The Highlander - Issue 2 - December 2020

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Volume 65 • Issue 2 • December 2020 • McLean High School • • @MHSHighlander



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Letter from the editors Dear McLean, As conversations about race become increasingly prevalent, The Highlander wishes to shine light on the experiences of people of color at McLean. We hope you read this issue’s in-depth to the learn about the extent racism is demonstrated through our peers, disciplinary action and our curriculum, and we hope that you reflect on your own implicit biases while doing so. With winter break quickly approaching, please enjoy our final issue of 2020. We encourage you to explore some of our other sections that discuss the return of McLean sports, the current back-to-school plan, fun holiday activities and more. We thank you for your support this year, and our staff can’t wait to bring you more issues of The Highlander in 2021! Yours truly, Heran Essayas, Jack Shields & Marina Qu|@MHSHighlander Editors-in-Chief: Heran Essayas, Jack Shields & Marina Qu Website Editor-in-Chief: Akash Balenalli Head Designer: Taylor Olson Managing Editors: Addie Brown, Kyle Hawley, Shruthi Manimaran & Nicky Varela Social Media Manager: Chief Marketing Manager: Layla Zaidi Dua Mobin Copy Editors: Maya Amman Josh Bass Mackenzie Chen Arnav Gupta Gianna Russo Photography Editor: Katie Romhilt Photographers: Akash Balenalli Dalia Fishman Sydney Gleason Cartoonists/Artist: Arin Kang Jayne Ogilvie-Russell Cameron Tebo Digital Media Editors: Layla Zaidi Polina Zubarev Designers: Akash Balenalli Ariana Elahi

News Editors: Maya Amman Aleena Gul Lia Vincenzo Features Editors: Cc Palumbo Laine Phillips Polina Zubarev A&E Editors: Michelle Cheng Swetha Manimaran Opinions Editors: Saisha Dani Ana Paula Ibarraran Sports Editors: Josh Bass Emily Friedman Fact Checkers: Belen Ballard Jungyoon Keum Cc Palumbo Laine Phillips

McLean High School 1633 Davidson Road McLean, Virginia 22101 Reporters: Noah Barnes Makda Bekele Hanna Boughanem Mackenzie Chen Andrew Christofferson Andy Chung Grace Gould Elizabeth Humphreys Max Irish Omar Kayali Christiana Ketema

Kaan Kocabal Nyla Marcott Ivy Olson Valerie Paredes Hannah Parker Saehee Perez Scott Shields Spencer Sirotzky Sangmin Song Paarth Soni Taylor Staats

Adviser: Lindsay B. Benedict

Editorial policy:

The Highlander is a designated public forum in which students can express themselves, discuss issues and exchange ideas. School officials do not exercise prior review on this publication or its online counterpart, and student editors are in charge of all final content decisions.

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Please email it to The staff reserves the right to edit letters for grammar, clarity and length, and all letters are subject to laws concerning obscenity, libel, privacy and disruption of the school process. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

CONTENTS on the cover


AN Alternate Reality

Confronting the parallel world people of color face Cover illustration by Arin Kang

4-5 6 7 8 9 10-11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18-19 20 21 30 31 32-33

Return-to-school updates Vaccines show promise FCPS COVID-19 tracking website Schedule changes help students

Fostering pets Education evolves


Presidential election reactions Safe ways to celebrate the season Students’ winter break plans


Traveling virtually Stella Shen teaches senior citizens English 10 Qs with Mr. & Mrs. Van Nuys Personal account of exploring identity Teens support area food banks The best parts of 2020

New holiday songs

34 35 36-37 38 39

Editorial: Take coronavirus precautions seriously Shorten online school days Crossfire: Should FCPS reopen? Future of the GOP Concurrent learning is too much

Celebrities’ words matter Food Fight: donuts ‘17, ‘20 Pacemaker Winner; ‘15, ‘19 Pacemaker Finalist; ‘15, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 All-American; ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, ‘16 First Class; Hall of Fame ‘14, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 , ‘20 George H. Gallup Award; ‘15 International First Place

‘00, ‘18, ‘19, ‘20 First Amendment Press Freedom Award

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

40-41 42 43 44 45

Hockey team starts season Commitment process changes Senior athletes commit McLean’s return to sports The Finish Line Page design by Pran Kittivorapat | Printed by aPrintis





Return to School Dates

s COVID-19 cases reach all-time highs, the FCPS School Board is entering a critical stage of its reopening plan. Although the transitions of groups 4 and beyond are currently paused, high school students are expected to return on Jan. 26. At school, students must follow CDC health guidelines and adjust to several schedule changes. Students who chose the in-person option will be divided into two groups: A & B. Group A will consist of students whose last names start with A-K, and group B will include students with last names L-Z. As of Nov. 23, 1505 McLean students, or about two-thirds of the student body, have chosen to return to in-person learning, while 785 students will remain all virtual. While both groups will attend two days of school a week, they will come on alternate days. The remaining two days of school will be at-home synchronous classes.

classrooms to the greatest extent possible.” McLean purchased high tech cameras that will allow virtual students to experience class almost as if they were there. Students will be able to see the whiteboard on one side and view their class on the other. These cameras have built-in microphones so that all in-person students can hear when a virtual student speaks and vice versa. All of these new devices are being funded through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which is federal grant money. “We’re given an allotment per student who’s enrolled in our school, and then that money comes to us. There’s a separate portion reserved for technology, and that money comes from the CARES Act,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “It’s really tight— we have to account for every penny, and we have to write up exactly what we’re using.” Unlike students, teachers do not have the luxury of ST0 ST0 Oct. 26 P choosing to remain online. Oct. 5 Dec. 8 P Jan. 26 Group 3: Special ed Group 1: Select Group 6: Grades 1-2 Group 8: Middle & high Teachers had four options: 4,100 students specialized career prep & specialized career school students Group 4: Special ed return to school, take a leave classes centers 52,800 students & career prep 40 students 13,500 students of absence, resign or retire. 2,900 students Only some teachers who have an ADA exemption are able to teach virtually for the remainder of the year. “For people who have true disabilities...or are exceptionally high risk, they can file for an ADA exemption,” social studies teacher Katie Van Nuys said. Since this is her first year teaching at McLean, Van ST0P Nuys’ options were even Oct. 19 more limited. Nov. 17 Jan. 12 Group 2: Early Group 5: Head Start, Group 7: Grades 3-6 “I haven’t been here long childhood special ed Pre-K, Kindergarten & & special ed & career prep classes special ed enough to even have time 28,000 students 1,300 students 6,800 students to take a leave of absence, so that was not an option Groups 4-6 have been paused or postponed due to the increase of COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County for me,” Van Nuys said. Other dates are subject to change based on community metrics


To address safety concerns, all students and staff members will be required to follow health guidelines, such as wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and using the hand sanitizer stations located at every entrance of the school and in large rooms such as the cafeteria. McLean’s staff has been working to change classroom layouts to maximize space. All decorative furniture has been removed and replaced with a maximum of 12 desks facing forward, each six feet apart. FCPS is working to install air filters in each classroom as an added mitigation measure. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure that the indoor air quality has a tremendous circulation of fresh air into the classrooms,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a school board meeting on Nov. 19. “We are putting in HEPA filters or other devices to really filter the air in our

Infographic by Aleena Gul


all levels back into classrooms “Financially, most teachers need to continue to work. So is there a choice? Yes. But for a lot of people, no, there’s not.” Even in this difficult situation, Van Nuys is excited to get to see her fellow Highlanders. “I am looking forward to meeting my coworkers—I haven’t met anybody since I’m new,” Van Nuys said. “I’m also very excited about meeting my students and having some sense of normalcy in seeing people instead of just a blank screen.” In cases where a teacher remains virtual while their students go in person, FCPS will hire classroom monitors. Some of their responsibilities include assisting and supervising students, operating technology and ensuring that safety protocols are being followed. Due to growing concerns about safely returning to school, 77 students switched their previous decision from in-person to online school. “I picked online school because I thought that it would just be better to stay safe, and I didn’t want to risk myself getting corona,” junior Cheryn Hong said. “I feel like having a case in our school is inevitable, and everyone in our class would have to get tested and quarantine themselves.” Hong wonders if the expectations and workloads will be equal and how each class’s dynamics will change. “I feel like there might be some changes in classes with what teachers are going to be like, and it might be unfair in some way,” Hong said. Though she will be continuing online, Hong is concerned about the safety of those that are returning. “Honestly, I feel like they should just stick to online for everyone because this is going to be a disaster,” Hong said. “Right now nothing is getting better, and a second wave of COVID [cases] is coming, so it makes the situation even worse.” Even students who have chosen in-person school are worried for both their safety and education. Infographic & page design by Ariana Elahi

“I’ve had family members pass away from COVID, so I am definitely worried about a second wave,” said junior Naveendra Patury, who will be doing in-person school. For Patury, the benefits of attending in-person school outweigh the potential harms. “It’s really hard to learn while being on my laptop because I have so many distractions like the internet and my phone,” Patury said. “I just feel like it’s easier to have in-person instruction.” Patury is concerned about the equity between online and in-person school. “I find it kind of unfair that people online will have easier times during school than people in person,” Patury said. “There should be something to correct that, but they haven’t explained that to us yet. If I’m going to be in-person, why should people online have an easier time than me?” Brabrand urges students, faculty and parents to stay calm and be patient during this time. “I do ask for everybody in the community to understand the need for that flexibility, the need to be nimble, the need to be able to adjust,” Brabrand said in a school board meeting on Nov. 19. “We have to be resilient to teach our kids resilience. I understand that we all want to continue to move and progress toward normal.” Brabrand’s main goal is to return to school in the safest way possible. “We can return to school in a responsible fashion and in a measured fashion that respects the health and safety of our students and staff but keeps in mind the clear goal that we all want to be back in school,” Brabrand said. “I believe the light at the end of the tunnel is appearing.”


Step 1 Students displaying symptoms will isolate in a special room

Step 2 Parents must pick up their children within one hour

Step 3

Dear McLean, A COVID-19 case has emerged...

School community will be notified of possible case emerging within 24 hours

Step 4






If a student tests positive, the Fairfax County Health Department will do contact tracing and alert those who had contact

Step 5



If those people test positive, they will quarantine for 14 days

Information obtained via Ellen Reilly



Advancements build hope for end to pandemic ALEENA GUL NEWS EDITOR


he long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine has arrived. Two major pharmaceutical companies—Pfizer and Moderna— declared they have developed vaccines with 95% efficacy, triggering hope across the globe. On Dec. 8, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) verified the safety and efficacy of Pfizer’s vaccine but has yet to approve it for distribution. “Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO, in a press release on Nov. 9. “The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.” The U.K. has already approved Pfizer’s vaccine, and they began giving the first doses of it on Dec. 8. Everyone will need to get a second dose of the vaccine three weeks after the first dose is administered. According to The Washington Post, the U.S. government expects to have around 40 million doses of the vaccine by the end of

the year, which would be enough for about 20 million people. President-elect Joe Biden said he plans to distribute at least 100 million doses during his first 100 days in office. Pfizer’s data has shown the vaccine’s success throughout a diverse range of age, racial and ethnic groups.



“When we embarked on this journey 10 months ago, this is what we aspired to achieve,” said Ugur Sahin, BioNTech co-founder and CEO of BioNTech, Pfizer’s German partner. Pfizer-BioNTech Pfizer estimates around become the first 1.3 billion vaccines will be companies to create Nov. 9 distributed in 2021. Priority an mRNA-based vaccine to combat will be given to frontline COVID-19 workers and other highrisk individuals. The Fairfax County Health Department Pfizer-BioNTech’s (FCHD) is making plans vaccine is 95% effective; they Nov. 20 to distribute the vaccine as request an EUA quickly as possible. from the U.S. FDA “We are leveraging those plans and tapping into some unique partnerships with other Pfizer-BioNTech get agencies and organizations to their first EUA from Dec. 2 get this vaccine out as soon the U.K. as feasible,” said Colin Brody, FCHD assistant public health emergency management coordinator. “In addition, the The U.K. begins federal government has stated its vaccine Dec. 8 distribution repeatedly that there will process be no cost to the American public, so we know that cost should not be a barrier to Data obtained from Pfizer press releases


getting vaccinated.” FCPS Superintendent Scott Brabrand wants to ensure teachers will be among the first groups of people to receive the vaccine. “We need to prioritize when the vaccination comes—and it is coming—that our teachers need to be at the front of the line,” Brabrand said in a school board work session on Nov. 17. Because of the uniqueness of the vaccine and the varying effects of COVID-19, many uncertainties remain. “My concerns would fall under the longevity of it,” biology teacher Kaitlyn McHenry said. “How long does it last? Are there any longstanding side effects that we haven’t seen yet? It’s hard to say.” The virus has already infected more than 68 million people across the globe, and even after the long wait for the vaccine, it will take some time for vaccination efforts to be effective. “According to our director of epidemiology and population health, Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, 80% of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach levels of community immunity, meaning when a certain percentage of the population is vaccinated, then those who are unable to get vaccinated will still have some protection,” said Tina Dale, the FCHD senior communications specialist. Junior Tisha Maskey, president of the new McLean High School Medical Club, is hopeful for the future but emphasizes the importance of wearing masks and social distancing, as this is only the beginning. “Please maintain the social distancing guidelines until we have the vaccine,” Maskey said. “I know it’s been so long, and it’s been really hard on everybody, but we just need to have patience and keep on following these guidelines so everybody is safe.” Although the vaccine is providing people with hope for the near future, health officials remind everyone to continue to follow CDC guidelines. “I strongly encourage everyone to take this seriously,” said Janessa Deal, FCHD school health quality assurance public health nurse. “We are all in this together, and it is only by working together that we can truly box this in.” Infographic & page design by Aleena Gul

FCPS: TRACKING DOWN COVID-19 County schools report cases to website database SCOTT SHIELDS REPORTER


s schools across FCPS prepare for the reopening of in-person classes, developing ways to track the virus is crucial. To meet this need, FCPS created a website that shows COVID-19 cases for both staff and students. The site gives users the ability to select data sets that show specific schools in order to easily access the information that impacts them the most. FCPS Director of Operations and Strategic Planning Lea Skurpski is one of many people who have been helping with the website. “The intent for the site is to inform the community of the metrics we’re using, the openings or closings of schools, the phasing students in and out of in-person learning, and also to inform the public of cases that have been self-reported,” Skurpski said. To collect data, numerous staff members work on obtaining and reporting information on new COVID-19 cases in FCPS. The data is self-reported and does not include cases of people who have not been on school grounds for 14 days before testing positive, which includes students participating in virtual learning. “For any COVID cases a student or staff member reported in FCPS, our school principals have access to a reporting mechanism,” Skurpski said. “When cases are self-reported, FCPS staff follow up to send a response to the community.” FCPS gathers and organizes data daily in order to keep information accurate and relevant. For students and staff alike, the data can help provide an understanding of how COVID-19 is developing within their communities. “Because the metrics are changing daily, it’s important to check [the website] daily so that [students, staff and parents] know the information we’re using to make decisions,” Skurpski said. Keeping track of reported cases helps the district and health department trace the virus and implement plans that will allow schools to operate safely. By getting up-todate reports, the district can be proactive and focus on keeping COVID-19 out of schools.

“Let’s say that you went to your soccer game on Sunday night. It’s Wednesday afternoon and you’re in class, and your mom gets a call from somebody on your team that says, ‘Oh, my kid has COVID.’ So now you have to go get tested,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “And if you come back positive, then the health department [starts] contact tracing.” As more schools near what appears to be an inevitable reopening, the data will help people make informed decisions. “The coming winter months will be a good indicator of how ready we are,” sophomore Shubham Dey said. McLean plans to begin in-person classes as early as Jan. 26, and Reilly hopes students

and staff will prepare for their return following winter break. “I would really like everybody to quarantine for 14 days to make sure that you are safe and healthy the first day that you step into the school,” Reilly said.

Scan here to visit the FCPS COVID-19 tracking website:

COVID TRENDS — The graph above illustrates reported COVID-19 cases in FCPS while the graph below shows reported cases at McLean High School. These numbers do not reflect cases of people who were not on school grounds in the two weeks prior to testing positive.

Images obtained via FCPS website | Page design by Scott Shields


INCREASED SCHOOL BREAKS DECREASE STRESS FOCUSED FOR FLEX — Sophomore Leah Sandler uses HT Flex to complete her homework. This additional break allows her to manage her class work effectively. (Photo courtesy of Leah Sandler)


n response to the increase in stress during distance learning, McLean has expanded its measures to improve the overall online experience by addressing students’ biggest concerns. Principal Ellen Reilly replaced the Highlander Time cycle with a Highlander Time Flex (HT Flex) period every silver day. Additionally, Mondays are gradually transitioning from asynchronous days to designated days for students to catch up on their work. Reilly made these changes to provide students with more time to relax or catch up on work during the week in hopes of reducing their stress levels. “Students’ mental health has always been one of our top priorities, and now, it seems to be even higher priority. I think it’s much more serious now,” Reilly said. Because HT Flex is between second period and lunch, this change created a 2.5hour break during the school day, allowing students to have more time to work on assignments or participate in extracurricular activities. “I go to club meetings, do my homework or sleep. I like having this extra time to do these things because I am able to get work done so I don’t have as much later,” sophomore Leah Sandler said. This longer break helps teachers complete their work as well. “During HT Flex, I meet with individual students and offer support on specific assignments,” English teacher Heather 8 | NEWS | DECEMBER

Principal Ellen Reilly implements more breaks for the sake of mental health KHUSHI RANA & IVY OLSON REPORTERS

Jorgenson said. “There are almost always students in the session, but if not, I use the time to respond to emails, grade assignments or plan future instruction.” Students and teachers agree that this decision was necessary for everyone.


“The biggest complaint from both teachers and students has been the workload. Having this time to receive support and complete assignments is beneficial for both teachers and students,” Jorgenson said. “It has been helpful for me. I feel as though it is a great way to supplement class time since I often do not have enough time during class to meet with each individual student.” HT Flex provides students with ample time to address any of their questions or concerns, but only if they make the effort to. “It takes a degree of self-advocacy for

students to use this time to meet with their teachers if they need to,” Jorgenson said. “I do still have some students who need to meet with me during that time but then never do.” Reilly is also making changes to asynchronous Mondays. Teachers were initially told to assign new work to support students’ learning on these days. Mondays were intended to be helpful to students but instead ended up increasing their stress. As a result, Reilly has designated them as “catch up” days and asked teachers not to assign new work on Mondays. “The goal was to help students organize and to send out what was happening during the upcoming week, not to add more,” Reilly said. Students are optimistic about the change. By limiting the amount of assignments students have for the upcoming week, they can use Mondays to ensure that all of their previous assignments are completed. “I think [the Monday break] will help me get my work done and give me more time to learn my material, just like what the silver day break gives me,” Sandler said. As Reilly continues to look for ways to help decrease stress, teachers are hopeful that students will use these breaks effectively and see improvements in their mental health. “Each individual student has unique needs,” Jorgenson said. “This time is meant to be whatever students need it to be, as long as it is helping them with their academic journey.”

Additional reporting by Belen Ballard & Gianna Russo | Page design by Aleena Gul



Isolation leads to a surge in pet fostering



arch marked the start of an unpredictable quarantine, and it was a lonely month for a lot of people. Being home all the time, they felt as if something was missing. That something was a pet. Over quarantine, adopting and fostering rates increased dramatically. Shelters needed help and families were interested in something to keep them busy, so record numbers of people began to foster animals. Due to the high demand, it started to become difficult for families to sign up and get a pet. “We absolutely saw an increased demand for both fostering and adopting pets. This was great news for homeless pets in need,” Wolf Trap Animal Rescue (WTAR) communications coordinator Shannon Pecora said on behalf of the WTAR team. “However, it became more difficult to offer foster spots because they were taken within minutes of opening up each month.” WTAR’s program helps anyone get started with fostering. “The process with Wolf Trap Animal Rescue was pretty easy and straightforward. You have the puppy for three weeks until it

finds a family that will take care of it permanently,” said sophomore Matt Speroni, whose family fostered a puppy named Bailey. Fostering gives potential owners the unique opportunity to get to know the animals before deciding on adoption. If they choose not to adopt, they have time to train and prepare the pet for a new family. “One feature that makes Wolf Trap Animal Rescue unique is that we encourage people, especially families with young children, to foster and to adopt. Folks can commit to a 21-day foster period and spend that time getting to know the pet,” Pecora said.


MISS PIGGY — A temporary member of junior Rachel Longo’s family, Piggy, poses for the camera. “She is playful and made quarantine much more enjoyable,” Longo said.

Although the idea of fostering sounds fun and easy, families must consider the challenges and responsibilities. “I really learned how much time you have to dedicate to a dog, especially a puppy,” said junior Rachel Longo, whose family fostered a dog named Piggy. “I finally got to see all of the stuff that goes into it from my own perspective and responsibilities instead of seeing it through my friends.” Saying goodbye to pets can be difficult for foster families, especially after spending a long time with their animal. “The hardest part would have to be letting it go after you have been attached to it for three weeks, but you know [the pet] is going to a safe and caring family,” Speroni said. With school, work and other events

Page design by Belen Ballard | Photos courtesy of Matt Speroni & Rachel Longo

DAILY BAILEY — Matt Speroni takes his foster friend Bailey on an adventure. “It was hard giving her up but her new parents send us pictures of her on occasion to see how she’s doing,” Speroni said. returning, people have less time to interact with their pets. Some people think the added responsibilities could lower fostering rates, but Pecora encourages people to continue volunteering even if they can’t be home all day. “It’s important to remember that we had a thriving foster program before the pandemic, when school and work took people out of their homes for large portions of the day. Our pets don’t necessarily need us to be home with them 24/7, though many of them appreciate it,” Pecora said. “While a foster works on housetraining and even maybe crate training a pet, they can be away from the home for a few hours at a time, so a return to the office does not automatically mean that you can’t foster a pet.” For many people, fostering animals is a win-win situation because the animals get a temporary or forever home, and they get to welcome a new member of the family. “Most of the animals people foster come from poor and bad backgrounds. You never know what to expect,” Longo said. “It is so cool to me seeing how animals benefit so much from what we are doing, and [fostering] is something that has made me happier and made quarantining a lot easier.” DECEMBER | FEATURES | 9

SAY GOODBYE TO EDUCATION AS YOU KNOW IT Familiarity with online learning brings changes to education HERAN ESSAYAS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


hen Jan. 26 arrives, students and teachers will begin transitioning back into school for hybrid learning. But as they return to in-person learning, teaching will have changed forever. FCPS announced that classrooms will use concurrent instruction during the second semester of school. In this model, online students will attend in-person classes virtually, allowing them to experience the same classes as their in-person counterparts. Through this, online students can make the decision to stay home without sacrificing anything. “The ability to complete school from the comfort of my home allows me to spend more time on extracurricular tasks and gives me more flexibility in my day to complete my schoolwork, which I wouldn’t have if I went to school in person,” senior Samir Chowdhury said. The shift to online learning sparked a period of challenges and reflection for both teachers and students. The implementation of asynchronous days on Mondays limited the amount of class time available, so teachers had to determine what is essential for students to learn. “I don’t have an SOL test or an AP test in any of my classes. I have the luxury of not

having to meet the standards of a particular curriculum, so I can adapt my curriculum as necessary,” physics teacher Billy Thomas said. “For the most part, I am dialing back on the amount of information I’m covering and focusing on making sure that if you ever take another physics class, you’re at least aware and have a good understanding of the ideas when you go into that class.” This adaptation has been beneficial to students. Not only has it decreased the amount of content students learn, but also the number of assignments students receive. “With having so little time, teachers started cutting out busy work,” senior Julia Bodet said. “Everything we do is more purposeful, which is better because you’re not overwhelmed with meaningless work that teachers don’t even really care about.” After briefly being introduced to distance learning in the spring, students and teachers realized that some traditional methods of learning proved to be ineffective online. As a result, teachers reevaluated how they teach their classes in order to provide the best learning experience this year. To prevent any major disruptions to classes when hybrid learning begins, FCPS recommends a gradual transition into concurrent instruction. When students initially return, classes will maintain the changes made during online learning, but as everyone becomes more comfortable

Students’ favorite things about online learning

Flexibility Being at home Getting more sleep

with this model of learning, classes will begin incorporating elements of a typical inperson class. “When we come back, I don’t think there’s going to be much modification to this other than I will know what people look like in person,” Thomas said. “I would generate more interaction with the students, but as far as teaching and curriculum, a lot of it has to stay the same.” One major change to learning this year is how teachers instruct and assess students. With the limited amount of class time and the mutual understanding that student engagement is difficult in an online setting, traditional lectures have been on the decline this year. “I have found it hard to focus in the virtual format because class lectures seem like boring videos rather than an in-theflesh dynamic lesson,” Chowdhury said. “It’s hard for me to motivate myself to complete homework because I don’t have my peers alongside me to directly work with and motivate me.” In order to improve student engagement, more teachers have adopted flipped classrooms, where students learn the material at home and complete assignments during synchronous class. In class, students are able to work on individual or group activities without being required to be fully attentive for the entire class period.

Students’ least favorite parts of online learning


out of 10 is the average rating of students’ online experience

Heavy workload Learning at home

Lack of social interaction

*Based on a survey of 64 students


Infographics & page design by Heran Essayas

67.2% of students dislike learning content outside of class


of students prefer to learn in person



39.5% of students have made a consistent effort to increase communication with all their teachers while 45.3% of students have made the effort in some classes

“When you are online, you truly have complete control over how you want to allocate your time throughout the day because a lot of teachers give you flexible time in class, and we have longer breaks between periods and longer lunch times,” Chowdhury said. In his class, Thomas now emphasizes the understanding of physics topics rather than the repetition of their applications. By creating a strong foundation, he hopes to provide his students with the necessary skills and knowledge to practice these concepts on their own. “There are times where I’m more dedicated to getting you guys to know everything and honestly, it’s not that important because a week from now you won’t remember it,” Thomas said. “This is really getting me to refocus on the content I need to nail down to make sure everyone knows, and then they can take their time, either on assessments or on something outside of class, to apply this information.” Some teachers, including Thomas, choose to give their students open-note and openinternet assessments. As it is difficult to prevent cheating online, open-note tests ensure that all students have equal access to resources. A major concern with this accommodation is that students will not fully comprehend the material. Because students can reference sources while taking the test, their test scores may not reflect their understanding of the content. “Many of my teachers have been giving open-note and open-internet tests, which definitely makes completing assignments a lot easier to manage from home,” Chowdhury said. “I do believe that I am not understanding the material as well as I would in normal school, but I don’t credit this to the open-note nature of tests. I believe this is a consequence of the lack of engagement and motivation in the virtual format.” To counteract this potential issue, Thomas provides difficult and thoughtprovoking questions that demonstrate students’ understandings of the concepts in question. “My goal is to get that thought process going, so the questions are conceptually challenging, where you have to think about what’s going on before you can actually think about how you can answer the question,” Thomas said.

Thomas has found these assessments to be successful. Without having to worry about details like terminology prohibiting them from answering the question, students have been able to provide more thoughtful and developed responses to the questions they are asked. With these adaptations, online learning causes students to be accountable for their own education. Prerecorded videos provide students with the opportunity to revisit lectures they may not understand, but at the same time, offer them the choice to not watch the videos and keep up with their schoolwork. As a result, most students have not been receptive to this change. In addition to having an increased workload from learning the necessary materials for class and completing any unfinished work after the school day, students find it more difficult to understand and ask questions about the content. “In person, asking teachers a quick question is really easy,” Bodet said. “But online, you have to raise your hand and disrupt the class, or if you’re in another breakout room, you have to move between breakout rooms.” Nonetheless, online learning has increased student-teacher communication regarding educational concerns. Given the distance between teachers and students, online learning has created the need for students to explain their challenges to teachers, allowing them to adapt their class as needed. “I have kids actively telling me after class, ‘Oh, this really worked well for me’ or, ‘I didn’t really understand this one, can you go over these topics next time?’ That proactive nature and communication with the teacher is going to help them because if they didn’t understand, I guarantee that someone else in the class didn’t understand it too,” Thomas said. “I’m finding it to be very effective because I’m understanding more what works for the students in this environment.” Recognizing that online education is new for everyone, students believe that these changes are the best possible given the circumstances and are satisfied with their experience thus far. “Teachers are being more flexible this year because everyone’s going through the same thing,” Bodet said. “They’re doing really well at putting their effort into making sure that we have all the resources available and access to them for help.” DECEMBER | FEATURES | 11

ELECTION SPARKS STRONG REACTIONS Highlanders share their thoughts following Biden-Harris win ELIZABETH HUMPHREYS REPORTER


fter a long year of campaigning in a polarized era and several days of counting votes, Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris were pronounced the winners of the 2020 presidential election on Nov. 7. Although Democrats have won the House of Representatives, Republicans are projected to keep the Senate. This is accompanied by a conservative Supreme Court that might interfere with the enactment of some of Biden’s policies. “America having conflicting branches of government certainly isn’t something that’s new—you’ve seen it before,” senior Nathan Sigel said. “For anything to go through, it’s going to have to be incredibly moderate to even be considered. Biden likely won’t be able to pass any new bills or mandates because the truth of the matter is the Senate is going to be Republican.” After the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, President Donald Trump made a controversial move by appointing a new justice, Amy Coney Barrett, even though the election was drawing near. Many Democrats opposed this action, arguing for him to wait until the election was over and claiming it was the right of the American people to choose. Liberal McLean students were frustrated with this act of hypocrisy from the Trump administration. With a Biden presidency, they are hoping for solutions that will override the conservative majority on the bench. This adds onto numerous other issues that have fueled the political division in the U.S. Rising tensions between both parties continued to mount throughout 2020, as people began to voice concerns over economic uncertainty, social justice, civil unrest and COVID-19. When Biden was announced the favored winner of the election, Trump claimed there had been widespread voter fraud and began filing lawsuits in multiple states to contest the results. Although junior Ramsey Wallace doesn’t support Biden, he is not impressed with Trump’s reaction to the election results. “I think Trump is being very arrogant 12 | FEATURES | DECEMBER

about it and being a sore loser,” Wallace said. Despite Trump’s allegations, Biden continued to plan his transition to the White House. Although some states have instituted vote recounts, Trump has yet to put forth evidence to support his claims. In his speech on the night of Nov. 7, Biden attempted to deliver a message that would unite Americans on all sides.


“For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight,” Biden said. “I’ve lost a couple of times myself. But now, let’s give each other a chance.” Biden ran his campaign on promises such as social equality, affordable health care and tackling climate change. These principles appealed to many voters who

were dissatisfied with how the previous administration handled issues of social justice earlier this year. However, even some of his supporters doubt he will actually be able to make these changes. “I’m sure some of [Biden’s] promises will not become reality, but this is true of every single president. Therefore I would not blame him if he did not [fulfill all his promises],” senior Lydia Rivera said. “He is generally respectful of women and minorities, and he constantly speaks about his love for family and our country. In no way is Biden perfect, but in my opinion, he will do so much more for the American people than Trump.” Biden’s opponents are even less optimistic about the future. “I don’t think Biden is going to be successful as president. His tax plan is unfair to people who have worked hard to become successful,” Wallace said. “Defunding the police and banning guns is something his supporters, at least, want. If he were to grant that it would cause mass crime.” In spite of the tense political climate, many McLean students continue to place their trust in political candidates. “The president, as the leader of our country, has a vast impact on American lives,” Rivera said. “As a member of many marginalized communities, the laws that the president is responsible for passing can and will have a great effect on my life and future.”

306 232 Electoral College College Results Results Electoral

Popular Vote 81,029,173 51.3%

Electoral College Results

Popular Vote 74,122,605 47%

Infographic by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell | Page design by Kyle Hawley


Light up your holidays with these festive activities ADDIE BROWN MANAGING EDITOR | KATIE ROMHILT PHOTOGRAPHY EDITOR

Zoo Lights

Bull Run Festival of Lights

Instead of being held at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo this year, Zoo Lights is traveling around D.C. in a 24-foot truck decorated with lights and the event’s mascot, Panda Claws. Through Dec. 19, Zoo Lights will visit different wards throughout D.C. every Friday and Saturday from 6-8 p.m. Each week’s destinations are listed on the Zoo Lights Website.

Drive through 2.5 miles of decorative lights at the Bull Run Festival of Lights in Centreville. Open from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, including holidays, this activity is a fantastic way to experience Christmas cheer while staying safe. This activity is especially COVIDfriendly, with groups staying in their own cars for the duration of the drive. Tickets can be purchased online.

Winter Glow @ George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Winter Walk of Lights

On Dec. 11-13 and Dec. 26-28 from 5:30-8:30 p.m., Mount Vernon will be lit up with winter lights. Spectators can listen to Christmas carols, shop for crafts and other holiday gifts, meet a camel named Aladdin and enjoy warm food and beverages. The event staff will enforce social distancing and face masks, and hand sanitizer will be available for guests.

National Menorah Celebrate the first day of Hanukkah on Dec. 10 with the lighting of the National Menorah on the Ellipse. Doors for the free celebration open at 3 p.m. The event features hot latkes and donuts, free dreidels and menorah kits, and musical performances from various groups, including the U.S. Navy Band. Special measures will be taken to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Page design by Katie Romhilt

The Winter Walk of Lights in Vienna is another option for viewing lights this holiday season from now through Jan. 3, including holidays. Once at the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, visitors are required to wait in their car until the time of their ticket, which must be purchased online. The park has reduced entry size and staggered entry times to limit crowds. Face masks and social distancing from other groups will be required at all times.

National Christmas Tree & Capitol Christmas Tree Though the lighting of the National Christmas tree was virtual this year, the public is welcome to visit both the National Christmas tree on the Ellipse near the White House and the Capitol Christmas tree on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building. Both trees will be lit up every evening at sunset through New Year’s Day. DECEMBER | FEATURES | 13

SNOW PLACE LIKE HOME Students plan for winter break amid pandemic KAAN KOCABAL REPORTER | ANDY CHUNG REPORTER

FRESHMAN ZARA HASAN Do you have any plans for winter break? My family usually goes to Florida for winter break, but because of the pandemic, we will stay home. Our cousins from Wisconsin might come for a week. Are your plans smart/safe during the pandemic? Our plans are pretty smart—we are making sure our cousins get COVID tested before they come because my uncle is a doctor. I also feel good because we will not be traveling, so at least my family won’t get sick. If it weren’t for the pandemic, what is one thing you would want to do? One thing I would’ve wanted to do is probably go to the Harry Styles concert.


SOPHOMORE JOSH JOHN Do you have any plans for winter break? Plans I have over winter break are pretty much just chilling with friends and having a good time. How will you stay safe and still have fun? We all wear masks and try not to do things that can put us in contact with corona. If it weren’t for the pandemic, what is one thing you would want to do? I would probably want to go to travel somewhere like California or just play pickup basketball. My friends have been to California in previous years and always tell me how nice it is, so I wish I was able to go.


Do you have any plans for winter break? My family is planning on traveling somewhere across the country.

Do you have any plans for winter break? I am going to be home over winter break, but I plan on fixing cars with my friends.

Are your plans smart/safe during the pandemic? Our plans aren’t really the smartest, but we will try to stay as safe as we can.

How will you stay safe and still have fun? I am going to limit who I will hang out with, and these people are also going to fix cars with me.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, what is one thing you would want to do? I would really love to travel to Europe because it’s such a cool place. The atmosphere and people living there are very interesting, and it really shows life outside of where we live. I love exploring the world—everything just amazes me.

If it weren’t for the pandemic, what is one thing you would want to do? One thing I would want to do is play baseball because it is my favorite sport. I always like to improve my game and to make sure I can become the best I can be.


Page design by Andy Chung & Kaan Kocabal

TRAVEL THE WORLD WITHOUT MOVING AN INCH Virtual tours offer interactive ways to explore famous sites

NYLA MARCOTT ONLINE NEWS EDITOR oliday travel plans canceled? No need to fear. World wonders, nature adventures, priceless art and historical artifacts from around the world await, and you can see all of them from the comfort and safety of your home. The quarantine is opening virtual doors to the public like never before. Online platforms allow travelers to explore some of the most remarkable destinations in the world. In many instances, these locations may have previously been inaccessible or costly to visit. “My World History 1 class participated in a virtual tour to see cave art in France,” history teacher Corinne Mazzotta said. “Since taking a field trip to France is not happening any time soon, it was very fun to feel like we actually were walking in the cave by participating in the virtual tour.” Due to COVID-19 closures, museums provide virtual gallery walkthroughs and behind-the-scenes looks at art restoration and museum display planning processes.


Page design by Nyla Marcott

“Since March 2020, when the Smithsonian temporarily closed all of its museums, we have prioritized providing online content to visitors,” said Alexandria Fairchild, a spokesperson for the Smithsonian Office of Public Affairs. “This ranges from online exhibitions, virtual events and programs, to online educational resources for students, teachers and caregivers.” The Smithsonian museums update tours regularly to provide visitors with access to current exhibits. “Our websites offer full online exhibitions and educational resources,” Fairchild said. “Several exhibitions scheduled to open while we were closed are fully available online.” The Smithsonian has focused on providing students with access to educational resources to help supplement education during distance learning. “The Smithsonian established a distance learning resource page in response to school closures due to COVID-19,” Fairchild said. “These resources are designed to meet the needs of teachers and students across the country and are tied to national learning

standards. This page also features bilingual English/Spanish resources and lessons and activities that can be done without access to a computer or internet.” Virtual tours are beneficial for anyone interested in learning about new places, but teachers are finding them to be extra helpful for students. “I believe doing tours can benefit students, especially those interested in the content,” Mazzotta said. “Tours give students more of a first-hand perspective of what they are studying, so it can benefit them in content knowledge acquisition.” Despite the challenges it has presented, the pandemic has provided people with a rare opportunity to explore locations throughout the U.S. and beyond. “I am excited to find out that many museums, natural wonders and landmarks are still trying to teach and inspire people,” freshman Alex Abraham said. “I am also surprised that even though these places are not making...much money, [they] are still giving people a chance to have the experience.” DECEMBER | FEATURES | 15


BRING-YOUR-PET-TO-CLASS DAY — Stella Shen’s students bring their stuffed animals, toys and pets to her weekly English class, and Shen explains those terms in English. The average age of her class is 70.

Stella Shen teaches English to Chinese-speaking elders


cLean senior Stella Shen was surprised when her name appeared in the Silver Light newspaper, a local Chinese publication. One of her students had written an article expressing appreciation for her online English class during the pandemic. Shen teaches a weekly English class to 13 students, but one thing about her class stands out—the average age of her students is 70. Many elderly Chinese people immigrated to the U.S. with their children. Living in a foreign country meant that they were not able to communicate with others and interact with their community. Some seniors even have difficulties communicating with their grandchildren—second generation immigrants who can barely speak Chinese. Shen moved to the U.S. during her freshman year, and her cross-cultural experience encouraged her to help others. Shen said her grandparents’ experience in the U.S. also made her empathize with seniors in the community. “My grandparents were really bored during the time they stayed in the U.S.,” Shen said. “In China, they live in the same apartment building as their friends— friends that they have known for decades. I understand their difficulties so I decided to help elders like them in my neighborhood.” Shen originally taught the English class as a part of Hope Chinese School, where seniors met every weekend to learn English while their grandchildren learned Chinese. When the pandemic canceled classes, Shen 16 | FEATURES | DECEMBER

brought her students together online. “Some people’s grandchildren helped them install the software, while Stella went on calls with the rest of us, helped us register for Google Accounts and taught us how to use Google Meet,” said Jiming Wang, a student in Shen’s class who moved to the U.S. 11 years ago at the age of 63. Shen’s students praise her dedication and patience in creating Google Slides and animations for each class. Shen also makes efforts to support the seniors outside the classroom. They take pictures of road signs and posters and send them to Shen, who then explains their meanings in class. “Language shapes our logic and the way we perceive things,” Shen said. “Learning English is a way for elders to understand the American way of life and feel comfortable to live in this country.” As the co-president of Interact, a community service club at McLean, Shen asked club members to write conversational sentences and record their pronunciations to help her students practice. “We understand the high school workload, but Ms. Shen devotes her weekend to teaching us English. We cannot thank her enough,” Wang said. “When grading our homework, Ms. Shen not only pointed out our mistakes, but re-wrote and recorded the correct sentence with adequate grammar and pronunciation. She does this for every student in the class.” Learning a new language is a long and

difficult process, especially at 70 or 80 years old. Shen said her students’ hard work has inspired her to develop a positive attitude and set life-long learning goals. The effects of the English class are evident in subtle changes in Shen’s students’ lives. Wang was able to pick up his medicine from CVS and ask for directions in public. “Previously when I went to the supermarket, the cashier would say, ‘Have a good day,’ but I didn’t know how to respond, so I just nodded and quietly walked away,” said Jinghua Mei, president of Shen’s English class. “Now, after taking the class, I proudly say, ‘You too!’” Former astrophysicist Xiangping Ding, another student in Shen’s class, has lived in the U.S. with her daughter for 12 years. She was the one to submit the article about Shen to the Chinese newspaper. Ding said her most memorable lesson was “throwback Thursday,” where Shen asked her students to bring a photo and explain the story behind it in both English and Chinese. One of them showed her family reunion picture from 40 years ago. Another vividly recounted her experience kayaking in rapids at the age of 75. “Ms. Shen’s class allows us to interact with other elders in the community. After class, we sing a song together and chat,” Ding said in the article. “Every week, I look forward to logging onto class and spending a relaxing Sunday afternoon filled with laughter and chatter.”

Interviews translated from Chinese | Photo courtesy of Stella Shen | Page design by Marina Qu

10 Qs with

Katie & Nate Van Nuys

(Social studies teacher & math teacher) Reporting by Polina Zubarev Photos courtesy of the Van Nuys Family Page design by Highlander staff

1 2


What is the best part of working at McLean with your spouse? Mrs. V: It’s nice because we have a lot of things in common. Commiserating over the daily ins and outs of what’s going on at school is always fun. And having the same group of teacher friends is nice too.

How did the two of you meet? Mrs. V: We started at Chantilly the same year. We were usually the first two people in the building, but I didn’t know who he was. Around winter break, I pulled in [to the parking lot] and there were police and ambulances. A woman had fallen asleep, drove off the road and managed to miss all the trees and the building and only hit [Mr. V’s] car. Out of pity, I checked in on him, and then we dated.

Would you switch subjects with each other? Mr. V: Absolutely not. Mrs. V: I think I could teach them. Do I want to teach them? No, not really.

4 5 6 7

What do you miss most about living in England? Mrs. V: I miss being able to walk to the shops and walk to work. And I miss the outdoor way of life that’s more prevalent there.

What’s your favorite family holiday activity? Mr. V: Mrs. V has family up in New Jersey. We usually try to get together and do a gift exchange, and that’s been really fun in the past. Mrs. V: I love a Christmas market. That’s one of my favorites.

What do you think of Hallmark Channel movies? Mr. V: Worst channel ever! The [movies] are all the same. Mrs. V: I like it as an escapism, just because it’s a nice break from reality.

Who’s your favorite Capitals player? Mrs. V: I’m going to go with Oshie. I also like Carlson. I feel like the defensemen need more credit. Mr. V: I kind of love Backstrom. He’s always the setup guy, but I like Oshie as well.

8 9

What’s the biggest difference between high schools in England and here?

Mrs. V: Size. There were 600 kids in the whole high school [in England]. The class sizes too. One year, I had a class of seven kids. I would say the average class size is 15.

What are your holiday plans this year? Mr. V: Both of our parents live in the area, and we’re still planning on seeing them. Normally, we would take a trip. We had actually talked about going to Williamsburg, but I don’t think we’re going to be able to do that because of the COVID situation.


As vegetarians, what do you think of tofurkey? Mrs. V: We’ve never had it. Tofu has to be in really small pieces, or it’s too squishy. I don’t want my tofu feeling like I’m chewing on a marshmallow. I will say, I can eat the tofu mixture at Chipotle for every meal, every day for the rest of my life.



A freshman explores their i Content warning: contains discussion of mental health issues and suicide MORGAN MUNTEAN REPORTER


he past year has been tough for a lot of us. Between online school and being stuck at home, it definitely wasn’t easy for anyone. But my struggle wasn’t just because of COVID-19. Starting back in November 2019, I realized none of me felt right. While that might not make sense now, I hope that it will after you read the rest of my story.


I started questioning my sexuality and gender more than ever. While they’ve always been a question in my mind, the need to find the answers became more prominent. I gained more exposure to the trans community and started realizing I connected with a lot I was seeing. Not only that, but my anxiety and depression were getting a lot worse. I hadn’t talked to anyone but my friends about my mental illnesses, so I didn’t have any healthy ways of dealing with them. My parents were concerned by changes in my behavior and installed an app to monitor my phone, which ended up exposing my thoughts about suicide. This worried my parents, but it also annoyed me. I wasn’t

ready to talk about it with them, but because they secretly installed this app, I had no choice. Now, I’m grateful they found out. Who knows how long I would’ve taken to gather the courage to talk about it with them. They found me a therapist, and so I naively assumed I would instantly regain a healthy mind. I didn’t know how wrong I would be. During this time, I was still questioning my gender and sexuality. At the time I was a cis-gender—the same gender as assigned at birth—bisexual girl. However, I knew I wasn’t a girl; I just wasn’t sure what I was. I felt like a guy some days, non-binary other days, and a girl as well. None of the terms I knew seemed to fit. I wasn’t trans, I wasn’t non-binary, and I wasn’t cis. I didn’t know many other terms or identities because, after all, I was only in 8th grade, and the feelings I was experiencing were very new to me. When I started looking for a gender identity I connected with, all the ones I was aware of didn’t feel right. I started researching more specific questions like “is it possible to switch genders?” and “can someone be more than one gender?” It took some time, but I ended up figuring out I’m gender-fluid, meaning I identify with people whose gender switches throughout the day. When your gender changes, you don’t really notice it, and it isn’t on a predictable schedule. You can stay one gender for a few days and then switch, or you can be one gender for just a few minutes and switch. I have no control over what gender I am and when. As for my sexuality, I figured out I like girls and only girls. With this came the realization that when I used to say I “liked” a guy, it usually meant I was being jealous and wanted to be more like him. I now use the label lesbian for myself. This might not make sense because sometimes I’m a guy, so wouldn’t that make me straight? And if I’m

Page design by Heran Essayas | Portrait by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell


r identity during quarantine not a girl and don’t use she/her pronouns, why would I use lesbian? Gender-fluid falls under the umbrella of non-binary. Non-binary people use sexualities to label who they like. They don’t use “straight,” because that would mean they would have to use their birth gender as a term. If they only like girls, then they’re lesbian; if they only like guys, then they’re gay. Any other sexuality, such as bisexual or asexual, is still used the same way. After I figured all this out, I didn’t come out to my parents right away. I did, however, come out to my friends. The second person I came out to ended up saying he’d always see me as a girl. That definitely wasn’t what I had hoped to hear.


I lost him as a friend soon after, and he spread rumors about me to mutual friends, causing me to lose most of my friends after coming out. All of this drama didn’t help my already worsening mental illness. I later learned that many non-cis teens suffer from mental illness because people do not accept them for who they are or do not see them the way they see themselves. At this point I felt hopeless. I stopped eating, and I had no motivation whatsoever. I didn’t talk as much, and I basically shut down. It was sometime around January, after we returned to school from winter break, when I started seriously considering suicide. Before that, I’d had fleeting suicidal thoughts, but they became constant. The hardest time was during my fifth period math class in eighth grade. I was never able

to focus. I fell behind and started doing really badly. Instead of taking notes, I would zone out or just write “help” over and over on my notes packet. I really did want help but didn’t know how to get it. My therapy wasn’t enough, and my therapist recognized this. She recommended an intensive outpatient program (IOP). The program is typically three hours of therapy three days a week for as long as the IOP therapist deems necessary. For me, that was nine weeks. While IOP did help, I must say it’s not for everyone. It was really tiring, and I was already falling behind in classes. The nine hours of therapy a week along with one extra hour with my usual therapist definitely made it hard to do my work and catch up. IOP was exhausting, but it was nice having friends who understood what I was going through. I actually didn’t use my preferred name until I started IOP, and once I did, it was weird to be called my legal name. What name I would use was never a question. I had never liked my name, and I had always loved the name Morgan. It was easy to say I wanted to be called Morgan. I felt like it fit me more. I came out to my parents and my younger brother. It was a hard transition, but overall, coming out really helped. I felt like I wasn’t hiding anymore. My parents didn’t have the best response at first, saying, “Your friends shouldn’t decide your gender,” which wasn’t the best thing to say. After I explained it more, they began to realize I had always been like this. I know this story will be controversial. Almost daily, I deal with people calling me a freak and saying my gender doesn’t exist. I’ve gotten used to it, so it doesn’t hurt nearly as much as it did the first few times. Another thing that may shock people is how much I’ve written about my experience with mental illness. It wasn’t easy writing this, and it still only scratches the surface of

my personal experiences, but I knew it was important for me to do it because I want to raise awareness and encourage people to get help, whether they think they need it or not. Today, I’m happier than I have been in a long time, but it’s only because I got help. I’m still in therapy. I have one-hour sessions twice a week as well as meetings with my guidance counselor and the school psychologist once every two weeks. I’ve been making some great progress, and my suicidal ideation isn’t nearly as frequent as it was before. I have hope. If you need help, I strongly encourage you to talk to an adult. If your parents aren’t the best option for you, try talking to a trusted teacher, your guidance counselor or the school psychologist. Although reaching out for help is hard, it will absolutely benefit you in the long run.

NEED HELP? If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and are struggling with suicidal thoughts or need someone to talk to, please call the Trevor Project lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678 to receive free counseling. Founded in 1998, the Trevor Project is a non-profit organization that works to provide crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ+ youth. DECEMBER | FEATURES | 19

HELPING THE HUNGRY McLean students arrange food drives for local food banks SANGMIN SONG REPORTER


our thousand pounds. Two tons. That’s the weight of a brand new Toyota SUV or a fully grown great white shark, and it’s also the amount of food TeensforFoodBanks collected over the past six months to help feed Northern Virginia communities. TeensforFoodBanks is an organization founded by two McLean juniors, Steven Guo and Rehan Marshall, whose mission is to assist local food banks. “We started cooperating after Rehan reached out to me and asked me if I thought...making an organization to collect food to help families in the DMV area suffering from food insecurity was a good idea,” Guo said. After the founders set their plans into motion, the organization held its inaugural food drive on June 6. “Our first food drive consisted only of Rehan and me, but things went very smoothly,” Guo said. “We were able to collect and donate 500 pounds of food to the Arlington Food Assistance Center.” To make the food drives more effective, they asked for help from their friends, growing the organization to a total of 23 members. “When [they] introduced me to their plan at the time, it seemed like a lot of fun working with my friends while earning service hours in the process,” junior Jake Barnard said. “Once I learned more regarding their overall goal and focus, it struck me as a very beneficial way to help others in need in McLean and other communities.” After the success of the first drive, Guo and Marshall decided to hold monthly drives on the first Saturday of each month. On Nov. 23, they held their ninth food drive. Their previous experiences have helped them develop a system that makes the food collection process much easier. “Members go around in their designated neighborhoods to hand out flyers [which] specify for donations to be left outside near the mailbox by 1 p.m. the next Saturday,” Guo said. “After a week, our volunteers drive around in their designated communities 20 | FEATURES | DECEMBER

DROPPING OFF DONATIONS — TeensforFoodBanks members drop off food during their eighth food drive in August. The organization has collected over 4,000 pounds of food to help those in need. (Photo courtesy of Steven Guo)

to collect donations left near people’s mailboxes.” When food donations are collected, members bring their donations to SHARE of McLean, where the food is distributed. In order to minimize contact during the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the only time members get together.

IT STRUCK ME AS A VERY BENEFICIAL WAY TO HELP OTHERS IN NEED.” - JAKE BARNARD MEMBER OF TEENSFORFOODBANKS “The food drive process involves almost zero human interaction because members distribute flyers alone and do not come into contact with any of the families that they distribute flyers to,” Marshall said.

“Even then, all members wear face masks and practice proper social distancing which ensures that all members are safe.” TeensforFoodBanks regularly distributes food drive collections to SHARE of McLean, who appreciate the students’ effort. “We are grateful to TeensforFoodBanks helping us meet the rising demand of distribution due to COVID-19,” one of the board members of SHARE said. Now that TeensforFoodBanks has a concrete system in place, they are aiming for larger goals. “Our short-term goal is to receive and donate 1,000 pounds of food in a single food drive and reach 5,000 by the end of 2020,” Guo said. “Our long-term goal is to expand our area of influence and reach a greater number of those in need.” Meeting these goals will require additional volunteers, but they are always welcoming new members. “If I could communicate to any potential volunteers, I would encourage them to join,” Barnard said. “They would be contributing to those in need, especially during the pandemic.” Page design by Sangmin Song

2020: THE BEST PARTS OF THE WORST YEAR Recapping the positive events of a monumentally bad year CC PALUMBO FEATURES EDITOR | VALERIE PAREDES REPORTER









The world comes together to raise over $200 million for Australian wildfire relief efforts


Michael Jordan pledges $100 million to support racial equality and social justice


Volunteers plant 250 million trees in India to fight climate change


Companies including Pfizer/ BioNTech and Moderna announce highly effective COVID-19 vaccines Page design by Taylor Olson




Indiana Supreme Court grants equal rights to women in the armed forces


MTV teams up with Michelle Obama to create virtual proms for seniors whose senior year milestones were canceled due to COVID-19


New Zealand celebrates 100 days without new COVID-19 cases


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California becomes the first U.S. state to pass a law addressing reparations for slavery


Canada bans single-use plastic products




NATE REALITY Confronting the parallel world people of color face SAISHA DANI OPINIONS EDITOR


t first glance, McLean High School is a welcoming environment with a staff ready to listen and an advanced curriculum. But, like every school, McLean is no stranger to issues of racism. Subtle “jokes” at students’ expenses, the lack of diversity in staff and the underrepresentation of minorities in textbooks all contribute to the alienation of students of color when navigating through high school. These complex issues aren’t as noticeable for white students who don’t face the same prejudices. As of the 2019-2020 school year, 2,350 students attend McLean High School. Of those students, about 47% are non-white students, otherwise known as people of color. In a predominantly white school, students of color face an alternate reality compared to their white peers.

In an anonymous survey, McLean students wrote about their personal experiences with racism.


EXPLORING THE POC EXPERIENCE McLean Class of 2020 graduate and James Madison University freshman Elana Ellington faced this reality as one of the few Black students at McLean. Ellington had never viewed her race in a negative light until her freshman year. She posted a video on her Instagram explaining the concept of white privilege and a student responded to her post because he disagreed. Then, the conversation took a turn for the worse. “He [messaged], ‘You look like a gorilla, you’re a n****, no one likes you because you’re Black, no one’s ever gonna love you,’” Ellington said. “It hurt me. It really made me feel uncomfortable being in school.” For Ellington, this was not an isolated incident. The next year, she was the only Black student in one of her classes and dealt with a teacher she felt was racially discriminatory. She said she was often kicked out of class and accused of cheating after being placed in the corner of the room during tests. “I definitely felt it was because of my color and that I couldn’t speak up about it because I didn’t have concrete evidence. I just felt like I couldn’t really talk to anyone,” Ellington said. Stella Shen, an Asian American senior

*These names have been changed to protect students’ anonymity


at McLean, had a similar encounter with a teacher her sophomore year. Shen arrived a couple minutes late to her first period class and rushed to her seat. Shen didn’t hear the beginning of the Pledge of Allegiance. “The teacher saw me and went off. [They] said, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this,’ and, ‘I don’t know what country you are coming from, but in America, we don’t do this,’” Shen said. “My first impression was [that it was] rude. How do they know I’m not American? They’ve never talked to me before. After a couple minutes I realized they were being racist.” Comments like those of Shen’s teacher may seem minimal, but the students who hear them are negatively impacted. Cristina,* a mixed race senior, felt this impact with a teacher during her junior year. In her Spanish class, students were reading a passage containing the word “negar,” which sounds similar to the n-word. When it came up, some of Cristina’s white classmates turned to stare at her. “I received a couple head turns from some kids in the class,” Cristina said. “It took me out of my learning environment. I wasn’t expecting it.” Feeling singled out, Cristina turned to Principal Ellen Reilly. Although Reilly requested a meeting with the students’ DECEMBER | IN-DEPTH | 23

parents and Cristina, the meeting never happened. Additionally, the administration didn’t touch base with Cristina after they approached the parents. Similarly, when Ellington spoke to the administration about the racist messages she received, she never got any notification as to what happened with the case. Due to confidentiality reasons, Reilly wasn’t able to comment on this issue as she is not allowed to discuss disciplinary actions regarding students or teachers. Teachers can face a number of repercussions for misconduct. A discipline review letter can be put in their file, and if a teacher consistently receives low marks on their yearly evaluation or acquires multiple letters in their file, they can be subject to more intensive evaluations or even probation. Students are unable to see these consequences, but more importantly, they aren’t told about what is happening. As a result, action taken on an administrative level doesn’t always translate to closure for students who experienced racism. “I was left feeling like it was resolved on the administrative end, but I was still not OK,” Cristina said. “I felt like there wasn’t enough done for what happened to me.” Math teacher Rae Perry noticed the lack of follow up on these types of complaints. Perry is one of the few Black teachers at McLean and is the sponsor of the Diversity and Inclusion Awareness Club (DIA). Perry

said she believes there aren’t any protocols in place to address racist incidents because it may create discomfort among staff members. “When a situation arises, people who are involved, who are being marginalized, never have any follow up. There’s never an apology,” Perry said. “There’s never anything formally done to help the parties to deal and move forward and make a commitment to never letting that happen again.” Because of this, students of color aren’t receiving the support they need from administration even when administrators have taken steps to resolve the issue at hand. Students of color turn to the DIA as an outlet for their thoughts. “[This club was created to educate] other students and [help them] understand why people are outraged and have another perspective,” said junior Michaela Aka, secretary of the DIA. “I think that it would be nice to have various races join and share any racism towards them that’s happening that [the student body] might not be aware of as well.” While McLean students of color raise awareness about the situations they have encountered, the administration has put an emphasis on the Equity Committee to establish policies ensuring students receive closure. The Equity Committee includes more than 70 staff members and eight student representatives this year. This committee’s

agenda is to make McLean a just space for students of all races. They work with the administration to propose resolutions to various issues. Senior Mia Hsu joined the Equity Committee as a student representative because of an unpleasant experience. During Hsu’s lunch break, she and her group of Asian friends were approached by a white student. He expressed his belief that white people are becoming a minority. “We tried to disagree, but he asked us what privileges [he has] that [we] don’t, which was shocking,” Hsu said. Discrediting the oppression people of color experience is an example of a microaggression. This is when individuals unintentionally discriminate against marginalized groups. Because of their subtlety, microaggressions can easily be missed by those that aren’t on the receiving end of them. “People make a lot of jokes geared towards me, because they think it’s funny to make them in the presence of someone who’s [a person of] color,” senior Kyra Bolden said. “I’m mixed race, so people invalidate how white or Black I am. They make [rude] comments about my hair [being] really ethnic and curly.” Being in a predominantly white school entails that Black students are often tasked with navigating their identity while dealing with negative criticism. “The mental, psychological and emotional

Have you ever felt like you were treated differently by a teacher because of your race?* *To obtain the information used in these infographics, The Highlander emailed a survey to 400 randomly selected students (100 from each grade) and received a total of 195 reponses


Yes (67%)

No (33%)

Middle Eastern

Yes (76%)

No (24%)



Yes (76%)

No (24%)



Yes (89%)

No (100%)

No (11%) Infographics by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

toll that McLean took on myself as a Black person [is something] no one should ever experience,” Ellington said. Asian students encounter similar experiences. “Teachers mix up my name with other Asian [students],” Hsu said. “Sometimes I feel like I could just switch spots with other kids and they wouldn’t notice.” Microaggressions like these further the stereotypical narrative that all of one race looks alike. These quick judgments are also experienced by the Latinx community, especially for non-native English speakers. “I’ve seen students that have an issue at times with [Spanish speakers]. If they catch you speaking a lot of Spanish, they’ll give you certain glares,” junior Alessia* said. The separation of students of color from the majority of their peers isn’t unique to just high schoolers. Even staff members report dealing with unfair assumptions due to their race, for example, when being seen as a representative of all minority opinions. “I think I’m expected to speak for [all] people of color as if I’m an all-knowing being,” English teacher Mariya Chatha said. “Just because I’m a different color doesn’t mean I’m responsible for solving racism in the classroom.” While microaggressions may seem minor to some, people of color know their true impact. For change to occur, Perry said individuals must confront their biases. “Stop trying to act like because somebody calls you a racist, that that’s the worst thing on the planet,” Perry said. “Hurting your feelings is minimal compared to the racism that people feel. Try to understand why some of the things you think are inherently wrong, racial and biased.” To further address the microaggressions, diversifying McLean’s staff could provide students with a resource to reach out to. Looking through staff photos from past years, there is a pattern of mostly white teachers making up each department. “It’s definitely a fact that our staff does not reflect our student body,” social studies teacher and Equity Committee co-lead Julia Braxton said. “I would love to see our staff reflect the population of our students more equally.” A diverse staff increases the likelihood of academic success for students of color. According to a study published by the

McLean High School Demographics 2019-2020

White (53.31%) Asian (25.84%) Hispanic (11.45%) Other (6.19%) Black (3.2%)

Information from

Have you ever experienced racism at McLean?* No

Yes 74%



Asian 63% 0%



Middle Eastern Hispanic/Latinx White Black


7% 26%

National Bureau of Economic Research, Black students who have one Black teacher by at least third grade are 13% more likely to enroll in college. Having two Black teachers almost triples this number. Once teachers of color build a base for students to feel comfortable in their school surroundings, it creates a pathway for students of color to have a sense of security with staff. “Having [an adult] that looks like you in the building makes it much easier for you to have a trusting relationship,” Chatha said. “Because you feel like you can connect [with them] and you feel like you’re being spoken up for.”

Page design by Saisha Dani | Photo illustration by Swetha Manimaran

The lack of diversity among the McLean staff creates barriers for students looking for inclusion in a mostly white school. According to the American Psychological Association, students of color who lack proper role models question their racial identities at an early age and are taught to disregard their ethnic and cultural backgrounds, ultimately slowing down their process of selfactualization. Ellington was able to seek help from one of the few teachers of color at McLean. Perry encouraged Ellington to embrace her Black identity and advised her on any racerelated issues that came up. “Mrs. Perry came in, and god bless DECEMBER | IN-DEPTH | 25

her, because she is one of the teachers that any Black student would be lucky to have,” Ellington said. “She really uplifts students and encourages them, and I’m so glad I had her as a teacher for two years, [because] she really helped me through [any situation].” While McLean is moving towards creating a safe environment for students of color, there is still a long road ahead. “The biggest issue at McLean is ignorance,” Bolden said. “A lot of people I know don’t mean to be ignorant but they are just because they had the privilege of growing up in an area like this, so there’s a lack of education. If [administration] were to do something, they should find a way to spread awareness and share the experience of what it’s like to be a person of color.” THE BLACK HOLE OF PREJUDICE Another part of being a student of color at McLean is dealing with the double standards of disciplinary actions. Teachers issue referrals for a number of reasons. The most common ones are for disrupting the learning environment, violating the honor code or being disrespectful to the teacher. The teacher then notifies the student, their parents and the administration about the referral. Administration meets with all parties involved and hears each side’s story out, then makes a decision. As simple as this process sounds, students of color often don’t get treated the same as their white peers. In a report published by FCPS in January 2019, despite comprising only 9.8% of all FCPS students, Black students are almost three times more likely than white students to receive a discipline referral. Hispanic students are almost twice as likely to be referred. “There’s a disproportionate number of students of color who are referred for discipline,” counselor and Equity Committee co-lead Kathleen Otal said. “However, once they get to the administration, the administrators often work with them more. [As a result, there are] less suspensions and expulsions than there are just referrals.” Although the Equity Committee is working on a resolution, Assistant Principal Sean Rolon doubts how specific the issue of racial profiling is to McLean.



“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a pattern. I would say that we are aware of the data and it’s something that the Equity [Committee] is really looking at and taking seriously,” Rolon said. While staff are working to combat these equity issues, students are also playing a role in this process. Hsu has been working with the discipline committee to change the referral process. “Teachers [should] know what kind of thing causes a referral and a good reason to refer students because I think currently there is a bias with who teachers are referring,” Hsu said. Identifying these prejudices makes sure students are treated fairly. Stories like Ellington’s shine a light on what students of color experience when staff members don’t take the time to reflect on their implicit

biases and find ways to address them. In her junior year, Ellington received permission to get her physics project from her car to when she was stopped by a member of the security staff. “Because it was off campus, [security said] I can’t do that, but I explained that I’m just going to go get my project,” Ellington said. “There was also another student that was in my class, a white boy, that left the same time as me. I got detention. [When I asked him if he did too, he said] he didn’t.” Ellington felt her referral was due to biases associated with her skin color. Ellington said she witnessed other students experiencing similar encounters throughout her high school career. She heard security staff tell Black and brown students they look like “thugs.”

Would you feel comfortable going to the administration about a race-related issue?

34.9% 65.1%



“Don’t call someone a thug. That’s not what they are,” Ellington said. “They’re students at McLean High School, and they’re here to get an education. They are not here to be made uncomfortable.” Disproportionately disciplining Black and brown students leads to an environment where school is no longer considered a safe space. Alessia recalls a feeling of discomfort when nearing anyone on the security staff. “Anytime I had a pass, I always held it visibly when I was walking down [the hallway] because I didn’t want them to come up to me or say anything. I always tried to avoid them as much as I could,” Alessia said. Feeling unsafe in the presence of security is counterproductive. Additionally, the apprehensive relationship between students of color and security staff can negatively affect students’ mental health. “This [dynamic] could lead to students being less trusting and more fearful of security officers,” school psychologist Carol Ann Forrest said. “Distrust may lead to less connection with social groups and anger.” Teachers of color can see this pattern through stories their students share with them. “Most of what students have complained about to me is that they just feel like they’re being singled out unfairly [by security],” Braxton said. “Maybe they’re not perfect, but when they do something wrong, compared to when a white peer does something wrong, they feel that they’re being treated differently in a more negative way.” Although McLean’s safety and security specialist, Buddy Sekely, could not comment on these instances, he believes the administration can help all students. “If somebody ever brought an issue to me or Dr. Reilly or one of the administrators, if they were treated unfairly, we certainly would handle it,” Sekely said. McLean’s administration is working to ensure students of color are treated fairly regarding discipline. This school year, the security team increased its diversity by hiring a Black safety and security assistant, Bartholomew Bailey. “I am trying to diversify the security team to ensure that every student has somebody that they feel they can go to,” Reilly said. “He’s just really highly qualified, and he’s a really great guy.”

Ethnic group breakdown of violation referrals in FCPS 2018-2019

Black (45.45%) Hispanic (38.18%) White (9.09%) Asian (7.27%)

Information from FCPS’s Student Behavior, Discipline and Disproportionality Phase 3 Report

Bailey hopes his presence will enable students of color to feel a sense of safety and inclusion. “Hopefully, if there are students that are reluctant to speak to safety and security [staff] because they perceive that there’s some sort of issue, if they see me as a person of color, and if they want to come up and talk to me, I have no problem with that,” Bailey said. Along with diversifying the staff, McLean has made progress on creating an equityminded school. The committee developed interview questions related to prejudices and biases for potential new staff members. The disciplinary team within the Equity Committee has been working to improve the referral form to make sure the process is impartial. When they notice a pattern of prejudice from a teacher in regards to referral rates, the committee points it out. “[The Equity Committee shows teachers] the percentage of their students they’re referring and [how it is] disproportionate compared to the rest of the school,” Otal said. “There’s a reason for that, and it could easily be their bias or attitude. We’re getting there slowly but surely.” ECLIPSING HISTORY Along with facing discrimination on a daily basis, students of color don’t see

themselves reflected in the classes they take. On paper, minority groups are portrayed as one-dimensional and their roles in history are diminished in spite of the contributions they made in creating the world we know today. In Virginia, history classes tend to leave behind the experiences of people of color. In fact, the word “racism” never appears in the Virginia curriculum framework. Ignoring the presence of racism in American history doesn’t paint the full picture. Instead, it places certain groups on a pedestal. “Virginia state standards reflect a great deal of cultural bias and really prioritize the experiences and contributions of elite white and European men, before and after colonization,” said Deborah March, the culturally responsive pedagogy specialist for FCPS. Virginia’s curriculum is made up of white settlers and their accomplishments, leaving little thought to how these colonizers affected those who came before them. In fact, it goes as far as brushing away the less positive aspects of the historical figures students learn about. “[The curriculum is] glorifying Thomas Jefferson, and we know now that Thomas Jefferson enslaved his own children and did a lot of things that we realize today are really problematic,” social studies department chair Rachel Baxter said. “It just means that we DECEMBER | IN-DEPTH | 27

need to present things in a fuller picture than materials have necessarily done in the past.” Excluding different perspectives from the curriculum limits the accuracy of the history being taught. Oftentimes, textbooks focus on the perspectives of white people, pushing aside the stories of people of color. “The textbook is written from the winner’s perspective. It’s not asking too much to have multiple views. But what McLean does is teach for the majority,” Cristina said.

confrontation with injustice, oppression, cruelty and torture with the agency and resilience of individual Africans,” March said. “When [teachers] teach about a dehumanizing system, they [should] not represent people as though they lacked humanity or agency.” Likewise, when learning about the history of Indigenous people, they are often discussed as one singular group. There is no mention of various tribes, backgrounds or

“Who gets to be an individual matters.” The lack of emphasis on certain groups is carried on when teaching about Asian American history. The curriculum framework includes the Chinese Exclusion Act but fails to include the empowering stories of Asian Americans that move to America. “[When learning about Asian Americans] we also have to learn about the joy and the success,” Baxter said. “If we’re going to learn about marginalized groups and we’re


“They’re teaching to the majority about the majority.” Although many believe this is a reason to change the FCPS history curriculum, this thought isn’t universally shared. Senior Mark Rindone, a white student, sees reasons for a eurocentric curriculum. “I think because of how our nation was kind of built, and how closely related we are with the EU and different European nations, it makes sense why it’s more eurocentric than world-centric,” Rindone said. While some students are content with the current curriculum, others believe that a eurocentric curriculum provides a dishonest perspective of history. “I don’t think that we should be lying to kids, especially high schoolers, about the true history of America. We all know that we aren’t perfect and we may not be the best country, so I don’t understand why the education system makes it seem like we are the best,” senior Kendall Jones said. Similarly, textbooks tend to discuss the oppressed state of Black people more often than their accomplishments. By dehumanizing them and diminishing their role in society, students don’t learn about the immorality of slavery. “The history of enslavement presents a challenge to teachers in balancing a


even notable figures. “[In textbooks, there is] no specific reference to the sovereign native nation, or cultural or linguistic group, never mind actual named individuals, biographies and portraits that students can encounter,” March said.

only going to learn about [certain] things, it causes you to have a negative view of those groups, even if you’re from those groups.” Portraying minorities as only victims gives students an inaccurate account of history. The events, people and ideas students are

Is the McLean social studies curriculum eurocentric?

44.1% 55.9% No Yes

taught about America and the world are a commentary on what educators consider important. Not feeling properly reflected in history can bring about self-esteem issues and a sense of isolation among students of color. “This could lead to feelings of resentment and isolation. It may be more difficult [for students of color] to see themselves attaining similar roles [to white people] in their own futures,” Forrest said. To combat this issue, FCPS started implementing curriculum changes aligned with the recommendations given by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). The VDOE has been working to expand the curriculum to include a wider array of topics that are discussed in social studies. The VDOE is also introducing a new African American history course for schools next year. However, the process to implement these modifications into the curriculum doesn’t happen overnight. “Changes like this aren’t translated into the classroom with a vote by the State Board of Education,” said Charles Pyle, the director of media relations for the VDOE. “There’s a lot of work that is in front of us now because teachers are now expected to cover this additional content.” FCPS Social Studies Coordinator Colleen Eddy has been working to revise the curriculum by targeting educational resources. Along with a group of teachers, Eddy has audited five courses over two summers, where they looked through resources that are a part of the curriculum. “We audited for what we call implicit bias; so through the language or images, or even the construction of the learning experience,” Eddy said. “We actually found [the cultural

Which of these events have McLean students studied? Japanese Internment Camps 50.5% None of the Above 44.1%

Loving v. Virginia 18.3% Stonewall Riots 14.5% Tulsa Race Macssacre 8.1%

1994 Crime Bill 4.8%

bias to be wrong] in about a third of the resources and those resources needed to be removed and revised.” As a member of the project team, Baxter audited documents on eCART for culture insensitivity, and she found thousands of resources glorifying white supremacy. “There were many ways that white supremacy appeared in the curriculum, [like] centering the powerful. In U.S. History, all we do is center the powerful,” Baxter said. Following a countywide order to create


Central Park Five 7.5%

a culturally responsive curriculum, McLean purchased around 425 copies of Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped, a book about racism in America through the eyes of historical Black figures, for all U.S./Virginia History classes. As McLean moves in the right direction to repair the curriculum, students can also play a role in improving what they are being taught. “Students should have a voice in these matters,” March said. “If we want to see a more just world and a more historically accurate and meaningful social studies [curriculum] we must make space for student voices to lead the way.” Through supporting student-led clubs that address cultural insensitivity and expanding the Equity Committee, McLean is working towards creating an equal environment for all. “We have made a lot of progress. It might take a year or two before we can start seeing the fruits of our labor,” Braxton said. “Right now, we are developing our plan and making sure that it’s something that is going to benefit all of our students. Real change takes time.” DECEMBER | IN-DEPTH | 29



The top 10 songs to update your seasonal playlist GRACE GOULD ONLINE FEATURES EDITOR 1. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” Mariah Carey Inarguably one of the most successful holiday songs of all time, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has a catchy chorus that takes over everyone’s Spotify playlists each holiday season. Twenty-six years after its release, the song still consistently lands on the Billboard Hot 100 each December, and it’s easy to see why. With its iconic opening jingle, the beloved song is the perfect modern Christmas classic. 2. “Last Christmas” Wham! For a song that’s sure to set the holiday mood (and maybe also bring some tears), look no further than Wham!’s “Last Christmas.” One of the most well-known songs in the modern holiday genre, the tale of lost love in the holiday season is a hit year after year. Its familiar tune can send listeners into a seasonal frenzy and cause cravings for candy canes and hot chocolate. 3. “Santa Tell Me” Ariana Grande It’s rare that Ariana Grande releases a song that isn’t an instant smash hit, and “Santa Tell Me” was no exception. Released in 2013, the song was an almost instant classic. Its upbeat tune and catchy lyrics make it extremely jammable and a must for any holiday playlist. 4. “Underneath the Tree” Kelly Clarkson Becoming more iconic by the year, Kelly Clarkson’s “Underneath the Tree” is as danceable a Christmas song as they come. Taking inspiration from Mariah Carey, the song features Clarkson’s fantastic vocals and a familiar holiday message of being home—and in love— for the holidays. It’s the perfect song for a December jam sesh. 5. “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” Micheal Bublé Nothing says Christmas like Michael Bublé’s holiday album featuring his cover of “It’s Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas.” The song encapsulates the feeling of the holiday season, giving listeners what feels like a three-and-a-half-minute holiday hug. 6. “Christmas Tree Farm” Taylor Swift Fans were waiting for Taylor Swift to make her return to Christmas music after her 2007 holiday collection, and Swift did not disappoint when she released “Christmas Tree Farm” in 2019. Paying tribute to her childhood home on a Christmas tree farm, Swift employs a catchy chorus and a cheerful jingle in delivering what is sure to become a modern holiday classic. 30 | A&E | DECEMBER

Graphics & page design by Ariana Elahi

7. “Mistletoe” Justin Bieber Whether you love him or hate him, it’s not controversial to admit that Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” is an absolute jam. From its opening sleigh bell tune to its upbeat snapping, the song provides listeners with a sense of holiday spirit and features an R&B style that stops it from being too generic. 8. “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” Mariah Carey At this point, it’s safe to say that Mariah Carey is the queen of holiday songs. The second best song on her 1994 Christmas album, Merry Christmas, is easily “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).” It’s another holiday smash hit that never fails to inspire people to get up and dance the second it comes on. 9. “My Only Wish (This Year)” Britney Spears One of the most criminally underrated holiday songs, “My Only Wish (This Year)” represents peak Britney, with the right amount of 90s vibes. A catchy, bouncy tune, the song perfectly encapsulates Christmastime happiness. 10. “8 Days of Christmas” Destiny’s Child In a welcome twist to the classic holiday tune “The 12 Days of Christmas,” Destiny’s Child put together a song that is still catchy almost 20 years after its release. Trading a partridge in a pear tree for diamonds and a Mercedes, “8 Days of Christmas” is sure to have fans thinking about their own wish lists.

Scan this QR code for a Spotify playlist of all of these Christmas songs!

A SHADOW BEHIND THE SPOTLIGHT Celebrities should not be defended for their prejudiced words and behavior MACKENZIE CHEN COPY EDITOR JUNGYOON KEUM FACT CHECKER


uthor J.K. Rowling is one of the richest women in the U.K. and a celebrated writer, beloved by her fans around the world. This year, her fame became infamy when she made offensive comments against the trans community. While her tweets sparked worldwide outrage, many of her fans still defended her on social media, even posting the hashtag “I stand with J.K. Rowling.” Despite all of the debate, it is clear that no matter how many masterpieces they have produced, celebrities should not be an exception when it comes to promoting justice and equality. Singer Camila Cabello was involved in a similar situation when she was embroiled in a scandal that was heavily reported by the media. A Twitter user discovered her old Tumblr posts that contained offensive racial stereotypes, ranging from pictures poking fun at Black people to messages using hurtful words. “When I was younger, I used language that I’m deeply ashamed of and will regret forever,” Cabello said. “I was uneducated and ignorant.” When news of Cabello’s scandal spread, there were polarizing responses. “I wanna listen to Romance by Camila, but I really can’t because she’s racist. I felt guilty of even having the thought of doing so,” one Twitter user said. Even though Cabello received backlash for her racist posts, it seemed as if her scandal was completely forgotten when she was invited to perform at the Grammys.

Fans continued to praise her achievements and show unyielding loyalty towards her. This conveys a message that hate can easily be forgiven, which could negatively influence the way people are treated. “Camila Cabello is a Grammy-nominated and Billboard Chart-topping singer and songwriter, Latin Grammy winner, musician...put some respect on her name,” another Twitter user said. When fans see these figures still being commended, they are influenced into thinking that heartless actions have no consequences. The year 2020 was marked by advancements in championing equality and amplifying the voices of the unheard. Continuing to support celebrities who have proven that they are against the principles of these movements hinders society from fostering a just and accepting world. Blindly defending them is equivalent to upholding their prejudiced and discriminatory beliefs; it is hypocritical to preach about diversity and simultaneously support celebrities who are doing the exact opposite. Popular comedian and actor Kevin Hart was the subject of anger and frustration a few years ago when his homophobic tweets resurfaced. “If my son comes home and tries to play with my daughter’s playhouse, I’m going to break it over his head and say, ‘Stop, that’s gay,’” Hart said. At first, he refused to acknowledge his mistakes, but even when he did, the damage was already done. In spite of his actions, he continued to receive job opportunities, from

Cartoon by Arin Kang | Page design by Jungyoon Keum

acting in the Jumanji sequel to releasing his own documentary. The most common excuse fans make for celebrities is that their contributions to pop culture are so significant that they are the “exceptions” for societal expectations. Average citizens also further the success of society, yet they are still held responsible for their careless actions. A few months ago, a video of an altercation between a Black man asking a white woman to leash her dog went viral. The woman refused and even called the police, claiming that an African American man was threatening her safety, further promoting the tendency of treating Black people with suspicion. Due to public outrage, the woman faced the consequences of her actions. “Within 24 hours, the woman had given up her dog, publicly apologized and been fired from her job,” The New York Times reported. It only seems logical that celebrities should receive the same treatment as everyone else. They need to stop hiding behind the protective shield of the media and hold themselves accountable for any pain they have inflicted. This is more than just not going to see a celebrity in a movie or at a meet and greet. It is about pushing aside the so-called “role models” who are getting in the way of the progress being made with their harmful actions. Rightfully rejecting the presence of those people is an obligation everyone owes to future generations to create a better society for all. DECEMBER | A&E | 31

F O O D FIGHT: Duck Donuts quacks the competition



quick look inside and it’s easy to tell that Duck Donuts is no ordinary donut shop. With employees stretching the dough, placing it into the fryer and slathering the freshly baked donuts with frosting and other confections right in front the customers, this place stands out from the competition. The first Duck Donuts was established in 2007 by Russell DiGilio. Inspired to create a donut shop that embodied the essence of freshness and warmth, DiGilio decided that his made-to-order franchise would take its namesake from the popular vacation destination of Duck, North Carolina. Now with over 225 locations across 26 states, Duck has cemented itself as a breakfast staple for people with a sweet tooth. Duck is known for the freshness of their ‘nuts. Unlike Astro Doughnuts, which prepares them ahead of time, Duck makes them as they’re ordered, guaranteeing that they are as fresh as possible. Jack and I decided to venture down to the Arlington shop (located near the Harris Teeter) for our assessment. While both of us had been there before, it had been quite a while. Both of us had seemingly forgotten what makes Duck Donuts so special.

ON THE POND — Duck Donuts stands out prominently amongst the other stores in the Harrison Shopping Center. It is the closest of 225 locations across the U.S. The smell of fresh, fried dough was the first thing I noticed when I walked in. The strong smell hit me like a delicious truck. At the counter, customers can choose from a large selection of featured donuts or opt to create their own combinations with their choices of coating, drizzle and toppings. Since the fall assortment had recently been released, I decided to try something new. I ordered the apple pie donut, which includes vanilla icing topped with cinnamon sugar, streusel and chopped apple bits. A small drawback of getting to see my donut made right in front of me is that I had to wait about seven minutes for a single donut, but it was worth the wait. Meanwhile, Jack ordered an entire dozen, which was ready shortly after my donut. I was hungry, so I almost immediately unhinged my jaw to sink my teeth into the donut.

Duck Donuts’ seasonal apple pie donut 32 | A&E | DECEMBER

Instantly, I recognized that this seasonal donut truly paralleled its namesake; it really did taste exactly like something served at Thanksgiving. The warmth of the donut was the best part, bringing this monster of a creation together in the most special way. My donut cost around $1.20, and Jack’s dozen cost a measly $16.40. Compared to Astro Doughnuts, who charge an almost inconceivable $36 for a dozen pieces of fried dough, it’s pretty clear which shop offers a better deal. My main complaint for Astro is that their donuts were not nearly as fresh as Duck, as they were pre-made and lacked the warmth of a typical donut from Duck. I wouldn’t exactly call them stale, but they certainly weren’t of the highest quality, and their steep price was not justified. Duck Donuts has, in every sense of the word, redefined what a “donut” is. It’s not just a sugary ring—it can be freshness, joy and life wrapped into one. If the weight of the world has you down, head on over to Duck Donuts, where they can lift your spirits up purely through a single bite of one of their magical creations.

Photos by Jack Shields & Nicky Varela | Page design by Nicky Varela


Astro is out of this world, but not in the same universe as Duck JACK SHIELDS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


t can be easy to overlook Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken’s compact shop in Falls Church. Wedged between an eye doctor and a salon, Astro’s small operating space doesn’t limit the quality of their donuts. Founded by two food-loving D.C. area natives, Elliot Spaisman and Jeff Halpern, Astro Doughnuts turned a childhood pasttime into a local restaurant. Currently operating at just two locations nationwide, both in the DMV area, Astro has become a popular local breakfast spot. Featuring a moderately sized selection of flavors, Astro’s biggest strength is that they make all of their donuts from scratch every day. Although Astro’s plain glazed donut was solid, what really stands out are their unique selection of specials. I tried their cookie dough special, which was a chocolate donut covered in vanilla

icing and chocolate chips, with a big chunk of edible cookie dough covering the donut hole. This dessert-like donut was loaded with flavor and was a creative idea for a donut. I would’ve liked to have tried some of Astro’s other fun specials, such as carrot cake, pumpkin pie and candy apple, but just two donuts completely filled me up. The large portion sizes were definitely a plus, and the donuts were immediately available when we ordered. I really have no criticism of Astro except for the price point of their donuts. Despite Astro’s large portion sizes and undeniable tastiness, paying almost $4 for a single special donut and a whopping $36 for a dozen donuts caught me by surprise when I first looked at the menu.

Astro Doughnuts’ cookie dough donut Where Astro really falls short of Duck is that despite being made from scratch, Astro’s donuts are prepared at the start of each day and sold until the supply is completely depleted. Although this doesn’t undermine the rich flavors of Astro’s unique donuts, it is hard to top the satisfaction of eating a fresh, warm donut from Duck. While Astro does offer significantly larger donuts than Duck, this is counteracted by Astro’s high price point. Astro Doughnuts is a great spot to get some quality donuts with fun and unique flavors. But even though Astro’s shop did almost everything perfectly, it was impossible to rate them higher than the undeniable quality and consistency of Duck Donuts.

THE WINNER: SMALL SPACE — Despite the rather small size of their shops, Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken remains incredibly popular in the DMV. This location is nestled just off Leesburg Pike in Idylwood Plaza.




It is more important than ever that high schoolers follow COVID-19 precautions The staff editorial represents the opinion of the majority of The Highlander editorial board


ith over 34,000 COVID-19 cases as of Dec. 9, Fairfax County remains a hotspot in Virginia. But as the number of cases continues to increase, the amount of students following precautions has been on the decline. Students need to understand the importance of following coronavirus mitigation practices. As we near the tentative return-to-school date, it is especially crucial that all students recognize the severity of the virus and play an active role in preventing its spread. When the pandemic began, the majority of cases consisted of older people, causing students to believe that younger people are less likely to contract COVID-19. But now, the younger population makes up the majority of cases in Virginia, with 21% of cases coming from 20- to 29-year-olds. Due to this misconception combined with quarantine fatigue, students began dismissing precautions and started resuming their normal lives. As a result, there have been numerous outbreaks among the McLean student body. Senior Julia Irons is one of the students who contracted COVID-19. After only seeing a small group of friends for the past two months, her positive test result was a surprise to her. “You see it happening around you, but you never expect it to happen to you,” Irons said. “When one of my friends first tested positive, reality kind of hit me because I was like, ‘Oh, this can really happen to people I know—and me too.’” Students should keep Irons’ experience in mind when making choices about who they see. With the increasing prevalence of the virus in McLean, students need to understand the likelihood of them contacting COVID-19 and how their actions impact those around them. “No matter how the virus will affect you individually, it’s important that everyone is 34 | OPINIONS | DECEMBER

following the guidelines, so that we can slow that, because cases among young people are it down and make sure that those people less likely to result in fatality, they do not who are immunocompromised and people need to take protocols seriously. However, who are a little bit older are able to live their it is everyone’s responsibility to protect the lives,” junior Atticus Gore said. vulnerable members of our community. Due to the ongoing rise in cases, FCPS Virginia’s current COVID-19 guidelines has been forced to postpone its back-to- include mandatory face coverings in indoor school plan. The current metric is that new public spaces and restrictions on gatherings cases must remain below 200 per 100,000 of more than 25 participants. Students people, but as of Dec. 9, the number of should continue to follow these restrictions new cases in the county reached 471.8 per and self-quarantine if they have a known 100,000. Struggling to meet these thresholds, exposure or experience symptoms like fever, there is doubt among the community cough or lack of taste or smell. about successfully returning to the physical “We need to just get the information out classroom. to make sure that people understand the “I changed my mind and decided to importance of wearing those masks and the do virtual school for the rest of the year. I importance of that social distancing,” Gore haven’t seen many successful outcomes of said. “Because the numbers will subsequently schools that decided to have their students go down, and it will be safe for us to return come back,” senior Lily Can said. “It’s too to sports and return to school.” much of a risk for my family and friends if As we prepare to transition back to I went back.” school next month, it is extremely important The high risk associated with returning to that everyone follows these necessary the classroom has not been taken lightly by precautions. Though the spread of COVID FCPS. Group 5 of the return to school plan, cannot directly be controlled, it can be which includes pre-K and kindergarten, was reduced if students follow the recommended originally scheduled to return on Nov. 17, preventative measures. We owe it to our but they are still confined to virtual learning teachers, our community and ourselves. as the county monitors health metrics. Even data regarding the number of cases among FCPS students and staff can be misleading, as the FCPS COVID-19 Case Dashboard currently only accounts for students and staff who have returned to in-person learning, not the thousands of others who could have potentially contracted the virus. As a result, students are unaware of the extent the coronavirus is spreading. “I was having a conversation with someone STAYING HOME — McLean parent and U.S. the other day, and they Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweets about didn’t even know that there the importance of not attending parties. In order was a spike in COVID to minimize the impact of COVID-19, students cases,” Gore said. should avoid large gatherings. (Photo obtained via Some teenagers believe Twitter) Reporting by Heran Essayas, Marina Qu & Jack Shields | Page design by Heran Essayas

STOP STRESS WITH SHORTER SCHOOL DAYS In a virtual world, altering the schedule is necessary

“I’m not really sure how I feel about [shortened class periods],” social studies teacher Amanda Williams said. “It would be tough from my perspective to try and make sure I’m [teaching] everything room where the only light is the white glare of a computer and not overloading students with work outside of class.” screen. Endless days and countless hours spent hunched over, Some students have similar worries. For example, while Shobeiri ready to sit, stare, type, repeat. Backaches, headaches and utter feels that online school is tiring, she doesn’t believe it’s possible to exhaustion. Life is stressful enough amid a pandemic—the last thing shorten online school days. students need is unnecessarily long online classes. “For most of my classes we’re using all of that time lecturing and At one point, students would have relished the idea of attending doing these things that are necessary,” Shobeiri said. “I know by the school from the comfort of their own homes. However, it has end of the year when AP exam time rolls around, that’s going to be become increasingly clear that virtual school very stressful for everyone because we’re going creates its own form of fatigue. to have less review time.” Even during breaks, students are glued to Though these concerns are valid, it’s important I THINK [THERE IS] their screens, determined to finish assignments to look at the bigger picture. It’s still unclear how JUST THE GENERAL or to get ahead on new ones. They can never this excessive screen time will affect students in FEELING THAT THE catch a break, and it is time for that to change. the long run, but the potential long-term risks KIDS ARE NOT OK.” Since in-person school is not a safe option right simply aren’t worth it. It is completely ridiculous now, schools should take the initiative to shorten that the health and well-being of our youth has - CRISSIE RICKETTS online days for the good of students everywhere. MATH TEACHER taken a backseat to test scores. “Any time I’m not at practice, I’m on some “The priority should be the students’ health. sort of screen,” junior Susan Shobeiri said. “So, And if [shortening online school days] is [I spend] at least eight hours during school, and then at least two to something that’s going to make that better, then we as teachers can four hours after school, depending on my workload. And I know it’s adjust to that,” Williams said. probably a lot more difficult for some people who are home all the There has to be some level of compromise, and there are ways to time; it really takes a toll when you don’t go outside.” reduce daily class times while still ensuring that students are learning Most teachers are aware of these struggles. They feel for their all the required material. For one, the school should make Mondays students and understand how difficult it is to stay focused during synchronous. This way, the total yearly hours would remain the same, longer class periods. but daily classes would be shorter, and students’ screen time would “We’ve got kids that [complain about] the screen time and how be greatly reduced. it causes headaches and fatigue,” math teacher Crissie Ricketts said. Whatever the case, it is clear that the current schedule is not “I think [there is] just the general feeling that the kids are not OK.” sustainable for students. In the end, the only way to correct the For subjects like math and science, most teachers use a flipped current situation is to shorten online school days in some capacity. classroom model, in which learning takes place outside of class and in-class time is used for practice. SHORTENED SCHEDULE SUGGESTION In classes like these, there is absolutely no need for 80-minute blocks. “You have these preconceived ideas that we have an 80-minute class. And so when we’re face-to-face, we sit in the room for that 80 minutes,” Ricketts said. “But with this new paradigm, who’s to say that if you’re done with your work, you can’t just go?” McLean should at least consider implementing a schedule that would allow for shorter math and science periods since most of the learning tends to take place outside of class anyway. Students don’t need to be staring at their screens for an additional 60 minutes a day, especially if they’ve already spent time watching videos and taking notes on their own. School should be productive, and forcing kids to spend more time in class is anything but that. For subjects that rely on different styles of instruction, shortening classes could make it difficult for teachers to cover the entire curriculum, especially in AP level classes.



Graphic by Cameron Tebo | Page design by Hanna Boughanem




ake up, sign into online school, stare at a computer screen for hours, do homework, sleep, repeat for months on end. Over time, this routine is causing students to lose motivation and attentiveness. The pandemic has forced students worldwide to learn virtually, but Fairfax County’s online school system has created an inadequate learning environment. According to The New York Times, Virginia has chosen to put an emphasis on opening bars and restaurants but not on opening schools. In many European countries, they have focused on keeping schools open, and the U.S. should be doing the same. Education should be prioritized over leisure. Not only has instructional time dramatically decreased, but the quality of instruction is not as good as in-person learning. For most math and science classes, teachers are using a flipped classroom, where students watch videos of lessons instead of receiving live instruction. Some students don’t watch the videos at all, while others do not fully understand the material because they can’t communicate with their teachers about confusing concepts. Although teachers offer office hours to meet with students outside of class, the scheduled times (often Monday mornings) are not easy to make. The office hours usually only last about an hour, so if a student has a scheduling conflict, it’s more difficult to find another time to meet with their teachers than it is at school. Online learning poses an additional challenge for teachers, as they are forced to adjust lessons to fit the virtual format. “It’s mentally draining adjusting previous lessons to make them work more effectively online. There is a lot of cognitive load that just wears you out,” social studies teacher Joseph Dwyer said. Even though students are logged into class, teachers notice that participation is low 36 | OPINIONS | DECEMBER

because students have no motivation to be attentive during class. Virtual learning is not ideal, especially for younger students, those who have ADHD or other learning disabilities and students with other distractions and responsibilities. At home, students must contend with elements that interfere with their learning, including siblings and electronics. These outside factors can interfere with their ability to learn effectively. The online format not only affects learning, but it also limits social interaction, which is detrimental to mental health. “The emphasis on only learning has been really demoralizing because there’s nothing fun about school—it’s just all the [work],” junior Sophia Tursi said. In school, students learn more than just the educational content. School is also a place for students to build relationships with friends and teachers and learn important social skills. “I miss the social aspect of learning and the camaraderie that comes along with that,” Dwyer said. “I think the lack of physical proximity makes learning more difficult for everyone involved. I imagine it is harder for students to stay engaged and on task, and it is harder for teachers to get natural feedback we used to take for granted like body language and facial expressions.” Private schools in the DMV area have figured out ways for their students to go into school for hybrid learning, where students have in-person school twice a week. There’s no reason FCPS shouldn’t be able to make similar adjustments. Bishop O’Connell High School started their school year with hybrid learning. “During online school I have absolutely no motivation, and being in person kind of reinforces you to stay on top of things,” junior O’Connell student Abby Zimmerman said. “It’s nice to have clarification from teachers and to have the teacher contact.” Although the risks of in-person learning require new precautions to be taken, FCPS could easily imitate the safety adjustments

taken by private schools in the area. “At O’Connell, they make you wipe down desks after every class. There’s built in sanitation time. All the desks are six feet apart, including during lunch. They’re pretty on top of it,” Zimmerman said. Returning to school will be safe if teachers are provided with personal protective equipment and everyone in the building wears a mask at all times. “From what I’ve read, schools are not a major source of community transmission if they are set up properly, but I think there are a lot of logistical concerns and hurdles to make that come to fruition in all of the different contexts for FCPS,” Dwyer said. FCPS plans to bring 7th-12th grade students back for hybrid learning on Jan. 26. Since teachers and students with serious health concerns can opt out of in-person school, it’s not fair to deprive all students and teachers of a somewhat normal school experience. As a result of insufficient schooling, students are struggling. Schools need to focus on reopening for the sake of students and their futures.

Should FCPS reopen? Schools shouldn’t reopen if we can’t be safe



merica’s spiral into a deadly pandemic has been ongoing for nearly a year. Yet, on Jan. 26, middle and high school students are scheduled to return despite the lack of a cure or approved vaccine. With Fairfax County averaging over 320 new cases each day—surpassing the peak of the first wave in the spring—returning to school is a laughable idea. Resuming in-person instruction seems even more dangerous following Superintendent Scott Brabrand’s Nov. 16 decision to delay the return to classrooms for Group 5 students due to safety concerns. “The current health metrics for COVID-19 cases in our community now exceed the threshold to expand our inperson learning,” Brabrand said in his announcement. This delay shows that the county was rushing to return to school without sufficient planning, which poses a major health risk. “When returning to school, implementing and maintaining social distancing during

classes, lunch and passing periods will be difficult without a good plan,” said junior Anjali Kesari, who has opted to continue with online learning rather than returning to in-person instruction. Like Kesari, 34% of McLean students have chosen not to return to in-person learning in January. For some, the decision came due to the growing number of COVID cases and their discomfort with being in the school building.

THE CURRENT HEALTH METRICS FOR COVID-19 CASES IN OUR COMMUNITY NOW EXCEED THE THRESHOLD TO EXPAND OUR IN-PERSON LEARNING.” - SCOTT BRABRAND FCPS SUPERINTENDENT For other students, the option between returning to in-person learning or continuing online comes from a place of necessity, as some students are either highrisk themselves or live with someone who is high-risk. While students have been granted the ability to choose between in-person or online instruction, that same opportunity has not been extended to everyone. “Teachers and staff do not have any choice [between in-person or online],” said a McLean teacher who asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from groups advocating for an immediate return to school. “All teachers will have to return in-person on their assigned return date unless they have a personal medical issue that makes them high-risk and qualifies them for

Comics by Cameron Tebo | Page design by Ana Paula Ibarraran

an ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodation.” Taking this option away from teachers leaves them in a difficult and unfair position. The current restrictions for what qualifies a teacher to teach online completely disregard teachers who may live with someone or have a close family member who is high-risk. Even with the hybrid model of instruction, teachers will be exposed to all of their inperson students each and every week, so their risk of infection isn’t lessened. “[Those teachers] will have to return in person or take a leave option that does not provide pay,” the anonymous teacher said. With teachers essentially being forced to go back and two-thirds of McLean students opting to return to in-person instruction, maintaining social distancing while in the school building will be impossible, a problem most private schools don’t face. The push for returning to in-person school has been fueled by the lackluster experience students have had with online school. Although online learning has its flaws, it is a much better alternative than potentially exposing McLean students and staff members to COVID-19 and increasing the likelihood of spreading the virus throughout the entire community. The school board is in a difficult position, but they must carefully evaluate all potential solutions before making any rushed decisions. “It is incredibly tough to balance the needs of certain parents who want their children back in school and the safety concerns of teachers and staff, many of whom do not feel safe returning to school,” the anonymous teacher said. The increasing rate of coronavirus cases and the school system’s ability to continue with online learning create make reopening FCPS dangerous and unnecessary. Until cases in Northern Virginia begin to show a steady decline and proper measures are taken to ensure the safety of all students and staff, reopening school doors simply runs too high a risk for everyone involved. DECEMBER | OPINIONS | 37


GOP must reform and adopt new policies following President Trump’s ousting



n Jan. 20, President-elect Joe Biden will be inaugurated into the office of the presidency, officially ending Donald Trump’s short tenure in the White House. While Trump’s most staunch supporters are refusing to accept the results of the election, traditional Republicans and moderates are relieved that the president will no longer lead the party—not because we wish for the GOP’s downfall, but instead we want to see the party strengthen and unite. As the president enters his lame duck period, former Trump advocates and Republicans in Congress are rightfully beginning to distance themselves from the White House. Noting that Trump failed to carry Georgia, Republicans will likely request that he does not campaign for either of the two Senate runoff elections. “The Republicans are starting to prepare for politics after Trump. Although this may anger the president, it is for the best,” junior Cab Fooshe said. “The GOP can continue his


anti-establishment agenda while also adding new platforms and stances on issues that will help guide the party towards prosperity and unity.” In 2016, voters were drawn in by the GOP nominee’s stances on issues that went against the status quo. Trump also promoted the America First doctrine. “The president was very strong in negotiating better trade and business deals with foreign countries. But again, I don’t think he really communicated what that meant to the average American,” former Congressman Jack Fields said in an interview with The Highlander. Trump managed to unite the party in terms of national security and the economy. “I think that the Republican Party has shown some solidarity, but also a lot of independent elements. Honestly, the message of Donald Trump was a message that resonated with many, many Americans,” Fields said. “More Americans would have voted for the president, had he not made some of the incendiary comments and the way he treated some people.” While Trump lost some groups of voters that the GOP traditionally carries, he made gains among other groups, signaling a conservative shift in political demographics. “Donald Trump did better among Hispanics in Texas and Florida than previous Republicans. He resonated beyond what was the normal [GOP] base,” Fields said. “The Republican Party has got to figure out how to communicate better to all minorities, but particularly Latinos and Hispanics.” However, other conservatives assume Latinos will vote more liberally when Trump is out of office. “I think that the GOP will definitely lose some of the demographics that Trump picked up,” said senior Caroline Lucia, vice president of the Young Conservatives. “For example, his constant brandishing of the term ‘socialism’ caused a lot of

Latino voters to support Trump, and I think the party will lose those voters since other Republican candidates are less willing to label their opponents as such.” It is difficult to project how these demographics will vote in the next election. While Trump’s foreign policy and national security agenda will be enshrined into the base, the party needs to add environmental policy and modernize stances on social issues, forming contemporary conservative policies. “I think that the GOP will just have a broader range now,” Lucia said. “I think that some of the party will continue his legacy but it will totally contract on the other side to incorporate the policies that Trump fell short on, like climate change and healthcare.” Although the conservatives have lost control of the executive branch, the Republican Party is not out of power. They are projected to retain the Senate and have a one-seat advantage on the Supreme Court. “The GOP will get rid of Trumpism through writing new policies into their bases’ platform,” Fooshe said. “While the party itself can only do so much in order to reform their base, it truthfully relies all on the 2024 presidential candidate and their new argument for the American people.” For the first time in four years, the GOP is back on the offensive. Party leaders will have opportunities to attack Biden’s administration and grow their base of traditional conservatism around the nation. “If Biden does manage to get his extreme plans through Congress, then we will see a surge of conservative voters in the 2024 presidential election,” Fields said. “We will also take back the House in 2022 and have a Republican speaker [of the House] and Senate majority leader that will revive conservative values in the White House through negotiations and compromises.” Republican or Democrat, we must always hope our nation succeeds. Trump without a doubt has been a divisive president that many Americans feared. The most patriotic thing we can do is stand by Biden’s side and acknowledge this as a win. During the BidenKamala administration, the Republican Party should and will begin reforming their base to represent every American citizen.

Cartoon by Jane Ogilvie-Russell | Page design by Kyle Hawley



s high school students’ return to school inches closer, FCPS’s plan is nearing completion. Its “concurrent learning” model has been in the works for a while, merging in-person and virtual students into a physical environment. Having a plan is exciting, but this one is ridiculous. “I think it’s a really crummy model to be honest,” said school board member Laura Jane Cohen, who represents Springfield. “What you get [in person] ought to be better than what you get now, and I don’t think concurrent meets that in a lot of situations.” FCPS intends to have virtual and inperson students learn from a teacher in the classroom at the same time. Most virtual students will see the class with a 120-degree camera and participate in class through an online conferencing platform, as if their teacher were online with them. In-person students whose last names start with a letter between A and K will go to school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while those with names starting with L to Z will go on Thursdays and Fridays. When in-person students are not in school, which includes independent work Mondays, they will be at home on the computer. The plan makes students spend three out of five days online, which partially defeats the purpose of choosing to learn in school. The plan to combine students also doesn’t add up. How can teachers maintain control over students online and in-person, teach, check for virtual chat messages and ensure students are following safety precautions all at the same time? The answer: they can’t. “Concurrent’s an impossible model,” English teacher Anna Caponetti said. “[As a teacher] you’re attending to the very real behavioral needs as well as intellectual needs of the students in the classroom. And then you get to check whether or not the people at home are still with you and if they have any questions, and sometimes that opportunity never arises.” For teachers who teach entirely virtual,

Fairfax County Public Schools needs to rethink its plan, fast AKASH BALENALLI WEBSITE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

FCPS plans to hire monitors to watch students in person as they learn from their teacher through a screen. Since teachers can’t control the physical classroom through a screen, these monitors are essential to the concurrent learning model, but the hiring process has been slower than expected.

It’s a really crummy model to be honest. - Laura Jane Cohen

School board member

“The staffing is just not in place there yet,” Cohen said. “And if I had to guess, if we’re not there on staffing, my fear is that it will push back some of the timelines.” Superintendent Scott Brabrand cited metrics like low staff numbers as a reason for delaying first and second grade students’ return to school. It should be obvious to FCPS that not many people will want to

Page design by Akash Balenalli | Cartoon by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

watch students in crowded buildings during a pandemic; the district needs to take the hint and not rely on such a concept, since it is likely to cause more delays in the future. Granted, this concurrent learning plan is one of the only models that can simultaneously satisfy those who want schools to reopen and those who cannot attend in-person classes. But it is up to FCPS’s decision makers to create something that is more reliable and places less burden on staff. All in all, the plan is so complicated and unfeasible that even FCPS’s own school board cannot back it wholeheartedly. “[The plan] comes from instructional services, so that’s not us as a board,” Cohen said. “We’ve pushed back pretty significantly on concurrent and...were not in favor of concurrent learning.” As it stands, months into distance learning, students and staff are facing a return to school with an unpopular, nonsensical plan and red flags flying everywhere. Concurrent learning seems to be 2020 in a nutshell.




McHockey team checks the competition in first games of the season MAYA AMMAN NEWS EDITOR | ANDREW CHRISTOFFERSON REPORTER


here is nothing like feeling the crisp air at the side of an ice rink, all bundled up and ready to watch an exhilarating game of hockey. Sadly, because of the coronavirus, McLean students haven’t been able to have this experience this year. The McLean ice hockey team has managed to play full games and a mostly complete season in spite of the pandemic. This is because the hockey team is a club, not an official McLean High School sports team. The hockey team doesn’t need to adhere to the same rules as the Virginia High School League (VHSL), which gives them a lot more flexibility than other sports.

unless they are on the ice. “We aren’t allowed to use locker rooms, forcing us to get dressed in the parking lot,” said junior Nathaniel Hughes, center for the team. With all of these restrictions, players find it difficult to play together the same way. “There isn’t as much chemistry because we don’t get the time to talk to each other in the locker rooms,” said junior Will Scherer, one of the team’s goalies. Regardless of the circumstances, the players are enjoying their time together. “I think it has been more fun since the players all want the exercise and camaraderie

we maintain those restrictions and follow through with protocol,” senior captain Garrett Bain said. Hughes is excited about the opportunity to play, but he also enjoys being able to see and spend time with his teammates. Although the pandemic has taken a significant toll on athletics, the hockey team is managing to persevere. “Only a few players have left due to COVID, not enough to make a significant difference,” Hughes said. With most of the players psyched and ready to give it their all, the team is looking to put together an amazing season. “We have a good team this year and have a shot at winning our division if we come together and play as a team,” Scherer said This abnormal season is also the last for many players. “All this happening during my senior year definitely isn’t ideal, but I’m just glad I’m getting the chance to play with my team for one more year,” said senior Max Volkov, left wing/forward for the team. Both players and fans await the day when the stands can be filled with supporters once again. “Hockey is an exciting game to watch, and we look forward to having McHockey fans again someday,” Phipps said. “We have a fast and talented team—it’s fun to watch on a Friday night.” Although this may be a strange way to say goodbye to the McHockey team, Bain is grateful for his final season.




The McLean hockey team had an undefeated 3-0 record in the preseason. They are 3-1 so far in the regular season and are hoping for the chance to play many more games. Even though they are allowed to participate, playing the game the same way is impossible. At practices, players must abide by social distancing rules and wear masks 40 | SPORTS | DECEMBER

of playing together,” coach Rick Phipps said. “It is an island of normalcy in an ocean of weirdness.” The team yearns for a full return to normalcy, but in the end, the game is all that matters. “I would very much like to have a full season with little to no restriction—however, for everyone else’s safety, it is important that

“I’m very appreciative of my teammates and coaches for being supportive of me and continuing to do their best to put in all their effort out on the ice and be good sportsmen off the ice as well,” Bain said. “I am incredibly thankful for the time that I’ve been given with McLean hockey. I’m sure they’ll continue to do well even after I have graduated.”

Page design by Nicky Varela & Taylor Olson Photos by Andrew Christofferson & courtesy of Alexei Volkov

HOCKEY HIGHLIGHTS — Clockwise starting from the top left: Sophomore Jack Deutch skates swiftly in a game against Battlefield High School on Nov. 13. The team listens attentively to plays from their coach at practice. Junior Nathaniel Hughes participates in a drill at practice and attemps to shoot on goal. Junior Will Scherer defends the goal during a Friday night game.




ears of hard work and dedication, hours of demanding practice and anticipation for it to pay off, all to be rudely interrupted by the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus. By now, it is no surprise that the pandemic has put a wrench in the plans of millions of Americans across the country. With many of their sports seasons canceled or delayed and more in jeopardy, high school student-athletes have watched as their future aspirations are thrown into question. With National Signing Day fast approaching on Feb. 3, athletes and colleges alike are scrambling to get back on schedule. Combating challenges posed by the virus, steps in the recruiting process have been altered. McLean High School athletes have been increasingly impacted by the pandemic. Changes to recruitment have led to new uncertainty. As a result, the potential of many aspiring collegiate athletes has gone unnoticed. “It has made it more difficult for everyone involved,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. “Colleges aren’t able to travel the area recruiting the way they have in the past. Also, without sports for the past eight to nine months, kids have not been able to showcase their talents either.” Now, with cases rising, sports teams are once again vulnerable to cancellations. Colleges have resorted to mainly recruiting based on film, as opposed to in-person events and tournaments. “[Schools now] often reach out over text after seeing my film, whereas in the past they

How has COVID-19 changed recruiting for coaches with the Class of 2021? No change Sped up recruiting



Delayed recruiting

would often reach out after seeing [me] in person at big tournaments,” senior varsity basketball player Nate Legg said. “There are many schools recruiting me now that can’t allow me to visit due to COVID. We had very few tournaments this summer.” The complications of the virus have led to severe repercussions on school budgets, lessening their allotted recruitment spending.

I’M NOT GOING TO LET A VIRUS STAND BETWEEN SOMETHING I’VE BEEN TRAINING MY WHOLE LIFE TO ACCOMPLISH.” - NATHAN NGUYEN JUNIOR “Budgetwise, colleges have been hit hard by [the virus], so they haven’t been able to travel the way they usually can to recruit,” Miller said. “They are most likely relying on using their contacts in different areas to get recommendations on athletes.” McLean athletes have also found the process challenging as they struggle to adapt to these unforeseen circumstances. Junior Nathan Nguyen, a Blue Chip tennis player ranked in the top 15 nationwide for the Class of 2022, sees the toll the pandemic


Number of opened emails from recruits to college coaches

800000 600000

825,519 635,743



200000 0


March-July 2019

March-July 2020

has had on recruitment, even for top tier talent. “COVID has been huge [for the recruitment process]. I probably would have committed way earlier than I plan to,” Nguyen said. “That being said, I became a lot more open and have more options, but it has still been a huge inconvenience.” As coronavirus cases increased around the country, the NCAA resorted to extending the ‘dead period’–the time when commitments are limited and coaches cannot visit or assess talent. “My fellow athletes became very upset as [the dead period] kept extending. After training their whole lives and waiting for the moment to commit, many people took it as a slap to the face,” Nguyen said. Junior Susan Shobeiri recently committed to Boston University for soccer without inperson recruiting or campus visits. “My recruiting process was pretty long and involved a lot of effort on my end,” Shobeiri said. “The biggest challenges I faced revolved around the NCAA’s changes to recruiting rules, which especially impacted my class.” The NCAA recommends several ways to stay relevant, including posting highlights on social media and staying in contact with recruiters and coaches. They also advise staying in shape and continuously talking to high school coaches. “I made several training and highlight videos to make up for the lack of in-person recruiting,” Shobeiri said. While the NCAA’s extension of the dead period poses some inconveniences, it also presents a higher degree of flexibility, as players can now conduct recruiting calls without a coach being present. Players remain hopeful that they can overcome the ensuing challenges from the virus, and they urge the community to adhere to preventative practices. “We need to come together to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” Nguyen said. “I’m not going to let a virus stand between something I’ve been training my whole life to accomplish.”

Data obtained from the NCSA | Page design by Taylor Olson


Four senior athletes discuss their college sports commitments HERAN ESSAYAS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | MICHELLE CHENG A&E EDITOR

Kaitlyn Helfrich Soccer Claremont McKenna College

How did you know Claremont McKenna was the right fit for you?

Skye Sunderhauf Swim Bucknell University

How did you know Bucknell was the right fit for you?

I knew Claremont McKenna was the right school for me after I visited in early March. The common majors and academic climate matched me perfectly as a student, the soccer team was nice and inviting and I could see myself there as soon as I walked on campus.

I knew Bucknell was the right fit for me during the Zoom call that I was able to participate in with the team. Everyone was super welcoming and nice, and I could see myself fitting in. Right before I committed, I was also able to visit the campus, which I ended up loving, and that confirmed my decision.

COVID-19 gave me some challenges as I was not able to go to showcases and tournaments for a long period of time. However, my club team, Loudoun Soccer, is playing a limited season right now with COVID-19 protocols in place. I am also doing fitness training and weightlifting on the side.

I’m most looking forward to just being part of the team in college. It’ll be different from my club team now, as I’ll be spending so much more time with the college team and living with some of them too. I’m super excited to meet all the swimmers and also compete against a bunch of other schools, especially those in the Patriot League.

Taylor Benedict Rowing Ohio State University

Jake Lynes Baseball The Catholic University of America

What challenges did COVID-19 present during recruiting?

What are you looking forward to in being on a college team?

How did you know Ohio State was the right fit for you?

How did you know Catholic was the right fit for you?

Ohio State’s coaches and team really stood out to me when looking at schools because of their goals and team community. My past teams have always had strong bonds, and I wanted a team that had the same sense of community.

It checked every box for me. It was one of the few schools that offered a finance program that I was looking at, and the coaches and baseball program are outstanding.

How are you participating in rowing right now?

How do you feel knowing that you have committed?

Following social distancing guidelines, I have been rowing in singles as I feel relieved as it was a very tough recruiting process for me. But I a member of the Potomac Boat Club. As winter approaches, I plan to won’t stop here—my best baseball is ahead of me. continue training with Potomac Boat Club’s winter program. Photos courtesy of athletes | Page design by Heran Essayas






ormally one of the most exciting, fan-friendly sports at McLean, the empty bleachers will not create the same atmosphere in the main gym that the McLean basketball teams were accustomed to. Coming off of relatively strong last seasons, the boys and girls varsity teams are looking to expand on their previous success. The boys are scheduled to play their first game at home against Chantilly High School on Dec. 21. “I’ve been preparing for our first game by practicing on my own and soon will be with my team,” senior Nate Legg said. “I’m excited to get out and play, considering how long it has been since I last played because of COVID cancellations during summer.” VHSL’s COVID-19 protocols for high school basketball games include eliminating the jump ball and frequently sanitizing the game ball.


FAST FEET — Eric Mizusawa nears the finish line during a chilly out-of-season winter track practice on Nov. 18. The team continues to put in work despite not having any VHSL scheduled meets yet.



or the varsity winter track team, the biggest challenge that COVID has brought is managing the sheer size of the squad. To overcome these obstacles, the team cut down the number and size of practices held. “They have made practice only two times a week when it used to be five, and only 10-12 people can go,” sophomore runner Cesar Rodriguez said. McLean track has also taken several measures to limit contact between players and coaches, including having runners wear masks and wait in their cars until the scheduled practice time. Despite these safety precautions, the county is currently not allowing meets to be hosted. Even if the team is unable to compete in any official meets, runners are making the most of the situation. “We just focus on getting the most out of it and staying in shape even though most likely there will be no season,” Rodriguez said. If the track team is able to return to competition, athletes are looking forward to improving on years past. “If we get to run, I will be looking forward to breaking my previous records in the mile [run] and the 800 [meter run] and winning relay races,” Rodriguez said. 44 | SPORTS | DECEMBER


lthough uncertainties remain surrounding the logistics of the upcoming swim and dive season, the team is as excited as ever. The team is prioritizing team unity as the official start of the season nears. “We’re constantly throwing ideas out and we’re constantly coming up with ways that we can help make sure that the team feels united, and I’m really excited to have this energy,” junior Atticus Gore said. Despite the team’s boosted morale, questions about the details of the upcoming season loom in the heads of team members and coaches alike. “I’d say the biggest challenge that we’ve had so far is just the unknown,” Gore said. “We don’t know how big the team can be, or if we can have swim meets.” Gore is confident that there are safe ways to compete this year. “I’d say swimming is definitely one of those sports where we can find a way to make it work if the swimmers are able and willing to make it work and follow the procedures and guidelines put in place by the CDC and VHSL,” Gore said.



he gymnastics team will face the challenge of easing gymnasts back into the sport as independent offseason training has been limited. “Normally a lot of the preparation for the season comes from outside of the school at private gyms,” senior Amelia Zug said. “I think a lot of gymnasts are out of practice because their gyms have been closed, and they’re not getting as consistent training.” The team will also have to prepare for VHSL rule changes that are intended to make competitions safer. “Usually at meets there is a round of rotating timed warmups for each team on each event before competing,” Zug said. “This year, the meets will be limited to four teams per meet, and each team will compete immediately after their timed warmup so that there are less rotations.” Although there are safety concerns about the viability of hosting competitions, the Highlander gymnastics team is ready to compete. “The team is definitely excited for the possibility of having a season,” Zug said. “[We] know we have to work hard right off the bat.” Photo by Katie Romhilt | Page design by Jack Shields
































Reporting by Lia Vincenzo Photos courtesy of athletes & coach


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