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How you can open your home to a cultural exchange student

Interested in hosting international high school students? Want to share a piece of American culture with your student and learn from your student’s culture?

Since 1951, Youth for Understanding (YFU) has been hosting students in the U.S. and sending students abroad for cross cultural exchange. YFU hosts thousands of international students from around 70 countries in Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia every year. 

Christina Cox is a local elementary school teacher in Northern Virginia and spoke about her and her family’s experiences hosting international students and why you should too. 


1. What made you decide to begin hosting international students? 

I was approached at work by a co-worker that said her son’s high school was looking for volunteers to host. My sister was [an] exchange student with AFS and attended the University of Neufchatel in Switzerland, and in the past, my family had hosted a girl from Dijon, France, and another boy from the south of France.

Also, throughout my growing years, we often had visitors from Ecuador and Colombia. It was common for friends and relatives to send their kids to us for the summer to practice their English and learn more about American culture. Those experiences, combined with our own experiences of living in Canada, Eastern Europe, and Germany, gave us a pretty good idea of what to expect.

2. What year did you decide to open up your house?

We hosted our first exchange student, a young girl from France, in the summer of 2007. Our son, Alexander, was in middle school and our daughter, Mercedes, was entering high school. While she was a very sweet and easy-going guest, she wrote on her application that she spoke an intermediate level of English.

In fact, she spoke nearly no English. I had to interpret for her so she could communicate with the rest of the family. Once, when we were out to lunch, she and Mercedes had shared some tacos. When I asked if she wanted another one, she said, “sure, sure.” When I brought three more to the table, she scoffed and said, “no, no, no,” holding her stomach and indicating she was full and couldn’t eat anymore. We continue to laugh about that to this day.

3.  Favorite memories, moments?

The following year, we took a break from hosting, but the next year we were again approached by Terra Lingua [a different program], the exchange company, and asked to please consider taking a boy from Spain. He was Alexander’s age, was arriving in just over a week, and still had no host family. We accepted him, and that was the beginning of a long and lovely friendship between two boys and their families.

Inigo came to us from Bilboa, Spain. While he did speak a fair amount of English, he improved immensely through continued study in Spain as well as on his return visits to the U.S. Most recently, he stayed with us for his fourth time. He and his parents still communicate with us via Skype every few months. We keep up with each family’s happenings, as well as discuss what’s happening with each country’s politics, economy, and social issues. It makes for a candid and insightful exchange.

Alexander has also visited with Inigo’s family in Spain, even joining them on the family holiday to the Canary Islands. Some of our favorite memories were taking him camping for his very first time ever and introducing him to Dance Dance Revolution games.

Another funny memory is that we always thought we ate more than the Spanish family and that he was probably shocked. As it turns out, he now says he eats just as much and was always hungry, but didn’t want to be rude.

4. Why other families should consider becoming host families.

Other families should consider hosting a foreign exchange student because it allows you to share the best of American culture and the local area. Regardless of where you live in the U.S., this is simply a beautiful place, where people are kind, generous, and genuinely interested in creating positive relationships with people of other cultures. We have much to be proud of and much to share.

5. How rewarding is it to be able to host a student?

We loved being a host family. We know that there does not always exist an automatic chemistry between host and guests, but when there is such chemistry, it becomes an extension of your family. These are friendships that you can maintain for a lifetime.

6. How rewarding was it for your students? What do you think they gained?

I believe my children gained a great friend and extended family in Spain. I believe our guest gained an extended family here in the US and a much better understanding of the American way of life and culture. He can now speak from first hand experience about American culture and hospitality.

If you’re interested and want to learn more about being a host family with Youth for Understanding, please contact local Host Family Recruiter volunteer Amber Champ at and/or visit for more information. 

Why Principal Hamish Brewer is loved by students and teachers at Occoquan Elementary School

Hamish Brewer is a hometown hero.

The Occoquan Elementary School principal was honored November 13 during a live morning news broadcast on WTTG-TV Channel 5 in Washington. He was presented the “hometown hero” award for his work with students, parents, and teachers.

A third-grade student nominated Brewer for the award. It is his fourth year as principal at the elementary school located at 12915 Occoquan Road in Woodbridge.

“When you’re working with students you have to have meaningful relationships,” Brewer told Potomac Local. “When children feel like they can trust the people around them they feel like they can become vulnerable and available.”

Brewer demonstrates his willingness to connect with students over the morning announcements. Earlier this fall, Brewer’s favorite football team the Pittsburgh Steelers had won a game. Dressed in a Steelers jersey, Brewer opened his morning announcements with excitement over his team’s victory the night before.

“When a teacher and student are able to connect and collaborate, the students feel like they can share, they feel like they can take risks with learning,” said Brewer.

Brewer worked at Ellis Elementary School in Prince William County, just outside Manassas before coming to Occoquan Elementary. Brewer came to the U.S. from his home country of New Zeland 12 years ago. He also served as the Regional Director of VIF International Education, a cultural exchange program for teachers.

Brewer also serves as a volunteer firefighter in Stafford County.

NOVA Woodbridge begins HVAC dual enrollment for high school students

The Natural Science and Mathematics Division at Northern Virginia Community College’s Woodbridge Campus has partnered with Prince William County Public Schools and SySTEMic Solutions to offer on-campus Air Conditioning and Refrigeration dual enrollment courses to Prince William County high school students.

The program began this semester with students from Gar-Field, Freedom, Potomac, Woodbridge, and PACE East high schools. Five days a week the students attend HVAC classes at the NOVA-Woodbridge Campus in the morning and return to their respective high schools in the afternoon to complete their high school coursework.

Students will complete college-level coursework to achieve credits toward obtaining an HVAC-R and Facilities Services Technology Certificate by the time they graduate from high school. Prince William County Public Schools Supervisor of Career and Technical Education Doug Wright, NOVA Dual Enrollment Coordinator Courtney Hill, Dean of Natural Science & Mathematics Alison Thimblin, Assistant Dean of Natural Science & Mathematics Adam Johnson, Director of SySTEMic Solutions Amy Harris, and Rusty Jensen, of the NOVA Woodbridge faculty worked together to develop and launch the AIR Dual Enrollment program.

Antonio Sorto, a sophomore at Woodbridge Senior High School plans to attend NOVA after he graduates to pursue an associate’s degree in HVAC-R. 

“I decided to enroll in the program because I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn something that really interests me,” Sorto said. “I love doing hands-on experiments, and I can use this skill as a back-up career in life or possibly make it my main career option.”

For more information about the HVAC Dual Enrollment Program at NOVA, call 703-878-5741.


New high school to use old floor plan after School Board motion fails

School officials will move ahead with a plan to use a 20-year-old design for the county’s newest high school.

The “13th high school” will be built somewhere in western Prince William County — either at a proffered site at the yet-to-be-approved Stonehaven development or Rollins Ford Road on a site bequeathed to the county by its former owner to be used for parkland.

The new school will cost $73.7 million and is slated to open in fall 2020. The price tag includes $4.3 million in needed improvements to the school building that make it complaint with current building codes, to include vestibules to entrances, and energy efficiency improvements to the roof and HVAC unit.

The school will hold 2,053 students. It is expected to be filled to capacity three to four years after it opens.

Unlike recently built schools like Patriot High School in Nokesvile, and the new Colgan High School to open next year on Route 234 near Independent Hill, the new building will look more like Battlefield, Freedom, Forest Park, and Hylton high schools.

The design is less expensive, and the county School Board resolved to use this design after it was criticized for approving construction of Colgan High School, one of the most costliest ever to be built in Virginia with a $111 million price tag. An aquatics facility and performing arts center are major price drivers for the school currently under construction near Independent Hill.

On November 4, the School Board was tasked with deciding whether to rescind a 2014 decision to use the older Battlefield model for all new high schools, and instead use build a hybrid model minus some of the the bells and whistles of the Patriot and Colgan models, like a smaller auditorium. The hybrid model did include space for 500 more students than the Battlefield model.

The motion to rescind the resolution, put forward by Brentsville District representative Gil Trenum and seconded by Gainesville rep Alyson Satterwhite, failed in a tie vote.

“Based on new hybrid, it would cost us $33,200 per seat… that’s a 22% cost reduction for cost per student,” Trenum.

The cost for using the more expensive model is about $42,700 per seat, he added.

Occoquan District rep Lillie Jessie argued for the smaller model and said the money could be better spent removing children from trailer classrooms at schools in eastern Prince William County and moving them into classrooms inside school buildings. School officials also said the Patriot model offers more windows for natural light.

“I have a real problem with providing more space and more lighting. There are ways to provide lighting in schools without building another model,” said Jessie. “I have 2nd graders in trailers that have no windows. I’m having a real problem with that.”

Prince William County Schools Superintendent Steven Walts said more than 4,000 new elementary school seats will be added in eastern portion of the county before the 13th high school opens, by adding on rooms to existing schools and with the construction of three new elementary schools.

“It’s not about east vs. west,” said Satterwhite, a direct comment to Jessie. “Let’s drop this east-west garbage. Let’s stop saying you can’t have this because ‘we’ve already approved the plan,’ or that ‘other children have needs.’

“I don’t usualy get mad and my blood pressuer is sky high, please think about our students,” Satterwhite added.

Neabsco District rep Lisa Bell adamantly opposed building another school based on the Patriot design, but she also encouraged the school system to rethink how its constructs its schools. With the number of available new school sites shrinking, Bell urged school staff to consider building three story buildings that take up less space than the required 80 acres needed for a new high school.

The School Board must now wait to see where the new school will be built. A proffered site at Stonehaven could come if the Prince William County Board of Supervisors approves the 1,006-home development in the Linton Hall Road corridor. 

The Board of Supervisors tabled a vote on Stonehaven last year, but School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns said a decision to approve or deny the site could come by January. The opening of the 13th high school would likely be delayed if a site is not chosen by January, he added.

Volunteers needed for Dumfries Christmas parade, tree lighting

Volunteers are needed for the Dumfries Annual Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony on Dec. 5, 2015.

The parade will start at noon, and the tree lighting will start at 5 p.m.

Volunteers will receive a t-shirt and have the opportunity to serve the community.

Interested parties should contact Community Services Director Brittany Heine at 703-221-3400, ext 144 or by email Bheine[at]

New chairman, faces elected to Prince William School Board

Ryan Sawyers is the new Chairman of the Prince William County School Board.

The Democrat won in a three-way race between the Republican-endorsed Tim Singstock and Independent Tracy Conroy. With 37% of the vote, Sawyers beat Singstock by two percentage points, and Conroy by 10 points.

“I am thrilled with last night’s results and humbled by the support from my family and friends. Both of my opponents ran strong, passionate races and I commend them for their hard work in their campaigns. They clearly showed they care about our school system and how it impacts families.

Now the work begins. I look forward to working with our newly elected School Board and Board of County Supervisors to improve Prince William County Schools,” Sawyers posted to his Facebook page.

Singstock had the endorsement of outgoing School Board Chairman Milton C. Johns, who is stepping down from the Board. Conroy is known for her vast knowledge of the workings of the school system and had the endorsements of outgoing Neabsco District School Board representation Lisa Bell, and former School Board members Lucy Beauchamp and former Chair John-David Allen.

There will also be a big change for the Potomac District School Board seat. Newcomer Justin Wilk beat out incumbent Betty Covington, who had served on the School Board since 2003 and has spent a lifetime as an educator and principal in the Prince William County Public School System.

Republican endorsed Willie Deutsch will replace Dr. Micheal Otaigbe, who is stepping down from the Coles District seat. Deutsch won the seat over his two challengers Reggie Henderson and Bill Reeder with 41% of the vote.

With Lisa Bell stepping down from the Neabsco District School Board seat, Diane L. Raulston will take her place. Raulston won the election with 71% of the vote over challenger Joseph George.

In the race for the Occoquan seat, there was a six-point difference between winner Lillie Jessie and 2nd runner-up John Gray. The incumbent Jessie beat out two challengers to keep the seat, including Gray and Prince William County school teacher Karen Boyd.

Representatives from the Brentsville, Gainesville, and Woodbridge districts, Gil Trenum, Alyson Satterwhite, and Lorree Williams, respectively, ran opposed and will keep their seats on the Board.

More Potomac High School students take PSAT exams

Testing season rolls around every school year.

Some students loathe the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test, also known as the PSAT exam while others take the opportunity to improve their testing performance.

At Potomac Senior High School, students are taught to use the PSAT to their advantage. The primary testing date was Wednesday, October 14.

Once the PSAT results are delivered, students can identify their strengths and weaknesses. This shows us which areas to spend more time studying on. By taking the PSAT we can become familiar with the types of questions asked as well as the overall process.

This school year, Potomac introduced a change to the PSAT. Instead of just sophomores and juniors taking the exam, freshmen were tested as well. Over 1,000 Potomac Panthers were taking the exam at once.

The PSAT is scored very similar to the SAT, and can help you students predict what their possible SAT score will be, according to the Official SAT Study Guide.

The math section is scored between 160 and 760. The reading and writing sections are scored together, ranging from 160 to 760. An overall score on the PSAT’s and SAT’s is known as the composite score. On the PSAT, your composite score will range from 320 to 1520, according to the Official SAT Study Guide.

Once the PSAT results are delivered, students can identify their strengths and weaknesses. This shows us which areas to spend more time studying on. By taking the PSAT, we can become familiar with the types of questions asked as well as the overall process.

Colleges will only be able to view students SAT scores. However, if students score exceptionally well on the PSAT, the top 0.3%, colleges will begin to show interest, according to the Official SAT Study Guide. To be recognized by the National Merit Scholarship program, students need to have scored within the top 2% of test-takers in their state.

Overall, the PSAT’s are beneficial to the student if they give it their best try. The exam is taken once as a sophomore and again as junior. This gives students the chance to work with their strengths and weaknesses.

Keep in mind that a specific amount of time is given for each section of the exam. If students get stumped on one question, experts say it’s best to proceed with the rest of the section. It’s best to get down what you know rather than getting stumped with what you don’t know, experts add.

Tayah Frye is a student reporter at Potomac Senior High School in Woodbridge.


Stafford schools react after ‘insensitive’ photo surfaces on Instagram

Stafford County Public Schools has responded after a photo appeared on Instagram of two girls wearing jackets with offensive lettering.

The photo of two students wearing the jackets was taken at Mountain View High School, according to Stafford County School officials. The school division issued a statement this morning noting the photograph was investigated and that “appropriate actions have been taken.” 

“As principal of of the school, I am very sorry that this incident occurred at Mountain View. There are plans in place t educate the entire student body about this type of behavior, provide counseling if needed for any student, and to work with the entire community to ensure this type of action does not happen again,” said Mountain View High School Principal Dr. James Stemple. 

Stafford Schools Superintendent Dr. Bruce Benson asked that anyone who has shared the “insensitive” photo on social media to remove it.

The words on the students jackets also appear as lyrics in a 2013 Soulja Boy song titled “We made it.”

Will this solve the design dilemma for Prince William County’s 13th high school?

There is a compromise in the works for a the design and layout of Prince William County’s 13th high school.

School Board Chairman At-large Milton Johns delayed what was going to be a vote Wednesday night on the new school building that will be located in western Prince William, either in a new development called Stone Haven or on a site on Rollins Ford donated to the county that was to become a park.

“The more I reflected on the issue, the more I was concerned that we needed more time for the public and [School] Board members to weigh in on the matter,” Johns told Potomac Local.

The decision was a stark departure from Monday when Johns told Potomac Local a deciding vote on the matter would be made at Wednesday’s regulaly scheduled 7 p.m. School Board meeting.

The School Board has been wrangling, once agian, over what design to use when building a new high school, despite resvolving in 2014 to use a 20-year-old, modified Battlefiled High School design in all future high schools, over the newer model used for Patriot High School and the soon to open Charles Colgan High School.

The School Board took a lot of grief from residents when Colgan High School, with new aquatics and performing arts facilities included, became one of the costliest high schools every to be built in Virginia.

A new plan put on the table by school division staff is a revised hybrid model — a scaled-back version of Patriot High School.

The plan includes increasing the 2,053 student capacity at the new school by about 380 students. The capacity will be the same if either the Battlefield or original Patriot models are used.

The architecture of the hybrid building would be simpler than the original Patriot design, the roof flat, and the auditorium would hold 400 fewer people for a capacity crowd of 800.

The hybrid model savings amount to a $6.2 million savings, according to school board documents. The building would be $7.2 million more to construct than the Battlefield model.

“I think this great compromise between keepiong most beneficial features with Patriot design, also by increasing the school’s capacity,” said Johns.

Occoquan School Board member Lilly Jessie said she was still reviewing the plan and did not want to comment prior to the meeting.

The School Board meeting will go on as planned Wednesday, Oct. 21, but a vote on the high school design is not expected until the next meeting on Nov. 2. School staff urged the School Board to make a decision on a design in October to avoid delaying the 13th high school slated to open in 2020.

Video of Prince William County School Board Chairman Debate

Potomac Local sponsored a debate Monday, Oct. 12, 2015 featuring three candidates for Prince William County Public School Board Chairman. 

The candidates are Tracy Conroy, Ryan Sawyers, and Tim Singstock.

The debate was hosted by the Dar Al Noor Islamic Community Center on Hoadly Road near Dale City, Virginia. 

The video was shot and edited by Bill Golden with the Coles District Civic Association.

New app connects parents with Manassas City Schools

Manassas City Public Schools have a new way to communicating with parents.

The school division launched a new mobile application that is billed as an all-in-one, go-to source for information about Manassas schools. The school division states the app can be used by parents, teachers, and students.

The app inclues the following featues:

· Calendar information for schools and division events that can be integrated into personal calendars.
· Directories with contact information for various staff.
· Links and feeds to the division’s Facebook, Twitter and YouTube sites.
· Access to school boundary and bus route information, as well as Food Services food menus.
· Access to the division’s Let’s Talk Feedback platform

The school division earlier this year launched a “Let’s Talk” feature that allows parents to leave about back-to-school nights, and to contact department heads in the school system. Users of the “Let’s Talk” feature may post their names or remain annoymous. Users who provide their email are guaranteed a response, according to a school division spokeswoman.

The new app is available on the school division’s website, at the Apple store, and on Google Play.

Potomac Senior High School celebrates homecoming week

Students at Potomac Senior High School’s celebrated spirit week this week.

Monday kicked off with jersey/sport day. Students were able to show their appreciation for a favorite sports team or a favorite sport. 

Tuesday left us seeing double, as staff and students were given the opportunity to twin with whomever they wanted. 

Mr. Mesterhazy twinned with Mrs. Ramos by replicating her baby bump. On Wednesday, we were able to show our school spirit by dressing “Wacky Tacky.” The hallways were flooded with an array of vibrant colors and frilly tutus. 

Thursday we were able to release our inner nerd with “Nerd Day.” Different variations of the classic “Steve Urkel” look were sprinkled throughout the school building.

Spirit week will end Friday with “Break Out the Blue” day. Each class has been assigned their own class color. Freshmen will wear white, sophomores will be wearing Columbia blue, juniors will be wearing navy, and the seniors will be wearing black royalty. 

Potomac’s official end to spirit week will be with a pep rally Friday afternoon; classes will be shortened.

Our homecoming parade will start about 5:15pm in Newport Estates. Each class and many clubs will be represented throughout the parade.

Potomac’s homecoming game will be against Mountain View High School. The game will begin about 7 p.m. Friday.. The prices of the game ticket and dance ticket were bundled into one. 

Be sure to bring your dance ticket so you will be able to get into the game.

Homecoming will be this coming Saturday, October 10. The dance will begin around 7 o’clock with it ending at 11 o’clock in the evening. This year’s theme is “Hollywood.”

Tayah Nicole is a student reporter at Potomac Senior High School in Woodbridge.

Prince William School Board at odds over new high school design, cost

The Prince William County School Board once again finds itself arguing about transparency, and how to be the best stewards of taxpayer funds.

The discussion comes nearly two years after it approved one of the costliest high schools ever to be built in Virginia.

School officials Wednesday night were tasked once again with voting on a design to be used for the county’s 13th high school to be built in western Prince William County, slated to open in 2020.

The Board voted on April 23, 2014 to build new high schools using cheaper, a 20-year-old floor plan first used in 1991 to build C.D. Hylton High School in Woodbridge, and last used in 2004 to build Battlefield High School outside Haymarket.

school prototype

School staff on Wednesday urged the governing body to rescind their vote and built a the new school based on designs used at Patriot High School, and the new Colgan High School that will open next fall.

The Battlefield model will cost $13.7 million less to construct. The Patriot model is more modern and includes more windows for natural light — something school staff said helps children learn better, according to a 1999 study cited by school division staff.

Both the Battlefield and Patriot design will accommodate 2,053 students. Classrooms in the Patriot model are 50-square feet larger than the 700-square-feet classrooms in at Battlefield High School.

“The greater square footage drives the greater cost,” said Prince William County Public Schools Associate Superintendent David Cline.

Larger open spaces to include courtyards, cafeteria, gymnasium, auditorium, hallways, and better energy efficiency are all selling points for the newer Patriot model. Cline also pointed to a series of meetings held in September where “the vast majority of about 75 citizens who spoke, the overwhelming majority indicated they liked the Patriot prototype,” said Cline.

“To get this on the on the agenda tonight, someone had to ask for it,” said Neabsco District School Board member Lisa Bell. “We did take a vote, and now were being asked to revisit it. We held two community meetings to stir up the community again.”

The school division held two public meetings last month to discuss where the 13th high school will be located. The locations include a site proffered by a housing developer that would build a the Stone Haven neighborhood in Bristow, still awaiting approval from the Prince William County Board of Supervisors, or on a site off Rollins Ford road bequeathed to the county for use as a public park.

The meetings also dredged up the topic of how the school building should be built. Schools Superintendent Steven Walts said the meetings were held in the name of transparency with the public. 

Bell, along with Coles District member Michael Otaigbe said the school design topic should not have been discussed since the Board already voted last year to use the Battlefield design.

“We voted to use the one that was less costly and the community applauded…with that and we learned our lessons, and here we are being told we should go for a higher model,” said Otaigbe.

Bell and Otaigbe opted not return to the School Board next year. Otagibe said this was the first time in his 12 years on the Board he has been asked to revisit a prior vote.

Occoquan School Board member Lillie Jessie said she cannot fathom the cost of the more expensive model when so many students in her district in eastern Prince William County attend classes outside their school buildings in trailer classrooms.

“Do wider hallways serve any instructional purposes?” asked Jessie.

The Occoquan District representative also asked school staff for a study more recent than the 1999 study cited, noting children perform better in schools with more natural light.

“Osbourn Park and Battlefield [high schools] are nationally ranked, and they don’t have glass,” she added.

The School Board is trying to avoid a repeat of the Colgan High School debate, which ignited local bloggers that denounced the division for spending too much on the school, and for including the division’s first school pool. Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart argued then that school pools are not uncommon, and that the pool was necessary to attract more affluent residents to the county

Colgan High School, located on Route 234 near Hoadly Road near eastern Prince William County, will open next fall with a price tag of $111 million — one of the most costliest ever built in the state.

Crowded schools are also a problem in the county, as many new schools are filled to the brim with students as soon as they open.

“We do need to be building larger schools with larger capacity because land is not readily available. I’m more concerned about capacity than lighting at this time,” said Potomac District School Board member Betty Covington.

School Board Chairman Milton Johns opted not to return to the School Board in 2016 after 12 years on the Board. He said overcrowding in county schools is nothing new, and that schools on the eastern side of the county dealt with severe overcrowding issues in the 1980s and 90s.

Johns supports building the Patriot model for the 13th high school.

“We pay a lot of people a lot of money to be expert professionals and advise us, and the message I’m getting is that they think [building the Battlefield model] is a big mistake,” said Johns.

The clock is ticking on the school board to decide not only what the new school will look like, but where it will be located if it will open on time in 2020. A decision on the school design must be made this month, said Cline.

Johns tabled the discussion, and a possible vote to rescind the 2014 decision to build the Battlefield model to the next School Board meeting at 7 p.m. October 21.

Occoquan District School Board debate set for Monday, Oct. 5



Candidates for the Occoquan seat on the Prince William County School Board will meet for a debate hosted by Potomac Local on Monday, October 5 at 7 p.m.

The seat is currently held by Lillie Jessie, who was elected to the chair in 2011, beating out Republican Micheal Wooten. Two challengers are running against Jessie: John Gray and Karen Boyd.

110811 John Gray




The debate will be held at Occoquan Elementary School located at 12915 Occoquan Road in Woodbridge.

Potomac Local Publisher Uriah Kiser will moderate the debate. The event is held in partnership with the Prince William County Democratic Committee and the Prince William County Republican Committee.

The candidates were briefed on the format of the debate as follows:

— Candidates will be introduced to the audience
— Short bios for each candidate will be read
— A candidate will be asked a specific question
— The candidate will have three minutes to respond
— An opposing candidate will have three minutes for rebuttal
— A new question is asked of different candidate and process repeats

Potomac Local will accept reader-submitted questions that may be asked of the candidates during the debates.

The event is open to the public.

Campaign literature and signs are only permitted outside of the building and must be removed upon event conclusion.

North Stafford High School students released early today


All students at North Stafford have been dismissed. 

Original post

Students at North Stafford High School are getting out early today.

An operator at the Stafford County Public Schools central office said problems with the air handling system prompted an early release for North Stafford students.

Regular bus transportation has been made available to students.

The school division Tweeted this:

Potomac Local was not able to immediately reach anyone at the school division to provide comment on the matter.

Groundbreaking for new ‘Ferlazzo’ elementary school is Tuesday

Prince William County Schools officials today will cut the ribbon its newest elementary school.

The yet-to-named elementary school will be built on a site proffered to the county by the Ferlazzo family to be used as an elementary school.

The site is located near the intersection of Minnieville and Spriggs roads in Woodbridge.

The elementary school will the 59th school of its kind in Prince William County. A total of 55,000 cubic yards of dirt must be moved to make way for the building, according to a press release.

The new building will resemble an adaptation of Yorkshire Elementary School, will accommodate 924 students, and will include two classrooms for the nearby school at Independent Hill.

“The Ferlazzo school will be a positive learning environment where creativity and technology are immersed in high academic standards—a school where STEAM will ignite unlimited possibilities for all students,” stated Principal Felicia Norwood in a press release, who will lead the school when it opens.

The groundbreaking will be held at 9:30 a.m. and is open to the public. The new school is slated to open in fall 2016.

School officials recently broke ground on another new elementary school in Woodbridge — a replacement for R. Dean Kilby Elementary School that opened in 2005.

Roast marshmallows, play games, hayrides at Fall Family Fun Night at the Manassas Park Community Center

Fall Family Fun Night is Oct. 3

Are traditional family dinners indicative of a well-adjusted family?

Not necessarily according to a 2013 article from NPR. Journalist Alison Aubrey shares survey and research results from a variety of sources where participants agree that family meals are important but nearly half of the respondents don’t have regular family meals.

That finding is completely reasonable. With work schedules evolving from the usual nine to five, and children’s extracurricular activities becoming increasingly important, it’s hard to find even a moment when all the family members are in the house at the same time.

What exactly constitutes a family dinner? For some families, it appears that the traditional definition of everyone at the table every night having a family conversation may not be the only option.

Depending on schedules, some families may still have dinner together with the absence of a few members. Other families set aside a special weekend dinner once a week.

Flexibility also seems to be important as, according to the article, about 25% of the respondents have distractions during dinner time including TV or mobile devices.

Is the act of simply being together, eating together enough? Some families argue that it’s important time to catch up and relax together so no distractions are allowed.

Other families may feel that avoiding rushed dinners and awkward conversation are worth the occasional distractions and may even encourage dialogue.

The important point is that each family feels comfortable with tailoring their family dinner to their family’s needs and not hold themselves to an unattainable standard.

However, family dinner is not the only opportunity to strengthen bonds. Any special time spent together such as family vacations and attending events can be beneficial and possibly easier to coordinate.

One example would be the Fall Family Fun Night at the Manassas Park Community Center. Roasting marshmallows, playing games, and hopping on hayrides are all scheduled activities and all provide unique opportunities for reinforcing family relationships.

The event is only $10.00 per family and must register in advance. This can be done online or in person at the community center.

Attending special events also allows families in a community to connect together. Neighbors can share stories and exchange ideas on how they strengthen their family bonds. Plus having family friends can provide additional opportunities for family time. Play dates, game nights and planned outings with family friends can motivate family members to find time to participate.

With evidence showing that quality family time has a lasting beneficial effect on families such as emotional stability, there is a reason to make it a point to spend time together.

It can come in the form of a family dinner but it’s no longer the only option.

Choosing activities that are convenient for your family makes quality time achievable and, therefore, more likely to motivate family members to come together.

Woodbridge Catholic high school to launch ‘106.3 JPN’

A Woodbridge Catholic high school is starting their own radio station.

Saint John Paul the Great High School, located on 17700 Dominican Drive in Woodbridge, will be launching their FM radio channel – 106.3 JPN – November 1, according to the school’s spokeswoman Jennifer Cole.

 “A few years after we opened, we started to talk about ‘How can we take what we’re doing, and the mission of our school’…and give our students a chance to put that into action,” said Cole.

The idea to start the radio channel came in 2012 from a resident named Tom Vetter, who received a post card about a new program.

“This post card from the Catholic radio station caught his eye. It was basically saying that they needed help to help people start these low FM stations,” said Cole.

Vetter reached out to Saint John Paul the Great High School, and donated the money to get the project, said Cole.

“This was a good fit for us, because it got the conversation going on how our students can put into practice, some of the things that they’re learning. And how do we teach a mode of communication, and how would that be ethical and meaningful,” said Cole.

The project came to halt, when the school had difficulties securing a location for the radio antenna, until another local family stepped in and donated the funding to building lights on the school’s athletic field. The school was then able to add the antenna to the lights and continue the project, according to Cole.

When the station is initially launched, the school will be using free Catholic radio content, until the students begin creating content, as part of their curriculum.

“It will be anything, from a talk show format, or broadcasting our sports games live, or maybe broadcasting a class – like our bioethics class…the idea is that the content would speak to our mission as a Catholic school,” Cole said.

The channel will have a seven to ten mile reach, according to Cole.

“We’re excited that we’re going to be able to bring Catholic radio to the commuters on [Interstate] 95 and people in Dumfries, Montclair and Woodbridge…we want to help fill the airwaves with things that we think are good, that could be helpful to people,” said Cole.

Prince William County Safe Schools Advisory Council Selects Leadership

The Prince William County Safe Schools Advisory Council held their first meeting of the 2015-2016 school year on Monday Sept 14.

In accordance with the bylaws they voted to select a new chair and vice chair.

Congratulations to Shawn Brann from the Brentsville District and Wendy Dempsey-Cruz from the Woodbridge District on their unanimous selections as the Chair and Vice Chair of the Safe Schools Advisory Council.

Shawn Brann will bring his experience chairing the Piney Branch Elementary School Principal’s Advisory Council to the Safe Schools Advisory Council.

After the election Shawn Brann said, “It’s a great honor to chair the Safe Schools Advisory Council for the 2015-2016 school year.” Brann stated that he “intends to carry on the exemplary work accomplished by Tim Singstock and the entire Safe Schools Advisory Council; the 2014-2015 school year was an impressive collaboration of PWCS parents, school administrators, and safety professionals from the school system and county level. We brought our focus on mental health and internet safety directly to the community with two information nights.”

Tim Singstockterm as Chairman ends on September 30. Singstock is running to be elected the next Prince William County School Board Chairman.

“Safe Schools is an important council and it requires invested leadership. Shawn and Wendy will provide that leadership. The Safe Schools Advisory Council will do great things in the 2015-2016 school year.”

Wendy Dempsey-Cruz quoted Nelson Mandela in her acceptance speech.  

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Wendy, like Shawn is very involved at her children’s schools.

Singstock was appointed to the SSAC in late 2013.

Students headed to military academies: Want a nomination from Rep. Barbara Comstock?

Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th) today announced an October 1 deadline for students interested in applying for a nomination by the 10th District Service Academy Advisory Board to one of the nation’s military academies for the Class of 2020.

Students seeking a nomination have until 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 1 to have an application into Comstock’s office in Sterling. 

“Our country is only as strong as the next generation and that is why the Service Academies are so important to building America’s future leaders,” said Congresswoman Comstock.  “This process is open to everyone in the 10thCongressional District who aspires to be a part of the Class of 2020.  I look forward to the 10th District Service Academy Advisory Board getting to work and viewing the applications of our future leaders.” 

Applications can be mailed or hand delivered to Comstock’s Sterling office at 21430 Cedar Drive, Suite 218, Sterling, Virginia 20164.  Interested students can request an Academy Nomination Application from Comstock’s Web site at selection process is strictly a competitive one. 

For more information about the congressional nominating process, contact Mary Ann Cannon in Comstock’s Sterling office at (703) 404-6903, or go to and click on Military Academy Nominations under the Services section.

Prince William County 13th high school: What will it look like? Where will it be?


Prince William County plans to open its 13th high school within five years.

The school division has three-and-a-half months to get a final location and design approved to stay on schedule.

The first of two community input meetings was held Monday night at Battlefield High School in Haymarket. The 13th high school, if opened as planned in fall 2020, would help alleviate overcrowding at Battlefield, Patriot, and Stonewall Jackson Senior high schools in Prince William.

The county’s 12th high school, Charles J. Colgan High School on Hoadly Road near Woodbridge will include the much debated $11 million aquatics facility, and will open fall 2016.

The Stonehaven site 

The school division has two locations available for the 13th high school. The first is on land in a proposed development in the Linton Hall Road corridor called Stonehaven. An 85-acre school site — large enough to accommodate the school building and all traditional sports and practice fields — was proffered to the county by the housing developer in exchange for a land rezoning that would allow the company to construct 1,006 homes.

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors deferred a vote on the Stonehaven rezoning last fall leaving the future of the 13th high school site uncertain.

Prince Wiliam County Public Schools Associate Superintendent David Cline told the nearly 20 residents at the presentation Monday that the division is in need of the new school because enrollment in Prince William – now at 87,000 students — continues to grow about 800 per year.

“This is a sensitive and sometimes political topic,” said Cline. 

The Rollins Ford site

With the Stonehaven site uncertain, Prince William County Supervisors Jeanine Lawson and Peter Candland last month offered a 69-acre site off Rollins Ford Road. The land was proffered to Prince William County to be used as a park, and the county has already spent about $4 million to develop the new park. 

The school division must reimburse Prince William County that cash if the site is used for the 13th high school. And the school division must give up 60 acres of land — dubbed the Avondale school site near the intersection of Route 28 and Vint Hill Road – where a new elementary and middle school is slated to be built.

The Avondale site would become the site for a new community park, and would be built next to the Grizzly Sports Complex. If the Rollins Ford site is chosen, that leaves the school division searching for new sites for a new elementary and middle schools at the cost of about $10 million.

The Rollins Ford school site also comes with more complications than the Stonehaven site. The soils at the site are not suitable for construction and would have to be dug up and replaced with new soil at a cost of $1 million. The site in the rural crescent — an area largely devoid of water and sewer connections — must also be placed on public sewer if the school is built there.

“We’re still compiling the engineering data on what it would take to do that, but it’s not a small feat,” said Prince William County Public Schools facilities chief Dave Beavers.

School officials don’t yet have an estimated cost for a water and sewer extension that would pipe in from a nearby residential subdivision.

The Rollins Ford school site is not large enough to accommodate all of the practice fields needed for the high school. The school could be built on site without the usual fields, or the school division could spend upward of $2 million more for additional land for the fields. In all, it could cost at least $16 million to address the initial issues with the Rollins Ford site. 

The site could also be impacted by new power lines planned by Dominion.

“I want the site that is going to get us a school built on time.” said Gainesville School Board Representative Alyson Satterwhite. “I think that if we were to going the Rollins Ford park direction, Stonehaven might be interested in offering us a middle school site. That’s my personal opinion.”

How should the new school be built? 

school prototype

The Prince William County School Board must also decide how to build the new school.

Two prototypes for the new building are under consideration: a school modeled after Patriot High School in Nokesville and the new Colgan High opening next year, and a model based on Battlefield High School in Haymarket and Freedom High School in Woodbridge.

Nearly all who spoke Monday night argued for the more updated “Patriot” model due to its more modern layout, larger classrooms and open space, and wide windows to allow for more natural light.

Colgan High School will open next year with a final price tag of $111 million, including the aquatics facility. Without it the pool, the price tag is about $90 million.

If the more than 20-year-old Battlefield design is chosen, originally used in Prince William for the design of C.D. Hylton High School which opened in 1991, originally Beavers said it must be brought up to current-day building codes. No matter which design is chosen, the new school could wind up costing about $10 to $15 million more than the $90 million cost of the 12th high school due to increased construction costs, said Beavers.

“This is a no-brainer,” said Jeff Smith, who said he anticipates his children will someday attend the new school when it opens. “It seems pretty clear to me you take the site that doesn’t cost anything” Instead of taking the site that costs $16 million, and you take the money you save to build a better school. I don’t even know why you present a design that was used 20 years ago.”

School Board Chairman candidate Tracy Conroy argues the school system should focus on building new schools at a lower cost, faster, to accommodate the growing student population.

“Looking at the 2005 [Prince William County Public Schools Capital Improvement Plan], it had the high school we’re talking about tonight opening in 2014. It had Colgan [High School] open in 2012, and Patriot [High School open] in 2009. None of those was open on time, and [the need for these schools was] based off of student projections,” said Conroy. “So we spend most of our time saying this is a problem with developers and the county. However, in 2005 we knew these homes were coming, and we projected to build what was needed.”

Beavers said the schools did not open late but opened as planned due to budget and circumstances that changed over time. The school division is on track to present their recommendations to the School Board in three weeks. The School Board must make a decision on the new site by January to stay on track to open the new school in 2020.

A second community input meeting will be held at Patriot High School tomorrow September 23 at 7 p.m. in Nokesville.

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