The Highlander - Issue 1 - October 2021

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Volume 66 • Issue 1 • October 2021 • McLean High School • @MHSHighlander




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Letter from the editors Dear McLean, Welcome back to fully in-person school, Highlanders! The COVID-19 pandemic has caused national job vacancies, and teenagers have been eager to fill those open positions. This issue’s In-depth focuses on personal stories from teenage employees who have experienced sexual harassment working for local businesses. Separately, the return to school has been fraught with complications: a substitute shortage, student vaccinations, the switch to Schoology and athlete mental health. The Highlander explores all of these topics in our first issue of the year. Despite these challenges, our students are still exploring their interests and talents. In Features, read about our Highlander of the Issue who launched a balloon into near space. Our Artist Spotlight is back in A&E, highlighting the talents of photographer Maren Johnson. Although it seems like we’ve made it to the other end of this pandemic, we still continue to battle COVID, so read our editorial argues that people need to continue to wear their masks. We would love to hear from you. Email with your questions and concerns. We hope you enjoy this issue, and we look forward to bringing you more this school year! Yours Truly, Aleena Gul, Josh Bass & Maya Amman|@MHSHighlander Editors-in-Chief: Maya Amman Josh Bass Aleena Gul Design Editors-in-Chief: Ariana Elahi Taylor Olson Managing Editors: Hanna Boughanem Ana Paula Ibarraran Laine Phillips Polina Zubarev Website Editor-in-Chief: Akash Balenalli Website Managing Editor: Mackenzie Chen Chief Marketing Manager: Saehee Perez Head Cartoonist: Jayne Ogilvie-Russell Cartoonist: Liz Nedelescu Photographers: Sandra Cheng Morgan Muntean Designers: Akash Balenalli Dania Reza Vanessa Papescu Natalie Vu

News Editors: Arnav Gupta Nyla Marcott Features Editors: Belén Ballard Ivy Olson Madeleine Stigall A&E Editors: Noah Barnes Khushi Rana Grace Gould Opinions Editors: Emily Friedman Cc Palumbo Sports Editors: Andrew Christofferson Scott Shields Copy Editors: Tanner Coerr Arnav Gupta Philip Rotondo Madeleine Stigall Fact Checkers: Belén Ballard Saehee Perez Digital Media Producers: Layla Zaidi Polina Zubarev Social Media Managers: Akash Balenalli Isabella DiPatri

McLean High School 1633 Davidson Road McLean, Virginia 22101 Reporters: Melissa Allegretti Zachary Ammar Makda Bekele Sandra Cheng Andy Chung Graham Courey Farah Eljazzar Madelyn Frederick Sydney Gleason Conaire Horgan Max Irish David Jerzak

Omar Kayali Christiana Ketema Kaan Kocabal Ghada Moussa James Murray Valerie Paredes Tara Pandey Josephine Phillips Ritika Rohatgi Paarth Soni Peter Shumway Dario Sutera Madie Turley

Adviser: Lindsay B. Benedict

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The Highlander newsmagazine Volume 66 | Issue 1 october 2021



NEWS 4-5 7 8-9 10

Free meal policy implemented Langley-McLean redistricting begins


Afghani refugees share their stories

on the cover

Highlander of the Issue: Luke Valencic


Highlanders’ best Halloween costumes Haunted locations in the DMV Unvaccinated students speak up 10 Questions with Alison Phanthavong Young Democrats help students get involved Get to know McLean’s new staff members

A&E 20-21 28 29


Sub shortage affects teachers

FEATURES 11 12-13 14 15 16 17 18 19


McLean makes plans for ESSER III funds

Artist Spotlight: Maren Johnson TheatreMcLean returns with Little Women Mask preferences for students and staff

‘17, ‘20 Pacemaker Winner; ‘15, ‘19, ‘21 Pacemaker Finalist; ‘15, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 AllAmerican; ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, ‘16 First Class; Hall of Fame

‘14, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19, ‘20 George H. Gallup Award; ‘15 International First Place

‘18, ‘19, ‘21 Silver ‘00, ‘18, ‘19, ‘20, ‘21 ‘14, ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, Crown Winner; ‘19, ‘21 First Amendment ‘16, ‘17, ‘20 Gold Press Freedom Award VHSL Trophy Class; Crown Winner ‘11, ‘12 First Place ‘05, ‘07, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, Winner; VHSL Savedge Award ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19, ‘20 CSPA Gold Medalist

About the cover — The hands represent the volume of people who share experiences of sexual harassment but are bound to silence. After a traumatic event, people’s brains often have trouble piecing fragmented memories together in a coherent way. This is reflected in the cover’s disorienting art style.

Blurred Lines:

A look at sexual harassment that goes on behind the scenes of local businesses

opinions 31 32 33 34 35

Editorial: Wear masks properly FCPS should offer all elementary students a virtual school option Schoology sucks Contact tracing isn’t effective Skirts in sports need to go

sports 36 37 38-39 40-41 42 43 44

New sports facilities revitalize athletics Volleyball team finds success Tennis star leaves McLean to pursue dreams Mental health in sports McFootball season recap Athlete of the Issue: Manoli Karageorgos The Finish Line


FCPS implements emergency funding bill to support return to school NYLA MARCOTT NEWS EDITOR


ollowing months of planning and debate, FCPS accepted a one-time grant of $188.6 million to aid in the safe and effective return to in-person school. The funds were provided through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER). The majority of funds will be allocated to addressing unfinished learning and providing for students’ academic and emotional health needs. ESSER is part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) passed on March 27, 2020. One year later, the American Rescue Plan (ARP) provided an additional $120 billion in funds for ESSER III. “What I really liked about [ESSER III] is that the schools have their discretion on how they can utilize it,” said Systems of

Support Advisor Emily Geary, who leads the academic implementation of ESSER III funds at McLean. “It’s rare that we get money, and they’re like, ‘Do what you want to support your kids.’” McLean has created a team devoted to using the additional funds within the school, consisting of three head liaisons: academic learning, social emotional health and clubs and activities. ESSER III funds will be divided between these groups with each working on improvements or the implementation of new programs. “All of this money that we’re getting has the potential to be impactful for students,” school finance technician Jennifer Hill said. “We want to be able to [help] the students do as well as they would have in a non-pandemic year.” Some teachers and parents have expressed concerns that the ESSER III funds were

HELPFUL SESSIONS — Students receive help after school from special

education teacher Tim Marden through the new Helping Highlanders program, which meets every Wednesday and Thursday in the library. McLean is using ESSER III funds to offer additional pay for teachers to provide students with homework help and tutoring. 4 |NEWS| OCTOBER 2021

provided for political goals and will not be as beneficial for resolving school problems. “Throwing money at problems [is] oftentimes seen as an easy fix,” said counselor Greg Olcott, the social emotional health liaison for McLean. “On paper it looks fantastic, but the real nitty-gritty hard work isn’t always addressed by those big wads of money.” Although McLean has not yet received the ESSER III funds, the school has already begun to use some of the money it is scheduled to receive in the future. “[Additional services will be funded] through the school’s appropriated funds,” Hill said. “We are hoping that what we have spent already will be covered by ESSER III—that’s the assumption.” When McLean receives its allotted money through ESSER III, the school will be refunded for its expenditures. In the meantime, very detailed records will be kept regarding use of the funding. “Federal grants are very structured, and you have to follow them by the letter,” Hill said. “It’s going to take a lot of logs, a lot of record keeping and a great amount of detail.” Funds allotted for academics will primarily focus on providing students with support for their classes. Helping Highlanders, a tutoring group that meets after school on Wednesdays and Thursdays in the library, was created to provide students with assistance completing assignments. “[At the Helping Highlanders sessions,] we have teacher tutors who are there,” Geary said. “We’re going to have some peer tutors [to create] a space after school where kids can come work and get support.” Teachers are also offering flexible scheduling for virtual tutoring sessions. The assistance is offered at a range of times throughout the week including weekends to provide students with a more college-like experience. “Teachers can hold virtual review sessions, say, on a Saturday or at night, or something that might be more convenient for the students,” Geary said. The ESSER III funds are intended to

support all students, but some teachers wonder whether or not the assistance will benefit students who do not participate heavily in their classes. “A challenge is that the kids who really need the most academic support don’t want to come after school or work with a teacher in Highlander Time,” Geary said. Given that teachers can make extra income through private tutoring, schools previously struggled to keep teachers after school to provide tutoring since they did not receive compensation for their time. ESSER III funding will allow schools to be more competitive in keeping teachers after school for student tutoring and club events. “The tough thing is that teachers can leave school and go get paid $100 an hour to tutor right down the road,” Olcott said. “We’re now able to use some funds to pay teachers to stay after with kids. It’s not $100 an hour, but the hope is that it will help encourage teachers to want to stay after.” In addition to being paid to tutor after school, teachers will receive compensation for their roles as club sponsors. They will, however, need to meet certain requirements to earn compensation.

ON PAPER, IT LOOKS FANTASTIC, BUT THE REAL NITTY-GRITTY HARD WORK ISN’T ALWAYS ADDRESSED BY THOSE BIG WADS OF MONEY.” - GREG OLCOTT SOCIAL EMOTIONAL HEALTH LIAISON “The factors are basically how much time they put in, how many club meetings that they had and…the average number of students that attend the meeting,” said Jeremy Hays, the assistant director of student activities, who is helping to implement ESSER III funds for clubs. Although paying teachers to stay after school and sponsor clubs has the potential to increase or create new tutoring and learning opportunities, some fear that teachers will be discouraged by the additional obligations. “I think that keeping teachers excited

about these opportunities as the year goes on [will be a challenge],” Geary said. “Not that they don’t want to help kids, but that they already do a lot. We are, in a sense, asking them to do something else, too. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us.” Counselors and teachers have observed unusual levels of stress following the return to in-person school. “The biggest challenge we have is the fact that we’ve got some students and some adults who are at a January level of stress in October, so people are getting more maxed out quicker,” Olcott said. The section liaisons are concerned that providing excessive resources with the funds could do more harm than good by further increasing stress levels. “We’re trying to figure out how to walk that tightrope of helping our students with... the resources we’ve been given, while not trying to overwhelm our students and not wasting money,” Olcott said. Funds for social emotional health have been devoted to creating lessons for training sessions to be covered in the new Advisory period. Olcott has some reservations that efforts to provide mass support will not be beneficial for all students. “We’re dealing with minds and emotions,” Olcott said. “Every [student] is unique. There isn’t one single pathway that works for every single one of them.”

Photo, infographic & page design by Nyla Marcott

McLean used some ESSER III funds to hire multiple classroom monitors. The monitors will work full time at McLean to help alleviate substitute teacher shortages. “We are able to use money for classroom monitors,” Hill said. “What I’m hoping is that these classroom monitors will take the pressure off the teachers, and hopefully, improve [students’] learning.” While the funds will temporarily allow for increased school expenditures, it remains unclear if schools will have to terminate the new programs and services when they no longer receive the additional funding. It is possible that the increased spending could result in FCPS needing a larger budget. “It’ll be interesting to see how this impacts [schools], because the federal government is not always going to have all this money that they can give to schools,” Geary said. “Principals have a certain discretion to how they manage their school’s budget each year, but you can’t keep everything.” ESSER III funds present both unique opportunities and challenges for school staff who are working to effectively implement the use of the additional funds. “We’re in a pickle right now because more isn’t always better,” Olcott said. “Oftentimes, we’re caught in a tricky spot, because we want to help, but at some point, we’ve got to realize that helping isn’t always just adding on things to do or things to deliver to students.” OCTOBER 2021 | NEWS | 5

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FCPS implements free meal policy



he lunch bell rings, and students spring from their seats. They rush down the hallway to see the lunch lines extending past the cafeteria entrance doors. The line moves surprisingly fast, and students are swiftly dismissed with a checkmark from a cafeteria supervisor. In the summer leading up to the 20212022 school year, FCPS, in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), implemented a free meal program for all students, allowing one free breakfast and lunch meal per student every day. Although meals are free, students are still required to pay for additional snacks and drinks. “I think [the free meal program] helps out a lot,” senior Evan Zhu said. “People are now willing to eat more without having to worry about monetary issues. However, food variety and additional snacks are gone or limited now.” This program operates under the USDA’s National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option (SSO). While SSO is generally reserved for the summer months, the ongoing national supply chain shortage caused by the pandemic emphasized the need for financial stability and nutritional meals for schools. According to the USDA, schools that choose SSO will receive higher meal reimbursements for each meal they serve, which will support them in providing the most nutritious meals possible. This mitigates pandemic-related operational and supply chain challenges. The decision to implement the program came directly from the federal government. Under the Families First Coronavirus

Response Act, all states received national school lunch waivers requiring the distribution of school meals under a qualified program regardless of wealth distribution among school districts.

PEOPLE ARE NOW WILLING TO EAT MORE WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT MONETARY ISSUES.” - EVAN ZHU SENIOR “It is too early in the fiscal year to assess whether FCPS is losing money as FCPS receives federal reimbursement from the USDA Child Nutrition Programs,” FCPS Food Services Finance Coordinator Stephen Draeger said. The program has affected a large portion of FCPS students, with Food and Nutrition Services officials reporting a steep increase in the daily number of meals distributed.

“Early breakfast and lunch program participation data reflects an increase of approximately 10,000 breakfasts and 30,000 lunches daily,” Draeger said. Lunch meals have seemingly retained their quality and quantity from previous years, as evidenced by minimal complaints. “For [food] with multiple pieces, I haven’t seen any change in quantity,” Zhu said. “There is always a set number for a meal, such as four chicken tenders or six mini corn dogs, and that has not changed in my experience.” Despite these successes, some students have noticed the prevalence of system manipulation and cheating. “There is no way of checking whether someone has gotten a free meal, especially since there are three different [lunch] lines,” senior Saahir Rattani said. Food and Nutrition Service officials expect students to act responsibly in accordance with the Students Rights and Responsibilities (SR&R). “We will ask the school administration to speak with a student if [misconduct] is observed by a staff member,” Director of Food and Nutrition Services Maria Perrone said. “If a student is concerned about the actions of another, they should seek guidance from school administrators.” Despite the potential for exploitation of the program, FCPS is continuing its efforts to prioritize student health and maintain flexibility for all families, regardless of household income. “The no-cost meals will remain in place for all students during the 2021-22 school year,” Perrone said. “Our primary goal is to support students’ health, wellness and readiness to learn.”

QUICK CATERING — Cafeteria employees

provide free lunches to students. FCPS reported increases in the number of meals being distributed each day. (Photo by Morgan Muntean) Page design by Ariana Elahi

OCTOBER 2021 | NEWS | 7

SQUISH SQUASH — Students stand shoulder to shoulder in the Red Hallway. Despite efforts to adjust school boundaries, the overcrowding issue at McLean persists.

LINES REDEFINED Redistricting of McLean students takes toll on families



n an effort to lessen the overcrowding concerns of families at McLean, the Fairfax County School Board has started a “grandfathering” solution for the 2021-22 school year as part of its redistricting plan. This system ensures that students who currently attend McLean or were enrolled as an eighth grader at Longfellow Middle School during the 2020-21 school year will continue to go to McLean. FCPS plans to reduce the student population at McLean by 50 students each year. Students in the McLean boundary will be moved to other schools such as Langley High School. This year, about 200 FCPS students will be transferred to Langley. “You [will see] 50 less [McLean] students 8 | NEWS | OCTOBER 2021

this year. Next year you’ll have 100 less students and the year after next, there will be 150 less students,” said school board member Elaine Tholen, the Dranesville District representative. “It’s going to take some time before you see the full effects.” After this school year, students who are not grandfathered in will no longer get the choice to remain at McLean. Families who are permanently split between schools have already started to experience the effects of redistricting. Miranda Simpson, a junior who attends McLean, was separated from her brother, Connel Simpson, who was redistricted to Langley for his first year of high school. “He chose Langley because we live in

Wolftrap and most of his friends go there,” Simpson said. “It’s harder to talk with him now because [at] Longfellow [Middle School] we had similar experiences and teachers, but now I just don’t know how to relate to him anymore.” While some siblings were separated by choice, others were forced to attend different schools. Most siblings who did not have a choice in the matter say redistricting has become an inconvenience for their families. “I think if your family was already in McLean then you should be able to stay,” junior Charlie Samburg said. “My brother wanted to go to McLean with me if he had the choice. I just think it’s better to keep families together than split them up.”

Photo by Farah Eljazzar | Page design by Ariana Elahi

[AT] LONGFELLOW WE HAD SIMILAR EXPERIENCES AND TEACHERS, BUT NOW I JUST DON’T KNOW HOW TO RELATE TO HIM ANYMORE.” - MIRANDA SIMPSON JUNIOR Despite consistent efforts to redistribute students, the issue of overcrowding remains. Currently, McLean is at 103% capacity while Langley remains at 85%. With the overall population of Fairfax County growing, the overcrowding issue has started to affect numerous schools. “Most schools are a little bit over capacity, so it’s a countywide problem,” Director of

Student Services Paul Stansbery said. “I think there is a plan to build a new high school, but that won’t happen for probably ten years—it will take a long time.” Tholen said Fairfax County School Board members understand the various community concerns but know that it will be difficult to satisfy everyone. “People [have to] understand that there McLean High school were so many variables that everybody had 2,201 students to take into consideration,” Tholen said. “This [was a] tough decision.” The redistricting plan has mitigated some issues for now, but the future remains unclear. The school board has noted the 2,201 growing concerns of families across the 94% county and is focused on developing their solutions to address them. “I just want to say a huge ‘thank you’ to families for being flexible, especially McLean HS SY24-25 during COVID,” Tholen said. “It’s going to Capacity Utilization Langley High school take a few years before you really see a bigProjected 2,079 students difference at McLean, so to have people [who are understanding] is truly appreciated.”

Projected student populations & school capacity utilization in 2024-25 school year

2,201re-adjustment people Boundary 94% process begins at board meeting McLean HS SY24-25 December 2019 Projected Capacity Utilization

Board votes to install a 12-classroom modular at mclean High

boundary adjustment

Longfellow MS SY24-25 2020 Projected Utilization McLean HSCapacity SY24-25 Board holds public December

Projected Capacity Utilization hearing to gather

additional feedback 95%

boundary change 1,309with people begins rising seventh graders 2021-22 school year

Longfellow MS SY24-25 Projected Capacity Utilization

Graphics by Taylor Olson & Vanessa Popescu

1,309 people 2,201 pe 2,079 peop

Longfellow MS SY24-25 Projected Capacity Utilization Langley HS SY24-25 McLean HS SY24-25 Projected Capacity Utilization Longfellow Middle school

Projected Capacity Utilization 1,309 students

1,309 meeting peopleheld may95% 2020 community 2,201 people 94% to gather feedback for

january 2021

95% 94% 88%



88% 95%

1,061 peopl

2,079 pe 1,309 pe

Cooper MS SY24-25 Projected Capacity Utilization Langley HS Longfellow MSSY24-25 SY24-25

Projected Capacity Utilization Cooper Middle school Projected Capacity Utilization 1,061 students


1,061 peo

Cooper MS SY24-25 OCTOBER 2021 | NEWS | 9 Projected Capacity Utilization

SUBSTITUTE SHORTAGE STRAINS TEACHERS Lack of substitute teachers in FCPS pulls McLean staff from regular duties



CPS is facing a county-wide substitute teacher shortage. The drastic shortage of substitutes has resulted in McLean teachers and staff having to cover for each other during planning periods and free time. It is up to administrative assistant Janea Weber to coordinate coverage for teacher absences when a program for finding substitutes called SmartFind Express does not suffice. “When a teacher is going to be absent they can put their absence in this computerized system,” Weber said. “The system will automatically call substitutes [with certain subject classifications] and McLean as one of their locations.” At present, nearly every substitute finds themselves filling in for another absent teacher each class period in addition to the job they signed up for. Yet, a high demand for substitutes remains, forcing teachers to fill in for their colleagues during their planning periods. “I’ll write the [absent] teachers’ class schedules across this kind of [paper] masterboard, and I just look at all the teachers who don’t have subs,” Weber said. “I go to the department chairs and the administrators to try to reach out and figure out coverage.” Even with department chairs reaching out to teachers, the shortage has persisted,

and there are still several occasions where there are no teachers available to fill classes. For example, on Friday, Sept. 24, the lack of substitutes was so extensive that even administrators had to cover classes.

EVERYBODY’S BEEN REALLY NICE ABOUT IT, BUT IT’S VERY HARD BECAUSE WE’RE SO BUSY WITH OUR PREP TIME.” - CHRISTINA CARROLL VISUAL ART TEACHER “I had 18 teachers gone and eight substitutes [that day]. And so what ended up happening was that lots of teachers had to cover for each other,” Weber said. “Mr. Olcott, one of the counselors, actually covered a class. Ms. Beach, who’s a testing coordinator here, also covered a class.” McLean has worked to combat the overwhelming need for substitutes by hiring three new classroom monitors, who primarily serve to fill in for absent teachers. “I think that hiring the monitors is huge,”

SUB SPACE — An art class takes a study hall period with a classroom monitor

present on Oct. 12. McLean hired three classroom monitors to help with class coverage during the substitute shortage. (Photo by Polina Zubarev) 10 | NEWS | OCTOBER 2021

visual art teacher Christina Carroll said. “We’ll have to see how this fall and winter go and if we’ll need more monitors.” Currently, only 71% of substitute jobs are being filled each day throughout FCPS. Several factors have contributed to both the lack of substitutes available, as well as the increase in teacher absences. Teachers or their family members experiencing COVID-19 symptoms have to stay home. Substitutes may have concerns about being in a densely populated place. “If I was older or immunodeficient, then maybe I would feel at risk,” new classroom monitor Dominic Davis said. “At the same time, substitutes [and monitors] are constantly moving between classrooms and not just staying in one place, so they come into contact with more students.” The shortage of substititutes may also be a result of low pay. Currently, the hourly rate for non-retiree short-term substitutes is $14.79. On Oct. 5, the FCPS School Board discussed a potential $2 raise to wages for all types of substitutes due to the shortage. “It’s better to work at the grocery store, pay-wise,” Weber said. “But the thing is, you have better hours than the grocery it is a pretty good gig for the same pay.” Most teachers prepare a lesson plan in advance for their absences. However, with COVID-19, more teachers are taking days off unexpectedly, leaving some classes without plans. This not only affects those substituting, but the students as well. “There have been several times this school year where my teacher is out and doesn’t give us any work for that day,” senior Clare A’Hearn said. “Although it is nice to have a day off, it gets really stressful when they come back and I have to do double the work.” Teachers use their daily planning period in order to figure out lesson plans and grade assignments. Having to give up this valuable time to sub for other classes can cause teachers an immense amount of stress. “Everybody’s been really nice about it, but it’s very hard because we’re so busy with our prep time,” Carroll said. “We need that time to do work.” Page design by Polina Zubarev

War Against Against Girls’ Education Education Two sisters raise their voices following the rise of the Taliban ALEENA GUL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


enior Shakiba Omarkhail was 9 years old when she and her older sister, Shafiqa Omarkhail, found out they would no longer attend school in Kabul, Afghanistan. It was a horrific day when the Taliban poisoned the water system and diffused toxic gas in their local school in April 2012, hospitalizing more than a hundred girls and teachers. “I will never forget that day,” Shafiqa said. “That was the day that all our hopes and dreams were dead. It was terrifying knowing that [school] was the key for our bright future, but now somebody had taken it away from us.” Luckily, no students died in the incident, but the Taliban made their motivations clear: to restrict girls from education and confine them in their homes. “[My classmates] all had big dreams,” Shafiqa said. “They wanted to be doctors or engineers. They worked very hard to get to the level they wanted. On that day, it was not only me but thousands of other girls who had their dreams buried because of the Taliban. Even now, when I remember it, it breaks me into a million pieces.” But Shakiba and her sister did not want

to surrender to the Taliban’s war against education in a society where the female literacy rate was already very low. “My dad went against the norms when he put me and my sister in school,” Shakiba said. “He didn’t care about what other people were saying. [But] because of the [poisoning] incident, my dad knew [Kabul] wasn’t safe anymore.” The Omarkhail family moved to the U.S. in 2014, not only to seek better opportunities for higher education without any restrictions but also to escape the ongoing war. While Shakiba is now fully settled in Fairfax County, she is worried about her fellow Afghan girls because of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan. The Taliban banned girls from secondary school after assuming power in mid-August, ordering that girls will only be allowed education under strict restrictions and gender-based segregated classes. “I was worried,” Shakiba said. “The first thing I thought of was girls—they wouldn’t be able to go to school anymore.” With the Taliban’s rise to power, many Afghans have been trying to flee the country just like the Omarkhail family did seven years ago.

Photo illustration courtesy of Shakiba Omarkhail | Page design by Taylor Olson

“Every girl deserves the right to an education.” Shakiba said. “They’ve been treated so horribly since the beginning of time. It’s so sad to see how society has advanced so much, yet women in those countries have to worry about not being able to go to school, or if their daughters go outside, [families are unsure] if they’re going to come back alive.” The rise of the Taliban has sparked protests in Shakiba’s city, with many women condemning the new restrictions and fighting for their due rights. “When the Taliban took over, a lot of Afghan women were protesting,” Shakiba said. “It was such a big thing. It really made me proud as an Afghan woman to see them standing up for themselves, for their education and their rights. I hope that they don’t lose hope.” Despite the dark cloud looming over female education in Afghanistan, Shakiba is optimistic, although she says it is going to be a long struggle. “As I watch the news, I see how the Afghan [women] still manage to keep a smile on their faces and have been so brave through everything,” Shakiba said. “Watching their resilience is what keeps me moving forward.” OCTOBER 2021 | FEATURES | 11


REACHING NEW HEIGHTS Senior Luke Valencic sends high altitude balloon into near-space NOAH BARNES A&E EDITOR


large white balloon drifts through the sky like a birthday party gone terribly wrong. This isn’t just a stray balloon from Party City—there is much more hidden beneath this white latex blimp drifting up through the clouds. Senior Luke Valencic chose to work on a passion project this summer that reached monumental heights. His love for rockets inspired him to design, build and launch a high altitude balloon that reached an elevation close to 90,000 feet and captured stunning photographs of near space. “It was probably the start of last summer, or even into the end of junior year, I was building a bunch of model rockets,” Valencic said. “I found it super fascinating the way these things work and the amazing things you can do with not that much money.” Making a weather balloon is much more complicated than blowing up a balloon and sending it off into the sky. The process is long and arduous, requiring advanced design skills, time and money. The first step in the process is to design the balloon. Then one must acquire the necessary materials to actually build it. “I started first by researching what these things are and how they work,” Valencic said. “I found that the general system that these weather balloons revolve around is that a balloon will bring a payload up and the balloon will expand as the atmosphere thins because the helium wants to get out of the balloon. The balloon expands so much 12 | FEATURES | OCTOBER 2021

that it eventually pops, and the whole package comes falling down.” As one can imagine, a large package falling down from 90,000 feet can pose a danger. To keep the project safe and within the guidelines of the Federal Aviation Administration, Valencic designed a parachute to attach to the payload. “I didn’t want to cause a threat to anyone or hurt anyone, so that was of big concern to me,” Valencic said. “Between the package and the balloon you [need] a parachute. The parachute will engage once the atmosphere thickens a little bit, and that will bring your package down to where you want it.” The hardest part about making the weather balloon wasn’t designing the balloon, building it or even finding it. It was dealing with the legal process that posed the greatest obstacle. “I found out that I needed to make my package fit a couple of guidelines. It has to be under four pounds, the string has to be breakable by 50 pounds of force and there has to be a parachute,” Valencic said. Motivation was hard to sustain throughout the project, and just as any great mind experiences, there were some slumps. Valencic grappled with the thought of losing all his hard work to the uncontrollable variables that the balloon would encounter on its journey. “At the end of the day, I was sending a package into the atmosphere tethered to a balloon,” Valencic said. “The GPS could land upside down, and I could never find it. It could hit a tree Photos courtesy of Luke Valencic | Page design by Taylor Olson

I SAW THE UNBELIEVABLE PHOTOS OF EARTH, ITS HORIZON, THE SUN AND SPACE. IT WAS AN INCREDIBLY EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCE.” - LUKE VALENCIC SENIOR and knock out the GPS. It could land in the middle of a forest. It could land in a body of water. It could destroy all the hard work and significant amount of money that I poured into the project.” While all the variables can’t be controlled, the weather balloon can be designed to protect the precious cargo that it carries. Valencic designed and placed several sensors and other technology in his balloon to ensure a safe flight and landing. “I needed a way to find it and track it during the whole flight, so I used a GPS system for that, and then I had some cameras in the actual payload,” Valencic said. “It also has to withstand some pretty tough conditions over 90,000 feet. It gets super cold and windy up there. I had to put some heat warmers in there to keep all the electronics warm. I had to keep the electronics powered with extra batteries and extra memory. I also had some sensors I made and put in there.” Valencic had some help in navigating the more difficult parts of designing the balloon. Steve Morris, a mentor from the National Association of Rocketry, provided guidance and information in the intricate details of working with technology. “I had some mentors helping me establish myself in rocketry,” Valencic said. “That was a great foundation to start off of. Other than that, I used a lot of YouTube, a lot of the internet and a bunch of forums.” After months of preparation, Valencic launched the balloon on Aug. 22, the day before school started. He had to track the package using its GPS signal and drive to the location where the parachute landed. He had already mapped out the flight course of the balloon to ensure it wouldn’t fall into a place where it would be unretrievable. “It was quite a far drive. I spent probably six hours after I launched it. I recovered it, and then I had to drive home two hours. It was a long process,” Valencic said. Luck also played a hand in the final retrieval of the balloon. After all the hard work Valencic had put into his project, something as trivial as a simple malfunction in the technology or a faulty landing of the package could render it undiscoverable. “It was funny—we got super lucky,” Valencic said. “We actually projected the flight course to go right over the Shenandoah National Park and hook back and land somewhere a bit east of there. It ended up going all the way over the Shenandoah National Park, like we thought it would do, and it hooked back around and landed about 200 feet from dense forest where we wouldn’t have been able to recover it. It actually landed in a local’s backyard, and we were able to get it back there.” When he recovered his package, the culmination of all the hard work, time and money he had poured into his project reached its peak.

“The most satisfying part of the entire thing was when I took out the SD card from the camera and plugged it into my computer,” Valencic said. “I didn’t even get into the car. I was on the hood of my car, and I saw the unbelievable photos and videos of Earth, its horizon, the sun and space. It was an incredibly emotional experience.” After the initial high of recovering his package and unveiling the stunning photos and videos the cameras inside the balloon captured, Valencic drove back home with his dad. As he traveled home, he realized that the lasting impression of the entire project wasn’t the photos, the videos or even the satisfaction of completing four long months of work. “I’m doing something that I found a love for,” Valencic said. “I found a love for aerospace engineering through taking on projects that fascinate me yet challenge me every step of the way. I plan to continue pushing myself to discover far greater possibilities. With the results of this project, I hope to inspire others to pursue their ambitions, no matter how impossible the end goal seems.”

prepare for launch — Luke Valencic holds his weather balloon while it inflates with helium on Aug. 22. Valencic’s balloon reached a height of nearly 90,000 feet as it soared over Shenandoah National Park. OCTOBER 2021 | FEATURES | 13





Inspiration: My mom and I wanted

Inspiration: I came up with this

Inspiration: We always try to do

Details: I had a combination of spider

Details: I bought the suspenders from

Details: We wore big, white-winged

a mix of a vampire and a witch since I was really into Vampire Diaries. We were inspired by the color of vampire blood and goth fashion.

netting with burgundy velvet fabrics and a red cape. It showed Halloween spirit while being fashionable.

costume after going to Spirit Halloween a couple of times. I chose this costume because it really complemented my personality.

Spirit Halloween, I borrowed fishnets from a friend and made the necklace and bracelets from an old dress.

something from books or literature, and The Handmaid’s Tale was being checked out by students a lot during that time.

hoods and red capes, and we walked around with our heads down and hands folded whenever we could.

Inspiration: I came up with the costume after seeing a clown

tunnel in an online haunted house where one of them pretended to be a prop. When people walked by I sat by the house in a chair as still as possible, and whenever they came, I would jump up and scare them. A lot of people seemed to enjoy it, and I’m glad they liked it!

Details: I bought a scarecrow costume at Spirit Halloween and


then bought straw cuffs to go in between and make it look more realistic. I also put some fluff inside the sleeves and pant legs so I looked like I was a prop.

Page design by Dania Reza & Taylor Olson


How the most haunted locations in the DMV measure up CC PALUMBO OPINIONS EDITOR


Location: Clifton, Virginia he Bunnyman Bridge stories will make you see the mall Easter Bunny in a new light. A variety of legends about the site’s origins exist, but most of them involve a man in a bunny suit terrorizing people near the secluded bridge. Upon my arrival, I immediately wanted to leave the site. The Bunnyman Bridge is located in the kind of place I wouldn’t want to spend the night—let alone half an hour. Although the chances of a man in a bunny suit attacking me felt pretty low, there is no doubt something was off about that place.



Location: Washington D.C. (Georgetown) ne of the oldest structures in Washington D.C., the Old Stone House is infamous due to claims of it being haunted and reports of spirit voices. I had been to this house when I was a kid and it’s still just as creepy as I remembered it to be. The old wood floors and stairs creak with every slight movement, making me scared to even look over my shoulder. I had low expectations for this hideaway, assuming that it was only scary to my 10-year-old self, but the Old Stone House proved me wrong.


CLARA BARTON HISTORIC SITE Location: Glen Echo, Maryland lara Barton was a nurse during the American Civil War and founder of the American Red Cross. Legend says that after she died, her spirit never left the home she lived in and she still haunts it to this day. Those who claim to have seen her decribe her as a transparent figure wearing a green dress. When I first arrived, the atmosphere was horrible—it was raining and muggy. I drove all the way there just to want to turn around and speed back to McLean. If I spent a second longer, I am pretty sure Ms. Barton would have personally evicted me from her property.



Location: Washington D.C. (Dupont Circle) valyn Walsh McLean owned the Walsh Mansion in the early 1900s. Speculators believe that her family’s purchase of the Hope Diamond caused her death. She reportedly still roams the estate and is often spotted on the grand staircase. The family sold the property to the Indonesian government, and it’s still an Indonesian embassy. I felt the spirit of Halloween when I went on a cloudy day, but the mansion was disappointing. The house was weathered and intimidating due to its height and colonial-style architecture. However, as grand as it was, the building and neighborhood lacked the quintessential atmosphere to make my skin crawl.


Page design by Ariana Elahi & Taylor Olson | Illustrations by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell


Into the minds of Unvaccinated students Some McLean students choose to abstain from COVID-19 vaccine KHUSHI RANA A&E EDITOR


ccording to the FCPS website, approximately 90% of 16- and 17-year-olds in the county have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and more than 80% of this same group have received two doses. That leaves a relatively small percentage of Highlanders who have not been vaccinated. Just like vaccinated people have their reasons for getting the vaccine, unvaccinated individuals present their own reasons for refusing it. “I’m unvaccinated, and I don’t plan to be vaccinated anytime soon,” junior Pierce Strubhar said. “The reason I chose not to be is because I’ve already tested positive for COVID, and I don’t believe I need a vaccine [and] booster shots because I already have all-natural immunity to it.” Strubhar has concerns about the creation of the vaccine and its potential long-term effects.

“I also am not a fan of how the vaccine uses mRNA. This is a new type of vaccine, and I don’t think it has been properly tested,” Strubhar said. “I don’t think people know what will happen to [those] who have the vaccine down the road. It could be nothing, but we don’t know, and we’re only speculating at this time.” Despite these concerns, FCPS has emphasized the importance of receiving the vaccine and will require student athletes to be vaccinated for winter and spring sports beginning Nov. 8. While most of the McLean community is vaccinated and will be unaffected by this change, unvaccinated students may be pushed into getting it as a result. “I’ll have to get vaccinated at some point since I wrestle,” sophomore Hollis Freeman said. “I’m still unvaccinated and play football since they don’t require vaccinations at this moment.” Although some unvaccinated students are against all aspects of the vaccine, some of them try to see both sides of the issue. “I think the vaccine has benefits, but there are some risks to it,” Freeman said. “My mom’s friend had COVID, so she got the vaccine and was hospitalized for a few days because of it. It could’ve been because she reacted badly to the vaccine or also had COVID [at the same time].” Since students don’t have to disclose their vaccination status to the school and there isn’t a way of telling whether a student has taken the vaccine or not, there aren’t any social pressures pushing students to be vaccinated. “I don’t get treated any differently from being unvaccinated. It doesn’t come up in any conversation, and since it’s not required to go to school, nobody knows if I am [vaccinated] or not,” Strubhar said. An additional reason unvaccinated students may choose to stay unvaccinated is because of their perception that COVID-19 has minimal risks. In other words, some students believe the vaccine is not necessary in order to stay safe. “To be honest, COVID is a bad problem we have, but I don’t think it’s as bad as everyone thinks,” Freeman said.



Photos by Chris Derby & Lindsay Benedict | Page design by Taylor Olson

10 Q s WITH

ALISON PhANTHAVONG English teacher Photos & reporting by Valerie Paredes

1 2 3

How different is online teaching versus teaching in person? It’s completely different. In person, you’re actually seeing your students and interacting with them. I definitely think in-person teaching has given me the opportunity to get to know my students a lot faster and just a lot more thoroughly than online.

How has your first official in-person year at McLean been? It’s been awesome. I actually feel like part of the McLean community now.

What was your most interesting job before teaching? In college, I was a server and a bartender at a restaurant on grounds. That was a lot of fun.


5 6 7

Did you play any sports in high school? I ran cross country and played lacrosse.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be? I would make everyone a better listener.

What’s your favorite thing to cook? I love to cook pasta. I’m a big red sauce person, so spaghetti and red sauce.

What is your favorite thing about teaching? I love getting to hang out with my students. Sometimes you forget you’re being paid to do it.

8 9

What is one thing you can’t live without? Cookbooks. They are so much fun to read. I love to cook.

If you had to listen to one song your entire life, what would it be? Right now it would probably be “Solar Power” by Lorde.


What's one thing people don't know about you? English wasn't my first language; my first language is actually Lao. My parents are from Laos.




ollowing a year of operating online, the Young Democrats are finally meeting in person again. With the general election coming up, the Young Democrats see a good opportunity to get students active in politics, encouraging them to vote and get involved in events. “[We want] to get individuals at our school involved in the political process, meaning getting people who are eligible out to vote and holding organized events like phone banks and meetings with our rival school, Langley. It really gets students engaged,” said senior Aria Huffman, a club board member. Despite their name, the Young Democrats try to exist more as an educational institution than a political one. “The purpose of the Young Democrats club is to educate the students of McLean on democratic issues in our country and to keep students involved in politics,” Huffman said. Although most club members have similar political views, the club is not exclusive about ideologies. “We are called the Young Democrats, but we have members who are very, very moderate and we have members who are very, very far to the left,” Huffman said. “There are a lot of disagreements that go on in our club.” One of the club’s goals is to keep such disagreements productive, focusing on

sharing ideas rather than being toxic and aggressive. “We saw that in our meetings last year, especially [those] with big turnouts, we had a lot of really healthy disagreements and we got to have a lot of really great debates,” Huffman said. “[The club] is a place where even if you are more in the middle or very far to the left, your viewpoint will be [validated] as long as you are not promoting any form of hate.”

THE PURPOSE OF THE YOUNG DEMOCRATS CLUB IS TO ... KEEP STUDENTS INVOLVED IN POLITICS.” - ARIA HUFFMAN SENIOR Inclusivity tends to be central to the Young Democrats’ operation, as it allows for wider discussions. “They definitely tried as much as they could last year [to be inclusive of diverse points of view],” club sponsor Karen McNamara said. “They were really trying to encourage anyone who was there to participate in the meetings.” McNamara has been serving as the sponsor of the club for three years, originally starting due to the club’s alignment with her

field of expertise as a social studies teacher. “As an AP Government teacher I want to encourage students to participate in politics,” McNamara said. “I think it is key to have students civically motivated to participate and understand more about our government.” The club’s activities, such as phone banking to spark voter interest in candidates and campaigns, are mostly student-organized under the direction of the club’s board members. “We do phone banks and volunteer work for Democratic campaigns, specifically in Virginia,” said junior Elliot Smith-Chauss, a Young Democrats board member. “In the past we’ve also done some more national ones, like for the Georgia runoffs.” The upcoming Virginia general election, featuring a race for governor between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, has become one of the Young Democrats’ main focuses. “We’re [promoting other organizations’ campaigns and] phone banks [for the general election],” Smith-Chauss said. No matter how the general election goes on Nov. 2, the Young Democrats’ goal remains the same. “We spend our meetings trying to inform students about important topics and have open discussions about those topics,” McNamara said. “[We want to] get students thinking about the role the government should play in everyone’s lives.”

Ways students can get involved in politics: Volunteer with political groups Join clubs at school Stay up to date on local and national news Have healthy debates and discussons with peers 18 | FEATURES | OCTOBER 2021

Infographic by Dania Reza & Philip Rotondo


read more Scan here to acher! about each te

Get to know some of the newest Highlanders

ct: Fun fa ranked nally rush io t a N ndy C in Ca


Fun fact: Grew up sp ending a month in Peru every year

ANNIE DAGGETT Social Studies 1st year teaching

Fun fact: d Has a dog name Makara, which nd” means “my frie in Gaelic

LINDSAY BOERGER Social Studies 1st year teaching

RAQUEL FRIEDMAN Special Education 1st year teaching

CAMERON CHASE Special Education 1st year teaching

ADAM NEWBERGER Geometry 1st year teaching

MARY LEAH FRANK English 4th year teaching Fun fact: Is a Green Bay Packer s fan but has never be to Wisconsin en

Fun Can’t fact: fle left c x his alf

ANNIE DESMARAIS Chemistry 4th year teaching

AJ BLACKFORD Chemistry 5th year teaching

ASHLEY HASTINGS Biology 8th year teaching

Has Fun fact : gone Base to Evere st Cam p

Fun Fact: sse Played D1 Lacro ry at William & Ma

act: Fun F her d Name enry H corgi epants som Hand

ct: Fun fa ces an Tap d

DENISE WILMONT ROBERTS Special Education 14th year teaching

TIM MARDEN Special Education 19th year teaching

MEG FLAHERTY English 12th year teaching

Fun fac Has visit t: coun ed 29 tries

JOSHUA HENRY Social Studies 21st year teaching Graphics & page design by Ariana Elahi

MORGAN POPMA Librarian 10 years teaching 1st year librarian

EMILY GEARY Systems of Support Advisor 9th year teaching

SUSIE CONNER Social Studies 8th year teaching

JEANNE DISNEY ESOL 25th year teaching

JENN BEACH Assessment Coach 29th year teaching


Maren Makes Memories

Senior Maren Johnson expresses herself through her camera lens MAYA AMMAN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


plane flies over Gravelly Point, a classic picnic spot for senior Maren Johnson and her friends, and everyone begins to panic. Maren leaps for her camera as her friends put themselves into the right position so she can capture the perfect photo with the plane flying overhead. As a photographer, the pressure to get the best shot has been a constant influence in Maren’s life. Maren discovered her love for captured memories at an early age. “I always loved looking at our old family pictures on our computer, and I would spend [countless] nights with my siblings looking through them and laughing,” Maren said. After years of honing her skills, Maren’s passion for photography has become clear to those around her. “She has always been creative and artistic. She just looks at things differently than my other kids,” Maren’s mom Hillary Johnson said. As she entered high school, while she 20 | A&E | OCTOBER 2021

temporarily explored other activities, she kept finding herself drawn to photography. “Freshman year, I was going to play field hockey, but I couldn’t because I hurt my wrist, so I reevaluated,” Maren said. “[I asked myself] if I even wanted to do this or if I wanted to do something completely different. [Instead], I took Yearbook, and that was a really great outlet for me to go into more creative things and focus on who I am. I’ve never been good at sports, [so I focused] on things that make me special.” Maren soon realized that she could use her talents professionally to help others and make money at the same time. “Someone in our church had known that she was interested in taking family photos so they [hired] her. That was her first professional paid job,” Hillary said. “Then she [photographed] a few other families after that and just kept going.” In addition to taking pictures for other families, her own family figured she would be able to do the same for them. “I totally count on her to record and

document all of our family moments,” Hillary said. “Whenever we go on vacation, she takes all of our pictures and makes videos of our trip.” Soon after she started photography professionally, Maren began to explore videography. Both pursuits allowed her to capture the best moments in her life through a lens. “Whenever I’m sad, happy or need to feel grateful for my life, I always just make a video, even if it’s a minute long,” Maren said. Maren’s favorite video so far is her 2020 recap. “I made it as a way to encapsulate my feelings about that year,” Maren said. “[That year] was really hard and challenging for me, just like it was for a lot of different people, but there were also so many moments when I was happy and I was really grateful for everything that I had in my life.” In an effort to spread her creations to a larger audience, Maren started posting her videos on Instagram and TikTok. “I had a lot of people reach out to me,

Images provided by Maren Johnson | Page design by Maya Amman | Graphic by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

MAREN’S MOMENTS — Maren Johnson captures the most important moments in life through photography. In addition to taking pictures for fun, she does wedding and senior shoots. saying how much [the 2020 recap] impacted them and how much that video meant to them,” Maren said. “It helped me to create a name for myself.” While viewers enjoy her content, most of them are unaware of the tedious video editing process, especially considering there is a certain way that Maren personalizes her content. “I have an editing software for my more professional videos like the 2020 recap or for videos that I really want to spend a lot of time doing. I have a hard drive so I basically take everything from my hard drive, put it in Final Cut Pro and edit it [there],” Maren said. “It takes a long time to cut everything down and make [content] my own and how I want it to be.” Maren’s photography projects and paid jobs are also incredibly time-consuming. “It is definitely taxing sometimes because it does take a lot of time, but that is also what they’re paying for,” Maren said. “They’re paying for my time at the shoot and for the preparation that I have to put in, but also the hours and hours that it will take to edit all their pictures and get it to them on time.” While the process is grueling, Maren wouldn’t trade it for anything. “It’s all worth it seeing your video [or photos] after they’re all complete,” Maren said. “It’s just the best feeling. Honestly it makes me emotional sometimes watching my videos all the way through because it brings you back to those moments and those emotions that you were feeling when you took them.” Although she loves seeing the results, striking the right balance between her work schedule and her daily life has proven to be difficult. Her photography commitments often take her away from aspects of her teenage life. “I just think it’s so cool that Maren is always being booked for photoshoots. Sometimes when we all hang out as a group and Maren has to leave, she casually brings up that she has to go photograph a wedding that night,” senior Maggie Olifer said. “She has a really professional job; people are trusting her with their wedding photos, one of the most important days of their lives.” Since Maren began pursuing

professional opportunities, her friends have asked her to share her talents too, making her their own personal photographer. “I bring my camera everywhere I go, so I’m always taking pictures [and videos] of my friends. They’re always in my monthly videos,” Maren said. “I think that’s why they really love to watch them—they’re always in them.”


Doing photoshoots against a cool background in the city has become a weekly tradition for Maren and her friends. “I have such vivid memories of Maren calling me up and saying, ‘Hey, I just found this cool backdrop, want to take a picture?’ and we’d drive out to Georgetown or a random flower field to take pictures,” Olifer said. “She would then show up with three or four different cameras just to capture each moment in a different way.” For Maren, the equipment she uses is equally as important as her editing software. It takes a certain lens to capture the perfect moment. “The camera that I usually use is a Canon EOS Rebel T2I with an 18-55 millimeter lens, but when I want a wider lens, I use a 75-300 millimeter lens,” Maren said.

“I’ve also been getting into film cameras lately; I use disposable cameras and Polaroid cameras all the time, and I think film is so cool. Of course your classic camera, my phone, [is always] on me too.” Maren’s work has opened up new doors for her, enabling her to explore a future with her at the helm. “I definitely want to pursue videography and photography in the future because it’s a passion of mine that brings me so much joy and makes me feel fulfilled,” Maren said. “It’s something I can do in the next stages of my life, and I think that it’s a pretty stable career because people are always going to need pictures and videos.” As Maren prepares to embark on the next stage of her photography career, she will maintain her unique outlook on life, continuing to capture moments like no other. “She’s always had an eye for beauty,” Hillary said. “Even when she was young, she has always loved to make things look beautiful.”






he didn’t know if she wanted to laugh it off or writhe in disgust. Her manager’s persistent remarks about her bathing suit became more and more blatant, and she grew progressively more uncomfortable. This is sexual harassment. Specifically, verbal sexual harassment. Sexual harassment can be separated into three categories: verbal, visual and physical. Verbal sexual harassment is defined as anything spoken or written that insinuates sexual or inappropriate behavior. Visual sexual harassment, on the other hand, is slightly more complicated. It is defined not only as unwanted sexual exposure to another person, but also as showing or sending inappropriate or offensive images. Physical sexual harassment is easier to identify than the other two—it is any unwanted touching with sexual intent.

22 | IN-DEPTH | OCTOBER 2021

The disturbing reality is that many teens, including those at McLean, face sexual harassment in the workplace. Due to job shortages as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, teenagers across the country are being hired at considerably higher rates—businesses are in desperate need of employees and high schoolers are eager to make money.

THE DARK REALITY Almost every neighborhood in McLean has a pool, filled with job opportunities for students. With commitments that end when summer does and an opportunity to tan all day, it is a dream job for a lot of teenagers. Like any job, working at a pool comes with complaints about taking out the trash or cleaning the bathroom. For some employees, however, complaints about tiresome chores seem insignificant compared to the frequent harassment they face. “There’s a lot of creepy older [male lifeguards] that

Page design by Taylor Olson







prey on the younger girls and make really disturbing comments,” said senior Victoria*, a lifeguard. “One of them was touching girls and made a lot of [disturbing] comments about going to his car, doing stuff after work, and comments about my body.” The age difference between older employees and teenagers can create a distressing situation. The disparity between management and employees forms an even greater power imbalance. “[My boss] started making comments about my swimsuits and I was the only girl who was being treated like that,” said senior Becky*, a lifeguard. “He told me that I was going to have a costume malfunction with my bikini and that my bikinis were hard to look at. He said that he didn’t think I should be wearing them anymore.” Despite this swimsuit being Becky’s uniform, she was verbally harassed by her superior because of the way she looks. The nature of the pool uniform can lead to unwanted comments about the lifeguards’ bodies based on the misconception that revealing outfits are “asking for attention.”

Even without revealing uniforms, employees are still subject to inappropriate comments regarding their clothes and bodies. Restaurants are a common place for verbal sexual harassment to occur. Senior Kylee Majkowski is a hostess at a local restaurant and constantly receives comments about the way she dresses. “I’ll be wearing an off-the-shoulder dress or something, and people will be like, ‘You’re just about to bust out of that thing,’” Majkowski said. While doing table checks on a busy night, a couple enjoying their meal made some comments that rattled her. “[A man and a woman] stopped me...and the lady asked, ‘What time do you guys usually get out of here?’ So I said, ‘A little while,’ and they responded, ‘Well the reason we’re asking is because we were actually headed to the Ritz Carlton after this to grab some drinks and we were wondering if you wanted to come with us,’” Majkowski said. Majkowski told the couple she was in high school, yet they persisted. When she was able to get away from the situation, she began to process the encounter and feel

*These names have been changed to protect the anonymity of sources, some of whom continue to work in these locations OCTOBER 2021 | IN-DEPTH | 23

the weight of what she had just faced. “I was good for like 10 seconds and then I just totally freaked out and [started] crying,” Majkowksi said. “I went up to my manager and I told him what happened and [told him], ‘I’m going home.’” Restaurant employees are not only subject to sexual harassment by their customers, but also by their coworkers. “There’s this one [man], where any time we are working up front, all the girls move to the back because he grabs us by the waist and moves us around,” said senior Jenny*, a bakery worker. “It’s the worst because the managers know about it, and they just don’t do anything.” At times, a situation can escalate from physical harassment to a potential criminal offense. “A couple of my friends have been consistently harassed for nudes by this one guy who’s now fired. He was older than us, so it was very scary,” Jenny said. Sexual harassment is prevalent in all kinds of businesses. Multiple employees at a local hardware store said they reported sexual harassment as well as other inappropriate acts to their manager. One male employee in particular was the source of four complaints from teenage female employees at the store. “There was this older man who worked there named John who was in his 60s,” senior Sophie Tursi said. “He would ask all the underage girls if they have a boyfriend or if they go to parties.” Besides his frequent questioning of the teenage female employees, John would regularly make other inappropriate

24 | IN-DEPTH | OCTOBER 2021

*from a poll of 110 McLean students

comments and offers. His odd curiosity about their private lives often went beyond uncomfortable questions about their activities. “[John] asked girls to come over to his house to smoke [marijuana] or drink [alcohol] with him,” senior Alice* said. “A few girls actually went over there.” His unwelcome advances towards young girls continued for years, but the store failed to take any protective measures for its vulnerable employees. “I worked there for two and a half years and I complained for two and a half years, but [management] didn’t do anything,” Tursi said. For restaurant employee Majkowski, sexual harassment seems to come with the territory of having a job. “Unfortunately, a large part of the real world is there’s always gonna be a creepy old guy who says things that aren’t welcome,” Majkowski said. “It does kind of suck, but at the same time it’s something that, unfortunately, a lot of people just have to get used to.”

DOUBLE STANDARDS There’s a societal stereotype that women are the only ones affected by sexual harassment. In reality, men experience sexual harassment more frequently than most people realize. Senior James Ross has been on the receiving end of

Infographic by Taylor Olson



inappropriate comments from multiple women while working as a restaurant host. “There was this one lady in a wheelchair who picked up her fork, made eye contact with me, and dropped it on the floor. She said, ‘Do you mind getting that for me?’ So I kind of knelt down, and as I was kneeling down, she said, ‘It’s been a while since I’ve had a pretty young man like you


down on his knees for me,’” Ross said. The harassment Ross has faced has also escalated to a physical level. “There’s a lot of single old ladies who come up and put a hand around my hip [and say things like], ‘Oh, gosh, you have such nice hair, young man.’ They’ll start leaning on the podium and flirting with me and whatnot,” Ross said. Verbal sexual harassment at work will surprise anyone, but when it is so blatant and unexpected it can be particularly jarring. “A lot of times it’s kind of out of the blue and it takes me a second to realize what they were just saying,” Ross said. “It kind of took a second to register that this 80-yearold woman was hitting on me.” When male employees are able to recognize and report the harassment they experience to their superiors, their reports are often not handled the same way as those of female employees. “The reversed dynamic definitely affected how the harassment was received. My manager has noticed it a few times and will tease me about it shortly afterward,” Ross said. “The tolerance for that kind of stuff directed at my female coworkers is noticeably lower.” Unlike reports from male employees, reports from female employees, although not always handled correctly, tend to be taken more seriously by higher-ups and more frequently result in action being taken. “My boss, a female assistant manager, was really nice about [my complaint] and so was my direct boss, who is a man. They were both very supportive and [the harasser] was fired immediately,” lifeguard Victoria said

OCTOBER 2021 | IN-DEPTH | 25

SOUND THE ALARM The effects of sexual harassment can go far beyond the uncomfortable interaction itself. Sexual harassment attacks people’s self-worth and self-esteem. Consequently, mental and physical health can deteriorate. “My attitude when going to work was a lot more pessimistic,” Becky said. “I couldn’t be myself at this pool because people had issues with me [over something] I couldn’t control, and it obviously affected my mental health.” For Christina*, a McLean junior, comments from her male co-workers at a marina were a catalyst for the development of an eating disorder. “I did not want to go to work anymore. I felt sort of disgusted. They critiqued my body, and because of [those comments], I ended up not eating as much as I should have,” Christina said. Verbal sexual harassment, such as comments about a person’s body that are sexual in nature, can cause detrimental effects on a developing teenager’s mental health. These issues can manifest in degrading victims’ self-image and can increase their social anxiety. “For students who are very young, still in their teenage years, it can be quite devastating and have a long-term effect,” school social worker Marly Jerome-Featherson said. Despite the consequences of sexual harassment on the victim and their mental health, at times, management fails to handle reports of harassment in a timely and effective manner. “Everyone’s been [trying to report the sexual harassment] for years,” hardware store employee Tursi said. “I mean, I’m the third generation of cashiers because we have them go in and out every season, and I’m the third generation of cashiers that’s been saying that [the men at my job] are creepy.” Managers have an obligation to recognize that every report should count towards some course of action that would prevent similar things from happening again. “If the manager isn’t taking the complaint seriously, they can go to the next channels and have communication with the President or the CEO of the organization,” JeromeFeatherson said. “They too have a reputation and they certainly don’t want their organization to be labeled as a place where employees are sexually harassed.” When the responsibility to enforce sexual harassment policies is placed in the hands of the victims rather than the

26 | IN-DEPTH | OCTOBER 2021

HB 2155 VIRGINIA HUMAN RIGHTS ACT NONDISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT, SEXUAL AND WORKPLACE HARASSMENT. “... Provides (i) a nonexhaustive list of factors to consider when determining whether certain conduct constitutes workplace harassment, (ii) guidelines for when a court may find an employer liable for workplace harassment, (iii) that a person claiming to be aggrieved by an unlawful discriminatory practice may file a written complaint with the Division of Human Rights within two years of the occurrence of the alleged unlawful discriminatory practice, and (iv) that an aggrieved person who has been provided a notice of his right to file a civil action for such grievance may do so within one year of receiving such notice.”

employers, incidents often go unreported. “It’s rare to be able to find a teen who is so confident and is willing to speak up and risk losing a job or being harassed even more,” Jerome-Featherson said. “My job is to empower students who report these incidents to me and to tell them about the laws and how they are protected under the law, and inform them of the channels through which they can file complaints and make it known, because it’s unacceptable here and everywhere else.” Sexual harassment does not have a one-size-fits-all definition. Some comments may be interpreted as sexual

harassment without this being the intention. “I’ve been guilty of this. I’ve actually at one time said to one of my employees..., ‘Your hair looks good with that [hat] on’ as sort of a boost,” Tuckahoe Recreation Club general manager Rob Castorri said. “It came back to me that I made that comment, so sometimes you just don’t know. It would have been nothing to anyone I would normally say that to. I don’t fault that person, but it wasn’t my intent.” It is evident that times have changed as notions of appropriate behavior in the diversifying workplace have evolved. “What is being [taught] is acceptable and not acceptable to you is a bit different than [what people were taught] 10, 20 or 30 years ago,” Castorri said. In order to combat frequent sexual harassment, businesses, including Tuckahoe, have altered their policies over the years. “I didn’t handle [the last sexual harassment case] as well,” Castorri said. “It is a reaction to an incident from four or five years ago that [led to the policy being] strengthened and upgraded.” Tuckahoe’s current procedure following a harassment report includes a written statement, an interview with those involved and the presence of an attorney to help the process go smoothly. “We want them to know that, ‘Hey, we’re a team and this is a great place to work and a very safe place,’” Castorri said. By putting in stricter regulations and a clear-cut policy to deal with sexual harassment, employees are able to feel much safer at their job. Tuckahoe is somewhat unique in McLean for enforcing such a comprehensive sexual harassment policy, as even businesses with policies often do not implement them as much as they should. “We have a [list] of, ‘These are the things you don’t do,’ so pleading ignorance after reading it is kind of hard to do,” Castorri said. Although some businesses have taken steps to improve



the policies and create stricter regulations regarding sexual harassment, students’ experiences reflect insufficient responses when it comes to taking reports seriously. “The taxing part of the harassment at my work is that the management’s response is a pretty blunt reminder of how little they actually care about the people they employ,” Ross said. Although the mental burden of experiencing sexual harassment can be very damaging to an employee, reporting it can help prevent future incidents. “Know you are worthy of being respected and if you feel unsafe or hurt in any way you need to communicate that to the people doing it,” Christina said. “If that doesn’t stop, talk to management, or whoever’s in charge, because if you just sort of sit by and let this happen, it’s going to happen to somebody else. And then that’s going to hurt more people.”


OCTOBER 2021 | IN-DEPTH | 27


Musical adaptation of classic story will be TheatreMcLean’s first in-person show in two years MAKDA BEKELE & FARAH ELJAZZAR REPORTERS SAEHEE PEREZ CHIEF MARKETING MANAGER


he auditorium has been transformed into a scene from the Massachusetts Civil War era. As the overhead lights dim, TheatreMcLean travels back in time to the 1800s with a musical adaptation of the classic novel Little Women. Following four sisters growing up in Concord, Massachusetts, during the 19th century, Little Women details their coming of age as they find their places in the world. “It’s very family friendly and perfect for everyone to come and see,” said junior Elizabeth Nourse, the play’s assistant director. “It’s going to be very abstract and dreamy with these over-the-top characters and beautiful songs.” The return of live performances is a welcome change from the virtual shows of last school year, but this transition back to normalcy has not come without challenges. “Theater is all about connection, and you can’t connect with people online,” theater teacher and director Phil Reid said. “The

most challenging bit is dusting the cobwebs off since it’s been so long. It’s like riding a bike­­­­­––we’re just getting back into it.”

IT’S GOING TO BE VERY ABSTRACT AND DREAMY WITH THESE OVER-THETOP CHARACTERS AND BEAUTIFUL SONGS.” - ELIZABETH NOURSE ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Despite these minor bumps in the road, TheatreMcLean has established a talented cast of performers. Actors were cast based on how well their personalities matched with the characters of the story. Main female lead Kylee Majkowski equates her character, Jo

marching on — Kirsten Knight as Meg, Kiera Murphy as Beth, Franny Hemsley

as Amy, Kirsten Tierney as Marmee and Kylee Majkowski as Jo run through Lewinsville Park during their Little Women publicity photoshoot on Oct. 14. 28 | A&E | OCTOBER 2021

March’s, disposition to her own. “Jo is a very ambitious, passionate girl. She’s not a pushover for anybody, and that’s definitely something I can relate to,” Majkowski said. Sophomore Nathan Bass, who earned the lead male role of Laurie in a main cast dominated by upperclassmen, is proving himself to be one of the production’s biggest assets. “It’s a lot of fun being able to work with people that are [a couple] grades above me,” Bass said. “I’m super happy and lucky to have gotten this position.” Luck is not the only factor that contributed to his casting. Bass has participated in theater since kindergarten and has developed quite an impressive skillset. “He was cast because he was best for the role,” Reid said. “I really don’t believe in seniority—if you’re good, you’re good.” To perfect their portrayal of the characters, the actors began rehearsing in mid-September, returning to a sense of preCOVID normalcy. “We worked with what we could online, but I think everyone’s just excited to do what they thought they signed up for when they chose theater,” Majkowski said. For Bass, his first in-person rehearsals have been very rewarding. “It’s a time to develop what I’m doing for the actual musical,” Bass said. “But there’s a balance between the work and fun that really helps it to be an environment that the other actors and I want to participate in.” The cast and crew’s hard work will pay off Nov. 18 when the show opens at the McLean auditorium. “It’s our first big show that we’ve done in a long time,” Nourse said. “It’s going to be fun.” After Little Women closes on Nov. 21, TheatreMcLean will get right to work on its next performances. “We still have two other shows this year that we are also looking forward to,” Nourse said. “We welcome everyone who is interested [in the TheatreMcLean community], and we have tons of shows and activities planned for this whole year.”


Photo by Morgan Muntean | Page design by Hanna Boughanem






wear masks to protect themselves and others


“For me, cloth masks are just a lot more comfortable than the wire ones,” senior Yanni Aknine said. “The surgical masks are always uncomfortable and feel like they’re not [protective] enough. Cloth masks make me feel more secure.”

wear masks because they are required

“I lived about five years in Hawaii, and my mask was made by a Hawaiian company,” school health aide Julie Gamboa said. “[The company] was struggling during COVID so they started making masks. I decided to support them by buying their masks.”


Wear masks for other reasons

N94 + N95 MASKS: 18%




















Wash your face and don’t mess with your mask. YES







Exfoliate a couple times a week. Use pimple patches and spot treatment when needed. YES

“I chose this mask so I can dispose it after [using it],” senior Tieran Holmes said. “I have multiple ones, so if I lose [a mask], I have extras I can use, whereas if I bought a cloth [mask], I’d always have to keep track of it [and keep] washing it, which is annoying.”

“My mom gave me this [KN95] mask,” sophomore Yejoon Yoo said. “I think it definitely provides more protection compared to other masks. [I wear it because] I don’t want to get COVID, and I don’t want to get others sick.”



46% Yes










Use GENTLE SKINCARE products such as cleanser and moisturizer. YES











54% No

Graphics & page design by Ariana Elahi | All data obtained through a poll of 56 McLean students




Drink at least four to six glasses of water each day. YES








Ask a dermatologist for advice that’s tailored to your skin type.




applying aloe vera can help soothe irritated skin. OCTOBER 2021 | A&E | 29


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Improper mask-wearing has become all too common at McLean The staff editorial represents the opinion of the majority of The Highlander’s editorial board


n the midst of a pandemic, certain precautionary practices have become commonplace—a natural part of our daily routine. By this point, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that face coverings must be worn over the nose and mouth to be effective. In fact, proper mask-wearing should now be second nature. A year and a half into the pandemic, however, certain students are still struggling with this basic fact. Their actions are not only disrespectful, but incredibly selfish, and these students must be held responsible for their failure to consider the health and wellbeing of others. “I feel uncomfortable [when people wear their masks incorrectly],” senior Avery Barnett said. “It makes me feel like the school is a less safe environment.” The fact that students feel unsafe in their own school is highly concerning, and actions should be taken to address this threat to their welfare. Students who regularly abide by the rules feel neglected and frustrated, even with a strict mask policy in place. Most Highlanders agree that the current mask policy is more than appropriate. The CDC has long maintained that masks are the best way to mitigate the spread of COVID, and while they may not be the most comfortable, they are a necessary and useful tool in the pandemic era. Ultimately, safety should take precedence over comfort. But after months of donning these face coverings, we should be used to them; maskwearing should no longer be a burden. “It just feels like you’re wearing clothes,” senior Mehr Kumar said. “If you wear the right mask and pick [ones] that feel more comfortable, [you can’t] feel them.” It seems so straightforward and easy to understand, yet so many students remain unwilling to wear these simple pieces of fabric correctly. “A lot of people wear [their masks] underneath their nose, which defeats the whole purpose of it,” Kumar said. “And I

always see people take it off while walking in the hallways and talking to friends.” It is no secret that the hallways of McLean High School are a dangerous place right now. With students practically breathing down each other’s necks, proper mask-wearing is essential. Even in the classroom, where up to 30 students are in close proximity for hours at a time, those who wear their masks incorrectly pose a serious safety threat.

IT’S DECORUM AT THIS POINT TO WEAR YOUR MASK PROPERLY. IT’S JUST EXPECTED IN HIGH SCHOOL.” - MEHR KUMAR SENIOR “So far, [we have] not had [many] cases here at McLean. But that uncertainty is [still] disconcerting,” social studies teacher Karen McNamara said. “It’d be a little more reassuring if everybody was wearing their masks all the time.” The issue extends past the McLean community. Countless students and teachers have concerns for their families and friends. The science is there—improper maskwearing leads to higher rates of COVID transmission and, ultimately, more deaths. “My fiance’s grandmother is 103, so if I get sick and give it to her, that would just be the worst thing I could possibly do,” McNamara said. Even though she has shared this with all of her classes, McNamara still finds herself having to constantly remind certain students to wear their masks correctly. “I don’t think they realize that this could actually cause harm to somebody,” McNamara said. “I’m choosing to believe that it’s not my students disrespecting me. It’s just that they don’t like the policy.” But endangering those around you by consistently ignoring your teacher’s requests is, objectively, inconsiderate. It isn’t difficult

Reporting & page design by Hanna Boughanem | Cartoon by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

to pull a mask over your nose and mouth while at school, especially when people are making an effort to remind you. “It’s just like any other rule in the school that you follow,” Kumar said. “It’s decorum at this point to wear your mask properly. It’s just expected in high school.” Currently, there are some measures in place to help address the mask issue, especially for those students who consistently refuse to wear it properly. “Teachers can [submit] a referral, and then administrators will talk to the students and encourage them to wear their masks,” McNamara said. While this approach is better than nothing, it isn’t nearly as effective as it should be. Hundreds of students still walk around with chin straps for masks every day. Given the circumstances, teachers and administrators should rule with an iron fist. The health and safety of students and their families should not be taken lightly, and the school owes it to those students who have consistently taken the necessary precautions to enforce proper mask-wearing. “By not wearing your mask, you’re not only negatively affecting yourself, but also the people around you,” Kumar said. “You have to think about others—not just yourself.”


THE REAL COST OF FCPS EDUCATION: STUDENT LIVES FCPS should provide virtual options for elementary-aged students TARA PANDEY REPORTER


s the most recent wave of COVID-19 is appearing to subside, the rise of cases in elementary school children serves as a reminder that this uphill battle is long from over. According to The American Academy of Pediatrics, children made up 22.4% of reported COVID cases during FCPS’s first week back at school and represented 14.8% of cumulated cases since the beginning of the pandemic. These new student cases only heighten parents’ fears in making the impossible decision of sending their children to school. As of Oct. 14, 1,078 FCPS students self-reported testing positive for COVID, 727 of which were elementary school students, meaning they comprise about 67% of these self-reported cases. Because they are currently unable to get vaccinated, elementary students are at very high risk.


Yet, even with this available information, FCPS is not currently offering a virtual schooling option for the majority of its students. The lack of such an option is unethical and should be reconsidered. The rise in children being infected has sparked fear and outrage amongst Fairfax and Loudoun County parents. Notably, on Aug. 30, mobs of concerned parents gathered outside McNair Elementary School in Herndon, staging a silent protest. Parents are understandably worried; the data reflects that sending their children back to the school building was a mistake. 32 | OPINIONS | OCTOBER 2021

Even with the online accommodations FCPS has made for immunocompromised students, not everyone is accounted for. Only a small group of students qualify for virtual learning. Their eligibility is determined by whether or not they have a document that states they have a medical need related to COVID. Those who are medically prone to getting more severe cases of COVID yet do not satisfy the requirements are overlooked. With rising concern because of the Delta variant, many parents were not in favor of sending their students back to school. As cases rose over the summer and mask mandates were put back into place, they feared what going back to school fully in person meant for their children. This has especially increased anxiety levels among lower income families. Because Fairfax County is so wealthy, the silent minority of those in poverty are often overlooked. Often these parents cannot afford basic healthcare for their child, let alone the overwhelming amount of money it would take to cover COVID costs. Additionally, lower income parents are less likely to be able to take time off of work to take care of their sick children. There are a multitude of other reasons why parents may opt their children out of in-person learning. “I think that [virtual learning] can give flexibility. If someone is sick or something like that, it’s very easy for them to just tune in and out,” said Stacy Wei, a first grade teacher at Chesterbrook Elementary School. Although Wei is a teacher, as a mother of children under 12 herself, she has a multifaceted perspective on in-person learning. “One of my kids [is] now in seventh grade, but she didn’t want to go back at first either...there’s some sort of social pressure being back in school,” Wei said.

Even at the high school level, the possibility of transmitting COVID is inevitable. The contact tracing methods employed by the county fall short, as they fail to consider packed hallways and lunch periods, during which students go maskless. “We say, ‘Have two [hallway] tiles between the person in front of you and behind you’, but they are kids, so that doesn’t always happen,” said Nellie Williams, a sixth grade teacher at Haycock Elementary School. Especially with younger children who do not fully grasp the concept of the protective nature of masks, there is a difficulty with keeping masks on. “I see younger kids sucking [on] their mask,” Williams said. FCPS has high educational prestige, which is what draws parents to the county. Without a virtual option, this level of education is inaccessible to many students. FCPS has made clear that they are offering public education at a high price: the price of their students’ safety.

Comic by Liz Nedelescu | Page design by Taylor Olson


New platform intended to solve issues causes more headaches

n the glittery, implemented. As a mundane world of result, users report AKASH BALENALLI WEBSITE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF 21st century online having to repeatedly GHADA MOUSSA REPORTER learning, there is no sign in to their school piece of software so ubiquitously despised to get to a certain point, it’s really annoying.” Google accounts just to access class materials. and mind-numbingly terrible as Schoology. To make the experience more infuriating, The Android and iOS apps also have issues FCPS switched to the platform this school McLean’s administration asked teachers with Google integration, rendering them year, but Google Classroom was better in to organize content into weeks instead of useless to some users. pretty much every way. units, making it harder to find materials in an “It is great that Google integrates with A few years ago, FCPS formed a already confusing layout. Schoology, but there are all these weird error commission of students, teachers and The platform is reminiscent of a 2009 messages that can occur,” school-based administrators to investigate online learning Facebook product. Web technology shifted technology specialist Ashley Lowry said. platforms. They found multiple issues: some away from the tiny buttons and endless “If that integration was better, I think that teachers used Blackboard while others used buffering that plague the entire platform, nobody would mind Schoology.” Google Classroom, parents couldn’t access leaving it years behind Classroom. Google Classroom was developed inClassroom and every teacher’s page was house, so it works cohesively with the different. Replacing Google Classroom company’s other applications. There’s no and Blackboard with Schoology was their need to attach accounts and open new solution. windows—everything just works. On paper, the decision was perfect. The most unusual circumstance in the Parents could see their children’s assignments, move to Schoology is the fact users can still something Classroom did not permit; clubs technically access Google Classroom; it’s could form “groups” that didn’t clutter the included in the suite that includes Docs and same space as main classes; and it worked other Google software products. Why make with Google’s education programs like Drive the change, then, if it already comes with the and Docs, which still form the majority of most-used products and integrates perfectly what students use. with them? - PHIL REID Although Schoology solved these In a learning environment with less techTHEATER TEACHER problems, it ultimately caused more issues. savvy teachers, hundreds of computers It is not well organized for students to find simultaneously overloading a strained and submit assignments. Its file structure In a general benchmark, Google network and low-end laptops struggling to is similar to a Russian nesting doll, with Classroom webpages loaded in an average of process webpages, simplicity and efficiency never-ending folders that are impossible to 2.05 seconds, while similar Schoology pages are vital. navigate. took an average of 3.65 seconds. Schoology FCPS still has a chance to switch to a “I don’t put in a lot of assignments, but is nearly 50% slower than Classroom, a better platform in future years. For now, when I do, Schoology can be a little bit tricky,” difference that wastes precious class time. students and teachers will need to deal theater teacher Phil Reid said. “Because you Though Schoology does integrate with with their nightmarish, outdated, 2000s-era have to click so many times with Schoology Google’s education products, it is poorly learning platform.


Graphics by Akash Balenalli | Page design by Taylor Olson


CURRENT CONTACT TRACING IS INEFFECTIVE Fairfax County’s system isn’t enough to keep people safe OMAR KAYALI REPORTER


he return to in-person learning brought many changes to FCPS’s policies, all aimed at keeping students safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the most important regulations in practice this year is contact tracing, which included requiring seating charts for each class. However, the lack of transparency and depth with which the county is carrying out this process is dangerous and poses a serious risk to students and teachers. Contact tracing at McLean occurs only if a COVID-19 case in a class is self-reported. Once word has spread, students within that class are notified. However, students move around the building so much throughout the day that, paired with the school’s overpopulation, COVID cases may not be related to a student’s tablemate at all. Especially in classes where moving around is necessary, it is often

unclear what the source of coronavirus cases are. “We start in our seating chart, but it doesn’t stay that way for long,” yearbook adviser Meghan Percival said. “It would be impossible for us to do our job sitting in our classroom, in one desk, for the whole period.” Journalism is similar in that sense. As a staff, we cannot do our work properly without moving around, talking to editors and designers, conducting interviews and collaborating with each other. The amount of social interaction required is too much for such loose contact tracing guidelines to keep up and be effective. Some classrooms have QR codes on their tables, intended to be used for contact tracing in that room. While the idea is nice, both staff and students completely disregard the codes, not using them whatsoever throughout the day. Extracurriculars also add to the risk since sporting events and clubs do not require any form of contact tracing. With masks not being worn by most students at sporting events, tracing COVID cases simply by asking people who they were around is incredibly dangerous and unreliable. While athletes will be required to be vaccinated starting next month, this is not enough. There is no vaccine requirment for the general student body, so the school will always be at risk. This further emphasizes the importance of effective contact tracing at large gatherings, particularly extracurriculars.



Most clubs do keep track of their attendance during meetings, but there are no policies in place to actually trace potential COVID-19 cases. Just knowing who was there does nothing to help trace the source of a case if further action is not taken. Unless club sponsors independently keep track of the students, it would be virtually impossible to know where a case originated from. As long as any COVID-19 risk is present at McLean, effective contact tracing will be necessary. In-person learning’s safety depends on being able to reliably and efficiently track the spread of COVID, so having such ineffective policies puts everyone at great risk. Considering the amount of time before the the school year for effective contact tracing to be set up, the lackluster exuse for tracking we have now is disappointing. Given how important contact tracing is to keeping in-person learning safe and running, improvements need to be made. Changes such as special requirements for classes which demand students to move around a lot, tracking Highlander Time movement, staggering class release times to limit hallway crowding and beginning to track sporting events and club meetings are necessary steps to improve the effectiveness of McLean’s preventative measures. If the school hopes to safely continue in-person learning through the year, they must improve their contact tracing policies. 34 | OPINIONS | OCTOBER 2021

Comic by Liz Nedelescu | Page design by Omar Kayali

SKIRTS IN SPORTS NEED TO GO Field hockey and lacrosse skirts make gameplay difficult



isions of field hockey players pulling down their spandex is a common occurrence on the McLean turf field. Uniforms, specifically skirts, have always been a huge point of contention within women’s teams. Girls’ uniforms in sports like field hockey and lacrosse cause players discomfort and restrict their play.


the field adjusting the straps of my jersey or the length of my skirt,” senior lacrosse player Maggie Malone said. “The spandex I have to wear just to cover myself are constantly riding up, making running uncomfortable.” Another issue with the field hockey and lacrosse uniforms is the lack of consistency. “It’s interesting [that] we only practice in shorts and play in skirts, which could be annoying because we never practice in those,” said Emily Geary, the new girls varsity lacrosse coach. In addition to being uncomfortable and inconsistent, the skirts do not suit many body types. They are the same length all the way around, and on larger players they tend to be tight. With a uniform that does not fit

athletes’ body shape or size, running and any sort of competitive play is exponentially more difficult. The skirts come in small, medium and large, but they are often smaller than what the label says. Women who usually wear a size medium in clothes squeeze into a large. Where does that leave players who need even bigger clothing sizes? Smaller players often have to roll the elastic of the skirt because they do not fit their waists. The skirts will start to slip down in the middle of games, which can cause players to miss catching, passing or shooting a ball. “There is absolutely no need for girls to wear skirts when the boys lacrosse teams wear shorts and play just the same,” Malone said. Many female players agree with Malone, as they find the difference in the uniforms sexist. “I play both lacrosse and field hockey,” junior Sabrina Berry said. “The skirts have gotten in the way of my gameplay, and I think I would be more confident on the field wearing shorts.” Shorts in women’s sports may increase a player’s ability to win more games by reducing discomfort and increasing concentration during games. If the McLean field hockey and girls lacrosse teams value their players, as well as their teams’ chances at success, they should switch their uniforms from skirts to shorts.

Preferred Uniforms

for girls Lacrosse AND Field Hockey Games*

A welcomed alternative would be switching from the tight skirts to shorts. “I do not like the skirts. They are uncomfortable and I have to wear spandex under them,” freshman lacrosse player Hannah Boyle said. “I think these uniforms should be changed so sports can be more enjoyable and women can be more comfortable playing.” Many players find themselves constantly having to pull down their spandex to cover themselves rather than focusing on their games. “I spend a large portion of my time on

Infographic by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell | Page design by Taylor Olson

*in a poll of 18 players




It doesn’t matter





New football field, basketball court and the return of tennis courts ignite new year for McLean athletics SCOTT SHIELDS SPORTS EDITOR | TANNER COERR COPY EDITOR


fter years of dutiful service to McLean athletes, many of the athletic facilities on campus were renovated and restored over the summer in preparation for the fall athletic season. Indoors, the lower gym was refurbished by way of a new hardwood court bursting with McLean’s red and silver color scheme. McLean’s volleyball squads were the first to reap the benefits, going undefeated when playing on the revamped court. On top of that, the tennis program was overjoyed to learn they would no longer have to travel to Jefferson District Park to practice, as the trailers which occupied the tennis courts during the spring of 2021 were removed in favor of nets and tennis ball racks. The most notable change, however, was the football field, which was given a fresh look as new turf was put in. “Every [FCPS] school that has a turf field is on a schedule for about every 10 years to get new turf,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. “And a lot of that is just due to safety. The more that the turf gets played on, [the more] it gets matted down, and it becomes harder and harder as those pellets start to leave.”

BOUNCING BACK — The tennis courts

have returned to action after the removal of the trailers. This will be the tennis team’s first season on the courts in two years. 36 | SPORTS | OCTOBER 2021

The design of the new field stayed true to the design which preceded it, with some slight changes. “I liked the alternating kinds of greens every five yard lines—we’re really the only FCPS school who has that, so I didn’t want to make a lot of changes,” Miller said. “[But] we did change [some things]. Before, the end zones were just green with red lettering, [so] we changed those to just the red end zones. We also added a coaching box that is red just to make the field pop a little more.” The field has been well received by student athletes who have practiced and played games on the new turf during the fall season. “The old field was nice, but [the new field] was a much-needed upgrade,” senior wide receiver Nicholas Halteh said. The basketball court had wear and tear issues similar to those which plagued the football field, leading to renovations that changed the design of the court much more than the design of the football field. “I wanted a red that was more of our school’s color,” Miller said. “And then the ‘Highlanders’ written in cursive was changed to bold.” Many student athletes shared Miller’s sentiments, agreeing that the design changes were needed. “I also feel the colors represent our school a lot better, since before our court was painted in a maroon red rather than a bright red like it is now,” said junior Jessica Lin, defensive specialist for the varsity volleyball team. In the 2020-21 school year, the tennis courts became an extension of classrooms in the school, as several trailers were added within the fenced off area. The additions came with a cost. “When they told us that the trailers were going on the tennis courts, we were told that it was going to basically ruin our tennis

TIPPING OFF — The new basketball

court arrived just in time for volleyball season. The basketball team will get to test the new hardwood in a couple weeks.


football field captures the Highlander spirit. The alternating greens every five yards are a feature unique to McLean. courts,” Miller said, “so I [requested] that when they took [the trailers] off, they would redo the tennis courts.” The gym floor and the tennis courts were paid for by the county, whereas the football field was funded through a combination of FCPS support and McLean’s athletic boosters. “The boosters would put up $15,000 a year to help pay for when we needed to get new turf,” Miller said. “New turf costs about $500,000, if not more, and over nine to 10 years [the boosters club contributed] around $150,000, and Fairfax County paid for the difference.” While the basketball court and football field were the first facilities to be redone, they will likely not be the last to experience restorations in the coming years. The baseball and softball fields received new grass for their fields, and it is likely that future renovations are in the works. “The new facilities will make the spring season even more exciting,” said junior Maisie McGowan, a varsity tennis player. “They will definitely add to the brand new feel of sports at McLean.”

Photos by Scott Shields & Morgan Muntean | Page design by Scott Shields & Taylor Olson



he gym rumbles as a chaotic symphony of squeaks, yelling, and boos on the volleyball court become a harmonious mob of cheers as McLean’s Nicole Mallus demolishes the ball onto Langley’s side for the win. McVolleyball is back. As this fall’s regular season nears an end, McLean’s varsity volleyball team is having a spectacular season. With an 18-1 record as of Oct. 20, the team has been wreaking havoc on the Liberty District. With their only loss being against Langley, they ended up getting sweet revenge with a 3-0 sweep against the Saxons at home—a feat so great that even major news outlets reported on it. “As mentioned in The Washington Post,

this was the first time in 20 years that our McLean varsity volleyball program has beat Langley. I was so proud of our team for this win, especially since our only loss of the season so far was against Langley from our earlier game,” sophomore varsity player Caitlyn Lee said. In addition to breaking their losing streak against the Saxons, the win was also symbolic of the effort put forth as a team throughout the season. The adversity they faced after their loss to Langley earlier in the season only helped to fuel their fire and overcome their weaknesses. “Our greatest weakness was our mental game,” Stewart said. “One of my main goals in the three years as the freshman team coach was to endow my players with the mindset that they aren’t just going out to compete and hope for the best.” While the team has worked on developing this competitive mindset and a winning culture at McLean, a surge of energy has come back to the program. The fans have been put on notice. “By having a high level of energy during our games, we are able to gain momentum while playing,” Lee said. “We also have intense energy from our fans that support us during Celebration time — During the intense Langley-McLean games, which provides with more game on Oct. 5, freshman middle spiker Alexa Sribar us and senior setter Ella Park celebrate after scoring a motivation.” Along with the boost in point. McLean swept Langley in three sets. energy, the team’s familiarity

Photo courtesy of Kent Arnold | Page design by Taylor Olson

with one another has only accelerated their success. “Of our roster of 17, 14 of them were on the previous varsity squad. This [has led] to a trust in one another, belief in themselves on the court and better experience against stronger opponents,” Stewart said. As the team approaches district playoffs, they all have their sights set on one thing: winning. “I want to make it to at least regionals this year. Based on our record so far, I think it’s definitely an achievable goal,” said junior Zaylie Tamashiro, a varsity outside hitter. Regardless of whether or not the team makes it far in the playoffs, it has been a historic and memorable season, reflective of their stellar performance and teamwork.

THE TEAM FUNCTIONS LIKE A WELL-OILED MACHINE IN PRACTICES, SWITCHING BETWEEN ALL OF US CHATTING ABOUT OUR DAYS INTO HARD-HITTING GAME PLAY WITHOUT BLINKING.” - SAMANTHA STEWART VOLLEYBALL HEAD COACH “The thing that makes me passionate about volleyball is definitely getting the opportunity to play with a team of loving and supportive people,” Lee said. “It’s also always so exhilarating to witness our hard work in practice paying off when we successfully execute plays during games.” Stewart likewise sees how well the team works together while preparing for their games. “The team functions like a well-oiled machine in practices, switching between all of us chatting about our days into hardhitting game play without blinking,” Stewart said. Through their electric play, McVolleyball has revived the sensational sporting environment that makes McLean students proud to be Highlanders. “The air felt different during tryouts with this squad,” Stewart said. “We all knew that we had something special.” OCTOBER 2021 | SPORTS | 37


Rising tennis star withdraws from McLean to focus on her sport SANDRA CHENG, MADELYN FREDERICK & MADIE TURLEY REPORTERS


or sophomore Tatum Evans, there was only one thing on her mind as she walked into her first day of school. Feeling overwhelmed, she went straight to Student Service to fill out a form, withdrawing from school. “As soon as I walked into school I just knew I couldn’t do it. I just kind of felt like there was somewhere else I needed to be,” Evans said.

Just a few weeks earlier, Evans qualified for the U.S. Open Juniors, the biggest tournament of her career. While she was finding success on the tennis court, academic pressures pushed her over the edge. Evans knew she had to choose: school or sports. Evans’s path to success started at an early age. She started playing tennis at 8 years old, which is relatively late compared to most professional players. Since then, she has taken her career to new levels, furthering her skills at IMG Academy, a globally recognized sports institution. Evans spent a few months training at IMG Academy before deciding it wasn’t the right fit, abandoning her full ride scholarship. For Evans, tennis has always come first. “I realized that I wasn’t

improving at the rate I wanted,” Evans said. “I was interested in receiving more specialized training.” This decision is what prompted her to move to The Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. Although she had landed where she wanted to be, she had to come to terms with the intense off-court balance at an academically driven institution. “Potomac was just too stressful,” Evans said. “I would come home after practice with four hours of work. It just wasn’t flexible when I needed to travel for long periods of time for tournaments.” Nevertheless, she began dominating more competitions and started to realize that she had a shot at going pro. She worked with her new coach at 4-Star Academy, Bear Schofield, to create a training schedule to bring her closer to the elite level. “We’re looking at the next steps of getting her fitter, getting her stronger and getting her to hit balls a certain way,” Schofield said. Driven to make the pros, the pair worked on tailoring practices to her play style. Being an aggressive player, they found drills focusing on improving speed and reaction time. At the same time, Evans worked to boost her national rank. “An intense day would be getting up at 5 a.m. to go to practice from 6-8 a.m.,” Evans said. “Then I would go to the track from 9-10:30 a.m. and have more training from 1-4 p.m. I usually hit with 18-24-year-olds to have more intense training at my level.” Her training started to pay off when she began qualifying for international matches and competing in prestigious matches such as the Orange Bowl and Easter Bowl. Her career only grew from there. Evans went on to win first place at the USTA National Hard Court Championships. During the match, Evans initially thought that she was done. Down 5-2 in the finals, she bounced back with fire. “I was so proud of myself for fighting. There’s a lot of times [when] you just don’t

believe you can win anymore but I kind of just stuck [with it],” Evans said. This victory not only came with glory but also a golden ticket: an invitation to her biggest match yet, the U.S. Open Juniors. “All my hard work finally paid off. The other girl had five match points, and so I honestly [thought I was] going to lose, but I was able to come back, and it felt so good to pull that out. I couldn’t even tell you how amazing it felt,” Evans said. “This is everything I worked for. I gave it my all and it was just a dream come true.” Now at McLean High School and approaching her sophomore year, she was met with the same dilemma of balancing her on-court and off-court commitments. “I just couldn’t stop myself from thinking about how I should be preparing for my upcoming tournament and that every minute I spent in school was time that I needed to spend training,” Evans said. “I just knew that tennis had to be my number one priority.” After spending time in San Diego for a tennis tournament that cost her the first three days of school, Evans walked into her first day of sophomore year at McLean knowing that the following week she would be off to compete at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in New York City for the Open. “It’s hard because I’ve had a lot of people, especially my parents and coaches, tell me that school isn’t really a priority,” Evans said. “I started looking at school as something that was optional.” As a result, Evans worked with her counselor to fill out a withdrawal form with the hopes of continuing her academics through an online program that would allow more flexibility as she prepared for the upcoming tournament. “The U.S. Open was really my only focus. It was all I could think about,” Evans said. Despite her laser focus, Evans lost both her singles and doubles matches within the first two days of the tournament. Yet again,

Page design by Taylor Olson | Photos courtesy of David Kenas

she was at a roadblock. “I put everything I have into this sport and when I don’t get the results I want, I fall apart [and] I don’t know what to do,” Evans said. The effects of rigorous training and prioritizing tennis caused her to neglect other important aspects of her life, such as her mental health and well-being. Her passion for tennis put her in a box. “I went on the court and I quit. I started bawling my eyes out. It’s hard because you’re fighting against yourself to keep going, and it’s not healthy,” Evans said. After prioritizing tennis for so long, Evans felt that she finally needed a break from the sport. She decided to travel to Texas and visit her grandparents, giving her time to reflect. “I need to get away from [tennis] sometimes,” Evans said. “I felt so burnt out. It was literally eating me alive.” This wasn’t the only time Evans seemingly had nowhere to go. “It’s so hard for my mental health to see people on social media doing normal things,”

Evans said. “I’d be in the middle of nowhere in Paraguay, sitting in a hotel room by myself. I want to socialize [sometimes]. I want to be normal.”


For Evans, this was a recurring theme. Training so hard her entire life, she often felt isolated from a typical teenage life.

“I feel like it’s very selfish of me [to want normalcy] because my parents and my coach put everything into getting me to the level I’m at and to the level I want to be at,” Evans said. Although Evans is often hard on herself, her devotion to tennis is undeniable to everyone she knows. “I admire her dedication,” said sophomore student athlete Manoli Karageorgeos, a close friend of Evans. “It’s obvious to anyone that she gives the sport her all.” Evans’ coach sees her drive to continue improving herself. “Tatum’s doing it because she wants it. She’s made the commitment. She has the desire. She deserves all the credit there,” Schofield said. Evans has high hopes for her future tennis career, with big dreams to play among the best athletes in major tournaments such as Wimbledon. “She can do it all. College, beyond that, it’s up to her,” Schlofield said. “She has a very bright future.”

steady sportsmanship — Tatum Evans shakes hands with her opponent after a tough match at the Easter Bowl finals. Evans withdrew from McLean High School in August, at the beginning of her sophomore year, to pursue her tennis career. OCTOBER 2021 | SPORTS | 39



t’s 7:30—wake up. You’ve got a long day ahead of you: school, practice, work, studying. Do you have time for all that? Who knows, that’s a future you problem. At this point, it’s a routine. Deal with it. “Man up.” If you play sports, you’ve heard these words or some variation of them at least once. You can’t forget: not too long ago the words ‘mental health’ were foreign to the sports community. Today, they’re at the forefront. It’s been a couple months since gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the 2020 Olympic games for mental health reasons, and Americans are still split because of her decision. With certain viewers contending that she let her country down and others claiming her mental health is of higher importance, the debate has been heated. Since then, other athletes have begun to follow suit, sharing their battles with mental health related problems. With the likes of Naomi Osaka and Michael Phelps sharing their mental health stories, one thing is certain: the world has been put on notice. While it may come as a surprise to the media, the subject of mental health crises in sports is not new to athletes. Many people aspire to play sports at a high level without knowing the true nature of what it takes. What is seen on television is not always an accurate reflection of the lifestyle. This is not to say that the problem is exclusive to professional athletes. Across the world, athletes at every level struggle with mental health. At McLean, athletes often have to deal with practices that are several hours long immediately after a seven-hour school day. This complex time budgeting can push students over the edge, especially considering that Fairfax County is one of the most competitive school districts in the country.

40 | SPORTS | OCTOBER 2021

“The most common misconception [people have about athletes] is that they have everything all figured out,” school psychologist Carol Ann Forrest said. While game winning touchdowns, hat tricks in playoff games and amazing saves on seemingly unstoppable shots are all exciting moments full of ecstasy, viewers often never know the dedication that goes into reaching such high skill levels. And while this dedication is admirable, it often comes at the expense of academic and social successes— an extremely unhealthy lifestyle.


“What’s important is that there needs to be a balance,” Forrest said. “Each individual student should learn to have a balance of academic responsibilities as well as an opportunity to develop other aspects of who they are.” With most McLean sports practices being held every day of the week, the consistency and intensity of these schedules prevent students from achieving this balance in their lives. Swimmers have it especially difficult. Practices often take place several hours before school starts, leaving swimmers

exhausted before they even start the school day. This sort of scheduling leads to unnatural sleep schedules, which can have huge repercussions for the athletes. “Throughout middle school and freshman year, I was a pretty competitive swimmer, swimming six times a week in morning practices and getting up at 3:55 a.m. every day,” senior Atticus Gore said. “[While following this schedule] I was simultaneously having mental health issues. Because of this, I ultimately had to stop swimming [that intensely].” The mental and physical aspects of sports are undeniably intertwined. Like Gore, who struggled to meet strict schedule expectations, other swimmers have felt the adverse effects of the resulting lack of sleep. “I have 100% seen my friends and fellow swimmers go down the wrong path or suffer mentally because of swimming. If you’re not fully committed you can burn out really fast. It’s sad to see my friends fall off the way they do,” senior varsity swimmer Ryan Sribar said. “Ever since I’ve been doing morning swimming, sleep has been a problem for me. I’m constantly tired and feel like I need to take naps in class. It’s apparent in every aspect of my life.” It’s easy to shrug off some of the ramifications of a lack of sleep. Taking a nap at school or experiencing fatigue can seem like negligible problems. Who hasn’t had to stay up late to study for a test once or twice? However, a consistent lack of sleep can lead to serious problems. “One night I went to bed late doing homework and had to wake up early for practice,” Sribar said. “After school and being tired all day, I was driving home from school and fell asleep behind the wheel, crashing and totaling my car.” Luckily, Sribar was not injured. But with

Page design by Taylor Olson | Graphic by Jane Ogilvie-Russell

in a poll of 113 McLean student athletes:


said they have felt overstressed because of their sport

28.3% said they have

struggled with food intake due to an injury


reported having experienced extreme anxiety due to their sport

they have had suicidal 17.7% said thoughts because of their sport

the unrelenting schedule of swim practices and meets showing no signs of changing, it is very possible that an accident like the one Sribar was involved in could repeat itself with even graver consequences. Sports injuries are some of the main catalysts for such problems. Especially in contact sports where getting hurt is commonplace, a season-ending injury could be detrimental to already vulnerable mental health. Particularly prevalent in football, one of the most violent sports with constant collisions, injuries are a huge threat. The toxic “man up” mindset in football pushes athletes back into the game before they are fully recovered, which can lead to worse injuries in the future. Junior linebacker Mateo Short, for example, suffered from bone issues in his shin during his sophomore football season but felt that he had to play through the pain. “My run started looking weird because I couldn’t put a lot of pressure on the balls of my feet. It hurt so much,” Short said. “[Despite the pain,] I just played through it. I kept running on my tibias and stressing them out even more.” After the season, Short’s X-rays showed that his tibias were on the brink of breaking from the excessive workload. Another mental aspect of sports which has real-world consequences is athletes’ body image. Athletes must constantly be striving for peak performance, even if it means pushing their bodies past their limits. Considering the world of sports is one which demands certain physical standards at the expense of all else, athletes can form eating disorders easily. “I do a sport where I stare in the mirror for hours on end,” an anonymous Highlander said. “I have definitely struggled with my food intake and the mental health effects [as a result].” As a result of this pursuit of a certain body type, athletes often struggle to eat the correct amount due to a mental block formed by injury. A study by Margot Putukian for the NCAA found a direct link between injuries and eating disorders. “During my injury in sophomore year, I couldn’t eat at first,” a second anonymous source said. “It made me upset that the

injury ended my season and later led me to eat a lot.” While McLean offers a variety of resources to students suffering from issues like depression or anxiety, students needing help regarding eating disorders or other body image problems are referred to external resources for help. “I agree that [eating disorders] are issues,” Forrest said. “However, they are not the responsibility of the school.” Because of this, having a strong support system may be the most helpful option for students struggling with these specific issues. “My swim coach was probably one of the most supportive and helpful people that I’ve had in my life,” Gore said. “He pushed me to get the help that I need. It was really important to him that I knew it was okay to [not be okay].”


Slowly but surely, mental health issues surrounding athletes are becoming less stigmatized. Coaches and administrators are encouraging student athletes to take time off and receive proper help for their mental health. The general awareness of these issues is trending upwards, but there is still a long way to go before mental health and physical health are treated on the same level. “I think the most important thing is to take time for yourself and be cognizant of what you’re doing to yourself,” Gore said. “Sometimes I feel like there’s wasted potential, but at the end of the day, I’m so much happier.”

OCTOBER 2021 | SPORTS | 41

McFOOTBALL GOING THROUGH DOWN YEAR Highlanders hold 1-6 record as end of season nears TANNER COERR ONLINE SPORTS EDITOR


ver the summer of 2021, McLean football became an entirely new team. Varsity staples like quarterback Bijan Soltani, offensive lineman Nicky Varela and running back Ryan Jessar graduated, leaving the squad with only two returning starters. “It’s a chance to go back to the drawing board and put the right players in the right spots,” McLean football staff member Matt Kelly said. “[We want to] keep things simple and make the transition period as graceful as possible.” McLean’s first win came in week three after 30-0 and 46-14 losses to West Potomac and Marshall, respectively. They beat the Thomas Edison Eagles in a nail-biter, winning 16-13 by way of a last-minute touchdown from wide receiver Nicholas Halteh. Anyone who has attended a varsity game this season knows who Halteh is. “Hey-Hey” Halteh has been the most electric player on the team, routinely breaking off long plays on receptions and returns. His ability to turn a lost play into a huge gain has made him a focal point of the Highlander offense. “Our receiver corps is really strong,” junior wide receiver Calvin Thinley said. “Nick Halteh is incredibly fast. Quinn Sullivan is such a great ball catcher and route runner. It’s great to have.” McLean has stuck with a run-heavy offense, with carries being split between sophomore Kaelan Ferris and junior Danny Benitez. The pound-the-rock method has yielded strong results in the red zone. The Highlanders have shown a lot of promise thus far, but it has yet to translate into victories. This slow start hasn’t made for any lost energy among the players, though. “We’re trying our best to win games,” Thinley said. “We want to do this for the city of Mactown.” McLean fans have let nothing deter them to this point, showing up in droves at every game at Basil Harless Stadium. That dedication is not lost on the players. “The fans are the greatest thing to have behind our backs,” Thinley said. McLean will close out their season against their rivals, the Langley Saxons, in an away game on Nov. 5. The Highlanders will travel to Langley High with the goal of extending their winning streak over their nemesis to three straight seasons. 42 | SPORTS | OCTOBER 2021

In the trenches — McLean’s defensive line prepares for

a goal line stand against the Edison High Eagles. The Highlanders would leave the game victorious with a 16-13 win.


the highlander faithful — The McLean student section

roars in support of their football team in a home game against Fairfax on Sept. 17. The students were splashed with color in accordance with the “Paint Out” theme. Photos by Tanner Coerr | Page design by Taylor Olson


“ HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING FOOTBALL FOR, AND WHY DID YOU START PLAYING? This is my ninth season of playing football, and I started playing because I was from Massachusetts so I grew up loving the Patriots and watching Tom Brady play. I wanted to be exactly like him, but at first my mom wouldn’t let me play. She finally gave in after I kept begging her to let me play, and the rest took off from there. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY FROM FOOTBALL? I have soooo many, but my favorite is probably this season’s first win. The second the clock hit zero, I was overwhelmed with happiness and joy and hugged my best friend and running back Kaelan Ferris. We shared an amazing moment to win our first varsity game together as sophomores. It was an awesome team win, and I can’t wait for the rest of the season. WHAT DID YOU DO TO PREPARE FOR YOUR FIRST VARSITY SEASON? Worked super, super hard. Because we were online last school year, all of May, June and July, I lived in Massachusetts with some family friends and trained with a trainer there who helped 12 kids go D1 in football this year alone. I worked out every day for two to three hours for three months straight. Every day was a grind, and I just had to give it my all so that I could give my team everything I had when the season came around. I also got on the field as much as possible when I came home and threw routes with our receivers so that we would be on the same page going into the pre-season and be ahead of the curve come our first game.

Just work hard, and the results will come.”

HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE ONE OF THE YOUNGEST PLAYERS ON THE TEAM? I mean, it’s cool, but I don’t really think about it all too much. I hold myself to a higher standard than a sophomore and so do my teammates and the coaching staff, as we all hold each other accountable. Being young is no excuse to not give effort, be a leader and work your hardest every single day to give yourself the best chance to win on Friday. WHAT IMPACT HAS PLAYING THIS SPORT HAD ON YOUR LIFE? It’s probably the greatest thing to ever happen to me. Football has been there for me through everything in life, and it is so much more than a sport. It taught me that nothing in life has to be gone through alone. It’s not a ME game, it’s a WE game, and you have to have heart and mental toughness to play this game. You get hit every single play, and you have to have the drive to get back up and do it again for 48 minutes. I think those are the biggest takeaways I’ve had from it. HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CRITICISM AFTER LOSSES? Just ignore it. No need to listen to it. It’s going to be there even when you win, and you just have to block out the noise. Like I’ve said probably a million times, just work hard, and the results will come.

Reporting by Paarth Soni | Photo courtesy of Kent Arnold | Page design by Taylor Olson

OCTOBER 2021 | SPORTS | 43


































44 | SPORTS | OCTOBER 2021

Photos & reporting by David Jerzak & Peter Shumway | Page design by Taylor Olson


salutes our seniors VARSITY SCHEDULE 2020-21


Game 1 - Friday, Nov. 5 vs. Gainesville/Patriot 9:40 p.m. @ Skatequest/NHL rink


Game 2 - Friday, Nov. 12 vs. Herndon/South Lakes 9:10 p.m. @ Skatequest/NHL rink Game 3 - Friday, Nov. 19 vs. Kettle Run/Liberty 9:00 p.m. @ Haymarket/South rink Game 4 - Friday, Dec. 3 vs. Yorktown 7:00 p.m. @ Medstar/Caps rink Game 5 - Friday, Dec. 10 vs. Madison 7:55 p.m. @ Skatequest/Olympic rink Game 6 - Friday, Dec. 17 vs. Oakton 9:40 p.m. @ Skatequest/Olympic rink


Game 7 - Friday, Jan. 14 vs. Flint Hill 9:40 p.m. @ Skatequest/NHL rink Game 8 - Friday, Jan. 21 vs. Fauquier/Highlands 9:40 p.m. @ Skatequest/Olympic rink


Game 9 - Friday, Jan. 28 vs. Battlefield 9:30 p.m. @ Haymarket/North rink Game 10 - SENIOR NIGHT Friday, Feb. 11 vs. Langley 7:55 p.m. @ Skatequest/Olympic rink




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