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New F.C. Teachers Get Oriented, A Bus Tour of the City & Lunch

NEW CITY OF FALLS CHURCH teachers Gina Thacker (left) and Nicholas Bajis in “class” at the new teacher orientation at George Mason High School on Monday. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)
NEW CITY OF FALLS CHURCH teachers Gina Thacker (left) and Nicholas Bajis in “class” at the new teacher orientation at George Mason High School on Monday. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

With the start of the new school year looming, new Falls Church City Public School teachers went to class at George Mason High School on Monday, where they attended an orientation, then climbed aboard a new air-conditioned school bus for a citywide tour to learn a little something about The Little City and its schools.

It’s an annual tradition to have the orientation day two weeks before the start of the school year, which comes the day after Labor Day on Sept. 8.

“You are the role model for our students,” Lisa High, the city schools’ assistant superintendent of curriculum innovation and personnel, told the assembly of approximately 30 new teachers Monday. She stressed the importance of reporting suspected child abuse and identifying strangers at school.

New teacher Michael Vu, will be teaching eighth grade English at Mary Ellen Henderson Middle School. “I’ve always loved reading,” he said energetically, using “excited” three times to describe how he cannot wait to get in the classroom and teach.

“I am really excited about technology,” he said, beaming.

Vu was lured to Falls Church from Prince William County by a Falls Church friend and teacher. Now Vu will have an easier commute from his home in Alexandria, where he was born and raised.

“I love interacting with new students,” he said.

His goal for his students?

“To get them to the highest levels they can achieve.”

Another new teacher, Gina Thacker, will be teaching second grade at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School. A longtime City resident, Thacker was a former paraprofessional at Mt. Daniel Elementary School for six and a half years before returning to school to get a master’s degree. “I want the children to have a joy for learning,” she said. “Second grade is such a transition from being a little kid to being a bigger kid.”

Seated beside Thacker and wearing a yellow Fitbit on his wrist was Nicholas Bajis of Alexandria who served four years in the Marine Corps and has five years of teaching experience.

Bajis will also be at Jefferson where he is a STEAM teacher and will be instructing second – fifth graders. (STEAM is an expansion of STEM, with the newest addition of art to science, technology, engineering, and math learning.) His goal for his students is “that they enjoy learning.”

Another Jefferson teacher is Elizabeth Berry, a literary coach and reading specialist who will work with teachers and struggling students.

Seated beside a window on the morning bus ride, she said her experience includes teaching kindergarten for eight years and third grade for two years.
Berry wants to help students “love learning and to achieve their fullest potential.”

Only one teacher on the bus raised her hand when Marybeth Connelly, the enthusiastic community outreach director for Falls Church schools and elected member of the Falls Church City Council, asked for a show of hands from teachers at the new Jessie Thackrey Preschool.

And when the bus rolled past Mt. Daniel, which had no new teachers on the bus, Connelly said it was “the cutest, coziest, nicest school you’ll ever find.”

TEACHERS board a bus for a tour of Falls Church at the F.C. City Schools’ new teacher orientation on Monday. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)
TEACHERS board a bus for a tour of Falls Church at the F.C. City Schools’ new teacher orientation on Monday. (Photo: Patricia Leslie)

Connelly served as the day’s tour guide, and stood on the bus and used a microphone to point out city landmarks, historic sites, restaurants, shopping centers, parks, new developments, other schools and good places to do business, like Integrity Tire and Auto Repair.

She cautioned riders about obeying speed limit signs, especially on Hillwood Avenue.

Connelly said the U.S. State Department may fill some of the apartment buildings the bus passed with many temporary families from around the globe whose children will enrich Falls Church classrooms.

Some of the new teachers may ride the Metro. At the West Falls Church Metro station, Connelly said the parking garage and lot were filled to just about 60 percent capacity now, after losing a good chunk of riders to the new Silver Line.

“It used to be packed,” she told the teachers, and officials are “rethinking what they are going to do here.”

The bus driver drove past the W&OD bike trail and its access points several times, places which were unknown to some of the teachers until the tour.
Midway in the day the bus driver pulled up to Clare and Don’s Beach Shack for lunch which was provided by the Apple Federal Credit Union Education Foundation and the Falls Church Education Foundation.

The afternoon’s scheduled bus tour included the Mary Riley Styles Public Library, City Hall, Cherry Hill Park and the Falls Church Community Center. And then?

Faculty meetings, student and parent orientation sessions, and athletic events before Sept. 5, when the entire school system gathers for a convocation, and then D-Day, Sept. 8, when Falls Church City schools officially open doors for the first day of school.

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