The Highlander - Issue 3 - February 2021

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Volume 65 • Issue 3 • February 2021 • McLean High School • • @MHSHighlander



Highlander ONLINE





Return to school updates Keep up with the latest news and student opinions on FCPS’s return to school plan.

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Philip H. Budwick, Sandra P. Buteau & John Sebastian Budwick The Friedman Family The Phillips Family


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The Burk Family The Essayas Family The Ogilvie-Russell Family The Ibarraran Family The Varela Family

COVID-19 updates Find information about community case trends, government measures, vaccine news and FCPS statements.

Highlander Podcast Layla Zaidi and Polina Zubarev host the Highlander News Podcast, available on the Highlander website, SoundCloud and the Apple Podcasts app.


The Beggs Family The Cesna Family The Gleason Family The Gupta Family The Powell Family The Shields Family The Zubarev Family

Brian Callsen Sherri Sirotzky Beth Gamba Steel Tyler Lee & Family Carole & John Varela The Koslov/Rivera Family

Letter from the editors Dear McLean, Watching TV has always been one of teenagers’ favorite ways to pass the time— especially during the pandemic. But it’s crucial for teens to recognize where these shows deviate from reality. This issue’s in-depth article explores some of these differences, mainly regarding substance abuse and mental health. We hope that you read it and reflect on how the popular media you consume might affect your perception of the world. It’s officially 2021! That means The Highlander has some exciting topics to cover, including the return to school, early college decisions and some winter sports. We encourage you to browse through each section to see what’s happening at McLean—both in and out of the building­. Thank you for your support, and we hope you enjoy the issue. 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 Business Manager: Ariana Elahi

Social Media Manager: Layla Zaidi

Copy Editors: Maya Amman Josh Bass Mackenzie Chen Arnav Gupta Gianna Russo

News Editors: Maya Amman Aleena Gul Lia Vincenzo

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

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 Stella 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 Marroquin 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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The Highlander sells ad space on each page of the magazine except on the front cover and the opinions and in-depth sections. 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 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.


on the cover

22-27 AS SEEN ON TV? Representation vs. reality of the teenage experience in popular media Cover illustration by Taylor Olson TV photo by Little Li licensed with CC

4-5 6-7 8 9 10-11 12-13

14 15 16-17 18-19 20 28

29 30 31 32 33 34

Return to school updates Grading policy changes Vaccine distribution begins McLean boundary changes address overcrowding Biden’s first 100 days agenda


LGBTQ+ curriculum project

Teachers recover from COVID-19 10 Qs with Mr. Farmar New electives coming to McLean 10 years of Ms. B’s journalism students


Jack Lannin’s TaskTeens business takes off ED college admissions

COVID cupids Secret crush confessions Highlander Grammy awards Androgynous and gender fluid fashion

35 36-37 38 39

Public should trust the vaccine Editorial: School board should add religious holidays to calendar Satire: America after climate change Fairfax County needs a lockdown

40-41 42 43 44

Varsity basketball teams finish season Wrestling during pandemic Ella Park commits to play volleyball at Brown Finish Line

Georgetown food reviews Gossip Girl reboot ‘17, ‘20 Pacemaker Winner; ‘15, ‘19 Pacemaker Finalist; ‘15, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 All-American; ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, ‘16 First Class; Hall of Fame

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

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

‘14, ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 VHSL Trophy Class; ‘11, ‘12 First Place Winner; VHSL Savedge Award

Page design by Pran Kittivorapat | Printed by aPrintis


SIX FEET OF SEPARATION — Classroom desks are placed six feet apart, ensuring that all students and staff will be able to socially distance during classes. There are around 12 to 14 desks per classroom, depending on the size of the room. (Photo courtesy of Ellen Reilly)


Students and staff prepare for the long-awaited return to school HERAN ESSAYAS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF


fter months of waiting for school to open, students are now able to go back to in-person learning. For many of them, it will be their first time entering the building this school year—for some, it will be their first time ever. FCPS plans for seniors and freshmen to return on March 2, while juniors and sophomores will return on March 9. Students will go forth with the hybrid schedule, in which students with last names beginning with A-K will be in person on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and those with last names L-Z on Thursdays and Fridays. Students will attend concurrent synchronous virtual classes on the days they’re not in the building. Originally, high school students were slated to return on Jan. 26, but an increase in COVID-19 cases and lack of preparation from FCPS prompted the school board to further delay in-person instruction. After the Feb. 2 school board work session, members decided to return all students who want inperson instruction by March 16. “I’m excited to go back to school because I can see most of my friends who I haven’t seen in almost a year. I really miss the social aspect of school where I got to have fun conversations with my friends,” senior LanAnh Dang-Vu said. “Online learning is really 4 | NEWS | FEBRUARY

exhausting without the social aspect, since distancing and masks, students and staff all we can do is just go to class, learn and must follow safety guidelines, one of which repeat.” is only using the water fountain to fill up At McLean, classrooms are set up to hold water bottles using the filler. as many desks as possible while maintaining “When you walk into the building, a six-feet distance. Around 60% of students you’ll see signs that say ‘stay six feet apart.’ are planning to do hybrid learning, while around 40% Bell Schedule will remain entirely online. (starting March 2) About 100 students chose to not attend McLean this 8:20-9:45 1st/2nd year. The hybrid schedule allows for enough classroom 3rd/Highlander Time 9:55-11:15 space to accommodate every student who opted for Lunch A 11:15-11:45 hybrid learning, but limited 5th/6th 11:45-1:15 capacity in each classroom makes it difficult for online 5th/6th 11:25-11:45 students to change their choice. Lunch B 11:45-12:15 “Students are able to 12:15-1:15 5th/6th turn to virtual school, but it’s difficult to switch to in5th/6th 11:25-12:15 person because it depends 12:15-12:45 Lunch C on how many seats are in each class,” Principal Ellen 12:45-1:15 5th/6th Reilly said. 5th/6th 11:25-12:45 In addition to the seating capacity, numerous 12:45-1:15 Lunch D mitigation measures are in 7th/8th place in the building. Along 1:25-2:50 with mandatory social Infographics & page design by Heran Essayas

There will be hand sanitizer dispensers and plexiglass in front of office staff and each teacher’s desk,” Reilly said. The cafeteria will have individual desks six feet apart, which will have QR codes on them meant for contact tracing. Per usual, students are not restricted to eating in the cafeteria; non-academic areas and outdoor seating will still be available during lunch and will have QR codes as well. Until students and teachers adjust to in-person learning, students will remain in their second period for HT Flex. So far, there have been relatively few COVID-19 cases in FCPS schools, prompting officials to believe that there will be minimal spread as long as mitigation practices are followed correctly. According to FCPS, from Sept. 8 to Jan. 30, only 7% of in-person students and staff tested positive for COVID-19, and 90% of those cases were contracted outside of FCPS buildings. Despite these statistics and the beginning of teacher vaccination, there is still some uncertainty about how COVID-19 might spread at school. Given that this is the first large-scale attempt to reopen FCPS schools, ensuring the health and safety of students is the biggest priority. “I know that teachers will be vaccinated by that time, but we’re still transmitters. We still worry about [students] getting sick. Even though [the vaccine] is 95% effective, it’s all still new to us,” Reilly said. “I think the education and academic part will be fine, but we always worry about the health of everybody.” Students are worried about their safety during the school day as well, especially during the parts of the school day when they are outside of their classrooms. “I really don’t know how the school is going to be able to socially distance everyone, especially since the hallways aren’t that big when people walk to and from class,” Dang-Vu said. “Also during lunch, when people have to take their masks off to eat and everyone is crowded in one big room, I don’t know how they’re going to prevent the spread with that.” Senior Saankya Gundlapalli shares these concerns, prompting her to choose to continue with online learning. Believing that it’s impossible to ensure overall safety, Gundlapalli felt it would be easier to stay home. “I think that COVID-19 will spread because it’s a huge crowd of people that see

each other every day, and you can’t stop those people from seeing others,” Gundlapalli said. “It’s just not safe.” With all of the uncertainties about the spread of COVID-19, students are skeptical about the success of returning to school. “Honestly, I don’t know if schools will be able to successfully return since there are so many aspects needed to make it work. Sure, they can enforce social distance rules, but since they can’t control what students do outside of school, many students could still spread COVID-19 during school,” Dang-Vu said. “I really hope they can figure something out though.” While some students are excited about returning to school for the social aspect, others chose to remain online because the benefits of online school outweighed the benefits of returning to school. Since the school year is more than halfway done, some students wish to finish this year the way it started. “I feel like the return to school is definitely a step in the right direction for the students, especially the seniors, even though I’m personally going to be online,” senior Andy Min said. “Although it would be great to see all my friends and teachers again, I personally want to limit risks to exposure. I’m currently pretty acclimated with the online learning environment and also wouldn’t want to wear a mask for seven hours and have to distance myself from my friends, so I thought it would be best to continue online.” In preparation to return to the building, students should make sure that they understand all of the mitigation rules and prepare to follow them. Reilly emphasized how important it is that all students follow social distancing and mask requirements in order to keep teachers and students safe. “Come with your face mask, and I’d probably have a hand sanitizer with me and some wipes, just because you want to wipe down if you’re going to have lunch or share something,” Reilly said. “Know the rules, and be ready to come to school and try to have it as normal as we possibly can.” Though the return to school may look different than students expect, Reilly is hopeful about the outcome. “I think that the socialization is going to be good, that you’re going to have at least some normalcy back in your life,” Reilly said. “I think it’ll be nice just to talk to people again and to see people’s faces again—I think that’s going to be the best part of it.”

Infographic information obtained via FCPS website & Ellen Reilly

Return to School Timeline Feb. 16 New bell schedule; specialized career prep classes

Feb. 23 PreK, kindergarten, intensive support needs

Feb. 25-26 Asynchronous teacher preparation days

Feb. 25-26 New bell schedule; grades 8, 9 & 12

March 9 Grades 1, 2, 7, 10 & 11

March 16 Grades 3-6 FEBRUARY | NEWS | 5

A FIX TO FAILURE? FCPS unveils grading policy changes in response to increase in failing grades MACKENZIE CHEN COPY EDITOR NYLA MARCOTT ONLINE NEWS EDITOR


arents, teachers and students alike were shocked and deeply concerned by a report released at the end of the first quarter revealing a 63% to 111% increase in failing grades among all groups of students. English learners and students with disabilities experienced the highest increase in failing marks. In response to the poor grades, FCPS modified several aspects of the grading policy in January in an attempt to assist


NEW NORM — Senior Stephany Sun works on an assignment, which may be graded differently due to the grading policy changes. “I think this [policy] gives more of an incentive to not do work,” Sun said. “[But] students will be less stressed when turning in work, which is beneficial.” struggling students. The changes include making the lowest score students can receive a 50%, reducing the number of grades that are required each quarter from nine to six grades, requiring individual assignments or assessments to be worth less than 20% of a student’s grade and promoting more lenient late policies. “This policy is solely designed with the goal of making life more manageable for students,” said Nathan Onibudo, the Fairfax County School Board student representative. “Distance learning is something we have never done before, so we are all learning as we go.” Students have expressed their concerns that virtual learning has placed them at a disadvantage and greatly increased their stress levels. Officials said that students’ mental health played a large role in implementing modifications to the grading policy. “Often, students have anxiety, are depressed or have situations going on in the home that make it very difficult to focus on getting learning done,” counselor Kathleen Otal said. “There is no way to answer this in a blanket way. We need to look at each student’s individual situation to determine what is going on in their lives.” Part of the rationale for updating the policy was that many students were frustrated by trying to keep track of the assignments they needed to turn in and determining where to do so. “[In a] virtual learning environment,

instead of being able to see [their assignments on the white board] when they walked in the door of the classroom, they needed to go to Google Classroom, and more,” said FCPS School Board member Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District. “Getting [work] done on time was extremely difficult for them.” The school board seeks to allow students to maximize their potential in the classroom without being hindered by the flaws of distance learning. “We’re just trying to give students a little bit more leeway to be successful,” Tholen said. “We want students to master the content and to be able to show their success story.” The updated grading policy has received some positive reactions from students. “I enjoy never having to worry about getting a zero,” junior Nicole Chan said. “It definitely helps that I don’t have to stress too much about some of my grades significantly lowering my GPA.” There has, however, been significant concern that the new grading policies may be lowering the county’s educational standards by making it easier for students to pass classes. “Such policies are not framed as such, but they are really about lowering standards and expectations, and I generally believe that lowering standards and expectations for students is harmful to their academic development,” said Adam Tyner, associate

Photo courtesy of Stephany Sun | Infographic & page design by Nyla Marcott

director of research at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. “A recent Fordham Institute report showed that students learned more when they were assigned to teachers who were tougher graders.” While the grading policy changes may be intended to help struggling students, increasing the minimum possible grade to 50% may have the opposite effect. “I think it puts a Band-Aid over the actual problem, which is some students are struggling to complete or start their work,” English teacher Mariya Chatha said. “If they are given points for something they did not even attempt, I believe this is rewarding negative behavior and not getting to the root of the problem.” There is concern that rather than helping, the grade changes may cause students to put less effort into assignments and in classes in which they are struggling. “Many students who are making a good faith effort to complete their assignments may feel like such a policy is unfair, and the policy may be demotivating for some of those students,” Tyner said. “If a student puts in time and energy and receives a 70 but would receive a 50 for doing nothing, that student may think it’s not worth it to put in that extra work.”


Teachers have reported that the policy changes have resulted in changes to the grades of poorly performing students. “I am noticing that some students who choose not to complete an assignment aren’t as affected by an ‘NTI’ [not turned in] as they would have been before when they would receive a zero,” Chatha said. The actions FCPS is taking to change the grading policy may have consequences similar to actions that were taken in D.C.

Public Schools (DCPS) in 2017 to ensure that students passed their grade levels despite chronic absences and poor performance in their classes. The commonalities have sparked concern that the FCPS grade changes will allow students who are having difficulty learning material to pass classes even though they do not understand the content. “For middle school and high school students, lowering standards communicates that the teachers and administration don’t expect students to perform well, and students are not capable of responding positively to accountability,” Tyner said. “This probably contributes to many students feeling like school is a waste of their time.” While increasing students’ grades through policy changes gives the appearance that students are learning virtually, the grade increases will also make it more difficult to know which students need additional academic help. “Being in a virtual environment, we are unable to see and connect with our students,” Chatha said. “Due to the lack of personal connections, we are unable to truly understand the individual struggles our students face inside and outside of the classroom.” Negative effects of the grading policy changes may impact the county’s educational standards in the long term. “My guess is that proponents of these policies don’t realize that lowering standards harms students. Even though it might make some students feel better about their grades in the very short-term, students and their parents and the rest of society will soon realize that the higher grades don’t actually reflect better work,” Tyner said. “As soon as that happens, any benefit probably evaporates, while the schools will be left with lowered standards.” Prior to the district-wide changes, individual schools in the county had already instituted similar changes to their grading policies. “[The county members were] on a call with a group of students from Langley High School, and they were expressing that... giving somebody a 50 for an incomplete assignment was new for them,” Tholen said. “Nathan Onibudo replied, ‘Oh, I go to South County High School, and we’ve been doing that already.’” The enactment of grading policy changes demonstrates FCPS’s desire to give students respite from growing fears about their

Infographic By Jayne Ogilvie-Russell | Information obtained from FCPS report


View Course Content

FCPS Students With Two or More F’s


1: All Middle and High School Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


5359 Students

83.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


9698 Students

83.0% increase

2: Male Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


3414 Students

100.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


6183 Students

100.0% increase

3: Female Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


1891 Students

100.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


3461 Students

100.0% increase

4: Asian Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


420 Students

100.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


719 Students

100.0% increase

5: Black Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


768 Students

63.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


1147 Students

63.0% increase

6: Hispanic Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


3028 Students

92.0% increase


5939 Students

92.0% increase

7: White Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020

3% 67.0% increase


914 Students

1495 Students

67.0% increase

8: Students With Disabilities 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


1174 Students

111.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


2321 Students

111.0% increase

9: English Learner Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


1999 Students

106.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


3777 Students

106.0% increase

10: Economically Disadvantaged Students 1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2019


3060 Students

83.0% increase

1st Qtr Fnl Mrk 2020


5039 Students

83.0% increase

futures, although it remains to be seen if the changes will harm educational standards in the long run. “I really appreciate that FCPS is considering the mental health of its community by implementing this new grading policy,” junior Songhan Pang said. “My only concern is that some students will turn these good intentions into loopholes to get out of classwork.” FEBRUARY | NEWS | 7

DISORGANIZED DISTRIBUTIONS Several McLean teachers appointments delayed due to the limited vaccines



fter months of staying at home, taking precautions and anticipating the COVID-19 vaccine, FCPS teachers are finally being offered the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines. While some teachers had no problem scheduling their first and second doses, others were met with frustration over canceled appointments and unclear information that delayed their first shots. As a result of overestimating the amount of available vaccines, numerous first dose appointments for FCPS teachers and others in group 1b were canceled on Jan. 26 in order to ensure everyone would be able to receive their second dose. According to The Washington Post, this postponement affected around 15,000 FCPS employees who had been patiently waiting to get their shots.

I GOT A TEXT FROM MY WIFE SAYING, ‘I JUST GOT A LINK FOR US TO GO GET VACCINATED TOMORROW,’ AND IT JUST CAME OUT OF NOWHERE. IT FELT REALLY GOOD.” - STEVEN WALKER MATH TEACHER “Our teachers need to be all vaccinated as soon as possible. I honestly think that the county is handling it as well as they can given the circumstances,” English teacher Seth LeBlanc said. “There is only so much that they can do when the numbers they were promised proved to be pretty inaccurate. As more doses become available, the county [hopefully] will continue prioritizing teacher vaccinations.” FCPS sent a survey to employees to provide the health department with a list of names of people who would need to receive their first vaccine by Feb. 3 in order to be prepared to return to school buildings. “We continue to work with the Fairfax County Health Department and Inova Health System to offer COVID-19 vaccine to staff,” Superintendent Scott Brabrand said in a community message on Feb. 3. “To date, 90% of FCPS staff have signed up or scheduled appointments to receive the first dose of the vaccine.” But before teachers’ vaccinations were halted, several McLean teachers were able to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Jan. 11. “I got a text from my wife saying, ‘I just got a link for us to go get vaccinated tomorrow,’ and it just came out of nowhere. It felt really good,” math teacher Steven Walker said. In Virginia, K-12 teachers were classified as essential workers, allowing them to be vaccinated in group 1b. According to Reston Now, 131,479 people in Fairfax County have received the first dose of the vaccine and 31,421 people have been fully vaccinated as of Feb. 10. Statewide, 64,381 Virginians have been fully vaccinated and 458,472 have received their first dose. 8 | NEWS | FEBRUARY

WAITING ROOM — McLean math teacher Steven Walker and his wife, Megan Walker, an assessment coach at Luther Jackson Middle School, received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Jan. 11. Superintendent Scott Brabrand said 90% of FCPS teachers had signed up for the vaccine as of Jan. 25. The Virginia Department of Health launched a statewide vaccine pre-registration system for the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 16. Virginia residents can register at to be notified when it’s their turn to schedule a vaccine appointment, but the Fairfax County Health Department has opted to keep using its own registration system for now instead of the statewide one. Since a vaccine has not yet been approved for anyone under the age of 16, very few students will be able to receive it this school year. FCPS will be relying on its mitigation strategies to keep students safe: proper mask use; social distancing; hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette; cleaning and disinfection; and contact tracing. In an email on Jan. 26, Brabrand said, “The five key mitigation strategies continue to be vitally important in supporting a safe inperson learning environment for all, both those with and without vaccinations.”

Additional reporting by Dua Mobin | Photo courtesy of Steven Walker | Page design by Marina Qu


School board reaches final decision on boundary adjustments

sophomores, juniors and seniors in the area will be grandfathered in and remain fter nearly two years of deliberation, the at McLean High School. The high school Fairfax County School Board has finally boundary change will begin with rising determined how to proceed with boundary freshmen in the 2021-2022 school year.” adjustments and redistricting plans, hoping Following the board’s final vote on the to alleviate overcrowding at McLean. adjustment, Tholen urged the board to make With McLean currently at 118% an exception for eighth graders, who she capacity and Langley with room for nearly argued were hit especially hard this school 400 additional students, the conversation year. In addition to coronavirus restrictions, surrounding boundary adjustments has been boundaries and virtual learning, Langly Highchanging School a priority in recent years. At a meeting on Feb. eighth grade students may be affected by 4, the FCPS school board voted 11 to one to the recent changes to the Thomas Jefferson initiate the changes outlined in Option B. High School for Science and Technology “[Option B] would adjust the boundaries admissions process. of McLean High School, Langley High “[In] a nod to the hardships our School, Longfellow Middle School and Longfellow eighth graders are undergoing angly District Cooper Middle School,” Dranesville district this year, I would like to move that rising representative Elaine Tholen said. “The ninth graders residing in the area of change cLean District change would adjust the feeder pattern of will have the option to attend Langley High the District Colvin Run Elementary School split School or be grandfathered at McLean High eassigned feeder area, [and] portion[s] of the Spring School,” Tholen said. McLean d District was previously Hill Elementary School and West Briar Both motions amassed widespread e McLean District School Elementary School High split feeder area[s].” support, and the new adjustments are Tholen stressed that elementary school scheduled to take effect in the 2021-2022 boundaries would not change as a result of school year. Even so, the decision sparked the adjustment. She explained the plan for controversy. affected students, referring to grandfathering, According to the boundary study data a method that would spare current middle collected by the county, Option B will and high school students from reassignment. reassign about 190 students to Langley and “Rising seventh grade students will around 78 students to Cooper. The plan is attend Cooper Middle School, [with] rising only expected to reduce capacity at McLean eighth graders grandfathered to remain at to 95% by the following school year, which Longfellow Middle School in the 2021- prompted questions about its long-term 2022 school year,” Tholen said. “Rising effectiveness. HANNA BOUGHANEM REPORTER


NOVA High School Boundary Map

Langley High School

Langley District McLean District Reassigned Area *Reassigned area was previously part of the McLean district

Infographic & page design by Ariana Elahi

McLean High School

“I can’t reconcile not finding ourselves here five years later in the same place because we didn‘t make the best adjustment we could have,” school board member-at-large Abrar Omeish said. “We know that Tysons is one of the fastest-growing development areas. If we look at the trends, I don’t feel that [Option B] is the most long-term solution.” Despite sharing similar concerns, many parents agreed that Option B was the best of the three proposed solutions. “Option B would address the board’s priorities and reflect the preferences of several families,” one parent said at a community meeting on Jan. 28. “It would [also] extend diversity, as about half of [the] homes in our neighborhood are of international origin and multilingual households.” Still, a group of students and parents disagree with the school board’s decision. They view redistricting as a temporary fix to a much larger problem and, instead, advocate for a complete renovation of McLean. “McLean High School is one of the smallest schools in the system, and we’re expected to support this development coming out of Tysons,” one parent argued. “[There is sufficient] data to support planning for [a] permanent addition to McLean High School.” Junior Atticus Gore agrees that a renovation is necessary. “The board has taken a step in the right direction,” Gore said. “[But] our hallways are still overcrowded, our building is not safe and the school board must continue working to resolve these issues [by] budgeting for an expansion at McLean.” Since the first boundary adjustments proposal in 2018, both the community and school board have been split on the matter. After two years of heated debate, school board members expressed their confidence in the decision. They also emphasized the need for the community to move on. “We listened very closely to what the community was saying along the way,” Tholen said. “No option is perfect, [but] we looked at a lot of things, we did a lot of analysis and we are moving forward.” FEBRUARY | NEWS | 9

PRESIDENTIAL POWER — Following their first week in office, President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris work together to issue several executive orders ranging from COVID-19 relief, immigration policy and climate change action. This is just the beginning of Biden’s agenda for his first 100 days.

FIRST 100 DAYS BEGIN Biden administration plans to address crises quickly



s Joe Biden officially took his first seat as president in the Oval Office, his ambitious 100-day agenda rolled out. Due to the hardships the nation is facing, Biden is dedicating his first 100 days to recovering from these issues. While the president is aiming to have 100 million Americans vaccinated by his hundredth day, he is urging Congress to quickly confirm his Cabinet secretaries and pass COVID-related legislation. From coronavirus relief to reforming systemic racism, Biden knew his first 100 days in office would be no easy task—it would probably be the roughest start to a presidential administration since the Great Depression. Throughout American history, the tone and efficiency of a presidency is often judged by the administration’s first 100 days in office. “The first 100 days is not an effective way to judge a president. Most of our presidents since [the Great Depression] have not come into office during a huge crisis 10 | NEWS | FEBRUARY

which requires such immediate action,” AP Government teacher Karen McNamara said. “Therefore, expecting other presidents to match [Roosevelt’s] record seems unrealistic.


However, presidents who do come in during a crisis have had to act fast while they have support in order to accomplish any kind of legislative agenda.”

Biden inherited a dreadful state of affairs, both domestically and internationally. This was no secret to the incoming administration or to the public. As the newly sworn-in president stood on the Capitol’s stage, he emphasized in his inaugural address that Americans “will press forward with speed and urgency, for we have much to do in this winter of peril and possibility.” The COVID-19 pandemic has been at the forefront of everyone’s minds for nearly a year. “Although it was not ideal, the Biden administration had to run their campaign on the promise that they would end this pandemic,” senior Emma Steel said. “Between climate change and other injustices, no other issue had a more significant impact on voting than COVID-19.” The coronavirus pandemic plagued Biden’s agenda, forcing his administration to prioritize relief and vaccine distribution. The White House ordered an additional 200 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, and Congress passed a $1.9 trillion bill that includes $1,400 stimulus checks to most American citizens.

Photo obtained via | Page design by Heran Essayas

Republicans proposed a $580 billion counteroffer to the original plan. The Democratic Senate disregarded their bill and moved to vote on the current plan. It passed along party lines, not gaining support from any right-wing moderates. “It is disappointing that Democrats weren’t willing to allow Republicans to propose amendments and changes to the trillion dollar plan,” said senior Jacob Fernicola, president of McLean Investors Club. “No Republican in either houses of Congress voted in favor because they were left in the dark, despite Biden claiming to be open to negotiations with Republican Senators.” A major part of Biden’s agenda involves implementing science-based initiatives into his policy decisions regarding the coronavirus. From denouncing the protection of masks and encouraging ill Americans to take hydroxychloroquine, former President Donald Trump has been accused of ignoring advice from scientists and medical professionals. On his first day back in the White House Press Briefing Room, Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed his joy to work with Biden, who would not dictate what he says. Another issue Biden swore to take a scientific approach on is the climate crisis. A majority of young voters rallied behind the Biden-Harris campaign due to their promises to reach netzero emissions no later than 2050. Hours after taking office, Biden repealed the Trump administration’s decision to depart from the Paris Agreement, a U.N. international treaty that pressures nations to fight global warming. The U.S. will officially reenter on Feb. 19. “Biden is keeping his campaign promises to enact more comprehensive climate change policies,” senior Caroline Lucia said. “As a young conservative, it is important for the future of our party to develop plans to combat this crisis. It is refreshing to know that the federal government is finally prioritizing this issue; however, it is disappointing to see current Republicans blatantly ignore this issue.” Infographic by Arin Kang

Biden is the first president in history to declare the crisis a threat to national security. He appointed former Secretary of State John Kerry to become his climate envoy to the National Security Council. While the president is receiving bipartisan support with green deals, he is dividing the American people by discontinuing the construction of the Trump-era Keystone XL pipeline, an 875-mile pipe that would deliver heavy oil mixtures from Canada to Gulf Coast refineries. Frequently referred to as a “lifeline,” the pipeline construction’s cancellation resulted in 11,000 job losses. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has voiced his opposition to the decision. During his first week in office, Biden also halted the construction of the border wall and assembled a task force that works to reunite families separated by immigration laws. In a controversial act, Biden issued an executive order that temporarily stopped all deportations during his first 100 days in office. This decision was not received well by ICE, border officials and most conservative Americans. “His decision to stop deportations was

a bad one,” Fernicola said. “Although we definitely need immigration reform, the U.S. can’t afford to be an open-invite country. We need security and order when it comes to the border.” While the subject of immigration is a domestic security issue, Americans from both sides are adamant that Biden should continue the international troop withdrawal from the Middle East. The administration has been quiet on this topic since their transition. “There are few things on which President Trump and I agree, but I did support his decision to remove U.S. soldiers from foreign territories,” said junior Eric Deeken, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. “I hope President Biden continues to withdraw troops and bring an end to militant western imperialism. Occupying these nations was never justified, and the best time to bring our soldiers home is now.” President Biden has been signing executive orders to push his agenda through. As of Feb. 5, Biden has issued a total of 28 executive orders. Republicans in Congress have accused the president of abusing his power of the presidency due to his ambitious start. Biden’s executive orders come at a time of gridlock. The Democrats have taken technical control of the Senate since they have Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking abilities. “The Senate will be the major disrupter for Biden’s legislative agenda. Previously, the filibuster was a rarely used tool to impede the passing of legislation in the Senate,” McNamara said. “Prior to 2000, the filibuster was only used on average about 17 times per year. That has changed dramatically since, with it being most heavily used during the Obama administration with over 200 votes of cloture taken that year.” The COVID-19 relief package is President Biden’s first major legislative victory for his administration, and his supporters and detractors alike will be watching closely to see how his first 100-day agenda affects individuals and the country as a whole. FEBRUARY | NEWS | 11


McLean Equity Team works toward LGBTQ+ inclusivity



tudents are working with teachers to implement LGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum in McLean classes to ensure the proper representation of students. Like most schools, McLean’s standard curriculum lacks diversity, which is mainly attributed to Virginia’s standards of learning and curriculum guidelines. In history classes, there is little discussion of LGBTQ+ history; conversations around LGBTQ+ students tend to be quickly glossed over in topics such as Family Life Education. Students have become increasingly aware of this lack of inclusion. “I’d never read or heard about the LGBTQ+ community in any of my textbooks, any history class or any English class,” said senior Sanjna Kaul, president of McLean’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). Simultaneously, students may witness or experience homophobia at school. “I don’t exactly see it face-to-face...but [because I’m bi], I have gotten a few DMs that were like, ‘Pick a side,’ and ‘Are you sure it’s not a phase?’” sophomore Sophia Stagarescu said. In order to address this issue and build a more inclusive space for LGBTQ+ students, Kaul has been working with the McLean Equity Team to create a more inclusive curriculum. In 2019, she researched education laws in California and Texas and found educator


resources online for people who want to introduce this kind of curriculum. Then, Kaul talked with FCPS Pride to begin an inclusivity project and joined the McLean GSA during her junior year. She met with English teacher Seth LeBlanc, the GSA sponsor, and they started figuring out how to make the English curriculum more inclusive. She presented her ideas at a GSA meeting, gaining support for the project.

THE PURPOSE IS TO MAKE SURE THAT WHEN WE TEACH ABOUT DIFFERENT EVENTS IN HISTORY, WE ARE... INCLUDING DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES AND HOW THOSE EVENTS IMPACTED DIFFERENT COMMUNITIES.” - SANJNA KAUL GSA PRESIDENT “We started to poll the GSA club members, [asking], ‘Do you feel that you are...learning about queer people in your history classes or in your English classes?’” LeBlanc said. “We got mixed results, so from there, we interviewed several teachers about how they include those things, whether or not they do, and started to build a survey for students.” Soon afterwards, Kaul joined the McLean Equity Team—a group of more than 60 teachers and 11 student representatives dedicated to addressing equity issues at McLean—as part of their inclusive curriculum subcommittee. The subcommittee has already made notable progress. “[The subcommittee created] a tool to help teachers diagnose their program of studies and determine [if they] are covering all of the basics, and if [they’re] not, how can we [help them decide how they can],”

LeBlanc said. “Our hope is to inject that into planning time for teachers...and make sure that our instruction includes this diversity of perspectives.” The tool allows teachers to look over their upcoming units or syllabi and find small ways to make the class more inclusive. By promoting small changes, the tool aims to make inclusivity doable. It’s also linked to a resource FCPS sent to teachers that explains why they should include different voices. “[We want] to reflect and see where we have gaps that we’re not providing things in our different curriculum,” said English teacher Jess Pullis, a member of the inclusive curriculum subcommittee. “We have also started thinking about some other resources that we could give to different departments that would be helpful to try and give a pathway to implementing these kinds of ideas.” Members of the subcommittee hope the resources they provide will have a long-term impact on the school environment. “The purpose is not to take a day every single month of a class to talk specifically about one event that affected [the LGBTQ+] community—that’s not an inclusive curriculum,” Kaul said. “The purpose is to make sure that when we teach about different events in history, we are already including different perspectives and how those events impacted different communities.’’ The team’s goal is to weave these diverse points of view throughout the curriculum. “[We] don’t want it to feel like, ‘This is gay week so we’re going to cover some gay authors,’ or ‘This is POC week,’” LeBlanc said. “It has to be a true part of the curriculum.” Change of any kind requires time and effort, especially when change means modifying curriculum and teaching methods. For teachers with years of experience, change can be difficult. Being accustomed to a certain way of teaching or a certain curriculum means that including new ideas can be cumbersome and intimidating. “Reflecting is not necessarily an easy activity,” Pullis said. “To reflect on what you’ve done and think, ‘OK, this might

Graphics by Cameron Tebo | Page design by Saehee Perez

LGBTQ+ ICONS — Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were two transgender activists. Alan Turing was a gay mathematician credited for breaking the German Enigma code, and Dr. James Barry was a transgender man who was the first person to perform a successful cesarean section delivery in the British Empire. have been wrong,’ or ‘It might have been not the best way to do something,’ or ‘Maybe I’m missing something—I’m not giving my students everything that I need to,’ and [to have] those conversations with people and creating those moments...can be uncomfortable.” Even though reflection can be beneficial, some teachers can be resistant to it. “Common inhibitors...are that teachers don’t always want to change the things that they’ve been doing, and that could be for a variety of reasons,” Pullis said. “It could be [because reflection is] uncomfortable and [can make someone think], ‘Well, if I change this, then am I admitting that what I did was wrong or that what I did before wasn’t as good?’” Even though change can be difficult, LeBlanc sees that McLean teachers are willing to work toward more inclusivity in the classroom. “I haven’t met a teacher at McLean who doesn’t understand why inclusivity is important and why we have to address this,” LeBlanc said. “I think that there may be a few teachers who are concerned that we’re getting rid of the classics...but it’s very much not true... We’re never not going to read [Shakespeare or Oscar Wilde].” Implementing changes to the curriculum has been harder than ever this school year. “We always come back to time,” Pullis said. “Making changes takes a lot of time both in what you’re teaching during the day, but also time to [prepare] new materials, time to reflect on it, time to develop and time to have those conversations with your team members, so a lot of change gets kind of squashed because of the lack of time.” LeBlanc thinks the the subcommittee will be able to accomplish more in the future.

“[With] a lot going on this year, we’re definitely waiting to do [more] at a time when teachers can digest it and not just have it be yet another thing that we have to check off,” LeBlanc said. “This is something that is meaningful, and they really have to engage with it.” The task of adapting the curriculum is easier for some subjects than others. “It’s a really easy thing to do for English and history...but I think it’s difficult for math and science,” LeBlanc said. “In science, we may have historical references that we can include...but with math, I think it comes down to word-based math questions.”

I HAVEN’T MET A TEACHER AT MCLEAN WHO DOESN’T UNDERSTAND WHY INCLUSIVITY IS IMPORTANT.” - SETH LEBLANC GSA SPONSOR Getting teachers to make curriculum changes is only half the battle. Students and parents are likely to voice their opinions about these changes. “What I foresee being the biggest pushback would be parental concerns of depictions of violence and things that are darker and depressing,” LeBlanc said “As an English teacher, it’s hard to avoid those things—we’re all a little emo.” The history surrounding people of color and the LGBTQ+ community can make these subjects tough to talk about.

“Because these are sad stories of oppression and trauma, of systemic racism and of systemic homophobia...conversations can be hard,” LeBlanc said. Politics poses another barrier to a more inclusive curriculum. “Some pushback that we get...[stems from how] an inclusive curriculum might be perceived as politically left and that we’re pushing an agenda on students rather than presenting multiple identities,” Pullis said. Despite these challenges, the Equity Team remains committed to their mission and are thinking about more changes that can be made. “In AP Government, we talk about civil rights—that’s a part of our curriculum. Civil rights includes LGBTQ+ rights, so it still is a part of what we should be talking about,” said social studies teacher Karen McNamara, a member of the Equity Team’s subcommittee on building relationships. LeBlanc’s students’ reactions make the need for an inclusive curriculum clear to him. “I’ve had students say, ‘I’ve never read from so many authors of color,’ or ‘I’ve never really discussed this author’s sexuality in English class before. At first it’s scary, and then I realized—why have we never talked about these kinds of things?’” LeBlanc said. “So for me, I feel like students are crying out to learn about those things, especially students of color [and] queer students.” Modifying the curriculum could have a greater effect than sparking conversations. “[It’s] how we become better people— learning about other people’s experiences and learning what they’re like,” McNamara said. “We can’t necessarily always understand them, but we can try to empathize, and I think that just makes us grow in such amazing ways.” FEBRUARY | NEWS | 13



McLean teachers share their experiences with COVID-19 HERAN ESSAYAS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | MICHELLE CHENG A&E EDITOR



ith more than 60,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County— about 5% of the county’s total population— it was inevitable that the virus would reach McLean High School students and even teachers. English teacher Jess Pullis is no exception.


he thought it was just a cold. As the chilly days of November rolled around, English teacher Diana Piskor was feeling under the weather. “I had a stuffy nose and a little bit of a cough, and that was it,” Piskor said. “I just thought it was allergies or a cold—that’s how mild my symptoms were. So I didn’t think to get tested because I usually get a stuffy nose around [that] time of year anyways.” After her husband tested positive for COVID-19, Piskor decided to get tested as well. “[The test] was very mild. It was up one nostril, and it was just at the crest of my nose, so it didn’t feel like it was jamming my brain,” Piskor said. “It wasn’t a terrible experience at all.” Despite initially having cold-like symptoms, Piskor later experienced distinctive COVID-19 symptoms during her quarantine. “One of the symptoms that manifested a little bit later was shortness of breath, 14 | FEATURES | FEBRUARY

On Dec. 12, 2020, Pullis received the news that a friend had contracted COVID-19. “One of my close friends works at a theater, and they get daily rapid tests as part of their work,” Pullis said. “He went into work and tested positive that day, and I had seen his wife the day before, so he called me and said, ‘Hey, I have no symptoms, but I tested positive, so you may want to isolate and get tested too.’” Luckily, Pullis was notified of her potential exposure ahead of time. She immediately isolated and canceled her shifts for her parttime job, which proved to be the right move when she tested positive for COVID-19 two days later. “I was very glad that he called and very appreciative that they had the daily rapid test because he didn’t develop symptoms for a couple days, so I wouldn’t have known to isolate,” Pullis said. “I was glad that there was a way to get that information out pretty quickly, and it was fortunate that I haven’t seen many people in person.” and that was kind of scary,” Piskor said. “It wasn’t bad or terrible; it was just something I had to keep an eye on.” Not only did she have trouble breathing, but she also began to lose her senses of taste and smell. “I love food. When you take away your taste and smell, eating becomes something you have to do to survive. You can’t taste any of the deliciousness,” Piskor said. “So, it was weird. It was a weird feeling, and I hated it.” Piskor felt lucky that most of her symptoms emerged during Thanksgiving break because she had time to recover and rest without the stress of being a teacher. “If I had started feeling the symptoms of COVID-19 while teaching, I would probably have taken a lot of time off,” Piskor said. “One difficulty of being a teacher is feeling an obligation to your students. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing, but it makes prioritizing your own health a little bit of a secondary thing.” Piskor’s COVID-19 experience increased her support for distance learning.

Despite having a fever, body aches, a stuffy nose, dry cough, a migraine, a sore throat and fatigue, in addition to the loss of her taste and smell, Pullis was able to push through her discomfort and continue teaching for the few days before winter break. Pullis had a mild case and recovered quickly, aside from the delayed return of her ability to taste and smell. “I think this is fairly unusual, but my symptoms came very quickly and all at once, and then they started to taper off fairly quickly, so it was only a few days where I was miserable,” Pullis said. Though Pullis does not diminish the severity of the virus, contracting COVID-19 eased some of her fears regarding working in-person and returning to school. “Having the antibodies has made me calm down a little because I was so on edge, especially with working my other job inperson,” Pullis said. “People have had such horrifying reactions to it, so a little bit of that anxiety has alleviated for the time being.”

DIANA PISKOR “Imagine if I had to teach [my students], even six feet apart with a mask on. I could have exposed not only all of my 150 students, but my co-teachers and my department as well,” Piskor said. “My priority is everyone’s safety. And to be the cause of an outbreak would be heartbreaking to me.”

Photos courtesy of Jess Pullis & Diana Piskor | Page design by Heran Essayas

10 Qs With Michael Farmar Math Teacher

1 2 3 4

Reporting & page design by Ariana Elahi Photo courtesy of Michael Farmar

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in a town called Clark, New Jersey, and moved to Virginia only 14 years ago.

What do you do each summer? My wife is also a teacher so we plan our vacations in summer. We were supposed to go to Ireland last year, but it got canceled because of COVID.

What do you like to do for fun?

I’m an avid reader. I don’t go anywhere without a book. I have a book on my desk at all times. Between breaks or for lunch I like to eat and read. I have like six books at home waiting to be read.

What’s your favorite book?

To Kill a Mockingbird made a big impression on me. I really like the historical sections, and the book is a classic.


7 8

What’s your favorite sport?

I’m a big New York Mets and Giants fan. There aren’t many sports that I don’t like. Right now my favorite game to play is golf because I’m too old to play anything else.


What’s your best quality?

I am definitely hard working, but I also have the ability to understand where the students are coming from.

What’s your favorite TV show right now?

New Amsterdam, but that hasn’t come back out this year yet so I don’t know what’s going on with it.

Do you have any pets? I have a dog named Cooper, and he is 5 years old.


What did you do before becoming a teacher?

I got an accounting degree from Rutgers and worked as an accountant for Exxon, but I didn’t like it at all. So in my early 30s I went back to school to become a teacher.


Why did you become a teacher?

I decided that I’m going to do something I like, [something that I always wanted to do]. [Teaching] opened up so many doors, and I really enjoy teaching. Getting to know the coolest students is definitely the best part. FEBRUARY | FEATURES | 15


McLean launches new courses for 2021-22 school year POLINA ZUBAREV FEATURES EDITOR & LAYLA ZAIDI DIGITAL MEDIA EDITOR



ext school year, all Virginia pubic high schools will offer African American History. Social studies department chair Rachel Baxter is preparing the elective for its launch at McLean. “[African American History] is a course that was developed by the state of Virginia,” Baxter said. “It will cover all of United States history, but it will focus on the experiences of Africans and African Americans in the U.S.” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled the course in August 2020, but he had been overseeing its development since August of the previous year. During the 2020-21 school year, 16 school divisions, not including FCPS, offered the course across their high schools. “The introduction of this groundbreaking course is a first step toward our shared goal


of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day,” Northam said in his announcement. WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND THE STRUGGLES OF TODAY AND THE MOVEMENTS OF TODAY WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING THE HISTORY BEHIND THEM.” - RACHEL BAXTER SOCIAL STUDIES DEPARTMENT CHAIR The course includes key parts of African American history, from early beginnings in Africa to the transatlantic slave trade, the Civil War, Emancipation, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement and beyond.

“It’ll [start at] 1619, which was the date that the first enslaved Africans were brought to the U.S., up until present,” Baxter said. The course will focus on covering material that has consistently been left out of the mainstream curriculum, discussing not only the hurdles African Americans have faced, but also their successes. “A lot of the ways that Black people have been treated in this country are horrific,” Baxter said. “But then I worry that if that’s the only thing that students are learning about in U.S. history classes, then they might start to have this deficit mindset when thinking about the amazing contributions that Black Americans have made.” Baxter hopes to provide students with the context they need to understand the history of Black and African Americans. “We cannot understand the struggles of today and the movements of today without understanding the history behind them, and the true, full picture of the history,” Baxter said. The course was proposed before the Black Lives Matter movement reignited in the summer of 2020. However, Director of Student Services Paul Stansbery said he believes that the current political climate amplifies the need for the elective. “With everything that is going on in the news, there is a great concern over the relationships [between people of different backgrounds],” Stansbery said. “I think people who take this class will be able to educate themselves and hopefully make things better.” Although Baxter has high hopes for this new elective, she voiced concerns over students’ acceptance of and attitude toward the material that will be covered during the course. “It can be hard to relearn things that we have been taught our whole lives,” Baxter said. “Students [will] have to come to terms with the really awful parts of U.S. history. It is challenging for anyone—it’s challenging for me as an adult.”

Illustrations by Arin Kang | Page design by Polina Zubarev



esigned by physics teacher Billy Thomas, the new elective History of Science is running on a two-year trial basis exclusively at McLean. The idea for establishing the class initially came to Thomas when he was in graduate school, and he has been designing the elective and coming up with the original curriculum for around a year and a half. The course will mainly cover the history of science, its practices and ideas. “This class is going to give you an opportunity to investigate how scientists actually perform experiments, how they refine their experiments, how do they assert or confirm that what they’re looking at or reading is correct,” Thomas said. Students with an interest in history or science would both be well-suited for the elective as it takes both subjects and combines them into a single course. “Scientists are integrated in history,” Thomas said. “Do we do a good job of covering science in history class? Probably not. Do we do a good job of covering history in science? No, but this is really where you can meet the two in one location.” The course will focus on scientific historical events and scientists’ journeys through discoveries. The class will also explore what enabled people to become scientists. “For a long period of time, scientists were the people that you relied on to figure out your problems,” Thomas said. “The idea that there was such a commitment and endeavor to actually create...foundations of science is really what we’re working on in our classrooms today.” Students in the elective will learn through readings, discussions and recreations of labs. “It’s actually more fundamental than the curriculum that we’ve been [teaching] because it’s very discussion-based,” Thomas said. “It’s talking about how you come up with an idea and how you think through problems.” Thomas intends to create a learning environment that is different from traditional courses and encourage people to rethink how they view core science courses. “The way the state, [and the College Board], sets up a lot of curriculum is so focused on the discipline, so ‘what do you

need to know in order to participate in a discussion about this topic?’” Thomas said. “It doesn’t really focus on how we came up with these discussions.” Because he will not need to follow prescribed learning standards, Thomas is free to pace the class his own way throughout the year.

I TOOK THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE CLASS WHEN I WAS IN COLLEGE, AND EVER SINCE THEN I THOUGHT, ‘WHY DIDN’T I LEARN THIS EARLIER?’” - BILLY THOMAS PHYSICS TEACHER “There is going to be a lot of opportunity to do a lot of self-investigation, so if you like that freedom, and you don’t need [a lot of] structure, I would highly recommend it,” Thomas said. When designing the course, Thomas built on his own experiences with taking science courses. “I took the History of Science class

when I was in college, and ever since then I thought, ‘Why didn’t I learn this [earlier]?’” Thomas said. “I feel like I missed out on something because I would have changed the way I thought about a lot of different things.” Although the course will focus on the history of science and scientific practices, it will also provide students with a new perspective on some concepts taught in core science classes. Students are also likely to learn new topics in class, especially considering that Thomas plans to include a variety of sciences. “There’s no way [students] could have taken all the science classes at McLean,” Thomas said. “Some of the stuff that we’ll cover in our class that wouldn’t be covered in the normal curriculum is a lot of medicine, philosophy and astronomy.” With a whole year of learning planned, the next step is for interested students to register for the elective. Next school year, Thomas hopes for around 50 students, or two full classes. “I would recommend taking this class because you’re going to get a lot of ideas for a lot of things that you haven’t seen before,” Thomas said. “It gives you an opportunity to explore something different.” FEBRUARY | FEATURES | 17

10 years of

journalism excellence

Student journalists reflect on their experiences at The Highlander with Ms. B MARINA QU EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | JUNGYOON KEUM FACT CHECKER


ven late in the evening, people walking down the halls can smell the pizza and hear the laughter coming from R133. Throughout the school year, The Highlander staff stays after school for late production nights to publish McLean's monthly newsmagazine. Although it sounds tiring, reporters enjoy the food, music and jokes at late nights. The Highlander, which is among the top high school news publications in the country, is led by adviser Lindsay Benedict. "I feel lucky to have had the chance to work with so many amazing students over the years," Benedict said. "I love seeing them find something they can be passionate about— not just journalism itself but also working with other people and engaging with the community." This school year marks Benedict's 10th year of working with students on McLean's newsmagazine. We decided to interview one journalism student from each of the past 10 years, all of whom were happy to share their perspectives on working with Benedict and their memories in McLean journalism.

How would you describe Ms. B? "Ms. B’s dedication is incredible. She was willing to stay at the school with us late to make The Highlander possible. It's something that I'm so grateful for." - Melanie Pincus '17

AMAZING ADVISER — Journalism teacher Lindsay Benedict began at McLean in 2011. To complete each issue of The Highlander, she spends production nights with the staff, helping her students with their writing and design while enjoying their company (and the snacks they bring).

"Ms. B is the perfect balance between a teacher and a friend. She's someone that you can confide in when you need something, but she also knows when and how to push you, the way an educator needs to with their students." - Annie Schroeder '14


"Her passion and commitment to this magazine is really inspiring. I know that my life has changed. I know that many other people in my year and the years above [and below] me...have had life-changing experiences at The Highlander. I know that The Highlander will be as excellent as it always has in the past." - Siddarth Shankar '18 18 | FEATURES | FEBRUARY

1. FIRST CLASS PHOTO — Benedict's first Journalism 1 class sits around the back room planning table after the firstever white elephant gift exhange, which has been a beloved tradition ever since. "I seriously can't believe it's been a decade since I first met these students," Benedict said. "I still remember all of them like it was yesterday." 2. JOURNALISM STAR — Melanie Pincus, one of the editors-in-chief from the Class of 2017 stands in front of the iconic journalism wall, which was drawn by Class of 2014 cartoonist and website editor-in-chief Jessica Tang. Pincus was named the Virginia Journalist of the Year in 2017. Photos courtesy of Lindsay Benedict | Page design by Marina Qu

“[McLean journalism] is a place that not only fosters your love for the subject, but also fosters your love for telling stories. Sometimes it’s fun stories like a fashion piece, and sometimes it’s a deeper story like feature pieces.”

“It was at The Highlander when I first discovered the Adobe Creative Cloud products. Participating in the designing of my articles for the Cub Edition was my first try, and I just remember loving the design, even more than the writing.”


Designer at Wall Street Journal

- Anika Crone ‘12

- Andrea Pappas ‘13

“Ms. B was super receptive to whatever the students wanted to do. I remember thinking that it was so refreshing to have a teacher who cared about what the students wanted to do and what direction the students wanted to go in.”

“It’s never too late to pursue your passions. McLean journalism and Ms. B showed me that it’s not too late to focus on the things that you are passionate about. You could find things that you are really having fun with and make it your own.” -Annie Schroeder ‘14 WSLS-TV Reporter

“[In McLean journalism], you could pick what you want to write about and spend [as much time as you want] on it. I’m really thankful for the opportunities that I had with Ms. B, and I miss the [opportunity] of choosing what to write about.”

- Hannah Menchel ‘15

- Jake Barnett ‘16

Second year at Emory Law

Commerce grad student at UVA

1 “[My favorite memories] are the little things throughout the four years, like family dinners during late nights. In December, we had a white elephant gift exchange. Those were always fun, and I remember laughing a lot. Those were good opportunities to get to know the staff.”

“Doing journalism at McLean helped me grow out of my shell. Before I started journalism, I was a lot shyer. I wasn’t willing to confront people or even ask important questions. Doing journalism can be something that’s really empowering.”

Editor at The Brown Daily Herald

Economics major at Yale

“Journalism showed me that commitment pays off. When I started going to late nights and doing extra tasks on the staff, journalism became much more fun. Articles started to get better, and it was a lot more fulfilling.”

“When I was a freshman, I went blind because of cataracts. After surgery, I couldn’t participate in gym class. I was sitting in the library, drawing, and Ms. B walks by and asks, ‘Are you interested in cartooning for The Highlander magazine?’”

“Writing was never something I was great at, especially during my freshman year. It was something I struggled with, and just being able to take journalism taught me how to write concisely and clearly and how to get my message across.”

- Jack Stenzel ‘19

- Dasha Makarishcheva ‘20

- Melanie Pincus ‘17


Photographer at UCLA Daily Bruin

Visual effects major at SCAD

- Siddarth Shankar ‘18

- Heran Essayas ‘21

Editor-in-chief of The Highlander



Senior’s business connects students with local jobs BELEN BALLARD ONLINE FEATURES EDITOR | GIANNA RUSSO COPY EDITOR


teenager rakes up the last couple of leaves, finishing a huge yard and hours of work, with the satisfying thought of a hefty paycheck coming soon. To many teens in McLean, this would not have been possible if it weren’t for senior Jack Lannin. Lannin is the founder of TaskTeens, a landscaping business that connects teenagers with jobs in the community. Homeowners visit and fill out a form with information about the work they need done, and teens sign up for the jobs that work with their schedules. Lannin was inspired by his desire to help others, and he realized his initial idea could turn into something much bigger. “It was an idea that I’ve had for a long time that I felt like could benefit a lot of kids and teenagers [while helping] out many homeowners as well,” Lannin said. TaskTeens has been able to benefit from Lannin’s previous experience starting and running a business.

“Originally, I had a business called TeenServ. I started out my sophomore year with two of my buddies. Now obviously the


name is TaskTeens,” Lannin said. “We kind of had a parting, and I decided to go off on my own...and I thought I had a better way of doing it.” Since the launch of TaskTeens, Lannin has put in hours upon hours of work into the business and has seen success as a result. “One of my best [moments] was getting to work for a former U.S. Senator, who had heard about our service from some friends and ended up being one of our best customers,” Lannin said. “He also tipped our teens extremely well.” TaskTeens provides a wide range of general yard services. The tasks vary by season, meaning the team always has something to work on. HARD AT WORK — Senior Max Volkov mows a “For spring and summer, lawn as part of his job at TaskTeens. Yard work we have three main tasks: can be done year round and has high demand lawn mowing, weeding and in the community. 20 | FEATURES | FEBRUARY

mulching. [During the] winter and fall, we offer raking services, snow shoveling [and] just general yard cleanup. Then, we continue to offer the same services during the spring,” Lannin said. The most common ways teens find out about TaskTeens is through their friends and peers who have worked for the business. At first, most of the workers were McLean students, but that is changing. “[The business] has definitely branched out. I would say McLean students still represent the largest fraction of the kids; however, they don’t represent over 50% of our teenagers,” Lannin said. In the past year, a lot of teenagers, along with the rest of the community, have been put out of work. Businesses like TaskTeens allow individuals to gain some extra money, choose their own work schedule and be their own boss. “From the teenager’s perspective, the flexibility combined with the high earning potential is what makes this job so ideal,” Lannin said. “As a teenager, the only way that you’re going to make money is either by working a full-time job or a part-time job.” Lannin is proud of the rates his business is able to pay its workers, who make $32 an hour for lawn mowing and $20 an hour for other tasks, considerably more than the pay for most jobs that are available to teens. “[Working retail], you’re not going to be making that much per hour, and at the same time it’s not really flexible so you kind of get locked into that,” Lannin said. The feel-good factor of helping the community is another big motivator for most individuals who work for TaskTeens, including junior Griffin Stieg. “TaskTeens is a really great way to be more involved in the community by helping people in need with all sorts of tasks,” Stieg said. “Not only is it great pay, but it also feels really good helping people with tasks that they can’t or choose not to do themselves.” Another important factor about

Photos by Jack Lannin | Page design by Gianna Russo

TaskTeens is the high paying rate for teens and the satisfaction rate for homeowners. Some prices depend on the jobs which include raking, weeding, lawn mowing, snow removal, mulching, and other yard work. “We’re really proud of how much we pay our teens; our teams make $20 an hour and then for lawn mowing, they make $32 an hour. In addition, we have an over 98% satisfaction rate with homeowners,” Lannin said. According to Lannin, TaskTeens has an over 98% satisfaction rate among homeowners. The reviews on the business’s website back this up, highlighting customer service and affability. “I’ve used many landscaping services in the past years, but TaskTeens has surpassed everything which I thought I knew about

How much do TaskTeens’ services cost? WEEDING Avg. task/teen

$50 RAKING Avg. task/teen

$50 MOWING Avg. task/teen

$40 MULCHING Avg. task/teen


SNOW REMOVAL Avg. task/teen


YARD WORK Avg. task/teen


service,” one homeowner wrote. “Their team brings a level of accommodation and friendliness to every interaction which only a team of neighborhood teens could conceivably do, and it works wonderfully.” Working for TaskTeens provides an opportunity for students to develop useful skills such as work ethic and time management. “The thing that separates TaskTeens from other jobs FALL FRENZY — Seniors Mawni Mahdavi and Aaron is the fact that Bremser rake a local homeowner’s backyard. They you work on your are close friends with the TaskTeens business owner, schedule and it pays Jack Lannin. really well, as long as you’re willing to put the work in,” senior Philippe Kabasele said. simple idea, Lannin has created a successful “TaskTeens has taught me the importance business all on his own. The business is not of doing the best I can when working and only beneficial to him and the workers but that the outcome is worth the work.” the entire community as well. As many places have done due to “I’ve poured hundreds upon hundreds, COVID-19, Lannin altered the business to probably thousands of hours into my provide all non-contact services, including businesses, and, you know, it’s a lot of stress, online payments that make it safe for both it’s a lot of uncertainty, but in the end, all the parties. sacrifices and time spent is worth it,” Lannin “We’ve been really successful throughout said. the pandemic; we’re an all-digital, no-contact Through his work, Lannin has learned a service, which is very appealing to a lot of lot about the amount of effort needed to be people who want to stay safe and socially successful, not just in business. distant,” Lannin said. “Homeowners can “My experience with TaskTeens has get the job done without ever meeting their definitely made me a harder and more teens.” diligent worker, something I was not in my TaskTeens provides necessary supplies earlier years,” Lannin said. “It’s made me for jobs, such as leaf blowers, rakes and recognize the importance of putting out shovels. This makes it even easier to conduct quality work and meeting deadlines.” a contactless job between homeowners and Lannin is a senior this year and will be teens, in addition to making the service going off to college in the fall. Running a accessible to people who do not have the business remotely is difficult, but Lannin proper equipment for the job. hopes to make it work. “Some places provided me with “In the future, I hope to continue equipment like rakes and an occasional leaf starting and running my own business[es],” blower, but I brought my leaf blower to Lannin said. “I don’t plan on passing down every job I did, which made the job a lot TaskTeens, as I anticipate continuing to easier and faster,” Stieg said. run and grow the business into and out of Out of what started as a small and college.” FEBRUARY | FEATURES | 21


as seen on tv? Representation vs. reality of the teenage experience in popular media ANA PAULA IBARRARAN OPINIONS EDITOR





urple and red lights blind you as you walk into a “normal” high school party. Clouds of smoke fill the air, and red Solo cups litter the floor. The camera pans to a group of 20-somethings posing as high schoolers, chugging beers and popping pills. High school is one of the most crucial—and dangerous—parts of life. TV shows run rampant with the stereotype of teenagers being wild, fun and carefree partygoers. These teen parties commonly contain dim lights, the infamous red Solo cups filled with alcohol, absurdly loud music, risque behavior, drug use and any other illicit activities the writers can come up with. Teenagers are more likely than mature adults to take part in risky behaviors and suffer from mental health issues. According to a study published in Developmental Science, teenagers peak in risk-taking behaviors at around 19 years old, and popular media doesn’t shy away from representing these things as part of the “teenage experience.” Over the last few years, streaming services like Netflix and HBO Max have produced multiple shows that portray teenage mental health and substance abuse issues either more or less dramatically than necessary. Some of the more popular examples of these shows are 13 Reasons Why and Euphoria. “Seeing people taking drugs and that being glamorized, as well as things like depression or [eating disorders], can make people think that these things are normal and cool and almost a necessity to fit in,” junior Harper* said.


The COVID-19 pandemic has given teenagers more time in isolation to binge TV shows as well as heightened anxiety and depression. “Overall, the mental health of teens, particularly anxiety, has been prevalent as a result of the pandemic and us being on lockdown,” school psychologist Beverly Parker-Lewis said. According to the Centers for Disease Control, screen time has risen 31% since last year, and 40.9% of the people they surveyed reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral condition due to emotions related to the pandemic. When handling subject matter as serious as suicide and drug use, TV shows tend to glorify or romanticize certain behaviors, which causes harm to impressionable teenagers. Of course, this isn’t a new issue. Movies and TV shows have been depicting mental health and drug addiction inaccurately for decades. Movies like Almost Famous and The Virgin Suicides from the 2000s have become American classics despite their glorified depiction of drug use and suicide. These instances of glamorization blur the lines between representation and reality.


The entertainment industry has long been characterized by its flippant portrayal of teenage drug use. The characters in movies and shows like Project X, Skins and Gossip Girl use copious amounts of drugs and suffer almost no consequences. They contribute to the narrative that substance use is an integral part of the high school experience.

*These responses were obtained via an anonymous survey, so names have been changed

Artwork by Arin Kang | Page design by Taylor Olson


HBO’s Euphoria has been popular among teens since the first season aired in 2019. In the show, high school girl Rue Bennett uses substances to cope with her mental illness. In the first episode, Rue is discharged from rehab after a near-fatal overdose. Later, she struggles with withdrawals and addiction. Rue attempts to stay sober, but she relapses. During her highs, the show’s flashy colored lights and her outlandish makeup portray addiction and drug use unrealistically. These scenes make drugs look like a fun and edgy thing to do and like something everyone is doing, which undermines their actual dangerous effects. “[These shows] made me have a feeling [that] I’m not living up to the right teen experience,” freshman Olivia Hollier said. “I’m just sitting at home while these people my age are partying and having the time of their life.” Although Euphoria depicts teens taking drugs in a glorified way, some argue that it accurately depicts the negative consequences, which many other shows fail to do. When Rue’s 13-year-old sister walks into the traumatizing scene of Rue passed out and covered in vomit on her bedroom floor after her overdose, it is a stark contrast to the colorful drug scenes. “It showed you the bad road that [drugs] can lead you down as opposed to just being a fun party,” Euphoria background actor Andrew Young said in an interview with The Highlander. “Compared to a lot of other TV shows, it probably did a better job portraying all aspects of drug and alcohol use.” The drug usage shown in popular media is not entirely unrealistic to high school students. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse statistics, 86% of teenagers in the U.S. know someone who smokes, drinks or uses drugs during the school day, and 50% of teenagers reported that they have

DIRECTORS LIKE TO MAKE THEIR CHARACTERS SEEM MORE DRAMATIC, SO THEY END UP WITH A CHARACTER THAT ISN’T A NORMAL 16-YEAR-OLD.” - SOPHIE TURSI JUNIOR misused a drug at least once in their lifetime. Despite its popularity, Euphoria faced additional criticism from viewers who believe that the show depicts “adult” topics that are too controversial or explicit for teens. “If someone is mature enough, they can watch the show and understand that it is just a TV show, but it is trying to hit on the more realistic elements of that lifestyle,” Young said. “Being on both ends of the show, from production to watching the presentation of it as a viewer, Euphoria is an awesome show as far as trying to show how the media does portray teenagers and that lifestyle to the general public. However, middle school and young high school kids probably [should not watch it].” Because Euphoria features teenage characters, it attracts a younger audience. Viewers of all ages should be cognizant of the potential overdramatization of the high school experience. High schools in movies and on TV uphold different stereotypes, distorting what students believe is the quintessential high school experience. Stereotypes they perpetuate include jocks, nerds, cheerleaders, goths, stoners and loners. These

In a poll of 130 McLean students: %

said they have had an eating disorder

49.6% struggle with depression


have dealt with substance abuse



have anxiety Infographics by Taylor Olson

Has something you’ve seen in a TV show or movie affected your mental health?

No (49.6%) Yes (50.4%)

From a poll of 130 McLean Students

tropes negatively influence young viewers by conveys idea that everyone needs to fit a certain mold or behave a certain way to be accepted in high school. “Most teens [aren’t] involved in heavy drug use and don’t have these crazy lives,” said junior Sophie Tursi, vice president of McLean’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance. “Directors like to make their characters seem more dramatic, so they end up with a character that isn’t a normal 16-year-old.” Feeling like their actual high school experience isn’t living up to their expectations can increase teenagers’ insecurities and lower their self-esteem.


Mental health awareness has increased throughout the years. As it gains more acknowledgment the inclusion of mental health topics in television has grown as well. According to ScienceDaily, from 2005 to 2017 there was a 52% increase in adolescents with symptoms consistent with those of major depression. This number suddenly increased in 2011, which is most likely due to cultural changes, including the increase in media in everyday life. Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why is a successful teen show that attempts to address these issues. However, some mental health experts argue that the show’s content could glorify suicide to those who already have suicidal thoughts. As a result, the show could affect their mental health and influence their behavior. The show details the aftermath of high school girl Hannah Baker’s suicide. The story follows one of her friends as he listens

to the tapes she created to explain why she took her own life. Although a suicide letter is commonly shown in TV or movies, 13 Reasons Why chooses to portray her “suicide letters” as a revenge plot against the people that hurt Hannah, leaving young teenagers with an inaccurate representation of what it means to commit suicide. “They were trying to show what bullying [can do to teenagers],” Tursi said. “Instead of going that way, they made it seem like if you kill yourself you just know more than everyone else. That’s where it romanticizes mental health [problems] instead of portraying the [reality].” According to Dr. Victor Schwartz, medical director of The Jed Foundation, 13 Reasons Why is loaded with imagery that could be considered harmful to young adults or children who are dealing with suicidal thoughts. Schwartz also found fault with a scene where a school guidance counselor fails to identify dangerous behaviors Hannah is displaying, which could prevent students from reaching out to their own school counselors and other trusted adults. “One of the issues that I have concerns about is how suicide is portrayed in pop culture,” Parker-Lewis said. “Sometimes it’s really played up, and it does not help suicidal [teens] get the right resources or work through it. That part bothers me a lot.” 13 Reasons Why includes a graphic scene of Hannah slitting her wrists, which can trigger people who have suffered from mental health problems, causing a negative emotional response. Some even saw it as a step-by-step guide for how to take one’s own life. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-24. The NIMH funded a study that found that “13 Reasons Why was associated with a 28.9% increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17 in the month (April 2017) following the show’s release.” “[TV shows and movies have] made me question myself and whether what I was feeling was genuine,” junior Alex* said. “I was struggling, and seeing trailers for shows like 13 Reasons Why twisted my views. No one claps for you, you won’t get a medal, you have to live every day with a mental illness. It’s truly frustrating.”

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text NEEDHELP to 85511. If you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Trevor Project lifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678.



Some students think the show conveys a false message that mental health is something “fun.” “It frustrated me to see such an inaccurate view of mental health and caused me to think that I was doing something wrong,” Alex* said. In 13 Reasons Why, Hannah suggests that the people around her are at fault for her suicide, a particularly damaging idea. “That is precisely the other reason why we really try to shy away from saying that someone who died of suicide is the result of something someone did,” Schwartz said in an NBC News article. “It leaves survivors with a horrifying burden of guilt.” 13 Reasons Why implies Hannah’s suicide was not caused by a mental health issue but by her surrounding environment, leading viewers to believe that suicide is the perfect form of revenge rather than the last resort for someone in pain. “There are some aspects of pop culture that amplify [mental health] in a positive way,” Parker-Lewis said. “But then there are [some shows] that really play to the negative side of suicide and do not help teens work through [their feelings] and provide resources for them.” This is a common issue in teen shows dealing with serious topics. The writers are often careless with the script and do not fully flesh out many of the topics that should be dealt with in a more meaningful way. This leaves many topics such as bullying and mental illness with just surface-level treatment. On the other hand, some viewers think Euphoria is more effective in addressing the dreadful reality of depression. At the height of her depression, Rue is so unable to function that she can’t get out of bed for days, not even to use the bathroom. “This depiction of mental illness [in Euphoria] is an improvement compared to many other shows because it did not glorify her illness,” Tursi said. Including the negative aspects of drug use on mental health can serve as a deterrent rather than a motivator, because it forces the viewer to see the reality of addiction and substance abuse. “I don’t think that TV shows with explicit content cause teens to mimic that behavior,” sophomore Libby Salopek said. “It’s got the opposite effect. It shows the consequences, which people would be discouraged by.” Euphoria is able to create a balance between the issues many of the characters face, such as mental health problems, and the fun aspects of high school, which, although not completely realistic, results in a more accurate portrayal of the teenage experience that isn’t just about partying or struggling teens.


“We established early on that each scene ought to be an interpretation of reality. Or an interpretation of emotional reality,” Euphoria creator Sam Levinson said in an interview with Vulture magazine. “I’m not interested in realism. I’m interested in emotional realism.”


Teens’ experience should be reflected in the media they consume, but it’s crucial that they be able to recognize the line between reality and dramatization for the sake of entertainment. In TV shows, a character’s mental illness is often shown as a personality trait that makes them unique or interesting. This can cause viewers to admire the character’s condition and even selfdiagnose while dismissing the true nature of the illness. “TV shows and movies desensitize viewers to the words ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’ and allow kids to throw them around more, so people who aren’t depressed are saying they have depression,” junior Jessica Dziedzic said. The show Skins is commonly criticized for achieving this effect. Viewers argue that characters Effy and Cassie have become toxic role models for young teens in both the U.S. and

Which of these TV shows have you watched? 13RW (64.3%)

Euphoria (50%)

None (24.6%)

Skins (9.5%)

From a poll of 126 McLean students

How many FCPS high school students reported use of these substances in their lifetime?


of teenagers have misused a drug at least once in their life Alcohol (33.7%)


know someone who smokes, drinks or uses drugs during the school day Source: National Center for Drug Abuse statistics

the U.K. Presented as pretty and mysterious, the girls struggle with mental illness and eating disorders. As a result, some young viewers admire and even emulate the characters’ actions. “I wanted to be just like Effy and Cassie. I wanted to do everything they do and be just like them,” Hollier said. “They seemed so pretty and cool, so I saw that and thought that in order to be a pretty high schooler, I had to also be like that.” Popular media is a common source where teenagers find their role models. When these role models behave badly, their young and impressionable viewers are unable to see the severity of their actions.

NO ONE CLAPS FOR YOU, YOU WON’T GET A MEDAL, YOU HAVE TO LIVE EVERY DAY WITH A MENTAL ILLNESS. IT’S TRULY FRUSTRATING.” - ALEX* JUNIOR When watching these shows, viewers often don’t realize that the actors are much older than the average high school age, which furthers the unrealistic depictions of high school students. These actors look older, and when this is coupled with the dramatized version of high school life, it can mislead young viewers. “Even though we are all portraying high school students, they don’t actually have any people under the age of 18 there, so it’s not like any young people were around it,” Young said. “I’m 28, but I shaved my beard to look way younger. Most people are already mature enough to understand what they’re getting into.” TV ratings can help limit some of the negative influence by

Vaping (25.4%) Marijuana (17.9%) Cigarettes (8.5%) Inhalants (6.2%)

Source: 2019 Fairfax County Youth Survey

warning viewers of what they might see, but they are not enough to keep people—especially curious teenagers—from watching a show. More specific warnings about the content in a show can be helpful for viewers when choosing whether or not to start watching. “Seeing particular things will give me a great outlook on life and make me optimistic, but being exposed to some of the darker parts really changes my mental health,” junior Sam* said. “I tend to avoid watching things that I know will negatively affect me.” Trigger warnings flag potentially disturbing content that may cause viewers to have negative physical or mental reactions, in order to prevent susceptible viewers from watching. This specific form of content warning became common on social media and is starting to appear on TV and in other forms of media. Of course, these trigger warnings won’t necessarily stop someone at risk from watching the show, but they alert people who may not be comfortable viewing certain content. “People are still gonna watch, but it’s definitely important to have a trigger warning,” Tursi said. “At the very least you know what to expect, even if it’s not going to trigger you.” In today’s society, it is necessary for popular media to reflect the diversity of their audience and their audience’s experiences. Showing topics like depression and substance abuse more accurately helps teens to understand the consequences of their actions and to recognize that they are not alone. Viewers should also keep in mind that these shows are not authentic and note the differences between the representation of the teenage experience and the reality of it. Most importantly, they should not hesitate to reach out when they need help. “[If you’re struggling,] you should talk to a parent,” ParkerLewis said. “You have a ton of resources for you at school, like your school counselor and your clinical team, which consists of two psychologists and one social worker. One of the first things that you should do is talk to someone about it.” FEBRUARY | IN-DEPTH | 27


Seniors reflect on early college acceptances ADDIE BROWN MANAGING EDITOR | JACK SHIELDS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Why did you decide to apply early decision (ED) to Brown? I loved the open curriculum and unrestricted learning environment, and, because I have a lot of different passions, I want to be able to pursue them all. What do you plan on studying? I plan on studying engineering and mathematics, but I am also interested in exploring different kinds of arts and humanities through the open curriculum. What steps did you take after committing? Since committing, I’ve made an official Brown email, been contacted by a professor and joined a group chat and Instagram page with other Brown ‘25 students.

Why did you decide to apply ED to Duke? I decided to apply early decision because of the higher acceptance rate, and Duke was my top choice so it gave me the best chance. What were your thoughts leading up to decision day? I was kind of nervous but confident I would get in and trying to think positively. What do you plan on studying? Some type of engineering, most likely medical. What steps did you take after committing? I accepted the offer of admission, sent official SAT score reports and joined a GroupMe and Instagram page to meet new people in the Class of ‘25.

Why did you decide to apply ED to UVA? I wanted to apply early decision to UVA because it was my top choice, so I was willing to take the risk of a binding decision with the hope that if I got in, I would have that security early in my senior year. What were your thoughts leading up to decision day? I was really nervous leading up to decision day, but I tried not to focus too heavily on it because I didn’t want to get my hopes up and be super disappointed if I didn’t get in. What do you plan on studying? Right now I hope to study psychology, although I’m not really tied to that. I’m excited to explore lots of different areas of study to see what I want to pursue.

Why did you decide to apply ED to Villanova? I have a brother who goes to Villanova, so when I went with him to set up his dorm I really fell in love with the campus. I loved the vibe and pride the community shared from what I saw. Additionally, I love Philly, and the school is right outside of the city so I plan to try to take lots of trips to see sports games. What were your thoughts leading up to decision day? Leading up to decision day I tried not to think about the day or what it meant too much. I’m a firm believer that things happen in life for a reason, so I really just kept repeating that philosophy to myself. What do you plan on studying? I plan to start out with political science, but I’m not sure.


Photos obtained via @mclean.commitments.2021 Instagram | Page design by Jack Shields



Reporters Maya Amman & Katie Romhilt meddle in the love lives of FCPS students


s Valentine’s Day approached and the pandemic forced people to be stuck inside, we decided to create a fun way for students all across Fairfax County to be able to meet and go on a date. To ensure safe interactions, we settled for Zoom dates. To start the process, we created a Google Form questionnaire and sent it out. We were flooded with responses and instantly began

matching people based on compatibility. Participants were matched based on simple questions like their preferred dream vacation and what three items they would bring to a deserted island. After we matched a few people, we began the awkward Zoom dates and helped people find love. Were they successful? Read below to see some of our matched pairs!




Rachael: Colton:

2.5/5 3/5









- MACEY JOHNSON JUNIOR Page design by Taylor Olson











Students anonymously share what they’d say to a certain someone CC PALUMBO FEATURES EDITOR | GRACE GOULD ONLINE FEATURES EDITOR














Highlanders choose their own winners for the 63rd annual Grammy awards SANGMIN SONG REPORTER

RTJ4 Run The Jewels

Record of the Year

“Nominations this year missed good albums, like RTJ4 by Run the Jewels. All of its tracks are bangers, and the overall album has a good flow and transitions between one track and the next.” -Ricardo Cabral, junior




Interscope Records


Song of the Year

Post Malone

Republic Records

Taylor Swift

“All of the nominees for the Song of the Year are mediocre, but I enjoy ‘Circles’ the most. I have always enjoyed listening to this song as it’s groovy and has a good voice and beat.” -Andrew Cavanaugh, junior


Republic Records

Best Pop Solo Performance

“‘Don’t Start Now’ was big all year, especially on TikTok. When I first listened to this, I thought it was pretty catchy and had a sweet tune.” -Tyler Lee, junior

Lady Gaga (with Ariana Grande)

Interscope Records

“I loved the song because it has a good, positive feeling to it. I’ve been listening to Lady Gaga for years, so I did expect something good as a new song, and I wasn’t let down.” -Etienne Brownlow, sophomore

Page design by Sangmin Song | Graphics by Arin Kang

“‘Cardigan’ is lyrically and musically so beautiful. It really conveys emotion well and makes me sad because it’s a sad song, but it also makes me happy because I love the song itself.” -Tallisen Scott, senior


Columbia Records

Warner Records


“This record helped me to be ok with myself and the convoluted challenge of my mental health. The track was so surreal when I heard it for the first time.” -Michael Combs, senior

“I thought the chorus was an earworm and have to say Harry Styles has a pleasant band, and I like the rock pop sound that seems to have inspired the song.” -Hayden Formica, senior


Best Pop Duo/ Group Performance

Justin Bieber (feat. Quavo)

Def Jam Recordings

“Listening to this song reminded me of how much I used to enjoy his music when I was younger. I voted for this song because his singing worked well in collaboration with Quavo.” -Jake Barnard, junior FEBRUARY | A&E | 31

BLURRING THE LINES OF FASHION McLean students embrace gender fluid style



reshly painted nails. Baggy button-ups. Floral-patterned dresses. Popularized by social media and celebrities, androgynous fashion—clothing that is gender neutral— and gender fluid fashion—clothing that explores the boundaries between traditionally masculine and feminine styles—are starting to take off at McLean. When sophomore Jack Abba tried on a skirt after a friend’s suggestion, he realized he could expand his wardrobe. “I don’t have to wear exactly what people tell me to or what people say I should,” Abba said. “Some of the aspects of [androgynous] fashion look cool, and I enjoy wearing it.” Abba continued to experiment and his friends encouraged him. They even had photo shoot nights, which featured abstract themes. “I’ve taken inspiration from the ‘60s, like Blue Hawaii Elvis Presley. Recently, we did a fun grunge punk photo shoot. We don’t take it seriously when me and my friends have a photo shoot,” Abba said. “When we like an idea and we think it might be cool or funny, then we’ll try it out. Sometimes, there’s wigs if we want to go all out.” Abba posted some of the photos on his Instagram, earning mixed responses from his family and peers. “My parents, they’re not the biggest fans of it, but at the end of the day, they’re not going to do anything to stop the way I dress,” Abba said. “Online, there has been a couple weird instances, but it shouldn’t affect them.” Like Abba, senior Owen Carson has started trying out new fashion choices during quarantine. “Over the past year I’ve started painting my nails, and I’ve worn crop tops,” he said. “I’ve worn makeup once, just as a way to change things up.” Carson credits his curiosity in fashion to his sister, sophomore Charlotte Carson, who has helped him through his journey. “Part of the reason I’ve been able to do it or express myself in that way is because my sister is also really into fashion and 32 | A&E | FEBRUARY

androgynous stuff. Just talking to her about it has kind of opened it up for me,” Owen said. While Owen hasn’t faced criticism for his outfits, he was met with silence when he posted a picture on Instagram of his freshly painted nails. “I’ve never been insulted, but my guy friends were silent. I guess it’s just because of toxic masculinity, and even if they’re not going to paint their nails themselves, they wouldn’t want to say anything about it because it associates them with it,” Owen said. Although some of Owen’s friends didn’t comment on his nail color, his sister has witnessed harsh comments directed at other students. “I’ve been in classes with guys, and they’ll wear something that isn’t athletic wear and guys will just call them gay,” Charlotte said. Tying sexuality to clothing begs the question of whether there is a correlation. “I don’t think that clothing necessarily has anything to do with your sexuality. I think [fashion] just has to do with an aesthetic that you appreciate and feel comfortable in,” said English teacher Seth LeBlanc, the sponsor of McLean’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance. “I think that for some people, sex, gender, sexuality, identity, etc. are confusing because there is so much overlap and complexity between all of those things.” While male students deal with the stigma around dressing in an androgynous style, Charlotte believes female students have a different reality. “[Girls] are able to express their fashion a lot more without being bullied. It’s a bit easier for girls to experiment with fashion or dress in androgynous fashion, so when I wear baggy jeans and a baggy shirt, people are completely normal,” Charlotte said. Charlotte said she doesn’t believe gender has any relation to fashion. “I continue to wear ‘boys’ clothing, but recently I’ve started to realize that [there is no] ‘boys’ clothing or ‘females’ clothing,” Charlotte said. “One day I’ll wear a dress, tights and heels, and then the next day I’ll wear baggy jeans and stuff like that. I just wear whatever I want.”

IGNORING THE STATUS QUO — Jack Abba (above) and Owen Carson (below) express themselves with a floral dress and purple painted nails, respectively. Their traditionally feminine choices test the gender norms within fashion.

Photos courtesy of Jack Abba & Owen Carson | Page design by Ariana Elahi

GEORGETOWN GRUBS Kafe Leopold and Pizzeria Paradiso pair tasty food with COVID safety ANDY CHUNG & KAAN KOCABAL REPORTERS

Kafe Leopold Restaurant

Pizzeria Paradiso

Food: 9.5/10

Food: 8/10

Kafe Leopold offers delicious European cuisine with a focus on Austrian food like schnitzel and strudel.

Pizzeria Paradiso knows what makes a quality pizza—fresh toppings on a delectable crust.

Gebackene calamari: The calamari came with a hint of lime and lemon, which added a slightly sour, but fresh, flavor. It was fried perfectly, leaving no grease behind. For the price of $13.50, the calamari comes with enough to fill two people, which makes it a fabulous deal.

Margherita pizza: The toppings on the margherita pizza were bursting with flavor, making it taste wonderful. The thin crust, baked in a fire oven, was super crunchy and very enjoyable. One thing to note is that the melted cheese can sometimes fall off the pizza, so it’s recommended to use a fork and knife or fold the pizza in half.

Leopold’s schnitzel: The schnitzel was $28.50 and came with more than enough food for two people to share. Leopold’s schnitzel is a breaded and fried piece of veal, and it comes with potato salad, arugula and mustard or lingonberry sauce. A side of their nearly perfect French fries goes well with the meal.

The Macellaio pizza: The Macellaio is one of Pizzeria Paradiso’s specialty pizzas. It has Paradiso tomato sauce, pepperoni, mozzarella, pork sausage and red onions. The sausage and red onions mixed with pepperoni delight the taste buds with a truly magical flavor of meat and spiciness.

COVID Safety: 9/10

COVID Safety: 9/10

Kafe Leopold allows customers to choose either indoor or outdoor seating. All the tables are six or more feet apart, creating a dining environment that feels safe. When sitting inside, guests are required to wear a mask when they are not consuming food or drinks. Outdoor guests are not required to wear a mask. The staff sanitized the tables before seating guests.

Pizzeria Paradiso has tables outside with outdoor heating to combat the cold weather. Inside the restaurant, tables are separated from others to follow COVID-19 guidelines. The staff is required to keep their masks on at all times, and waiters have latex gloves on when serving foods and drinks. Guests are required to provide their names and phone numbers before getting seated.

Overall Rating: 9/10

Overall Rating: 8.5/10

Address: 3315 Cady’s Alley NW, Washington, D.C. 20007 Address: 3282 M St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20007 Price for Students: $$ Price for Students: $$$

Graphics & page design by Ariana Elahi | Photos by Andy Chung & Kaan Kocabal



Fans anticipate HBO reboot of 2000s CW show The CW



reboot of the teen drama Gossip Girl will be released on HBO Max later this year. Fans enjoyed the glimpse of life on Manhattan’s Upper East Side the original show offered, and they hope the new series will be able to maintain its appeal. Gossip Girl aired on The CW network from 2007 to 2012, yet it continues trending among teenagers. “I just love [Gossip Girl] so much because of how realistic the portrayal of the teenage drama on the Upper East Side of New York is. In addition, even though it’s realistic, it’s also super interesting,” freshman Ella Farivar said. Fans like junior Simal Mann find the show especially rewatchable. “I have watched the entire show five different times,” Mann said. English teacher Elise Emmons has fond memories of watching Gossip Girl in high school. “I think I tuned in religiously for the first couple seasons, then not so much when I went to college,” Emmons said. “I do

love going back and watching old episodes sometimes though.” Although there’s nothing wrong with a good rewatch, HBO was excited to announce that new content is on the way. However, fans will have to adjust to some major changes. Although Kristen Bell will be returning as the narrator, the main cast will be different. “I heard about this reboot through Instagram, and I have to say I’m a little skeptical about it,” Farivar said. “The actors and actresses will be different, but it won’t hurt to try it out. I’ll watch the first episode when it comes out and then decide from there if I want to continue watching the series.” Emmons is looking forward to seeing how the drama unfolds in today’s world. “I love a reboot! I think it’ll be interesting as well as challenging, to get the same kind of authenticity of this omnipresent gossip site narrating their lives in a single text message blast,” Emmons said. “Today, I don’t know if it will be as convincing, considering how

quickly gossip spreads anyway.” Mann agrees that it will be hard to preserve the concept and, at the same time, find a fresh angle. “I think that the reboot is a good idea in theory, considering how popular Gossip Girl is, but I personally don’t find [the concept] interesting,” Mann said. Gossip Girl is a tough show for a reboot, because it will be difficult to meet fans’ high expectations. Of course, it will also require viewers to sign up for another streaming service to watch the original or the reboot. “Netflix actually took Gossip Girl off of their website, and I am super sad about it,” Farivar said. “The show is definitely one of my top five favorite shows I have ever watched.” Gossip Girl watchers have no idea what to expect from the reboot, but they are planning to check it out for the nostalgia factor. “Honestly, just to hear the ‘XOXO, Gossip Girl’ at the end of each episode from the reboot will probably motivate me enough to keep watching,” Farivar said.

WHO IS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER? “I love the entire cast except Jenny and Vanessa, but my favorite character is Chuck Bass because he is such a complex character with his storyline and his family, and his love for Blair is my favorite part of the show.”



“Chuck Bass. His character had the best storyline. He was so infatuated with Blair that it made all six seasons so much more interesting, as viewers got to go through their love journey alongside them.” XOXO, ELLA FARIVAR FRESHMAN

“Blair Waldorf. She made many mistakes, but I’ll always root for her over Serena.” XOXO, ELISE EMMONS ENGLISH TEACHER

Photos courtesy of Simal Mann, Ella Farivar & Elise Emmons | Page design by Aleena Gul & Taylor Olson



COVID-19 vaccine offers safe solution to lengthy pandemic



leven months—nearly an entire year— of staying at home, social distancing, wearing masks and doing what is necessary to prevent more death and suffering. At last, there is a light at the end of this long tunnel. Since the pandemic began, scientists and medical professionals have been hard at work developing a vaccine to combat COVID-19 in order to immunize the global population. Unfortunately, the vaccine, much like the virus itself, has been extremely politicized. According to a Pew Research Center poll from December 2020, nearly 20% of the American population said they “definitely” would not take the vaccine. This distrust is made even worse by the constant spread of misinformation on social media. But this reaches far beyond politics—this is about human lives. It is vital to take a look at the facts and understand exactly what goes into approving, manufacturing and distributing a vaccine. People will find that it is a safe and trustworthy way to bring an end to this pandemic once and for all. “I acknowledge [people’s] skepticism,” said David Diemert, a professor of medicine at George Washington University and the principal investigator for the Moderna vaccine trials. “[But] the other thing I really emphasize is that even though [the vaccine] was done quickly, it was done in the same way with the same safety checks as it would have been done otherwise.” It is no secret that the COVID vaccine was developed quite rapidly. For many, this seemed suspicious, almost too fast. With a little research, however, anyone can come to understand why this was possible. “All they needed [to begin developing the vaccine] was the genetic code of the virus, and that was published by the Chinese in January for everyone to see,” Diemert said. “So then all that Moderna or PfizerBioNTech had to do was look at that code to make the RNA for the spike protein, which is [actually] pretty easy to do.” Some are quick to forget that COVID-19

is a worldwide problem, so the vaccine effort was a global one. That means reaserchers had a considerable amount of funding and easy access to resources. All the facts point to the vaccine being well-developed and safe, despite attempts by political leaders to undermine it. “Unfortunately, a lot of politics got injected into the vaccine development,” Diemert said. “We would try to develop a vaccine regardless of who was in the White House. When there’s this talk about having a vaccine before the election or putting these artificial time frames, these political goals make our lives really difficult because even though we were trying to do it as quickly as possible, we were not cutting corners at all in terms of safety.”

The politicization of the vaccine has been dangerous. It has inspired deep-rooted distrust in the medical community and has turned some away from the vaccine completely. And for that, politicians are to blame. It is absolutely disheartening to know that some would rather believe lies than save lives. While some skepticism is warranted, Americans must understand that the FDA would not have approve a vaccine that had not been proven to be safe and effective. “I think everyone has at least a few reservations about the vaccine; I know I do just because it is the fastest turnaround [of a vaccine] in history,” junior Emma Gosse said. “But putting reservations aside, I’m super willing to get it because I’m sick of COVID.” Aside from general mistrust in the government, those who are skeptical of the vaccine have many questions about how it

Infographic by Cameron Tebo | Page design by Hanna Boughanem

works. It uses fairly new technology, so, understandably, people have some doubts. “Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are called messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines. RNA is a little piece of genetic code for protein and carbs, [which] is what the virus needs to attack our human cells and infect us. So the idea is you inject this little piece of RNA into our muscle. The cells there make that [viral] spike protein that the body recognizes is not supposed to be there,” Diemert said. “[Then], the immune system of the [vaccinated person] attacks that protein and makes an immune response against it, including antibodies.” Though most vaccines don’t use this kind of technology, it is highly effective and has been extremely well-vetted. There is no logical reason for anyone who is able and eligible not to get the vaccine, especially given everything that’s at stake. “People should definitely take the vaccine and trust the medicine because this pandemic has gotten so bad, and we just need to get it under control. All these scientists have shown evidence that this vaccine is one of the best ever made, [with] the whole world focused on it,” senior Skye Sunderhauf said. After doing her own research, junior Phoebe Li believes the vaccine is quite safe. “Side effects are being monitored, and vaccine trials have not reported any serious safety concerns so far, which is why people who are eligible should at least consider taking the vaccine,” Li said. The COVID-19 vaccine represents opportunity and hope. It is possible to return to normal life, but not without the cooperation of the general public. So to all who are able, have trust in the process. In this desolate time, a little bit of trust and selflessness can mean the difference between a return to normal life and another year of social isolation. “I trust the data,” Diemert said. “We still have unanswered questions, and there could be something that happens later on that will change the risk-benefit ratio, but from what we know now, I trust the vaccine. And I believe it’s safe and effective.” FEBRUARY | OPINIONS | 35

VOTE FOR RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE School board should include religious holidays in school calendar The staff editorial represents the opinion of the majority of The Highlander editorial board


airfax County Public Schools, in the third most diverse county in Virginia, is utterly failing its religious minorities. After spending the last few years advocating for “cultural responsiveness” and being “equity minded,” FCPS School Board members have shown that they don’t practice what they preach. On Feb. 2, the school board met to debate the proposed 2021-22 school year calendar. Last June, per the request of the school board, the FCPS Religious Observances Task Force and Calendar Committee introduced two variations of a calendar with student holidays for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr. Several school board members signaled they weren’t convinced that adding four days off to the school year was necessary, instead leaning toward approving a third option that neglected the holidays. Nevertheless, when the time arrives, school board members need to approve one of the original calendar variations that makes these holidays days off for all FCPS students and staff.

2021-2022 Proposed School Year Calendar Sept. 7, 2021

Sept. 16, 2021

Rosh Hashanah

Yom Kippur

Nov. 4, 2021

May 3, 2022




“[The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) and six other faith groups] participated in an 18-month process on an interfaith task force that had been created by the school board specifically to address issues [regarding religious holidays],” said Guila Franklin Siegel, associate director of the JCRC.

HAVING TO CHOOSE BETWEEN EITHER GOING TO SERVICES OR GOING IN AND TAKING A TEST SHOULDN’T BE AN OPTION.” - ZACH GINSBERG JUNIOR LAKE BRADDOCK SECONDARY SCHOOL The task force put countless hours into carefully crafting two calendars, only for both to be completely disregarded by board members. The school board silently added a third calendar option, without the input from the very group whose sole purpose is to advise on calendar concerns. “We had devoted a lot of time and energy and good faith to this process,” Siegel said. “Only two calendars had been presented to the community, and the board has been sitting on those calendars for months and months.” Angered by the creation of a third calendar option, the seven faith groups sent a letter to school board members, expressing their dismay at hearing the lack of support behind the first two calendar options. “There was never any hint, let alone notification to the public or to our task force, that a third calendar option, not including the four recommended closure days, would be introduced,” the group wrote in the letter. “The lack of transparency and respect for our communities is astounding and has generated significant anger and pain.” At the meeting, several arguments were

made against the first two options. Several school board members and Superintendent Scott Brabrand stressed that the third option would be a better response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it would promote stability with two more instructional days and none of the additional days off for religious holidays. “The calendar committee’s work finished prior to this that’s the distinction. [The third option] is a postpandemic calendar; [the first two] are prepandemic calendars,” Brabrand said during the meeting. While it’s true students need a sense of normalcy when returning next year, their entire school experience will not drastically change with four days off in a 10-month school year. The board could recommend other methods of recuperating learning loss if they believe it will affect students majorly. Pitting the issue of COVID relief against religious equity is unfair and solves nothing. Another common argument from board members was that adding four holidays into the calendar ignores the many other religions and cultures in Fairfax County. While this is true, it is important to note that these holidays are just a starting point, and the board should make additions in the future. Being unable to cover all religions is not an excuse for covering none. Some members said they wanted to vote for the third calendar but also push for more guidelines on not scheduling tests or big events on major religious holidays. While this may be well-intentioned, guidelines and recommendations can never truly be enforced and are just words on paper. “Having to choose between either going to services or going in and taking a test shouldn’t be an option,” said Zack Ginsberg, a junior at Lake Braddock Secondary School who was involved in starting a petition to support either of the first two calendar options. The final and perhaps most appalling argument made at the meeting was by Braddock District representative Megan McLaughlin, who argued that the current calendar is secular and needs to stay that way.

Reporting by Saisha Dani & Shruthi Manimaran | Page design by Saisha Dani

2021-2022 Student Holiday Calendar Comparison Religious Observances

Counties Around Northern Virginia Fairfax

(calendar option C)

Prince William



Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Diwali Eid al-Fitr Spring break aligned with Easter

“This school system does not specifically honor Christian holidays. Winter break includes Christmas Day, a federal holiday, and New Year’s Day, a federal holiday,” McLaughlin said during the Feb. 2 meeting. To believe that the calendar is completely devoid of any Christian influences is ridiculously naive. Spring break always lines up with Easter, and there are always several days off before Christmas for no apparent reason. “Why is it an option to remove the observances of Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Eid—three major religions— and not even touch holiday break?” FCPS School Board member Melanie Meren said in the meeting. “Why is two weeks of holiday break intact? Why can’t we remove two or three days, still with Christmas Eve off ? I think there has been a failure to really look at alternatives.” FCPS school board members boast about the county’s diversity, but when it is actually time to pass measures that embrace different cultures and religions, they turn their heads in the other direction. “When 90% of any portion of our

student population is not observing a holiday, but we close down, it is not just that they lose learning, but that their parents are scrambling,” McLaughlin said. Quite frankly, the tone deaf nature of this statement is infuriating. Of course, child care is an issue to consider when deciding the calendar, but just because a group is the minority does not mean people in positions of power have the right to ignore them. McLaughlin’s reasoning sounds archaic and is a common justification for religious bigotry. By not adding these religious holidays into the calendar, FCPS is telling its students of minority faiths that their holidays are burdensome and insignificant. Obviously, deciding the schedule for a school year is incredibly complicated. However, the real debates should be about trying to reach a middle ground, not pitting one issue against the other. It is possible to remediate the trauma students experienced during the pandemic and respect minority faiths at the same time. Using lazy arguments like there are ‘too many religions’ or that school is ‘too secular’ for the change does a disservice to students.

Every other county in the DMV area has days off for these religious holidays, so what is stopping FCPS from doing the same? “Having these days off normalizes non-Christian faith traditions, identities, observances and people who adhere to those faith traditions,” Siegel said. “It should be a seamless part of the fabric of the FCPS community. And it’s hard to understand why this is such a difficult task to accomplish when all of the neighboring jurisdictions have managed to do it.” The school board will hold a public hearing on March 4 and is scheduled to vote on the three calendar options for next school year on March 18. Until then, students should do their part in advocating for this issue by signing petitions and contacting their school board representatives. Most importantly, the school board must remember that they represent a community of many faiths and should be working to create an equitable school system, one that doesn’t favor Christianity. It is crucial that school board members vote to pass a calendar that has Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah, Diwali and Eid as student holidays.

Infographics by Ariana Elahi | Infographic data obtained through FCPS School Board documents




Predicting what the world will look like after climate change



t’s 2040, and America is on fire. Mount Rushmore is impossible to see through the smog. Yosemite looks like something out of a Stephen King novel. The Hudson River is the color of tar. Who could have predicted this other than every scientist and teenage activist in the world? Where are all the politicians, you might ask? Well, Donald Trump is currently looking for a new resort for socially rejected white men to hide in because Mar-a-Lago—like the rest of Florida—is completely underwater. Bernie Sanders and the entirety of Vermont were destroyed due to a major hurricane; his last words were something like, “the top one percent...” Joe Biden is still in the White House; the Secret Service never let him out because the air in D.C. is so polluted it could kill someone. The only way to survive is to wear a military-grade gas mask, which many angry Republicans complained restricted their 38 | OPINIONS | FEBRUARY

freedoms shortly before they dropped dead from the toxic fumes. The Rose Garden is barren and instead of the press, it’s flooded with empty promises and old climate bills Congress never passed. The Green New Deal? More like the Gray New Reality. Ted Cruz is resting in his private Texas estate, finally coming to terms with the possibility that this thing called “global warming” might be caused by humans and not Antifa. He’s becoming quite the activist and is begging Greta Thunberg to be his mentor. She’s a bit reluctant. The global community is desperately scrambling for solutions. France is still defending the Paris Accords, confused as to how doing the bare minimum didn’t save the planet. Boris Johnson is upset that fish and chips are becoming rare commodities due to the lack of actual fish in the sea. In school, kids learn about ancient creatures that used to live in the Arctic. They watch vintage National Geographic footage of polar bears and penguins roaming the ice caps and are amazed. To them, Narnia and

the Arctic are basically the same thing. Americans are persevering. While some moved to the Netherlands, Denmark or just any other country that believes in science, the true patriots stayed. They did the most American thing they could: pretended their actions had zero consequences. No way a socalled ‘climate crisis’ is going to end Sunday night steak dinners. Influencers have become a rare species. Around 2032 their brand-sponsored trips to “exotic” places like Bali and Cancún dried up—figuratively and literally—because of long-lasting droughts. Gen Z was ordered by the government not to produce any offspring because overpopulation was exacerbating food shortages. Initially there were protests, but eventually people got over it and joined various Tik Tok houses to simulate a family. Yes, some aspects of this situation have been exaggerated—Ted Cruz would never ask a woman for help and Bernie Sanders is obviously immortal. However, as crazy as it sounds, if we don’t learn from our mistakes and save the planet, this will all become a bleak reality.

Cartoon by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell | Page design by Ariana Elahi

LOCK DOWN FAIRFAX COUNTY Managing spread of COVID-19 requires more serious measures



OVID-19 has ravaged America for close to a year, and most people are eagerly awaiting the end of the pandemic. Sharing this sentiment, Fairfax County has implemented serious changes to try and stop the spread of the virus, such as schools going online and mandating masks in public places. Still, more drastic measures should be taken to help end the pandemic. A full lockdown of Fairfax County would be one of the most efficient ways to help mitigate COVID-19’s spread in the area. A lockdown would mean that all nonessential shops and services must close, and schools and workplaces would operate remotely. Cafes, restaurants and grocery stores would be limited to delivery and pickup, masks would be mandatory in any public place and travel would be shut down. “The virus that causes COVID-19 appears to spread more efficiently than influenza,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said on their website. Since COVID-19 spreads via close contact and air transmission in closed areas, non-essential services become a petri dish for the virus.

Currently, precautions are in place to help reduce the virus’s spread, but these are not enough to successfully bring the end of the pandemic. According to the CDC, “Wearing masks and social distancing help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, but these measures are not enough.” The best course of action for preventing further spread of the pandemic would be to enforce a lockdown, which would greatly reduce the spread of the virus until a vaccine is more available to the general public. The lockdown would be efficient regardless of the amount of time vaccine production would take. Any amount of time in lockdown would provide a period in which the spread is mitigated, which would allow more research to be done into vaccines. Additional research into the virus and its variants will make existing vaccines all the more efficient. Long lockdowns have already been successfully enforced in other countries. In Melbourne, Australia, a lockdown of 112 days was enforced, the capital being the epicenter of Australia’s cases. The lockdown began July 7 and ended Oct. 27, spanning almost four full months. Since then, new

SERIOUS SPIKING — This graph shows the number of new COVID-19 cases in Fairfax County over the course of January 2021. The largest spike was on Jan. 17, with 1,485 new cases. A lockdown will help get these numbers under control. (Data obtained via Virginia Health Department) Infographic & page design by Omar Kayali

cases in the country have remained in the single and double digits, never breaking 50 new cases in a day. Even though its results may not be immediate, a lockdown is very effective. As for economic concerns, the economy will take a hit whether or not Fairfax County institutes a lockdown. “Regardless of lockdown or no lockdown, certain firms like restaurants, the concert industry and more are going to be receiving less revenue because their business models rely on large crowds in close proximity to each other,” AP Economics teacher Joseph Dwyer said. “Also, consumer confidence may be lower as people potentially worry about losing their jobs, so they might be more likely to save their money for emergency situations instead of spending it, thus having a negative impact on the macroeconomy.” Due to the variability of the pandemic, economic conditions are unpredictable and unstable. The best way to bring stability back to the economy would be to take steps to end the pandemic, which a lockdown would certainly do. “There are so many variables with infection rates and potential mutations of the virus that we just cannot predict,” Dwyer said. While a vaccine is currently available to certain groups of essential workers, this is not enough to justify keeping non-essential services open. As of Feb. 12, six cases of the U.K. variant and two cases of the South African variant have been identified in Virginia. These variants are more infectious than the current strain of coronavirus, and it is still unknown how effective the vaccine will be against the new strains. In response to the more contagious variants, Germany announced on Feb. 10 that they will be extending the country’s lockdown for the next month, and Fairfax County should follow their lead. COVID-19 numbers are still on the rise, with a record-setting spike in Fairfax County of 1,485 new cases on Jan. 17. As of Feb. 13, Fairfax County has had more than 63,000 confirmed and probable cases of COVID-19, the most of any county in Virginia. The best way to tackle these rising numbers would be a lockdown. FEBRUARY | OPINIONS | 39



ut of every opportunity McLean offers its students, sports have suffered the most from the pandemic. Thankfully, with the return of winter sports, athletics have catapulted themselves back into the minds of ravenous fans. The boys and girls basketball teams, the stars of the winter sports show, have persevered through strict coronavirus protocols, building on the success they reached last year. Last year, the girls varsity team proved they had the skills to remain a dominant presence in the Liberty district. Led by Drexel commit and all-time leading scorer Elizabeth Dufrane, the team managed a 1710 record and a spot in the regional semifinal. Heading into this season, the coaches knew COVID-19 would throw a wrench into their plans for more success. “Coming into this season, with everything going on, the expectations changed a little bit,” girls head coach Jen Sobota said. “We lost a few seniors, and not having the same pre-season preparation and the few weeks

before games to get into a rhythm has presented some challenges.” While the girls were coming off a season that ended in a deep playoff loss, the boys’ previous season ended in a first-round loss to Herndon in the region playoffs. Factoring in the loss of four seniors, including Dickinson College commit Randy Shephard, the team clearly needed to step up this year. While the


pandemic obviously changed the routine, the team’s ambitions remained as high as ever. “This year has obviously been very different with the pandemic, so initially I just wanted the boys to be able to play and have an outlet away from their homes,” boys head coach Mike O’Brien said. “Once the season started, we had to adjust to four players not returning for the season. But my expectations are always for my players to compete at a high level and let the results take care of themselves.” The players had their own individual goals coming into the new year. Junior Mia Fitzgerald, a third year varsity starter and all-conference point guard, aimed on filling the gaps left by last year’s seniors. “We needed to step up offensively since we lost E (Elizabeth Dufrane) last year,” Fitzgerald said. Fitzgerald assumed a leadership role this season, hoping to bring a veteran presence to the team. PULLING UP — Junior guard Zach Hasan “I knew I was stepping up to point puts up a shot over a Langley defender guard this season and that I’m the on Jan. 6. The Highlanders went on to person who has been on the team the win the game, 72-65. longest that starts,” Fitzgerald said. 40 | SPORTS | FEBRUARY

“Therefore, I need to be a good team leader and also try to score more offensively while still being able to fulfill the role of a great point guard.” Like the girls, the boys needed their returning players to command a big role coming into the year. With a roster teeming with six seniors, the leadership mantle was spread throughout the team. “We wanted to try and become leaders and help the team as best as we could,” senior Khari Kingslow said. While the coronavirus didn’t present many issues in terms of game or even season suspensions, players had to endure strict COVID-safe protocols, such as wearing masks throughout the entirety of the game and socially distancing on the bench. “With masks, it’s harder to communicate, so we exert more energy into talking, and breathing is a lot harder,” Fitzgerald said. Training for the season was also more difficult. “As a team, we haven’t been able to visit the weight room and use other school provided facilities,” Kingslow said. One of the most glaring issues for players during games was the lack of cheering fans that motivate them to play hard on the court. The stream of energy emanating from the student sections was gone, with only the squeaking of shoes and whistling of referees to take its place. “Games aren’t the same without your peers and relatives in the stands to cheer you on,” Kingslow said. “It always feels like we’re missing some aspect of the game when we play.” The season concluded for both clubs in early February. Despite both teams finishing below .500, they had several notable wins, including the boys’ victory over Langley on Jan. 6 and the girls’ close dub over Centreville on Dec. 29. While the boys and girls might feel a sense of disappointment following losses to Madison and Chantilly in the regional quarterfinals, players on both teams will always be able to look back at the hard work they put in and determination they showed during the strangest time in McLean athletics history.

Boys’ photos by Katie Romhilt | Girls’ photos courtesy of Kent Arnold | Page design by Nicky Varela

HIGHLANDERS HOOP — Clockwise starting from the top left: Junior Mia Fitzgerald (#10) stares down a W-L defender on Jan. 28. Sophomore Kara Bremser (#15) looks to receive a pass vs. the Saxons on Jan. 22. Senior Khari Kingslow (#11) looks toward the basket after pump-faking a Langley defender on Jan. 6. Senior Nate Legg (#10) puts up a shot against Chantilly on Dec. 21.


Wrestling continues despite raging pandemic



wo minutes, three rounds. A battle of physical strength and technique to the point of grueling exhaustion. Musty smells, masked by chlorine, assault the nostrils. Loud grunts echo down the relatively empty hallways. It’s wrestling season. The outbreak of the COVID-19 virus set normal life ablaze, confining the public to their homes. To combat the spread of the deadly disease, students watched as their schools were shut down and all extracurricular activities came to an abrupt end. However, headway in safety regulations allowed for the return of the winter sports season. The reintroduction of sports came with an array of necessary COVID-19 restrictions and protocols to ensure safety. With certain sports considered lower risk than others, nobody anticipated the return of wrestling this season. “I’m just glad that we’re able to wrestle at all. I honestly didn’t think it was going to happen. The fact that we’re practicing and I’m ‘tech-falling’ kids in matches is awesome,” said junior Brigham DeVore, captain of the varsity wrestling team. In order to meet social distancing and capacity requirements, practices were restructured. Wrestlers held practices in the cafeteria, as opposed to the wrestling room, organized in distanced “pods” of four people according to weight class. Each pod had about the same space as before the pandemic: two circles for four wrestlers, separated by sizable gaps to reduce interaction and potential virus transmission. Unlike most other sports, wrestlers were not required to wear masks during matches, according to Virginia High School League regulations. “One thing that makes [restrictions] a little easier on us is that we’re a sport where [matches are] one on one—we can limit how much exposure we have compared to other sports, such as basketball or football where you’re getting a whole bunch of people together,” head coach Kenneth Jackson said. Despite the various measures the team took to limit COVID-19 cases, some students questioned the effectiveness of 42 | SPORTS | FEBRUARY

certain regulations. For example, wrestlers were prohibited from shaking hands before matches, but they were still allowed to grapple and throw each other into half nelsons as usual.

IT WAS DEFINITELY WORTH IT HAVING A SEASON—IT GAVE ME THE OPPORTUNITY TO DO WHAT I LOVE.” - BRIGHAM DEVORE JUNIOR “[The precautions] put into place are pretty flawed and redundant. Why is [COVID-19] an excuse to not shake hands, when the nature of the sport is to make physical contact with other wrestlers? At that point, they seem to have implemented [the restrictions] just to appease people,” junior Alex Wiltshire said. Wrestlers also voiced their concerns about the regulations’ impact on their mental and physical state. Several coaches and wrestlers opted out prior to the start of the season.

“We have less experienced people in some good spots that probably would have been filled by more experienced [upperclassmen],” DeVore said. “We’re not able to condition as rigorously as we would normally [because of the precautions].” Although the safety restrictions made conditions less than ideal, the experience was still a positive one, especially after months of isolation. “It really just made us all appreciate what we have,” Jackson said. “I had 25 kids show up to conditioning. I would never have had that many show up during normal times, but [now], everybody wants to go out and [work] together with their friends, even if it is six feet apart.” The wrestling team finished the regular season with a 2-3 record, sending junior wrestlers Nathan Fishman and Brigham DeVore to compete at states. Fishman finished first in the 182-pound weight class at regionals, while DeVore finished second in the 220-pound weight class. “Even though we didn’t get to wrestle as much as we normally do, I [still] see it as a blessing every time I am able to get on a wrestling mat,” DeVore said. “It was definitely worth it having a season—it gave me the opportunity to do what I love.”

MASKLESS MATCHES — McLean wrestler James Tuason fights his Madison opponent for wrist control in a match on Jan. 9. VHSL regulations did not require wrestlers to wear masks during matches. Photo courtesy of Kent Arnold | Page design by Taylor Olson


Ella Park commits to play DI volleyball for Ivy League school Park made it onto the McLean High School varsity team her freshman year and started alking onto the court for the McLean Youth Volleyball League focusing on reaching out to schools and tryouts, nervous fourth grader Ella Park never would have getting recruited. expected that seven years later she would be committed to an Ivy “At the middle to the end of my League school to for a sport that started off as a casual pastime. freshman season, I started my recruitment In elementary school, Park’s expectations process by for volleyball weren’t high. However, after emailing my top playing on a recreational team for two years, 15 schools. My Park grew interested in a higher level of goal has always I FEEL SO BLESSED TO competition. She joined her first travel team been to go to a HAVE COMPLETED in sixth grade and became more serious about highly academic MY PROCESS, AND the sport by practicing at a more intense level institution as EVEN THOUGH IT than ever before. The travel team offered a well as a place WAS SO STRESSFUL, more competitive environment, setting Park with a competitive up for bigger things in her future. volleyball program, IT WAS WORTH IT.” “When I started playing club in sixth grade, so I wanted to talk - ELLA PARK I knew that I would want to continue playing to schools that fit JUNIOR for the rest of middle and high school and those expectations,” never even considered that playing in college Park said. was a realistic possibility,” said Park, who is Due to the now a junior. recruitment process being lengthy and Once she began playing for her travel team, Park’s opportunities challenging, Park has had to make a lot opened up tremendously. Since then, she has been on multiple teams of sacrifices. High school is a time to gain and has even played with teammates above her age group. In middle experiences that people don’t necessarily school, Park had to learn how to balance her time and energy, putting get any other time in life. Park’s dedication in hard work on the volleyball court while also trying to get stellar to the sport and to school has taken away grades. some of those experiences. She had to take “Ella’s middle school years were particularly hectic. She had the ACTs and SATs earlier than most high volleyball practice and tournaments, basketball practice and schoolers and has missed out on a lot of tournaments, as well as piano practice,” her mother, Angie Park, said. social activities because of volleyball and “This was all in addition to her schoolwork, which [was] the main schoolwork. priority.” “It took a lot of hard work on Ella’s part: visiting schools, talking with several coaches on a weekly basis, Zooming with potential teammates, virtual tours, taping practices, putting together videos, playing in front of college coaches at big tournaments, etc.,” her father, Richard Park, said. Thanks to Park’s talent and determination, she eventually got an offer from a prestigious school that drew her interest: Brown University. Her academic motivation and volleyball skills finally paid off. Now that Park is committed, she has to keep up the hard work and maintain a high GPA until her senior year, when she will officially apply to Brown. IN THE ZONE — Ella Park shows off her skills as a setter “I still am in partial disbelief because I not only get to compete at a home game against Yorktown in 2019. “I am able at the Division I level,” Park said, “but I can also receive an amazing to touch the ball almost every time it comes to our academic experience, something I have always dreamed of.” side of the net,” Park said. (Photo courtesy of Kent Arn old) SYDNEY GLEASON REPORTER


Photo courtesy of Ella Park | Page design by Ariana Elahi & Sydney Gleason







































Reporting by Spencer Sirotzky & Taylor Staats Page design by Anya Chen, Maren Kranking, Dasha Makarishcheva & Taylor Olson

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