Red Apple Mom

October 7, 2011

“Outside of the Box” Thinking for Needy Students That Works

Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews posted an interesting column yesterday about a Charter School proposal in Fairfax County.   The premise of Mathews’ column is that charter schools and “rich” suburbs don’t mix.  (Washington Post online text – not mine.)   Mathews wrote about this topic because some former FCPS officials are proposing a public school charter to help low-income families.    Mathews doesn’t like the idea.  It’s not really clear why he holds this view exactly except that Mathews states, “Fairfax school officials have suggested to me that charters are just for struggling school systems.” 

I think it’s impressive former Fairfax County Public Schools officials are “thinking outside of the box” when it comes to our county’s needy students.    Why not?   Addressing poverty doesn’t have to be a one-size fits all model.

Here’s one option I know that works and that FCPS officials might examine.   A few years ago, my friend Terry introduced me to Mr. Tom Lewis – an impressive, retired DC police officer – who created The Fishing School in Washington, D.C.  Mr. Lewis provides after-school academic programs for at-risk youth.  The school is reliant on corporate and private donations as well as a major yearly fundraiser that my friend Terry organizes.

Fishing School Founder Tom Lewis with ABC's "Extreme Home Makeover" crew

After I heard Tom’s story, my husband and I became supporters of this terrific school.   Tom tells the heartbreaking story of his service in DC public schools as the on-site police officer.  Many of the children would ask “Officer Tom” if he would be their dad.   Tom learned that these children needed and craved personal attention.  He realized there was a critical time period each day – from 3pm to 11pm – when these poor kids really needed adult guidance and a place to stay off the streets until a parent or guardian returned home from work.

The Fishing School Pre-Renovation

When Tom retired, he took his policeman’s pension – bought a run-down crack house, fixed it up and opened The Fishing School to help needy children who wanted him to be “their dad.”  Two years ago, ABC’s “Extreme Home Make-Over” learned about Tom’s remarkable story.  Thanks to the ABC Network, that former crack house is now a shining new facility and some of the city’s most at-risk kids get tutoring help, a healthy meal and a safe place to play.

Tom was thinking outside of the box.   Tom didn’t wait for DC Schools to come up with a solution.  Tom didn’t wait for DC’s government to step in with funding.  Tom took it upon himself to help break the cycle of poverty in his neighborhood and in his own way. The results have been incredible.

I like the fact that these former FCPS officials are engaging in some similar “out of the box” thinking.  Maybe a charter school is one way and maybe it’s not.   But what’s the harm in trying?  If there are officials inside or outside of FCPS who can offer effective solutions that provide “wrap-around” services for poor families, then I for one want to hear more about it.



  1. I see this as apples and oranges: The Fishing School is an afterschool program, developed outside a school system. FCPS is a big enough juggernaut already. Leave afterschool hours to entrepreneurs like Lewis, who at least enjoy more freedom and flexibility in creating what is needed without interference/red tape of a gigantic bureaucracy.

    While I’m not a socialism-phobe, I support balance, and would not want FCPS involved in all of a person’s waking hours. I’d be afraid of it getting so entrenched that it becomes a permanent fixture in budgets like so many other programs. Working outside the system like Lewis did is a step in the right direction. Meeting needs for afterschool parenting and personal attention for at-risk youth too often falls to prisons, ultimately, but the hope is that government dependence is decreased, not increased. Leave something for individuals and communities to do; let Lewis shine as a model of what can be done without government help.

    Comment by Marianne Marsolais — October 7, 2011 @ 11:40 am

    • Good points Marianne. Maybe all the companies who are donating to FCPS’ new foundation would be interested in Tom Lewis’ approach. It’s still outside of the system and supporting kids and their learning needs – outside of the taxpayer-provided funding.

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — October 7, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

  2. Fairfax County needs to realize that it is not serving the needs of at-risk students, or in fact most students, by dismissing all elementary schools two hours early every Monday. Fairfax County has artificially expanded the amount of after-school hours that parents need to be sure that their children are safe when many parents are working. I doubt that any charter school would choose the odd hours currently in the elementary school schedules. The parents of Fairfax County should not have to seek out charter schools to have a normal schedule for their children.

    Comment by Virginia Fitz Shea — October 9, 2011 @ 10:21 pm

    • Excellent point Virginia. Thank you for contributing!

      Comment by Red Apple Mom — October 19, 2011 @ 9:12 pm

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