in keyboarding for sixth graders.
Sprague said the class will offer instruction in touch-typing and basic word processing through the use of electric typewriters and personal computers. Up to now, touch-typing has been offered only to eighth graders as an elective.
"We really need to do the touch-typing earlier," Sprague said and added that earlier typing instruction will help make sure that students have good typing skills by seventh grade, when they begin to use computers more heavily.
Sprague said an advantage to practicing typing on computers is that correcting and proofreading can be fun. Getting students to do these things is usually a "battle," she said.
Mary Ellen Shaw, principal of Mount Daniel Elementary School, one of the two elementary schools in Falls Church, said that a popular kindergarten "journal writing" class, which was begun during the past school year, will become part of the regular kindergarten curriculum this fall. In the class, the school system's 80 kindergarten students will keep daily journals of words and pictures.
"The idea is to have the children start writing even before they really know how to spell words so they get the idea that writing is communication and that it's important and appreciated," Shaw said.
"It's been very successful," she said. "I hear from the parents that kids go home on the weekends and want something to write in."
Arlington seventh and eighth graders will be taking English courses this year that will stress "writing as a mode of thinking," according to Michele Bajek, writing specialist for the schools. One idea behind the course is that writing can be a very effective way to think things through and that a piece of writing need not be perfect, but rather the product of thought.
"Mistakes are important," Bajek said. "Quality writing really evolves out of understanding writing and how to write. The fear of not being perfect can be so prevalent that it can stop all writing."
Educators in both Arlington and Falls Church are stepping up efforts to deal with students who are having difficulties with schoolwork.
A committee of Falls Church parents and teachers is struggling to come up with ways to identify and best address the needs of students, who, for one reason or another, do not perform academically as well as they are able. The problem, according to Sprague, is a "painful and frustrating" one, especially to parents and to the students themselves. The committee is expected to present their ideas to the schools' curriculum council this fall.
In Arlington, programs to help students with special academic needs are being strengthened, especially within the basic skills courses at the elementary level, according to Betty Ann Armstrong, the school system's supervisor for reading, English, language and arts.
Personal safety will be stressed in the upcoming school year at the elementary level in both Arlington and Falls Church.
"Learn Not to Burn," a program developed by the National Fire Protection Association to teach children fire precaution and what to do in case of fire, will be incorporated into the second-grade curriculum in Arlington elementary schools. The program, which was suggested to the schools by the Arlington Fire Department, gives instructors ways to teach fire safety within their regular classes.
Fifth graders in Falls Church also will be given instruction in personal safety through an updated program called "B-Safe," better safety awareness from education. Students will have five classes during the year in which they will discuss with teachers what to do when they encounter strangers and what to do in an emergency when they are alone.
Arlington's school system has two new top officials this year, School Superintendent Arthur W. Gosling and School Board member Judy Connally. The two replaced Charles E. Nunley and Simone Pace on July 1.
Gosling, who said he has spent his first weeks on the job trying to visit every school in the county, said he is looking forward to an "outstanding" year for Arlington's schools.
"We've got the opportunity to do some really fine things," he said.