Monday, August 20, 2018
Margaret Chung is Principal of the Arlington Career Center, adjacent to Columbia Pike.
"We are the Career Tech Education Center for the entire County school district. We have a range of classes, including engineering, and trades and industrial, which includes auto technology, auto collision repair, aviation, electricity, technical drawing. We also have IT and digital media. Most of the top ten engineering jobs in Arlington are in computer science, in IT. We’re driven by the data. Other areas are computer science, information technology, cyber security, web design, TV production, digital photography, graphics and digital animation programs. Under health and medical services we have EMT, pharmacy tech, physical therapy, forensic science, and animal science. In human and public services we have early childhood education, culinary arts, cosmetology, barbering, and JROTC Air Force.
My family immigrated here from Korea when I was ten. When I came here, I only spoke a little English. I had to learn.
I think my experience as an immigrant helps me relate to the students. When you move to a country and you’re not familiar, and you’re having to learn a new language, and customs, and you don’t fit in, I know what it feels like. To learn how to find your identity, and to figure things out. It takes time. You always feel like you’re always learning, and you haven’t quite figured out what you want to do with your life.
I see those issues in our students. I can talk with them. I feel that immigrants have unique challenges. It’s the community that surrounds you that helps in so many ways. Your own family, that sense of community, that helps you to feel strong and have a sense of belonging.
The kids come from a variety of places. They are primarily from Central America; El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. We have a handful from Africa and Asia. We have a Mongolian student, we have a Sri Lankan student, some from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Some from South America; Bolivia, Chile. We have the Academic Academy which has about forty students who are here because they need a more personalized mentoring relationship. We have HILT, the High Intensity Language Training Institute which serves recently-arrived immigrant students. They are older immigrant ESL [English as a Second Language] students that come here with interrupted schooling. They’ve crossed the border by themselves, and are primarily working full time to support themselves, but also coming to school. We have teen parenting here, so if they have children, or are pregnant, they can be here where childcare services are available. It’s a very family-like environment, so for some of them who are here pretty much by themselves, it gives them a strong sense of belonging. It’s positive, it’s community-building.
Many of our HILT students live along the Columbia Pike corridor, and work along the Columbia Pike corridor. I think to the extent that students are part of the communities along the Pike that are changing, we’re impacted at the school. What I hear from families is that the cost of living is higher now.
Our newest program is called Arlington Tech. It is a choice program for students who would like to have project-based learning as the way in which they learn. We have a partnership with Marymount University’s Physical Therapy Department. They have a program for families with children that are wheelchair bound, called ‘Go Baby Go.’ Our students work with the families and design, re-engineer toy electric cars. Instead of using a switch, they now have a button in the middle of the steering wheel that the young students can press to manipulate the car going backwards and forwards. This was done by our engineering students, and our collision repair students personalized the colors. One child liked Superman, so they made that car in Superman colors, another child liked Kermit the Frog, so they made it green. Instead of being in a wheelchair when they go out in the playground, the kids are in this cool toy car. So when socializing with other children, which can be very challenging in a wheelchair, it is very different. Other kids want to come up and see them.
We have a NASA project, too. Our students write briefs about popularly-held misconceptions in science. They make a video, write a script, it goes into production, and they present it to the staff at NASA. Once NASA accepts and approves the video, they post it on their website.
I get to see a kind of magic happen all the time. Students come to us initially and are not certain of themselves. They are not familiar with many of the kinds of skills they might learn in many of our programs, but once they get their hands into it, they learn, and you see this transformation take place. They come to realize that they are really really good at something and develop a passion for it. Along with that comes a lot of confidence. That’s really the goal, that students find something that they really love to do, and then realize that they can make a career out of it, they can keep learning and growing – and they can get paid to do it, that it doesn’t feel like work because they love it so much!
One of my favorite things to do is to go and visit classrooms and take pictures and videos and ask them what they’re doing and put it out there on my Twitter account and share that information.
I feel like Arlington, and especially this school district, goes a long way to help all our students, especially immigrant students, feel like they have a strong sense of belonging. I don’t think there is any other second language support system like the one in Arlington, where it is for all subjects. There are HILT counselors, there are family resource outreach people, the staffing is amazing. We have parent groups. I really appreciate that as a school system we really support our immigrant families.
Our hope is that we can develop a stronger relationship with our community here along the Pike; a mutually beneficial relationship that we can form, so that the businesses, and the people who live here, can all feel like we’re part of the same community.
I’ve always loved working in Arlington. It’s a great community. For anyone in education, it is a great place to work."
Photograph by Xang Mimi Ho, interview excerpt by Lloyd Wolf