The Highlander - Issue 2 - November 2022

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Growing under pressure

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Letter from the editors

Dear McLean,

When the Virginia Department of Education first proposed new transgender student policies, students walked out in protest of actions such as outing LGBTQ+ students. This issue’s in-depth discusses the implications of the policy on McLean’s LGBTQ+ population through four profiles of students and staff.

In light of a school board member saying an ableist slur, our editorial discusses the importance of eliminating the use of slurs and discriminatory language in school.

Check out our other sections to read about one of TheatreMcLean’s rising stars, Highlander athletes’ superstitions and renovations that are coming to McLean soon, including some long-awaited bathroom upgrades.

As you read through this issue, we encourage you to think about how to treat members of our community with love and respect. For coverage of all the latest news, follow us on Instagram @MHSHighlander, and visit our website, If there’s anything you’d like to share with us, please reach out to We’d love to hear from you!


Editors-in-Chief: Farah Eljazzar Nyla Marcott Saehee Perez

Design Editor-in-Chief: Makda Bekele

Assistant Design Editor-in-Chief: Dania Reza

Managing Editors: Tanner Coerr Isabella DiPatri Philip Rotondo Madeleine Stigall

Chief Marketing Manager: Josephine Phillips

Head Cartoonist: Liz Nedelescu

Designer: Natalie Vu

Fact Checkers: Zakareya Hamed Alexa Sribar

Aaron Stark

News Editors: Minsong Ha Natalie Vu

Features Editors: Sabrina Boughanem Tara Pandey

A&E Editors: Khushi Rana Madie Turley

Opinions Editors: Zakareya Hamed Jessica Purevtugs

Sports Editors: Madelyn Frederick Conaire Horgan

Copy Editors: Sabrina Boughanem Minsong Ha Tara Pandey

Digital Media Producers: Kate Burke Madie Turley

Social Media Team: Sandra Cheng Isabella DiPatri Madelyn Frederick

McLean High School 1633 Davidson Road McLean, Virginia 22101

Website Editor-in-Chief: Omar Kayali

Website Managing Editor: Khushi Rana

Online News Editors: Minsong Ha Sarah Soltani

Online Features Editors: Sandra Cheng

Reporters: Liyat Amman Zachary Ammar Odile de Vachon Ty Goss Thomas Ham Haley Riggins

Adviser: Lindsay B. Benedict

Online A&E Editor: Alex Kofinis

Online Opinions Editor: Josephine Phillips

Online Sports Editors: Conaire Horgan Alexa Sribar

Ingrid Shumway Brooke Thomas Elise Walker Sophia Weil Aileen Wu

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.

Advertising policy: The Highlander sells ad space on each page of the magazine except on the front cover, opinions section and in-depth article. The staff reserves the right to reject any ads it deems libelous, obscene, disruptive or otherwise inappropriate.

To submit a letter to the editors: Please email letters to the editors to or bring them to room R133. The staff reserves the right to edit letters for grammar and clarity, and all letters are subject to laws concerning obscenity, libel, privacy and disruption of the school process.

Yours Truly, Farah Eljazzar, Saehee Perez, Nyla Marcott, Makda Bekele & Omar Kayali The Highlander Editors-in-Chief
contents The Highlander newsmagazine ‘20, ‘17 Pacemaker Winner; ‘21, ‘19, ‘15 Pacemaker Finalist ‘22, ‘20, ‘17, ‘16 Gold Crown Winner; ‘21, ‘19, ‘18 Silver Crown Winner ‘22, ‘20, ‘19, ‘18, ‘17, ‘16, ‘14 George H. Gallup Award ‘21, ‘19, ‘18, ‘17, ‘16, ‘15, ‘14 VHSL Trophy Class; VHSL Savedge Award ‘22, ‘21, ‘20, ‘19, ‘18, ‘00 First Amendment Press Freedom Award 31 16-21 Growth under pressure Members of McLean’s LGBTQ+ community continue to thrive despite adversity Cover by Makda Bekele & Liz Nedelescu on the cover IN-DEPTH sports 27 10-11 7 Teacher background checks 4 McLean High renovations coming soon 5 ESSER III funding changes 6 John Lewis Leadership Program NEWS 25 Editorial: Language use must change 26 Patriotism is too prioritized at McLean 27 Satire: Banned books opinions 30 31 Team superstitions Athlete of the Issue: Catherine Hughes Johnson family legacy 28-29 32 The Finish Line 22 FEATURES 9 Online classes 12 Stefan Jafari starts cookie business Profile: sports photographer Kent Arnold 10-11 13 10 Questions with Adam Newburger 15 Students consider early decision 22 A&E TheatreMcLean’s Much Ado About Nothing 23 Artist Spotlight: Audrey Link 24 Miniso store review 16-21 6


McLean identified as one of the top schools needing updates

After years of putting off making necessary improvements to McLean High School, FCPS has decided to renovate the indoor bathrooms during the summer of 2023.

FCPS facilities have identified McLean High School and Whitman Middle School as the two schools most in need of student bathroom renovations. In the near future, McLean will receive indoor bathroom upgrades as well as new stadium restrooms, and some floor and ceiling tiles will be replaced throughout the school. The specifics and details of the renovation, however, are still being determined.

Students frequently share concerns abour the bathrooms, including issues with backed up and broken toilets, frequent flooding and unsanitary conditions. While these bathroom renovations are just a partial update to the school as a whole, they will provide a huge improvement for both students and teachers.

“Of course I’m excited about bathroom renovations,” senior Vivianne Ngo said.

“During away tennis matches, I saw how nice the bathrooms in other schools were. They had fully stocked paper towels and toilet seats in one piece, unlike our school.”

Along with indoor bathroom upgrades, McLean will get new stadium bathrooms near the football field. The FCPS School Board announced this decision last year to utilize the leftover money from the fiscal year-end plan (FY22) to pay for facilities throughout the county.

“The outdoor bathrooms are honestly something that we’ve just been talking about for a while, but this is something that the school board decides on, so it really wasn’t a process that we had to go through,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said.

More than half of the high schools in FCPS have no permanent restrooms for the athletic facilities; out of the 28 high schools in the county, 15 are scheduled to have stadium bathrooms added. The budget for these bathrooms will come from state funding, and the current estimate for all 15 bathroom construction projects is approximately $15 million. Completion is expected to take up to three years and will be implemented in phases.

Throughout the county, FCPS is also evaluating high schools in need of security vestibules, which let administrators know who is entering or exiting the building. Principal Ellen Reilly said she is uncertain if McLean will be chosen to have one of these security vestibules installed over the summer.

With these building updates on the way, students hope to see more renovations coming to McLean in the future.

“I think new desks would be a great improvement to the school. Some of the desks at school aren’t sized comfortably right now. They should also definitely resurface the tennis courts,” Ngo said.

Although some improvements are being implemented, a full renovation of McLean remains far in the future. During a school board meeting on Oct. 19, board members discussed future renovation plans.

“We don’t have a plan right now for a complete renovation [of McLean High School],” FCPS School Board member Elaine Tholen said at the meeting.

With no major renovations planned, Reilly is concerned the changes will do little to alleviate the overcrowding at McLean, which currently has over 2,400 students.

Breaking down — Missing ceiling tiles and poor bathroom conditions are just a few problems with McLean’s building. Bathroom renovations are set to happen over the summer.

“If you look at Marshall, Langley, Falls Church, they have all been built up to 2,500 capacity. We’re still at 2,100 capacity,” Reilly said. “They need to add the space by adding on an addition, so that is what I’m really stressing for, but we’re going to [be in the] queue for a while.”

4 | NEWS |
Photos & page design by Natalie Vu


Changes to ESSER III grant bring new resources to McLean

The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds (ESSER III) is a project that was formed to address the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on academics and to help safely reopen schools. ESSER III provided $188.8 million to FCPS schools last fall.

Recent changes to how schools can spend these funds are helping schools to use this money to provide students and staff with improved educational resources.

“The ESSER funding has many benefits for our students and staff,” said Assistant Director of Student Activities Jeremy Hays, who is in charge of club activities at McLean.

One benefit of the ESSER amendments McLean has seen is an increase in club funding, including the ability to pay club sponsors at an hourly rate for the time they spend working with their clubs.

“This [budget addition] has increased the amount of McLean staff willing to sponsor new clubs at the school,” Hays said. “We have had over 25 new clubs started at the school in the past year.”

The promise of compensation encouraged Model UN sponsor Annie Daggett to take on the responsibility of working with the club again this year. Running the group previously required countless unpaid hours organizing meetings and conferences and attending field trips.

“It’s nice to be compensated when I’m

spending so much time going away for a weekend or spending my Fridays and Saturdays with this club,” Daggett said.

Many teachers devote time outside of their regular working hours, which can interfere with their personal lives.

“It’s so hard, especially for those teachers

what we’re allowed to spend money on is very narrow in scope,” said Ashley Lowry, McLean’s school-based technology specialist. “Our esports club wanted new high quality monitors, which were not provided under ESSER funding. We were told to use our after school funds to purchase those monitors.”

Along with increasing club funding, the ESSER funds added the options of hiring COVID-19 managers and monitors. While this money has been used for COVID-19 management in other schools, McLean’s administration has instead used that money to improve teaching.

that have kids or have another job outside of school,” Daggett said. “[Model UN] is my other job, but I could see for a lot of teachers that if they didn’t get compensated that they wouldn’t [sponsor] a club.”

The ESSER program has diverted money to funding clubs which previously lacked resources. Clubs are now able to request new materials for their organizations. However, there are limitations to the ESSER plan which restrict how the funding is distributed throughout the school.

“The ESSER plan is very detailed and thorough but also super frustrating because

“This year, we are spending a lot of our money on professional development for staff so that they are staying current with best practices and can implement those in their classrooms,” Lowry said.

For example, McLean is sending five teachers to the National Council for the Teachers of Mathematics.

“The conference helps math teachers share all their ideas and teaching strategies with one another, so it’s the collective knowledge sharing that helps teachers grow,” Lowry said.

These opportunities help teachers learn and develop new teaching techniques.

“Being able to send teachers to professional learning opportunities so that they stay current on research-based practices is a huge advantage and an excellent way to spend the funds,” Lowry said.

NOVEMBER 2022 | NEWS | 5 Page
Creating Change — McLean’s Model UN hosts its annual fall conference. ESSER III has provided McLean clubs with additional funding, including providing payment for club sponsors. (Photo courtesy of Emma Springer)


Anewprogram aimed at providing high school students with government, policy and advocacy education launched this year at John Lewis High School in Springfield, Virginia. The Lewis Leadership Program is expected to transform the face of the school and bring new opportunities to the county.

“This is an opportunity to create leaders who will be locally championing different causes,” at-large school board member Abrar Omeish said. “Young people today are really eager to see change and improvements in social justice.”

The program includes special partnerships with local organizations and universities, such as George Mason University and the Bipartisan Leadership Project, and course offerings from Human Rights to Public Policy. This year, the program launched with a limited number of students and is expected to begin paving the way for more equitable education across FCPS.

Formerly Robert E. Lee High School, John Lewis High is among the most diverse schools in Fairfax County, with a 49% Hispanic student population. Nearly twothirds of its students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

to students of working class backgrounds.

“Our students have a right to meaningful and sustained opportunities to cultivate their skills and innovate by creating...real world solutions,” FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid said at the reception for the program on Oct. 27.

Following the recent equity-geared admissions changes at the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the Lewis Leadership Program is intended to level the playing field and offer rigorous and challenging programs across the board.

The Lewis Leadership Program began after the formation of the community organization Lewis Academy Now amid mounting pressure to provide opportunities

“[I hope] this program continues to go forward and pulls students in [in order] to make an impact on the world,” said Henry Lewis, the youngest brother of the late congressman John Lewis.

The Lewis Leadership Program is one of the first comprehensive programs of its kind in a public school, and the program may start pooling students from across FCPS or be replicated in other schools.

“The hope is that [upon] seeing the success [at] Lewis, we can expand opportunities like this across the county,” Omeish said.

One notable featuree of the Lewis Leadership Program is its work with local partner organizations like Edu-Futuro, which offers the Emerging Leaders Program. The program includes projects directed towards Spanish-speaking students and firstgeneration immigrants of Hispanic origin. Curriculum content and class slides are often translated into Spanish for maximum accessibility.

“I really like this program because it is for student voices to be heard,” said senior Dulce Gonzalez Navarro, a student leader in the John Lewis Leadership Program.

Hopes are high across FCPS for widereaching comprehensive programs like the Lewis Leadership Program that can broaden education access and close gaps.

“If we make an impact on their lives,” Henry Lewis said, “then they will make an impact on the world.”

6 | NEWS | NOVEMBER 2022
Government and leadership program begins at historically disenfranchised high school
THE DAWN OF A NEW ERA — A mural featuring late Democratic Congressman John R. Lewis and the Selma Bridge in Alabama is painted on the wall at the main entrance of John Lewis High School, the program’s home. Photo & page design by Zakareya Hamed


FCPS implements routine background checks to improve student safety

Unreported arrests, criminal convictions and gaps in the hiring process have caused FCPS to announce that the district will be implementing routine background checks on employees, a system that is not currently required after an employee is hired.

“I’ve been working for 20-plus years, and I’ve never had anybody check to see if I’ve had anything happen during this time,” McLean Principal Ellen Reilly said.

Flaws in the background check process came to light following an incident at Glasgow Middle School. Darren Thornton, a counselor, continued working at the school for 20 months following his initial arrest for solicitation of prostitution from a minor on Nov. 19, 2020, conviction on Sept. 7, 2021, and felony sentence in March 2022 as well as a second arrest in June 2022.

“We do a fingerprint background check [and] submit that to the Virginia State Police,” said Michael Draeger, the director of Business Services, a group in the FCPS Department of Human Resources that is responsible for activities related to onboarding new employees. “They provide back the report of whether the individual has a record or no record of arrest and then

that’s kind of the end of it.”

The Glasgow case resulted in questions regarding whether changes should be made.

“Regular check-ins would be helpful,” Draeger said. “The background check is always a snapshot in time.”

FCPS currently does not have any requirements for employees to share arrests or police contact with employers.



“There is nothing that says that you have to come to tell me about [police interactions],” Reilly said. “I have had arrested, usually for a DUI (driving under the influence). A lot of times that person will come and say something or I get an email, but usually the person comes running.”

Investigative Findings

Following Glasgow MS Case


Notice of Arrests and Conviction

FCPS was not notified of the counselor’s Chesterfield County arrest in November 2020, his felony conviction in 2021 or his sentencing in March 2022.

2) Hiring

The FCPS hiring process has several systemic gaps, including on reference checks, verification of the appropriate license and information sharing between jurisdictions.

3) Licensure

FCPS has several systemic issues with monitoring employee performance and ensuring appropriate licensure.

4) Leave

FCPS has systemic issues with ensuring that leave status is timely and properly approved and documented.

5) Dismissal and Resignation

FCPS has systemic issues with consistently and promptly dismissing (rather than suspending without pay) employees following felony convictions.

The Code of Virginia requires that police alert school employers of the arrest of employees for a felony or a Class 1 misdemeanor. The notification process for arrests is complicated by the numerous police jurisdictions and the large number of FCPS employees, nearly 25,000.

“For Fairfax County police, we have some individuals that we work very closely with on a more regular basis, so [they] have reached out to some staff in HR in those cases. But across the state, there are many divisions of police jurisdictions,” Draeger said.

Following the Glasgow incident, FCPS obtained an independent review and subsequently released a corrective action plan. The report identified flaws in the FCPS hiring process. The county currently requires applicants

to submit two references who school administrators are required to contact.

“I have turned away [people] after doing reference checks,” Reilly said. “One of the questions I always ask is, ‘Would you hire this person back?’ And they’ll [say], ‘No.’”

The independent report found “several systemic gaps, including on reference checks.” The current process places significant pressure on principals or managers who are responsible for contacting references.

“We’ve had an incident where people have lied, and it was bad,” Reilly said. “We ended up not hiring the person. I had this gut feeling... I called their boss and I told them that this person gave a good reference, and the person lost their job.”

FCPS is considering implementing the FBI Rap Back program, which would allow the county to continuously monitor employees’ arrests.

“[Rap Back] will provide more real time or ongoing [information],” Draeger said. “As incidents may happen, that information will be reported back to us [in] almost an automated fashion whereby we would not have to rely on individuals to contact us.”

There are concerns, however, regarding implementing more regular background checks and using the FBI Rap Back program.

“As educators, we are charged with educating students and keeping kids safe. Entry-level background checks are understandable. However, the FBI Rap Back program is concerning,” Fairfax Education Association, an employee union, said in a statement to The Highlander. “Reporting agencies should be held responsible for contacting school systems when a crime has been committed. Doing a background check is very different than creating a database where someone may not have been convicted but was fingerprinted. We must think of the constitutional rights of educators and staff.”

As FCPS navigates enacting routine background checks, it will have to plan how to address arrests and potentially hire staff to review results of the checks.

“Does a person have [an opportunity for] redemption? You can learn from your big mistake,” Reilly said.“I believe in second chances, but what is that crime that we’re like ‘absolutely not’?”

Infographic by Minsong Ha| Infographic source FCPS | Page design by Nyla Marcott


More McLean students

opt to take online classes

In an age of increasing digital education, more students are opting to take some of their classes online, attracted by the convenience and what they see as lightened rigor. With long hours spent playing sports or working, busy students find it difficult to devote enough time to schoolworkand appreciate that online classes are held once a week as opposed to two or three times a week.

Senior Ava Farivar is taking online AP Microeconomics and AP Macroeconomics, a class known for having a demanding workload. Farivar has found that taking the class online makes it easier to stay on top of the assignments and create a personalized

Whether it’s using that time to work on other classes or economics, I can prioritize the classes that require the most time from me for any specific week.”

Like many other seniors, Farivar often becomes overwhelmed trying to balance her commitments.

“It would be a lot more difficult to take in person because there is a lot more pressure to get assignments done by the block schedule, and I find that way too fast-paced,” Farivar said. “As an economics class and an AP, I wanted to take my time so I really understood [the material] before the exam.”

Online classes can be especially beneficial to athletes participating in extracurricular activities.

“Staying on top of my other classes’ work is a whole lot easier now that I have more time to do it,” said junior Jocelyn Brooks, a competitive diver who takes U.S. & Virginia History Honors online. “I also have more time to train and get better as an athlete without having to cram homework late every night.”

AP Calculus BC teacher Crissie Ricketts started teaching online classes in 2010, joining FCPS’s Online Campus program in 2015.

“[Teaching online classes] started out as a way to make extra money,” Ricketts said. “It’s like a second job, but it pays really well.”

Online classes allow students to learn from any location through the use of remote meeting services.

“It’s flexible, and I can [teach from] anywhere. I can do it sitting by myself at home, I could do it at the beach in the summer,” Ricketts said. “It’s as good for teachers to be flexible [as it is for students].”

Although online classes are more flexible, a lot of students and

teachers prefer in-person classes because they allow for personalized interactions among peers, and teachers can closely moderate their students.

“[One difficulty is making sure that] every student is aware of what’s going on,” said Steven Walker, who teaches dual enrollment Precalculus through the FCPS Online Campus. “In class, I can look around and tell who’s not paying attention and get their attention and make sure they understand [the topic]. Online, it’s more like you’re throwing [information] out there and just hoping that every kid that’s logged in is actually in front of the computer screen.”

Communicating online makes it harder for students to form connections with their teachers and ask for help. In a classroom setting, students are able to work on projects and have discussions more easily.

“I think it’s less social,” Ricketts said. “A lot of times the benefit to being in a classroom is collaborating with your peers.”

Online learning raises concerns about academic integrity, as some students find it easier to cheat on exams and assignments. Ricketts overcomes this by having four inperson exams, which account for 70% of the final grade.

“If [students] don’t take it seriously and don’t learn [the material], they’re going to struggle on the in-person exams,” Ricketts said.

Despite the drawbacks, online classes have seen an increase in registration at McLean in the past year, and FCPS Online Campus enrollment numbers are expected to continue to rise due to the flexibility and freedom these classes offer.

“You can study and learn on your own time—the material meets you where you are,” Ricketts said. “[Students can learn] anywhere, anytime of the day.”

Madelyn Frederick Sports EDitor | Sandra Cheng Social Media Manager Ava at work — Senior Ava Farivar works on an assignment for her online AP Economics class. She finds that taking the class online helps her manage her time better. (Photo courtesy of Ella Farivar)
NOVEMBER 2022 | FEATURES | 9 Features
design by Madelyn Frederick


The stands of the McLean High football stadium were packed on Oct. 21 long before kick-off as the student section anxiously awaited the Homecoming football game. Fans began to cheer, yet there were no football players in sight. They were cheering for Kent Arnold.

As a volunteer photographer for McLean sports for the past 15 years, Arnold is a familiar face among students and teachers alike. He photographs everything from football games on McLean’s stadium field to crew regattas on the Potomac.

different cultures and landscapes to photograph, which helped him develop his talent and love for the world of photography.

“Some of my favorite photographs I’ve ever taken came out of Afghanistan back in peacetime…from flat alpine plains [to] straight up and down mountains [to] ferociously independent people and stunning, stunning scenery everywhere,” Arnold said.

Arnold’s frequent moves enabled him to form connections and an understanding between himself and others in his many communities. When he eventually moved back to the U.S., Arnold felt as thought he was an outsider in his native country. He did not know much about American culture, or the role sports played in it. Looking for an outlet to express himself, he turned to photography.

only thing they heard was the banging of metal coming from the weight room. It was football practice. John asked to join the team.

“The coach said, ‘Sure, John, you can come play football, but where have you been?’ John didn’t have anything to say but, ‘Sir, I missed it, I know, but I’d very much like to join in now,’” Arnold said. “It was a terribly threatening situation for a kid like him…[but] he started pushing weights and showed them training ethic…he had something to prove.”

John’s career on the football team in 2007 sparked Arnold’s serious dive into sports photography. As a parent in the stands of McLean games, Arnold saw that the pictures other parents took were not doing their exceptional athletes justice.

“The coaches know that I’m just part of the scenery,” Arnold said. “I’m not going to give them any coaching tips…I’m very much there for their players…and they’re there for the love of the sport and for the love of passing [it] along.”

Arnold took up photography at 8 years old when he received his first camera from his father.

“My father taught me the technical basics, and I picked it up from there,” Arnold said. “It was just basically making a lot of mistakes, taking a lot of really bad images.”

Arnold’s father’s job as an intelligence officer in the CIA had the family moving across different continents every couple of years, offering him the best photography subject possible: the natural world.

Arnold has lived all around the globe including Sweden, Afghanistan, Myanmar (formerly Burma), England and Germany. Each country provided him access to

“[Sports] were kind of what pushed me to the edges,” Arnold said. “But photography was something I could share with someone else that they could look at without necessarily looking at me.”

Arnold carried the hobby with him through high school and all the way to Dartmouth, where he majored in physics and electrical engineering. After graduating he traveled around the world again before returning to McLean, where he is now working as a principal engineer for the MITRE Corporation. Most importantly though, Arnold is a father.

“[McLean] has just been vital to their progress even now as adults,” Arnold said.

Although his two children, John and Cathy, have long since graduated from McLean, they originally brought Arnold into the school community. Their experiences of inclusion and kindness here are the reason he’s stayed.

“John was a special needs kid that didn’t really get along with a lot of people,” Arnold said.

The August before his freshman year, John said he wanted to play football. A few days later they went to the school, and the

“I saw these astonishingly talented athletes that were putting a lot into their training, and their parents were putting a lot into their preparation…and the pictures [were] just dreary,” Arnold said. “Some of the finest athletes to come through McLean were blurred, with their opponents taking up three-fourths of their pictures.”

Arnold wanted to provide McLean athletes with a

How Kent Arnold came to be
McLean’s star
Photo by Haley Riggins

their talent and to highlight what it means to be an athlete.

“You can sustain bruises, you can be knocked down, your team can be defeated again and again, but you can learn aspects of people you never even knew to ask about,” Arnold said. “This is something I want to encourage in students and award their families for.”

Arnold also hopes the pictures serve as encouragement for future generations to go outside and engage in sports instead of the temptations of growing technology.

“Eventually [these pictures may] come out of a trunk and some 6- or 7-year-old kid who’s deciding between electronic toys is going to say, ‘Let’s set aside the headset and do some real competition,’” Arnold said.

Although Arnold will occasionally photograph sports at other high schools, he remains loyal to McLean because of his children’s positive experiences here. Despite only stepping on the football field for a matter of 15 seconds the entire season, John went on to win the most valuable player award as a result of his commitment and courage.

“The faculty here…shows a level of motivation that I have not seen in 40 years in an industry of people being paid far higher,” Arnold said. “Their dedication and personal ability as well as the copious extra hours they spend’ve got a gold mine here.”

He photographs 29 of the 31 varsity sports offered at McLean, with the exception of tennis and golf due to scheduling conflicts. He spends hours sifting through the game schedules every season, making sure not to miss the important games. Arnold then shows up to each game as early as possible, pulls out his camera and starts shooting.

“Everyone loves his photos, and they’re really helpful,” varsity volleyball coach Samantha Stewart said. “[He does] something players don’t fully understand and appreciate—he is providing an additional memory of what it means to be a part of McLean volleyball that players can look back on fondly.”

After games he uploads all of the photos onto his computer and carves out whatever time he has in the coming days to select, edit and upload the pictures to his website, Not only does he volunteer his services, but all photos can be downloaded by anyone for free.

“I’m not going to go out on the field and not photograph a kid [for] pay,” Arnold

saud. “I’m making something for the whole team.”

Despite not being paid for his work, McLean athletes’ and families’ gratitude for Arnold does not fall short.

“Whether or not people actually like the photos, they come up to me and tell me they like them, which is immensely rewarding,” Arnold said.

There are students that Arnold has followed through all four years of high school, photographing their freshman debut all the way to their senior night.

“I really appreciate Kent for taking pictures of me and my teams over the past four years because I know he doesn’t do it for the money but out of the goodness of his heart,” senior varsity basketball and baseball player Jakob Luu said. “Even more than that, I appreciate him as a positive person who always lifts us up with his contagious smile.”

Future students have nothing to fear, as Arnold doesn’t plan on taking his work anywhere else.

“I plan on staying here,” Arnold said. “I am going to keep photographing until my eyesight goes out, and then I’ll just rely on autofocus.”

a few of Kent arnold’s Favorite photos

Top Left: “My son John Arnold ‘11 found the same kind of home for his training ethic within crew as he had found in his classes, football and the weight room. The erg is hardly a joyful machine, but McLean welcomed and encouraged all the power he could throw at it plus those other experiences, and gave him belonging in return. That’s McLean at its best.”

Bottom Left: “This was perhaps the most labor-intensive composite in my past (40+ hours of Photoshop), but well worth it: the coach and his daughter (on the right) were particularly pleased.”

Right: “When and where else have we seen one cheerleader lift another, straight-armed overhead? I particularly admire the calm and grace that Kayla Smith ‘24 expresses here: total confidence in her teammate Michael Norton ‘24.”

Photos courtesy of Kent Arnold | Page design by Haley Riggins

Senior launches his baking business

comes from the kitchen every Friday after school.

Senior Stefan Jafari is the creative mastermind behind Stef’s Sweet Treats, a baking business he launched this fall. After becoming fully operational in September, his cookies quickly became a neighborhood favorite.

Jafari began his journey by perfecting his signature chocolate chip cookie, which helped to start his baking career.

“Other cookies are great, but chocolate chip are a classic,” Jafari said. “You can’t beat the classics, you know?”

Once he had mastered making chocolate chip cookies, Jafari added snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, brownies and coffee cake to his repertoire. He expanded his business by showcasing his products at neighborhood social events during his first month of running the business. Hundreds of local residents of all ages attended, and soon enough all of Quentin Street and the surrounding area knew about his startup McLean High School students quickly caught onto the Jafari cookie craze.

“The pastries Stefan is able to provide

While it’s clear that his products are excellent, running a business has not always been simple.

Jafari has faced logistical problems related to operating in a domestic kitchen.

“Because I operate from my own home, packaging was very difficult to do,” Jafari said. “I wasn’t going to put any additives, preservatives or processed [ingredients] into my product…so I was forced to get really creative.”

The challenges were even more difficult considering that he was not in the financial position to spend large amounts of money

“My dad gave me this idea of vacuum sealing the cookies in order to preserve [and package] them, and it worked out perfectly.”

Grades, college applications, homework and tests are more than enough to keep Jafari fully occupied throughout the day, but he finds a way to balance school and work. His secret ingredient? Scheduling. Jafari attributes organization and hard work to his ability to stay focused on school while running his business.

“I think it just comes down to making sure that you maximize every single second of the day,” Jafari said. “I always find a way [to prioritize my business] no matter how much I have on my plate, because it’s something that I truly love to do.”

Jafari plans to continue to spread the word about Stef’s Sweet Treats throughout the area in hopes of reaching a larger audience for his baked goods, and when he sets goals, he tends to reach them.

“Stefan is driven,” his father, Nasser Jafari, said. “He’s really focused. When he wants to do something, he sees it through, guaranteed.”

Thomas Photo by Thomas Ham | Page design by Makda Bekele


Reporting by Kate Burke Photos courtesy of Adam Newburger

I was originally going to be a history teacher, and then I switched my major to math in college. So I said, “I guess I’m going to teach math.”

What was your first job?

I was a pizza delivery guy.


What’s your favorite album?

I don’t know that I have a favorite album, but the one I listen to most is this album called Other People’s Heartache (Pt. 4). It’s with Bastille.


Probably my phone. Not during school, though!


Do you have any special talents?

I like to beatbox.

5 9

Are socks and sandals ever acceptable?

Generally no, it’s not my favorite work. If you’re just going out to get the mail, I get it, but that’s it.

What’s your favorite fall activity?

What’s the coolest place that you’ve traveled to?

Probably Israel. I like going there, I’ve been a few times. I also really liked when I went to Whistler, Canada, and I got to do this mountain climbing thing. They have this metal ladder put into the mountain, so you’re effectively climbing the mountain. That was cool.

If you could only eat one food for the rest of your, what would you eat?

Maybe pizza, but I don’t know. Or a hamburger because my last name is Newburger.


Is cereal a soup?

It’s not.

What’s something you couldn’t live without? NOVEMBER 2022 | FEATURES | 13
I really like going apple picking.

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Seniors divided on whether or not to apply early decision to college

With college deadlines looming, seniors have been scrambling to put together their college applications. Between finishing essays, creating resumes and coaxing their teachers into writing recommendation letters, applicants also faced the decision of whether or not to apply early decision (ED).

ED is a process in which college applicants can apply early to a school under a contractual agreement that they must attend that school if they are accepted. For this reason, applying ED is often a topic of debate for students.

“Applying ED signals to a college that you are very interested in their school,” McLean College and Career Specialist Mary Barnes said. “You are making a huge commitment to attend this school if accepted.”

With smaller pools of people applying, ED is the quickest route to being accepted into a first-choice college.

“Acceptance rates in ED pools are typically higher than those in regular decision pools,” Barnes said.

Many students at McLean who choose to commit ED apply to in-state schools because of the lower prices compared to out-of-state colleges. The University of Virginia (UVA) is ranked the third best public university by

the Princeton Review, which makes it a top choice for McLean students.

“I’m applying [ED] to UVA because it makes my chances of getting in higher,” senior Atharva Jadhav said. “I want to go there because it has the best college for my major, Computer Science and Business, and the in-state prices are appealing.”

other schools you applied to,” Barnes said. “Students need to weigh whether to [apply] ED very carefully.”

Due to the binding nature of ED, many students apply during the regular decision cycle or apply early action, which is nonbinding but still offers students the benefit of finding out whether or not they have been accepted to their top-choice colleges.

“I didn’t want to ED because I want to keep my options open,” senior Freya Milbury said. “I have never really had a dream college, and I want the chance to visit and explore my options.”

Students are also drawn by the earlier release of decisions.

“In most cases, students will hear back from their schools before winter break,” Barnes said.

If students get into their choice ED school, they no longer have the option to consider any other colleges.

“If accepted, you must immediately withdraw your applications from any

Barnes cautions that being accepted to a school ED does not guarantee any assistance with attendance costs.

“You are getting your acceptance without any idea of whether you will receive any merit or financial aid,” Barnes said.

With the various pros and cons of ED, students at McLean have distinctly different opinions on which option is best for them.

“I think other people may choose ED because they are sure they’ve found their dream college and know exactly what they want to do,” Milbury said. “I think it’s great that people know exactly what they want. That’s just not the case for me.”

Cartoon by Liz Nedelescu | Page design by Josephine Phillips & Alexa Sribar


From a young age, queer people—an umbrella term for those who are not cisgender (within the male-female binary) or heterosexual—can face confusion about their identities and how they fit into a hetero- and cis-normative society. Sometimes, they are not able to be open with their parents, friends and other loved ones out of fear of rejection and discrimination, leaving them to navigate their identity alone. Self-discovery in queer youth is immensely individual. The acquisition of educational resources and, perhaps more importantly, finding community is a process that all members of the community experience uniquely.

There is a close-knit queer community at McLean, made up of students from diverse backgrounds. These students face daily challenges to their identities.

“We lack things like gender neutral and queer inclusive [Family Life Education], promotion of safe queer sex and education that not everyone is cisgender, not everyone experiences

said. “Having a group of queer people and being acknowledged officially by the school [is important]. It can be iffy even in a lot of places in Virginia.”


Many members of Virginia’s queer community felt they were under direct attack when the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) introduced new model policies regarding transgender students. The policies, which were proposed on Sept. 16, contain guidelines that prevent students from using their preferred name and pronouns without parental consent. In addition, the guidance obligates teachers to “out” queer students to their parents, or tell them about their children’s identities even though they may not be supportive.

McLean’s queer community united against the proposed policies, organizing a walkout to protest them on Sept. 27. The protest included the GSA and representatives from the Pride Liberation Project (PLP), a student-led organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ students in Fairfax County and

“We have a lot of students who really are dedicated, and I think their drive for doing more and more in GSA and trying to spread a message of acceptance is related to the political situation right now,” GSA sponsor Seth LeBlanc said. “When those trans model policies came out, it lit a fire under everyone to unite

“I could be outed, my safety at home would become questionable, and I’d feel less comfortable at school.”
Illustration by Liz Nedelescu | Page design by Makda Bekele Isabella DiPatri Managing editor dania reza assistant Design Editor-in-chief philip rotondo Managing editor Natalie vu news editor
“Teachers won’t be allowed to use my correct pronouns in class, even if they wanted to.”
How would the Vdoe’s transgender student model policies impact you?
QUOTES obtained from ANONYMOUS survey
“It’s basically a free pass for bullying trans youth in schools. Plus, [these policies] could open the door to more LGBTQIA+ oppression in the future.”
“If our school bans the use of the name i choose and the pronouns of my choice, I would feel just as neglected at school as I am at home.”



One of the leaders who spoke at McLean’s walkout against the VDOE model policies was senior Casey Calabia, the president of the GSA, who identifies as non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Throughout childhood they felt that traditional gender labels did not fit them. This feeling became stronger as they approached adolescence.

first thought, ‘Something’s not right,’” Calabia said. “I got upset anytime someone misgendered me or put me into a category that felt wrong for me. It was around that time that I also first realized that I had a crush on my best friend.”

identity was a gradual one. Growing up in a world where people are often undereducated about gender non-traditionalism, Calabia found it difficult to articulate their feelings.

understand what it meant to be genderqueer or to not be cisgender,” Calabia said. “I didn’t even really know what the concept of gender meant in our society.”

weighty questions about society and gender identity, Calabia turned to the internet for answers.

and age would, I went to Google and [searched things] like ‘what am I’ and ‘what is happening to me,’” Calabia said. “I discovered, for the first time, what the LGBTQ+ community was.”

they fit into the LGBTQ+ community, having spent years developing identity within a society that primarily sees gender as binary.

cool, but that’s not me,’” Calabia said. “I was sort of in denial… I felt this pressure to fit the image of what everyone else had laid out for me. I was a part of a club called Girl Up, and all these things that were very entwined with me being an amazing girl.”

years living in Saudi Arabia, where samesex relationships are illegal and LGBTQ+ rights are extremely limited compared to

the U.S. People had to be discreet to find community within an anti-queer climate.

“We would find each other in strange ways, like subtle references to queer media

Although Calabia felt stress working out their home situation, they found comfort and support at school.

“[The difficult] process from my family




unique to a certain population of people,” Le said. “I thought it was important to give myself that self-validation and give myself that

While the VDOE proposal concerning pronoun usage and the privacy of queer students remains in review, Le’s teaching style is based on mindfulness and a willingness to discuss specific issues facing queer individuals.

“I am open about my gender identity with students because I want students to realize that I’m a trusted adult,” Le said. “I wasn’t struggling with my gender identity until college. If I had been outed to my parents, I would have been disowned in high school.”

As a co-sponsor of the GSA this year, Le has learned a lot from simply listening to the members of the community.

“[Following the proposal of the model policies], the GSA group chat exploded in a matter of hours,” Le said. “It was incredible actually watching, and I didn’t have the mental bandwidth [in that moment] to think of what I could do and be productive, but the kids were on top of it, and that was incredible.”

Le believes that finding a space where individuals feel respected is an important part of discovering gender identity. Le’s approach to respecting students’ pronouns will stay the same if the policies are enacted, regardless of retaliation from the school and county.

“I’m not going to out students to their parents,” Le said. “If that’s something that is going to make education or teaching not a viable job for me anymore, that’s a price I’m willing to pay.”




Sophomore Gavin Grant first started discovering their identity in middle school.

“It was around seventh or eighth grade when I started realizing that no, I’m not a boy,” Grant said. “It’s difficult because most of the time, things beyond just the gender binary aren’t represented in the media.”

Once Grant knew they did not fit into the set gender labels, they spent years exploring their identity.

“It’s weird at first, but there comes a point where you stop caring about what’s normal or not, and you can start caring about yourself and put yourself first, and then that’s sort of where I started coming from,” Grant said.

Coming out at a relatively young age was not much of a struggle for Grant, as they received support at home.

“I was actually getting mail with my mom and I just told her offhandedly because I didn’t think it was a big deal. She looked at me and she was like, ‘oh,’ so she was fine with it,” Grant said. “My dad was a little weird about it at first—he was asking me all these questions about it—but he’s fine with it now.”

While coming out, Grant received support from their teachers and family, but their biggest support came from their friends.

“I have very, very good friends, and I’ve had mostly good teachers, so it’s pretty easy to just be supported by default,” Grant said.

In the GSA, Grant has worked their way up to vice president, where they use their position to advocate for themselves and others.

“They’ve been involved since last year, and just over the course of the year, they just came more and got more involved,” LeBlanc said. “They’ve done a fantastic job and put a lot of heart and soul into it.”

Despite being able to find a comfortable community at McLean, one struggle Grant encounters is improper usage of their pronouns at school.

“Not many people use them right, so it’s usually just my friends,” Grant said. “At the beginning of the year, I’ll tell my teachers, ‘Hey, I use they/them pronouns, please use them for me in class,’ but they just don’t, so maybe they just forget, but my friends usually [use the correct pronouns], which is really good.”


As a non-binary student, the proposed model policies would directly impact Grant.

“Finding out about something that I could have totally overlooked and been oblivious to until it was in effect was horrifying to me,” Grant said.

Grant continues to stay true to who they are and voice their opinions. Under the current FCPS Student Rights & Responsibilities, students are able to change their preferred pronouns without consent from their parents. Grant worked with their counselor to change their gender pronouns.

“The [student] database is going to have to change me,” Grant said. “I talked to [my counselor] Mrs. Otal about my gender change, but if this gets passed we’re going to have to undo that. This whole policy is baffling to me.”

Grant hopes that protesting the policies allowed students who had lost hope to feel empowered and see how they can actively work towards a future in which they can use the gender they identify with.

“I think the protest really brought people together,” Grant said. “It was helpful in showing that we’re not going to accept this.”

Photo by Dania Reza



Senior Ranger Balleisen is one of several queer people who spoke at the protest against the transgender student model policies. Balleisen discovered their queer identity in middle school.

“I started talking to people who were in the same situation as me and realized that there were ways to exist outside of being attracted to a certain gender, so I began to identify myself as queer,” Balleisen said. “There are many other specific labels I could use, but I feel that this one represents me the best.”

Balleisen felt that coming out as queer to students and staff was an easy adjustment as many were extremely understanding.

“Everybody supported my identity, and I think that’s one of the easy parts about coming out in a queer space specifically,” Balleisen said. “Teachers who used my correct pronouns definitely had a positive impact on my mental health. Just knowing that there are teachers and students who support me made me feel great.”

Balleisen is an officer of the McLean GSA. They appreciate that the GSA provides a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

“Going to GSA meetings and telling people the name and pronouns that I chose to go by there definitely was one of the first times that I felt truly supported in the McLean community,” Balleisen said. “It made me feel like I wasn’t alone and there were people just like me.”

The VDOE model policies shocked Balleisen. They were concerned about the effects the guidelines would have if implemented.

“I remember hearing about [the policies] on that Friday, and I was terrified,” Balleisen said. “There was a lot of fear for myself

ways these policies will affect students throughout Virginia.

“I’m not going to be able to go by the name and pronouns that I choose in my school,” Balleisen said. “I’m more worried about how it’s going to affect other people. It’s going to have a huge toll on the mental health of the students. It [might] kill people. It’s the tragic truth that the students will not have the [same] support in school anymore.”

against the proposed model policies.

“We ended up getting about 300 to 350 McLean students to walk out,” Balleisen said. “Casey and I both spoke at the walkout…and it definitely made a huge difference in the community.”

After the walkout ended, the work was

Soon after the policies were proposed, Balleisen came out to their parents as queer.

“After I heard about the policies, I ended up beginning to talk to some press people, and that became the reason I came out to my parents,” Balleisen said.

Balleisen began to reach out to organizations to advocate against the VDOE policy and spread awareness about the LGBTQ+ community. They also became one of the leaders of the PLP.

“On behalf of the PLP, I worked with the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). We’ve had meetings with people across the state who have been trying to talk to Governor Youngkin to get these policies removed,” Balleisen said.

In addition to advocating across the state, Balleisen worked with senior Casey Calabia to organize the Sept. 27 walkout

If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community in crisis, please call the Trevor Project lifeline at 1-866-488-7376 or text ‘start’ to 678-678



Much Ado About Nothing brings Shakespeare’s comedy to life

From Early Modern English to flapper dresses, TheatreMcLean’s Much Ado About Nothing was a play that spanned hundreds of years. The contrast of the 16th century play being set in the 1920s made it a visual and auditory feast that told a timeless story of love and betrayal.

“The fun thing with this show, and how we got the audience engaged, was having more modern reactions,” said senior Jack Abba, who played Benedick. “It was important to act [out the script] as if it was in normal words rather than weird English poetry.”

The excellent cast brought the story to life. Senior Arielle Else, playing Beatrice, kept the audience entertained as she poured her heart out into her performance, going as far as falling in a working prop fountain and emerging dramatically spitting out water.

Abba played Else’s love interest, and the two had several intimate scenes. The duo’s connection was undeniable and perfectly embodied Shakespearean romance.

“We had intimacy choreography, which is where you choreograph stuff like moving in for a kiss,” Abba said. “It’s exactly as awkward as it sounds.”

Much Ado About Nothing is not only a love story, but it’s also a comedy. Senior Charlotte Carson, playing Dogberry, drove this home, prompting laughs from the audience every time she stepped on stage. Her hilarious use of a kazoo throughout the show reflected her boisterous, strong-willed character.

Pulling off such complex theatrics was not an easy task. Both the cast and crew worked after school for hours on end during the months leading up to the play to ensure the 1920s time period was reflected while still doing the original play justice.

“A lot of other sets for Much Ado About Nothing…have a very Mediterranean style,” Abba said. “I blended the Gatsby, rich American feel with Mediterranean sandstone and red clay tiles.”

Design was only one element in building the set. The crew spent weeks perfecting it, building it almost entirely from scratch.

“We built a 16-flight staircase,… [constructed] a real doorway and on top of that [built] a second floor,” senior technology director Alessandro Martinat said. “It’s been a really hard project.”

The highlight of the set was the water fountain that was planted in the middle of the stage. The physical piece paired with the sound effect of running water created a truly immersive experience for the audience.

“The problem became that our director was saying this is gonna be a jazzy, cool, laid back 1920s [play]. But then we all started pretending to be cool, smoking the fake cigarettes, and then [the audience] couldn’t follow along with the show,” Abba said. “We had to maneuver how to balance the actual story with pretending to be cool.”

In addition to playing a leading role in the production, Abba was also one of the creative masterminds behind the elaborate set. This featured the back of a stunning European mansion, a massive staircase, balcony and a mock-marble statue with sprawling vines running across each piece.

“Once we added [the fountain] to the set, it added a sort of clockwork feel where characters revolved around the fountain, even falling into it, which gave a really cool flow to it,” Abba said.

The dedication of each cast and crew member to their role made TheatreMcLean director Phillip Reid’s vision a reality. It was a full circle moment for Reid as he brought the show to a new generation of actors.

“I always wanted to do Shakespeare because it was my first professional gig outside of college,” Reid said. “I have a really strong connection to it, and I really enjoy it… Shakespeare has stories that a lot of students can access.”

22 | A&E | NOVEMBER 2022
Photo & page design by Tara Pandey Pressing Play — Seniors Arielle Else and Jack Abba act out an intimate scene during the opening night of the play. Their characters, Beatrice and Benedick, form this romantic connection on stage.


Sophomore Audrey Link has been breaking traditions since her first year in the McLean theater program. Beginning as an understudy in her first production then a supporting role in her second, Link shocked her peers when she earned a breakout lead role as Queen Gynecia in the musical Head Over Heels last spring.

“I’d say last year was probably the biggest lead I’ve ever done,” Audrey said. “I’ve played principal characters [in other productions] before, but definitely not at that level.”

A freshman playing a supporting role is a sign of their talent and potential, but playing a lead role is rare in the high school theater community. However, earning the role was far from easy, as Link practiced relentlessly to prepare for her part.

Part of her preparation involved taking singing classes with a vocal teacher and working with her vocal coach weekly to train her voice for the musical roles she ended up taking on.

“The thing I most appreciate about working with Audrey is the work ethic she brings to what she does,” said Doug Ullman, Jr., Link’s vocal coach. “Audrey learned all of her tracks [and was] prepared to participate in rehearsal.”

In addition to TheatreMcLean’s intense schedule of rehearsing four times a week, Link works on her skills at home as well.

“I hear her practicing and singing a lot,” said senior Morgan Link, Audrey Link’s sister. “She always rehearses the songs that she sings at her auditions when it’s a musical and runs lines with her friends [beforehand].”

Audrey Link’s theater journey began far before her time at McLean. She has been enthralled by performing from a young age and took ballet, dance and voice lessons years before she began acting.

Theater first caught Audrey Link’s eye when she was living in San Diego.

The Lion King was [the] first Broadway show [I saw],” Audrey Link said. “At that time I already knew that I liked theater, but after that I [thought], ‘This is what I want to do.’”

She joined a company called Christian Youth Theater to take musical theater classes before starting to audition for shows. She stayed involved with the company for six years.

After moving to Virginia in 2021, Link wanted to continue pursuing her passion in the area. To get started, she auditioned for a show at the Fear Lab in D.C. and played a role there for a summer.

This year, she is playing the supporting role of Margaret in TheatreMcLean’s first show of the year, Much Ado about Nothing.

“Going into the show, I definitely feel a lot more comfortable than last year [when] I didn’t really know anyone,” Audrey Link said. “We did monologues for the audition, which to me are a little harder because you have to break [them] down and figure out your character’s objective in that moment.”

After working with the TheatreMcLean director and cast to build her character, she was excited to show the audience her take on Margaret, a flirty woman eager for a heroine, and is looking forward to future productions.

“Thinking about where I am now versus last year, [it’s] completely different. I think a lot of that is because of the [support] system I can count on,” Audrey Link said. “I’m excited to continue it for the next two years.”

sophomore STar — Audrey Link sings during a performance of Head Over Heels. She played one of the lead roles, Queen Gynecia, in TheatreMcLean’s production of the musical last spring. Photo courtesy of Arielle Else | Page design by Makda Bekele
Sophomore’s acting talent opens the door to lead roles
NOVEMBER 2022 | A&E | 23


Store in Tysons Mall offers unique products—find out which ones are worth buying

minsong ha news editor | jessica purevtugs opinions editor

Miniso offers a wide variety of colorful plushies in all shapes and sizes. All of them are high-quality and perfectly designed, making them both squishable and lovable potential purchases.


at Miniso are underrated. Despite the disheveled state of some items on the shelves, packages of Pocky and O!Tube cost about $1 each, a great price compared to some other stores.

Both treats we tried earned a strong five out of five, as the yummy snacks left both our stomachs and wallets satisfied. Miniso is a good stop in the mall if you’re looking for a unique snack.

Plushies snacks

However, as adorable as the plushies are, the price tag attached to them is anything but cute. Overall, the plushies get a weak three out of five—two points were docked for the disappointingly high prices.

As skincare products have grown more popular in recent years, they have become one of Miniso’s most popular items. Face masks covered with Pokémon and other popular characters are particularly eye-catching.

The face masks we tried were a

solid four out of five because the products were more or less nicelooking and smelled good but were overly complicated to apply. The masks are packaged in a way that requires unfolding up to six pieces of each mask before use, which is pretty annoying.

face masks stationery tote bags

The store is most well-known for its stationery selection, which ranges from animal and character notebooks to creatively boxed pencil sets.

The stationery gets a five out of five because of the fantastic variety and low prices of the products. This section is easily the best part of the store.

Miniso partners with popular franchises like Marvel, Toy Story and Despicable Me to create trendy and colorful tote bags. Unfortunately, the straps on the bags we looked at were far too tight

weak to hold heavy loads, limiting their usefulness and earning them a score of three out of five. The bags remain a tempting buy simply for their appearance, though.

24 | A&E | NOVEMBER 2022
Page design by Minsong Ha | Photos by Jessica Purevtugs


Normalcy of discriminatory slurs is damaging to marginalized groups

During an FCPS school board meeting on Oct. 20, at-large school board member Karen Keys-Gamarra used a slur when addressing her fellow board members at a meeting after her colleagues repeatedly cut off a parent from asking a question.

“We cannot be this r----ded,” KeysGamarra said.

The use of the R-slur normalizes language that is rooted in ostracizing those who are disabled. The term is defined as “slow or limited in intellectual or emotional development.” Historically, the slur was used to demean and dehumanize those who were intellectually disabled and has since transformed into a slang expletive.

At the high school level, it’s not uncommon to hear students in the hallways use the slur when joking around with each other. In a survey of 100 McLean students, 66 said they have heard the R-word used in a derogatory manner, and 81 students said they think the word is offensive.

with using words that have ableist and homophobic origins.

Although there’s still a lot of work to be done, McLean High School prioritizes inclusion.

“McLean does really well in terms of including everybody,” Thompson said. “To me, [we’re a part of the community]. We’re integrated. We’re just like everybody else.”

The slur is offensive towards those with intellectual disabilities and is classified as hate speech by organizations such as the Special Olympics. Despite the known implications of the word, Keys-Gamarra used it casually and comfortably in front of colleagues, parents and other members of the community.

Keys-Gamarra is a highly accomplished individual with experience, according to the FCPS website, in “developing solutions for children and families.” Her campaign promise, “[To represent] the best interests of children from diverse backgrounds,” is contradictory to her use of the slur.

“Was she targeting anybody? Probably not, but that doesn’t make it any easier,” said Mark Thompson, McLean’s special education department chair. “If you’re an educated person, there’s better words to use, because if one person finds it offensive, it’s offensive.”

This instance points to a larger issue. Not only does Keys-Gamarra need to be held accountable, but the county as a whole needs to work on eradicating that kind of language.

“I think a lot of kids are desensitized to the severity of the word and don’t really understand what it means,” an anonymous responder to The Highlander’s poll said. “I hear students throwing it around in the hallways sometimes, and while I know they are joking, I also think it [diminishes] the impact of that word on others.”

This experience isn’t exclusive to slurs such as the R-word. In the same survey of 100 McLean students, 76 answered that they regularly hear their peers use slurs in everyday conversation.

“In my experience, I hear more people say the F-slur or use ‘gay’ in a derogatory way,” another anonymous response said.

Schools need to move towards building more inclusive, mindful communities. On Oct. 21, FCPS put out a statement regarding Keys-Gamarra’s use of offensive language, condemning her behavior and conveying her apology. Other than the statement, FCPS didn’t take further action to hold KeysGamarra accountable. The lack of action sets a hostile precedent in which students feel that they can get away

FCPS and its students, staff and teachers need to work towards creating a community where students do not face discrimination. The community cannot continue to claim to celebrate its special education students through programs such as Best Buddies and Special Olympics yet pose no accountability for those who use derogatory language that hurts their peers.

Fairfax County residents deserve to have faith that their elected officials don’t use prejudicial language when addressing others, especially in a county that claims to emphasize diversity and inclusion. It’s time for everyone to start watching their language.

Reporting & page design by Farah Eljazzar | Infographic by Makda Bekele
editorial represents the opinion of the majority of The Highlander editorial board
in a poll of 100 mclean students
Said they regularly hear their peers use slurs in everyday conversation

For a couple blissful years, McLean students were not pressured to stand at the beginning of every school day and recite a cult-like oath to the sacred stars and stripes, conspicuously located everywhere throughout school.

Eventually, however, the strange tradition was reinstated, and the Pledge of Allegiance was once again broadcast over the PA system every morning. The Pledge creates an uncomfortable environment in school, and the proper course of action would be for the state to stop requiring that it be said.

“The Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t make sense, especially in a public school,” junior Saira Uttamchandani said. “Our country has emphasized a separation of church and state. We are not under any [one] god, and, as Americans, we are entitled to religious freedoms. Some religions have many gods. Which god are they talking about and why is everybody under that specific god? It makes no sense.”

The puzzling practice of being forced to pledge one’s allegiance to a country that champions the concept of freedom of thought and expression is required for all public schools in 47 states. McLean’s student body is ethnically and religiously diverse, making the policy of saying the Pledge alienating to those who don’t feel an intrinsic connection to the flag and what it represents.

Although students are not physically forced to stand or say the words, there is often

an underlying implication in classrooms that they are doing something wrong if they do not stand up for the Pledge.

If students in a country like Russia or China were to stand up each day and pledge their allegiance to their flag, Americans would stand up on their moral high ground to let the world know how oppressed the poor children of that nation are. Media would report how unfairly the poor children were being treated as they were forced to devote their hearts to the allegedly dystopian, propagandist nation they had to live in.

on the tradition for being disrespectful towards the flag and the people it represents, especially veterans.

“Men are required to take their headgear off,” McLean football assistant coach Damon Hart said during an episode of Did You Know? on Oct. 4. “Everyone should stand at the position of attention [while being] quiet.”

Hart’s segment in the episode reflected the point made by counselor Greg Olcott during a meeting with all members of McLean’s leadership program, when Big Macs were instructed to inform their freshman mentees of the disrespect the lyric change entailed, especially towards veterans who may be in attendance. Despite the directions from Olcott and Principal Ellen Reilly, many Big Macs were hesitant to pass the message along to their Little Macs and other students.

Efforts to enforce patriotism have not stopped with the reinstatement of the Pledge of Allegiance. During the national anthem at sports games, the student section often joins together to sing the final verse as a community, capping off the anthem by making the final lyric “the home of the Highlanders.” The spectacle is a unifying symbol of school spirit, but McLean’s administration has recently come down

“Singing the national anthem is an expression of patriotism, and chanting ‘home of the Highlanders’ at the end is an expression of pride for our school,” junior Talia Bolden said. “My dad served for 26 years, and he has no issue with it. I really don’t believe it’s disrespectful. I let my Little Macs know, but I haven’t actively discouraged it, as it isn’t hurting anyone.”

The repeated attempts to increase American patriotism have created an uncomfortable setting in schools. The best way to fix that discomfort would be to stop broadcasting the Pledge of Allegiance at school and allow students to continue singing along to the national anthem.

PATRIOTISM GOES TOO FAR AT MCLEAN School-enforced patriotic acts cause discomfort CHANTING ‘HOME OF THE HIGHLANDERS’ ...IS AN EXPRESSION OF PRIDE FOR OUR SCHOOL.” - TALIA BOLDEN JUNIOR 26 | OPINIONS | NOVEMBER 2022 54.5% 56.2% SHOULD schools broadcast the PLEDGE EVERY DAY? Of Students said they stand for the pledge of allegiance 90% Of Students said they Do not believe that singing “home of the highlanders” during the last verse of the national anthem at games is disrespectful “Home of the highlanders” in a survey of 121 McLean High School students
Page design by Tanner Coerr | Infographic by Makda Bekele


Six reasons to ban Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

Some books just shouldn’t be read. Parents should be taking an active role in their children’s education by scrutinizing all the obscene literature that fills school libraries, starting at the elementary level. Here are six totally logical reasons to ban Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems.

1. Encourages unsafe driving; no one will want to ride the school bus

The school bus has long been a trusted method of transport for students. However, this is bound to change when students read about a crazed pigeon asking to operate the vehicle. Children will begin to assume that anyone is allowed to drive a bus, including them! Students across the nation will revolt and usurp the coveted position of the plush

driver’s seat, resulting in democratic society being replaced by an empire ruled by kindergarteners.

2. Promotes the idea of savage animals

A child’s bond with nature is truly something to be treasured. Willems’ depiction of an animal driven to insanity terrifies every child exposed to the book, illustrating a violent side to nature that is better not to explore. Children will come to fear all animals! The psychological damage will last well into their adult years—the mere sight of a pigeon will trigger their fight-or-flight response. Worse, no one will want to work with animals, and crucial jobs such as those in the elephant dung inspection industry will experience severe labor shortages.

3. Witchcraft and occult: real pigeons can’t talk

Pigeons can’t speak, and talking animals are obviously the product of sorcery and the dark arts. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! encourages children to become witches and warlocks, casting spells and conversing with animals. Banning this book is the only way to keep students safe from this wickedness.

4. Gaslighting, emotional manipulation and pathological lying

In Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, the pigeon relies on repeated gaslighting and lying to get what it wants. This teaches kids that it’s OK to lie and emotionally manipulate their peers, encouraging dishonesty and criminal activity. Our crime rates will rise to unprecedented levels, eroding our morals and resulting in the collapse of society.

5. Pigeons are dangerous birds

Children must learn from an early age that pigeons are not peaceful creatures. Nesting pigeons have been known to bite, beat and buffet unsuspecting victims with their wings. These are not the types of birds kids should be playing with. If we encourage the reading of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, we’ll be encouraging the domestication of the vermin of the bird world.

Also, a turquoise pigeon? Seriously? Pigeons only come in shades of violet! Preschoolers will surely fail science class and drop out of school.

6. Teaches kids how to say “no”

Perhaps the most frightening part of allowing children to be exposed to this offensive book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! encourages free will and decisionmaking in our youth. If kids learn how to think for themselves, who knows what dangerous things they might think or do?

NOVEMBER 2022 | OPINIONS | 27 Satire
Cartoon by Liz Nedelescu | Page design by Jessica Purevtugs jessica purevtugs opinions editor|aileen wu reporter


Rooted In Tradition

Johnson family grows athletic legacy

over 50 years, a family of athletes have brought sports victories and pride to McLean High School—the Johnsons. With over 50 varsity letters and multiple Athletes of the Year, the Johnsons have experienced generational athletic success


that spans from Jim Johnson, a grandfather of 25, all the way down to current McLean students, including junior Easton Johnson.

Involved in some of the most notable moments in McLean’s athletic history, the family has had varsity athletes in a variety

of sports—football, baseball, wrestling and many more. With family members like Jason Johnson memorialized in McLean’s Athletic Hall of Fame, the Johnson family has left an untouchable legacy on McLean High School that has persisted for decades.

Easton Johnson: Class of 2024

football coach Jason Johnson and grandson of Jim Johnson—both proud Highlanders themselves—Easton admires his family lineage.

“I take pride in [my family history], because me, my father and grandfather played at McLean,” Easton said. “I feel like it’s my hometown team because my grandfather played.”

Dedicated to the game and their community, the Johnsons take every moment on the field as a chance to learn and grow.

“They’ve always taught me to be humble. [If] you’re good at a sport, don’t ever flaunt it,” Johnson said, “Just stay humble and keep doing what you’re doing.”

Depite his family’s history in the McLean area, Easton is unsure what his future holds. However, he still expresses a desire to contribute to the family name.

“I don’t know yet where I see myself [in the future], but I think it’d be fun to stay here and keep the family tradition going,” Easton said. “You know, have my kids come and go to McLean and play sports here.”

Although he appreciates the legacy of his family name, Easton hopes to make his own mark on the McLean community.

“People know the Johnson name, but I mean, you just try to make a name for yourself,” Easton said. “I’m trying to make a name for Easton Johnson.”

28 | Sports | November 2022
Aaron Stark Fact Checker | Ty Goss Reporter Easton Johnson, a junior at McLean, plays linebacker and running back for the varsity football team. The son of current

Aformervarsity athlete for

Jason Johnson: Class of 1993

the varsity football team. A two-time Athlete of the Year and Hall of Fame member for the Highlanders, Jason helped lead the 1992 football team to the school’s first playoff victory. Like Easton, Jason first found his passion for sports thanks to his father

football has remained a cherished constant in the family.

“There’s something special there knowing that my father wore the same name on his jersey, and I get to see Easton wear the same one too,” Jason said. “Some of our greatest memories come from the times that we watched, played and coached at McLean.”

To some, McLean lacks a true hometown aura—the intimate small-town feel which bonds residents of the area. For the Johnsons, though, McLean has always had a charm that makes it stand out and provide a hometown vibe.

“My dad really helped give me a love for baseball and football,” Jason said.

The love of football that bridges the Johnson generations has provided an immense sense of pride to the family. As time has moved on and lives have changed,

“For me, it’s been a place that when I’ve left and gone [to] different places and come back, it always feels like home, no matter how many times I leave or come back.” Jason said, “McLean has always felt like home to me, and that’s something that’s unique that you don’t find everywhere.”

Jim Johnson: Class of 1970

started in McLean, it wasn’t a very diverse place. [But] now, I look at the rosters and I look at the kids names, and even the kids that my kids grew up with, and it’s very diverse. It’s people from all cultures and nationalities that are participating in McLean, and I think that is a great change.”

Jim was a key member of one of McLean football’s most successful seasons, during which they added their first district championship to the trophy shelf.

“McLean High School has only won the district championship in football three times,” Jim said, “and I was on one of those teams, and one of my sons was on one of those teams.”

To some, football is merely a game, but to Jim and the rest of the Johnson family, it’s so much more. The love of football has been passed down through generations and is a source of pride for the Johnsons.

The father of Jason and grandfather of Easton, Jim was the first Johnson in the family to attend McLean High School. A celebrated athlete at McLean, he played football and baseball.

“My family moved into McLean in 1960, and that’s when we started,” Jim said. “[I was] assigned to go to Marshall High School as a freshman, and then there was a redistricting. McLean was a lifesaver for me. When I first


With an immense love for McLean, Jim is proud of how the community has progressed. He has since made it a family tradition to give back to the McLean community.

“I coached McLean High School football, and now my son is coaching,” Jim said. “So they not only played, but we’ve all given back to coaching the kids there.”

“You’re [not just] out there playing a game of football—you’re playing for history, you’re playing for pride,” Jim said. “I played on the same football field as my kids did. We all struggled together there, and we bonded in victory and defeat, and we have bonded in being Highlanders.”

These bonds are as thick as blood, and they have shaped Jim’s values. Being a Highlander is not just a moment in Jim’s life—it’s a core part of who he is.

“[When] I move on, there’s only three hats that will go on my coffin,” Jim said. “One of them is the Washington Nationals, another one is BYU. The last will be the Highlander hat.”

McLean’s football, baseball and wrestling teams, Jason Johnson is now an assistant coach for
NOVEMBER 2022 | Sports | 29
McLean has always felt like home to me.”
[not just] out there playing a game of football—You’re playing for history,
playing for pride.”
Photos courtesy of the Johnson family | Page design by Aaron Stark

McLean’s good luck charms

Highlander athletics’ craziest superstitions

basketball’s bobo doll

The bench plays an important role in the girls basketball team’s success, but their sixth player of the year is not one of the benchwarmers waiting to replace a tired starter—it’s a stuffed animal.

“We found him when half our team went thrifting together,” senior point guard Shushan Krikorian said. “We were like, ‘We should get this,’ and we bring it to every game.”

Adopted by the team in November of last year, Bobo is now a mainstay of the team’s games. If the plushie is not there, the team feels as if the game is already lost.

“We call our coach Bobo sometimes, so it’s named after Sobota,” Krikorian said. “We’ll play so badly if it’s not there.”

Despite how important Bobo seems to be to the team’s overall performance, the

VOLLEYBALL’s pre-game process

McLean’s volleyball team may not have had a stand-out season, but even after consecutive losses, the team had their own ways of keeping energy up game after game.

“Right before we go and play as a team, we have our hype warm-up,” junior middle

Highlanders are keeping him a secret.

“I don’t want to bring it out or sit it on the bench,” Krikorian said. “We can’t be that team.”

At the end of the day, Bobo is still a stuffed animal—when the team isn’t playing a game, he needs to be kept somewhere that is not the school’s basketball court.

“He was originally mine, so I bring him home,” Krikorian said. “Otherwise, we throw him in one of the lockers.”

When playoff season comes around, the team becomes increasingly superstitious, and Bobo is just the starting point. When a game does not go as planned, the team reflects on what external factors they can change for the following game.

“Last year, we wore a certain shooting shirt at the Yorktown championship game, and we lost,” Krikorian said. “We’re never wearing that shirt again. That game was the

blocker Alice Holoubek said. “We do five sets of jumping jacks, high knees and butt kicks, consecutively counting down the reps from five to one.”

The team uses the warm-up to build up energy before games. Their pre-game rituals are not rigid, though—if something works out for them, they stick with it.

“There was this one time where we ran out of time, so we could only do three reps,” Holoubek said. “Because we won the game after, it became an agreement for us to only do those three reps.”

Individual team members have their own superstitions that also contribute to the team’s mindset moving into games.

“I must put on my gear in the right order,” Holoubek said. “Right knee pad, then the left, then the right ankle brace and shoe, then the left ankle brace and shoe. I also cannot pull up my knee pads until after I have warmed up.”

In addition to team warm-ups, many players have their own routines for preparing to play, which can help them recenter if needed.

“I always warm up with Madelyn

sixth man of the year — Bobo brings the basketball team good luck at all their games. (Photo courtesy of Brooke Thomas)

most unlucky game we had, so everything we did before that game, we can’t do again.”

Frederick,” junior outside hitter Adrienne Long said. “We do the same pattern of arm warm-ups and then start to pepper. If either of us are not doing well, we go back to the arm warm-ups and reset.”

Other beliefs among the team are more freeform. When things start going wrong, players may try changing something outside the game for a bit of a boost.

“Sometimes, I’ll change which drink I’m drinking...depending on whether or not we’re doing well,” Holoubek said.

McLean’s volleyball team did not qualify for any postseason tournaments this year, but when the team made their run to regional finals last year, their postseason routines stayed fairly consistent.

“Last year, we had a motivational speech that we would listen to before each postseason game,” Holoubek said.

Even without a postseason to look forward to this year, the team still emphasizes being prepared for games using any effective combination of pre-game practices.

“Overall, we just get more particular in our preparation for games as the season goes on and gets more intense,” Holoubek said.

30 | SPORTS | NOVEMBER 2022 Page
design by Omar Kayali
Routine match — McLean huddles to celebrate scoring a point against Yorktown. (Photo by Natalie Vu)



I started swimming at 6 and competitively swimming at the age of 8.

What do you Love about swim and dive?

I love the environment in swim and dive. I’ve met so many amazing people, and some ended up being a couple of my best friends.

What made you decide to commit to the university of wisconsin?

I loved the people and environment at Wisconsin. It felt like home, and I was able to truly really express myself there. I felt most comfortable at Wisconsin. The campus is beautiful and it sure is a fun party town on game day. I’m most excited about creating and earning another family. In college swim, all your teammates are your brothers and sisters, and it’s surreal to be able to have a whole bunch of people on your side and there for you 24/7.


I hope to win states and gain All-American times again, but my ultimate goal is to achieve an Olympic Trials cut.

what are some goals for the rest of your high school career?

By the end of my high school career, I just hope to have been able to experience the fun of high school swim. I want to be able to look back on swim and be fond of the memories I created.


I’ve had a lot of teammates and coaches throughout the years, but my two of my coaches really helped to get me where I am today. They continued, and still do today, to push me to be my greatest. My teammates have always been there for me and continue to be there for me on my worst and best days. They’re my greatest motivators. Although, I think the one person who have helped me to get to where I am now is my sister, Danielle. She supported me throughout every decision I have made and does not stop to keep pushing me forward. She wants me to be the greatest I can be, and I really thank her for that.

November 2022 | SPORTS | 31
swim & dive Commitment Celebration — Junior swimmer Catherine Hughes holds up a “W” for the University of Wisconsin. Hughes announced her commitment to swim for the University of Wisconsin in October. (Photo courtesy of Catherine Hughes)
I hope to win states and gain all-american times again, but My ultimate goal is to achieve an olympic trials cut.”
LINE THE Best thanksgiving dish? Favorite Fall activity? best part of the season? FAVORITE thing to watch each fall?
thanksgiving day
on outdoor
to wear sweatpants
to wear sweatshirts every day
classics carving pumpkins my
mashed potatoes
trees changing color macy’s
parade watching football sweet potatoes the nature coraline g0ing
walks MAc &
being able
horror movies playing football ham being able
jell-o the weather football
reporting by Sarah Soltani | Graphics & page design by Dania Reza


SALUTES our seniors




Gavin Short








Game 10 - Senior night FrIDAY, FEB. 17 VS. CHANTILLY/WESTFIELD

Michael wang

Zach Balleisen

Charlie samburg
10% OFF WITH SCHOOL ID (DINE-IN ONLY) | (703) 553-5880 6238 OLD DOMINION DR. McLEAN, VA 22101
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