The Highlander - Issue 5 - May 2022 - Cub Edition

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LetteR From The

Cub EDITION Editors Dear McLean,

Volume 66 • Issue 5 • Cub Edition • May 2022 • @MHSHighlander McLean High School 1633 Davidson Road McLean, Virginia 22101

This year marks a time of return, adaptation and growth. Although we entered the school year with the uncertainty of fluctuating COVID-19 numbers, we can confidently say that our new experiences have brought us even closer together. As a united front, we have strived to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel despite the challenges that this year’s constant adjustments to the norm brought us as we transitioned back into in-person school. This edition of The Highlander is the Cub Edition, a culmination of efforts made by Journalism 1 students. The Cub Edition allows Journalism 1 students to showcase their journalistic skills after a year of hard work and mastery of the interviewing, writing and editing process. This issue concerns both lighthearted and serious topics, offering studying tips and summer book recommendations, along with our editorial on next year’s calendar changes and a spotlight on this edition’s talented artist. Our cover story looks towards the future, assessing the shifts made in college application requirements, as many universities gradually become test-optional. We focus on the insight students and teachers have on these changes and address how it might impact future admissions. The Cub Edition was created with the help of Journalism 2-4 students and required extensive lessons on how to master InDesign, numerous interviews and countless hours of writing and editing. We hope that you appreciate our articles pertaining to various topics as we move forward in adjusting to the new challenges posed by attending school amid a pandemic. On behalf of The Highlander’s staff, we appreciate your support and hope you enjoy the 2021-2022 Cub Edition!


Sabrina Boughanem, Minsong Ha & Zakareya Hamed

Managing Editors

Alex Kofinis & Aaron Stark

News Editor

Sarah Soltani

Features Editor

Sophia Weil

A&E Editor

Haley Riggins

Opinions Editor

Jessica Purevtugs

Sports Editor

Alexa Sribar

Fact Checker

Elise Walker

Copy Editors

Charles Seten & Elise Walker


Liyat Amman Ben Brunelle Jacob Daly


Lindsay B. Benedict

Yours Truly, Sabrina Boughanem, Minsong Ha, Zakareya Hamed and the students of Journalism 1

Noah Kales MJ Kim

Editorial Policy: The Highlander is a designated public forum in which students can express themselves, discuss issues and exchange ideas. School officials do not exercise prior review on this publication or its online counterpart, and student editors are in charge of all final content decisions. Advertising Policy: The Highlander sells ad space on each page of the magazine except on the front cover, Opinions section and In-Depth article. The staff reserves the right to reject any ads it deems libelous, obscene, disruptive or otherwise inappropriate. To Submit a Letter to the Editors: Please email it to or bring it to room R133. The staff reserves the right to edit letters for grammar and clarity, and all letters are subject to laws concerning obscenity, libel, privacy and disruption of the school process. 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.


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New superintendent McLean updates Gas price increases 2022-23 school calendar






Religious holidays will benefit students



Positives of playing video games


College Board needs to go


Rolling gradebook doesn’t work

Cover photo by Zakareya Hamed


Academic validation causes harm



The future of college admissions in a rapidly changing education system

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Dual enrollment classes Mothers who teach


Book recommendations

28-29 Freshman sports stars


School board rep Elaine Tholen


Return of the mullet



10 Qs with Ms. Williams

20-21 Artist Spotlight: Sarah Tran 31


Finals studying tips


Local swim clubs


JV boys soccer team Athlete of the Issue: Caitlin Farley The Finish Line


’m Jim Lawless, and I was born in McLean. My sister and I were in the first class to enter the new McLean High School in 1955. Back then, Fairfax County didn’t have middle schools, just grades one through seven in elementary school and grades eight through 12 in high school, so we went from the seventh grade at Franklin Sherman Elementary School to the eighth grade at McLean. Up until then, McLean High School students had to go to other schools like Fairfax or Falls Church, some even to D.C. The community was so enthusiastic to have its own high school at last. All the parents were proud, supporive and engaged, and all the [school organizations] excelled from the start, like the football team, band and choir... At the beginning, the students voted on a name for their sports teams and chose the “Eagles.” That appealed because it represented an admired and brave national symbol. But after a couple of years or so, we began to realize that [Eagles] didn’t capture the unique character of McLean. So, another student body election was held, where we chose the “Highlanders,” which has stuck ever since. At present, I’m running for one of three adult member openings on the board of the McLean Community Center. The board consists of nine adult members and two student members, one each from McLean and Langley. It oversees the budget and formulation of programs and activities for the center. Two other candidates, Debra Butler and Maire Shine, and I have linked up to run as a team because we have all lived in McLean for so many years—two of us (the oldest

and youngest) grew up here and graduated from McLean, and the third has raised their children here for over 20 years. So, we are willing to listen to McLean residents and feel we have a good sense of the programs that McLean families would want at the center. If elected, we would work closely with the student board members [to create] more opportunities for students like robotics, debate, theater and a battle of the bands. But my main reason for writing is to urge all McLean High School students to vote for the McLean student position in the board election. The McLean board member participates fully at the table with the other board members and is the voice on behalf of all McLean students. He or she can help direct more [Community] Center programs that appeal to [McLean students]. In the past, a disappointing number of students have voted, so you don’t know if the result reflects what all the students want. This year the McLean candidates are Max Blacksten and Sarah Tran. Voting is open until May 18 in person and May 11 if by mail. People can also vote in person at McLean Day on May 21. Ballots can be obtained at the McLean Community Center or by mail. I would also suggest that you urge your parents to vote on the adult board position openings and remind folks that those who are 18 can vote for adult board candidates. Jim Lawless McLean High School Class of 1960

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NEW SUPERINTENDENT SET TO STEP IN Michelle Reid named next FCPS leader


Philip rotondo Managing editor

n April 14, FCPS announced that the next superintendent after Scott Brabrand’s term ends will be Michelle Reid. The school board voted nine to three in favor of her appointment to the position. Reid has been the superintendent of the Northshore School District in Washington state since 2016. She was one of the school board’s two final choices for the role of superintendent. The other candidate being considered, Cheryl Logan, dropped out, leaving Reid as the only option. Student groups have criticized the county for giving students minimal say in the selection process. “It’s disappointing and unacceptable to see a leader of our county appointed with student voices being absent in the process,” said freshman Megan Zhang, a candidate for McLean’s Class of 2025 council president. “[I question whether Reid is] truly capable of representing the diversity of our students.” In a letter released on April 9, the NAACP claimed that Logan was more qualified than Reid, whose current school district is much smaller and less diverse than FCPS. A petition against Reid signed by 500 students takes the same stance, but not all community members agree. “I think she’s up for the job, and I think we need to stand behind her and support her 100 percent,” school board member Elaine Tholen said. Tholen maintains that the superintendent selection was not rushed, random or unfair, as many community members have asserted. “We invited many organizations to participate in the town halls and the interviews that were held all the way through January to find out what people’s priorities were as far as characteristics and background of the new superintendent,” Tholen said. A recruiting firm spent much of February finding potential candidates. “In the beginning of March they came to us with a list of candidates, and I have to say they did an amazing job of recruiting amazing people all across the whole country to even apply for the job,” Tholen said. Since her selection was announced, Reid has organized several meetings and town hall events, most recently on May 3, to connect

with the community. Tholen praises Reid for her head-on approach to dealing with adversity. “[The NAACP] had some questions about her selection, and the Pride Liberation [Project] had some questions, and she met with them immediately upon her appointment,” Tholen said. “She’s very willing to talk to people and collaborate.” Reid has emphasized that she wants to communicate with the student body to give them a voice. “What we need to think about is making sure that our student body, our staff, our community are staying resolutely studentcentered and student-focused,” Reid said. Reid’s response to the controversy has been to embrace public discourse. “It’s very important to think about listening and not appropriating student voice or family voice to understand deeply what it is that is the ask,” Reid said. “I want to make sure I stay connected to community voices and student voices, not just in the first month, but as an ongoing pattern of leadership.” In terms of impact, Reid wants to improve existing structures in FCPS. “She’s looked at many of the things we’ve implemented, like Portrait of a Graduate and our strategic planning,” Tholen said. “She’s very excited to help us update and expand on these works.” One area Reid discussed hoping to expand is course selection. She wants to give FCPS students equal opportunities to pursue subjects and classes. “One of the keys is to make sure that if you’re a high school student, you have the same access to similar courses [in] science, math, the arts, and have what I would call equitable opportunities,” Reid said. “[I will] make sure that there are pathways for the type of courses students want in each pyramid.” She also wants to reframe FCPS’s approach to resource distribution. “We would want to look at the data at [each] elementary school, like what the needs are [of] the students and staff, the educators and the families, and [assess how] we best support those needs,” Reid said. “Different schools might require different supports for

Additional reporting by Aaron Stark | Page design by Philip Rotondo

community connections — FCPS’s next

superintendent, Michelle Reid, speaks at a town hall at Annandale High School on May 3. It was one of several events Reid set up to learn about students’ and parents’ concerns. (Photo courtesy of the FCPS Office of Communication and Community Relations)

different reasons, so I would want to look at each school as its own unique school.” Reid would like to reassess resource distribution on a more theoretical level. “I think one of the things we don’t think about often enough as a resource is time,” Reid said. “Maybe in some schools we want to spend more time on [certain subjects like] mathematics, or reading, or writing, or language, in some schools a little less. Within a school we may have groups of students that need to spend more time or less time [on certain subjects].” Overall, she sees the county’s strengths beyond its $3.4 billion budget. “Maybe some schools need more adults too,” Reid said. “Too often we think just about money, [but it’s really about] time, money and people.” Despite her turbulent entry into the county, Reid hopes her term as superintendent will be productive and collaborative. “I hope we move beyond sides [and] come together, because I believe there’s more that unites us than divides us,” Reid said. “I want to make sure that I am held accountable for the outcomes we discuss and we agree collectively will be our North Star.”

MAY 2022 | NEWS | 3

MCLEAN SEES CHANGES THIS SPRING New digital hall pass system introduced


MADELEINE STIGALL managing Editor | Sarah soltani Features Editor

n invasion of privacy or a student safety measure? As society shifts to using digital platforms in hopes of simplifying mundane tasks, hall passes are no exception. McLean is piloting a system for electronic hall passes through the e-hallpass platform for the remainder of the school year. Following the pilot, administrators will decide whether to purchace the service for upcoming years. “It’s meant to streamline the process of allowing students to do what they need to do in the middle of the class period,” School-based Technology Specialist Ashley Lowry said. “It also provides the school with a channel of communication to ensure that we know where kids are at any given point in the school day.” Students can create three types of passes using the program: layover, one-way and round-trip. The layover pass has out, arrive, return and end times. On the other hand, the one-way pass is meant to deal with situations in which there is uncertainty regarding the amount of time the student will be out once they reach their destination. The round-trip pass is the most common, in which the teacher ends the pass upon the student’s arrival back to class in cases such as a bathroom visit.

A proxy pass allows teachers to both initiate and approve passes and is especially necessary in cases where a student does not have their own device to issue their pass. The new online hall passes are intended to ensure more clarity regarding students’ locations, acting as an incentive for students to arrive to class in a timely manner. These changes, however, have not been accepted unanimously. Some view e-hallpasses’ method of containing student traffic by limiting the amount of students who can receive a pass based on how many students are already out in the building as unnecessary. “I think it’s a little bit ridiculous because there’s so many people,” Newgen said. “If it caps off at even 200, there’s 2,300 students, so that’s barely anything.” While some students have speculated that the administration will have too much unchecked power if they are allowed to track students in school, Lowry shines a different light on these notions. “I think this is going to empower students to take more ownership over when they need to leave the classroom...without making it a public matter to the rest of their peers,” Lowry said.

Class of 2022 donates senior lounge


Emily Friedman Opinions Editor | arnav gupta News Editor

he gift from the senior class is typically an exciting yet minimally impactful addition to McLean, but this year, the seniors are leaving a gift that is sure to improve the lives of students for years to come. A senior lounge is the Class of 2022’s gift to McLean, and seniors are hard at work making this gift a reality for future seniors. “Dr. Reilly wanted [the Class of 2022] to make a small donation, like a bench, but I said we had to go above and beyond,” SGA President Arman Nikmorad said. “I looked in the archives of The Highlander and I saw that in 2001 they built a senior lounge, but it was poorly constructed, it was poorly managed and the freshmen took over the lounge.” After Nikmorad drew inspiration from the Class of 2001’s plan, he and some of his fellow seniors set to work. Nikmorad is determined to make the new lounge better than the failed attempt over 20 years ago. The senior lounge, however, will not be finished with the Class of 2022’s efforts alone. “It is going to be a rolling donation,” Nikomorad said. “The idea is that every class council will donate something, like ping pong equipment.” The lounge will be located in the room next to the cafeteria that was once filled with vending machines.

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“I really hope the senior lounge will be a collaborative effort over the next four or five years and that all seniors enjoy their senior year with that nice little spot for them to relax,” Nikmorad said.

lounging around — J.T. Fulkerson, Will Scherer and

Jackson Canter paint the new senior lounge next to the cafeteria on April 28. (Photo by Andy Chung) Page design by Natalie Vu & Madeleine Stigall


Rising gas prices take toll on Highlanders ALEXA SRIBAR | SPORTS EDITOR


oing to the gas station has always been a chore, but now the routine is worse than ever. Driving home after school one day in April, junior Sabrina Berry realized her car was low on gas. She pulled into one of the more inexpensive gas stations in her area, reading the price sign as she passed it—$4.07 per gallon. “I try to plan when I drive so I can fill my tank at cheaper gas stations,” Berry said. “The gas prices are getting really high, so I try to save when I can.” Although the cost of fuel in the U.S. has dramatically increased in the past few months, prices have been turbulent ever since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. Due to the nationwide lockdowns in response to the virus, very few people left their houses or used their cars, which diminished the demand for gas. “I don’t even remember much about the roads during the first lockdown,” Spanish teacher Calyn Painter said. Painter, along with millions of people across the country, rarely drove during the first COVID lockdown.

By April 2020, average gas prices plummeted to $1.94 per gallon. In response, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut oil production. However, as vaccines were issued and lockdowns were lifted, OPEC was slow to ramp up production again. Manufacturing that was halted by the pandemic included a shortage of valuable resources such as trucks and labor, making it more difficult to supply and distribute fuel effectively. Consequently, gas prices started rising, passing the average from before COVID. “Between the rising gas prices and inflation, I’ve had to adjust my lifestyle,” Painter said. “Budgeting is in the forefront of my mind now.” Shattering the previous high of $4.10 per gallon set in 2008, a new record for average U.S. gas prices of $4.33 per gallon was reached on March 11, 2022. Since Russia invaded Ukraine, gas prices in the U.S. have been rising at alarming rates. According to CBS, Russia is a significant

GAS PRICES Average U.S. Gas Prices by Year (2015-2022) $3.50

$3.00 Price (USD)


New record for price per gallon was reached on March 11








Infographic by Natalie Vu




producer of oil, supplying around 12% of the world’s oil. “Because of the war in Ukraine, not only is gas getting more expensive, everything else is getting harder to pay for, too,” Painter said. On March 8, 2022, President Joe Biden announced a ban on oil imports from Russia. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, though the U.S. gets less than 10% of its gas from Russia, this action had a large impact on oil prices across the world. Other countries in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), such as the U.K., banned imported Russian oil as well. Consequently, the demand for fuel from other sources rose, increasing the price globally. Now, drivers are left to face the excessive numbers at the pumps. Even the cheapest gas stations in McLean aren’t dipping under $4 per gallon. “Gas is crazy expensive now,” senior Gianna Russo said. “Filling up a tank costs me around $80.” Like a lot of other students and staff members who drive, Russo has changed her routine to compensate for the increased expenses. “I started carpooling with people in my neighborhood and stopped making unnecessary trips so I could save gas,” Russo said. The cost of gas is still increasing and, according to CBS, is estimated to reach as much as $5 per gallon before it decreases again. Prices may start dropping in late 2022 but are unlikely to decrease significantly before 2023. Drivers throughout McLean hope that action will be taken to ensure that expensive gas prices will not become a long-term problem. “Clearly, it’s a complicated issue,” Painter said. “I don’t know what the solution is and if it would be at the expense of something else.”

MAY 2022 | NEWS | 5

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FCPS Introduces New Student Holidays 2022-23 calendar results in lengthened school year

Elise walker Fact checker & copy editor


o ensure that the county addresses the needs of students with diverse religious backgrounds, FCPS is adjusting the school calendar for the 2022-23 school year. On Jan. 27, the school board voted to implement new student holidays, limit school religious observance days and create a lengthened school year. FCPS added four new student holidays to next year’s calendar in an attempt to recognize more religions and cultures. The new student holidays include Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Orthodox Good Friday and Yom Kippur. Eid al-Fitr and Lunar New Year will both fall on non-school days. These additional days off will result in the 2022-23 school year being a week longer than the current school year. School will begin Aug. 22 and end June 16, while the last day of school this year is June 10. “I’m definitely not going to be as stressed out [over missing school] with the new schedule, knowing everyone else is too,” said sophomore Hana Khan, who celebrates Eid al-Fitr. While four of the religious observance days from the 2021-22 calendar became student holidays, nine will remain cultural observance days. School will be held on these observance days, but sporting events, tryouts and other activities will not take place, and teachers will not be permitted to administer tests or quizzes. Because teaching new material will be allowed next year, some celebrating students still feel pressure to attend school out of concern that they will miss important lessons. Khan’s celebration of Eid al-Fitr caused her to miss school both this year and in the past. “I missed learning material in school, especially because some teachers didn’t do the cultural observance days the way they should,” Khan said. “I definitely missed some assignments and instruction.” While the cultural observance days FCPS introduced this school year may have been beneficial for celebrating students, several teachers found that the current limitations on teaching new material made it difficult to plan lessons. With limited time in the school Infographic & page design by Natalie Vu

year and a lot of material to cover, teachers don’t always have time for review days, especially mid-unit. “I think it’s great that [religious holidays] are observed, but it’s hard from a teaching standpoint to come to work but only be able to review,” Spanish teacher Calyn Painter said. “It puts a hold on things when we have momentum.” While the transition from religious observance days to student holidays may also be logistically challenging for teachers, many students believe that having the days off will be a better use of their time. “Being in school on an observance day isn’t a good use of my time, and I can be more productive outside of school,” freshman Nawreen Ahmad said. Despite not celebrating any of the observance days, Ahmad stays home on those days, studying and catching up on work. “I’m looking forward to next year’s calendar where we get some holidays off and less review days,” Ahmad said. “It’s a lot more efficient, even if it adds an extra week of school.” A significant motivation for changing the calendar was to align more closely with

neighboring counties. This year, Fairfax County had Spring Break the week of April 4-8, while Loudoun and Arlington Counties had it the week of April 11-15. With misaligned calendars, teachers don’t get to spend time with their children if they work in another county, and issues with substitute teacher shortages increase. “[A struggle is that some FCPS teachers who] live in Loudoun County and have school-aged kids who are out of school... have to find childcare for when they have to go to work,” Systems of Support Advisor Emily Geary said. “I’m hoping that our calendar aligns more closely with surrounding counties [next year].” The full extent of how the additional student holidays will impact students and teachers over the 2022-23 school year remains to be seen, but Geary sees ways the new calendar system will benefit both students and teachers. “I do like that we are taking into consideration different religions and cultural observances and giving students and staff that flexibility, hopefully, when they need it, to observe or celebrate,” Geary said. “I think that it’s important that our school calendar allows for flexibility.”

FCPS 2022-23 Calendar Updates Diwali

Rosh Hashanah

DIA DE Los Muertos

Bodhi day

Orthodox Good Friday Yom Kippur Three kings day/ epiphany

Veterans DAY

Orthodox first day of Epiphany RAMADAN

Additional week Of school

New Student Holidays Religious/Cultural Observance Days

MAY 2022 | NEWS | 7


Dual enrollment classes prepare students for college SOPHIA WEIL FEATURES EDITOR

said. “That credit they earned from college courses can be transferred to any institution that they choose to go to after graduation.” Students in DE classes get a one-point GPA boost just like AP courses, in addition to college credits. However, dual enrollment and AP courses differ dramatically when it comes to teaching and assessment style. “By providing dual enrollment and AP, we’re offering courses that have similar content but very different approaches to how students are assessed and the work they have to do,” DE English 11 and 12 teacher Ken Kraner said. English teacher Anna Caponetti will be teaching DE World Literature next year. The deep dive into college-level literature will help improve students’ analysis skills. “[Students who take DE World Literature will form] diverse tastes and a zest for collegiate-level discussion, as well as refined writing skills,” Caponetti said. “The emphasis will be on writings and presentations rather than tests or timed writing.” AP courses are known for their rigorous curriculum, while DE classes are generally less intense than their counterparts. This allows students to take difficult but interesting classes without an extreme time commitment. “Students get exposure to college-level coursework when taking dual enrollment, and it’s a bit more manageable than an AP course,” Dalrymple said. “It provides more access for students to do higher level work without feeling super overwhelmed.” Students can reach out to their counselors to Many dual enrollment see if they meet the necessary requirements classes use hands-on learning, for dual enrollment courses to start their allowing students to solve applications, which are due May 23. real-life problems and gain


n academically competitive schools like McLean, the pressure to take AP classes is a major burden when selecting high school courses. Dual enrollment (DE) classes serve as an alternative option, providing students with the benefits of AP courses but with different class structures. “Dual enrollment is an opportunity for high school students to earn high school and college credit,” counselor Brook Dalrymple

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firsthand experience in their fields of interest. “[Students] are learning how to set up and run a preschool, how to do lesson plans and how to engage with the [preschool] students,” Early Childhood Careers teacher Linda Gore said. “This is different from other [classes] because we actually put the curriculum to work.”

BY TAKING [DUAL ENROLLMENT] CLASSES, YOU GAIN MORE INDEPENDENCE WITHOUT BEING SUPER STRESSED.” - SAMUEL URWIN SOPHOMORE While students have more creative freedom in their DE classes, they also must be fully committed to following college standards. “You have to be more self-sufficient, and there are fewer teachers [willing to] extend deadlines because they need you to get the work done,” said junior Maddy Wakefield, a DE Chemistry 2 student. DE classes allow students to develop the independence and organizational skills required in college classes. “In dual enrollment classes, you have to keep track of your own projects, while in other courses, the teachers are more involved,” said sophomore Samuel Urwin, a DE Entrepreneurship 1 student. “By taking [dual enrollment] courses, you gain more independence without being super stressed.” By experiencing the dynamics of college classes before graduating high school, students can further prepare for any postgraduation plans. “[Dual enrollment students] get to see the opportunities and the benefits of being in college,” DE Entrepreneurship teacher Debra Dove said. “It’s a pride and confidence thing, knowing they have their foot in the door.”

Infographic by Vanessa Popescu | Page design by Sophia Weil

McLean’s Superwomen Appreciating teaching mothers on Mother’s Day MINSONG HA EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

julia murdock - biology teacher

Calyn painter - spanish teacher

For over 20 years, Julia Murdock has worked as both a biology teacher and a mother of two sons. “It’s a juggling act, but I think the benefits outweigh the disadvantages,” Murdock said. Murdock strives to bring out the best in each child as a teacher and parent. “I learned to be more appreciative of [children’s] unique and wonderful things,” Murdock said. “Every child is so different, and it’s tough to put the how-to book together on being a mom and a teacher.” Murdock knows becoming a parent is a big decision. “My biggest advice is to make a decision based on your own heart and mind,” Murdock said. “Being a mother is a big deal, and it should be something you want yourself, not anyone else.”

As August approaches, Calyn Painter will be busily preparing for the upcoming school year while welcoming a new baby home. “I have to prepare and adjust all areas of my life,” Painter said. “I have to prepare my family, home and even work. [Another] big part of preparing for this baby is preparing my toddler to be a big sister.” Throughout Painter’s career, her daughter has been not just her child but also a student, energizer and more. “I get inspiration for teaching while being a mother,” Painter said. “I see how she learns and [gets] excited, which sparks ideas. Being a teacher makes me a better mother, and being a mother makes me a better teacher because they both give me insight into the minds of kids.”

katie van nuys - psychology teacher

BRooke Slonin - p.e. teacher

After 10 years of repeated cycles of parenting and teaching, psychology teacher Katie Van Nuys has learned to master these responsibilities. “I try my best to keep [a work-life balance]. My goal is to spend time as a family often. We celebrate with my mom and kids together,” Nuys said. “When you’re a mom and live near your own mom, Mother’s Day is different.” The quality time Nuys spends with her children also contributes to her career as a teacher. “I always get a lot of inspiration for teaching while spending time with my kids,” Nuys said. “I teach Psychology, and it’s all about the development [of people]. My kids go through things I can bring up in class—it’s direct inspiration.”

As her baby’s due date quickly approaches in May, physical education teacher Brooke Slonin maintains control of McLean High School’s gym. Slonin plans to return to teaching around September of the next school year. “Although it will be hard [to come back] at first, I will enjoy moving forward to be with my kids and teach,” Slonin said. Throughout her three years of balancing the two jobs of parenting and teaching, Slonin has learned to improve in both areas. “Helping my students and son grow is similar,” Slonin said. “Being a mom has made me a better teacher because I understand more about how kids work, [even though] I’ve been a teacher for seven years.”

Photos by Minsong Ha & courtesy of teachers| Page design by Minsong Ha

MAY 2022 | FEATURES | 9

Meet your school board Member: elaine tholen E

zakareya hamed editor-in-chief | ben brunelle reporter

arly on a Friday morning, Elaine Tholen, a Fairfax County School Board member for the Dranesville District, covers office staff shortages at Springhill Elementary School, one of the schools in the McLean pyramid. It’s not a requirement or a part of her job as a school board member, but Tholen feels compelled to serve wherever she is needed. “Throughout the school year, we’ve had different times where we’ve had shortages of staff,” Tholen said. Amid shortages this year and in the past, Tholen has voluntarily filled in, alleviating the effect shortages have on schools. As a former science teacher with an extensive background in public education, Tholen has experience teaching elementary, middle and high school students, and she uses her experience to ensure all students across Fairfax County are served. “Our number one priority is to keep our schools open and operating as efficiently as possible for the students and families,” Tholen said. Tholen, who is the only school board member currently certified as a teacher, led Fairfax County’s environmental education program before running for her seat on the school board. There, she worked with FCPS’s central office and schools across the county. Even now as a school board member, Tholen hasn’t stopped her work as an environmental advocate—in fact, in addition to being on FCPS’s environment task force, Tholen has also spearheaded the project to launch environmentally friendly electric buses in select regions across the county. “We have a very robust [goal] for zero waste. And there’s no way that we’re going to accomplish it unless we’re all involved,” Tholen said. Tholen’s interest in serving her community began at a young age when her mother was active in the civil rights movement. “I grew up in a home that was very

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inclusive. [My mom] gave back a lot to the community,” Tholen said. Tholen wasn’t the original Democratic candidate for the Dranesville District on the school board and didn’t previously plan on entering politics—she only joined the race after the previous Democratic candidate dropped out of the election.

OUR NUMBER ONE PRIORITY IS TO KEEP OUR SCHOOLS OPEN AND OPERATING AS EFFICIENTLY AS POSSIBLE.” - ELAINE THOLEN SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER “I had a number of people approach me [to run for school board] because of the fact that I have an education background,” Tholen said. “[As the Director of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District,] every time I got up to talk about soil and water, I talked about education. So, a number of people talked to me and convinced me that this would be a really good way for me to take my educational experience to work on this board and give back to the community.” In addition to her environmental work, Tholen has worked to advance equty in FCPS through broadening access to educational resources. “We need to make sure that everyone has equal opportunities available to them— if you’re an advanced student, we need to serve you as well as anybody else,” Tholen said. Following the change in the partisan makeup of Virginia’s state government and Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s election, Tholen and FCPS officials are closely Photo courtesy of Friends of Elaine Tholen

watching for potential impacts on FCPS’s education system. “We’re watching [Richmond] very, very closely,” Tholen said. “We need to make sure our local [school] systems are as safe as possible.” Meanwhile, Tholen maintains a constant relationship with McLean’s administration and Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). “Our relationship is very positive,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “I can pick up the phone and call [school board member Tholen] any time and she’ll always answer.” Tholen’s connection with McLean’s class councils, administration, PTSA and overall community enables her to voice their concerns on the school board and in county government. “As a school board member, you should have a connection with the schools that you are working with. Having the context and experience in schools themselves leads to a fresher perspective” freshman Megan Zhang said. “I believe [Tholen] fits that expertise.”

Page design by Zakareya Hamed & Dania Reza

10 Qs with Amanda Williams Social Studies Teacher

Reporting by Sabrina Boughanem Photos courtesy of Amanda Williams

1 2 3

What led you to become a teacher? I was always one of those kids who played school, but I think when I started to take high school history classes, I really enjoyed those classes and I knew I loved history. I just kind of always wanted to teach since high school, and it never really changed.

Favorite subject in school? I liked U.S. History and Government, so I’m happy that’s what I get to teach.

If you weren’t a teacher, what occupation would you have? I loved baking when I was growing up, so maybe a baker.

4 5 6 7

Period of time you would want to experience? It would have been cool to watch the first moon walk in real time.

Favorite ice cream flavor? Cookie dough.

8 9

Go-to summer activity? A nice long walk with my dog, Charlie, or hanging outside. I love eating outside in the summer and having a nice dinner on a patio.

What are your hobbies? I teach cycling, and getting involved in that community [is nice]. I also like to bake, especially around the holidays.


Favorite part about teaching? The students. We have great students here at McLean that make the job fun and enjoyable.

Dream vacation? I would love to go to Greece. I think it’s a good balance of getting to go study the history but also getting to enjoy the scenery, weather and culture.

If you were an animal, what animal would you be? I’ve had people call me Amanda Panda. I think pandas are really cute— I don’t know that I have a deep spiritual connection to them.

may 2022 | FEATURES | 11

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Tips and Tricks for Finals Staff and students share studying strategies Sabrina Boughanem Editor-in-chief

Junior Antigone Stark’s Tips:

• Study by doing, not by recognizing • Communicate with sponsors to see if you can take time off to study • Do not sacrifice sleep under any circumstances!

Math Teacher Emily Jaffa’s Tips:

• Start studying at the beginnin g of the fourth quarter by lookin g over the old material • Try to minimize distractions • It’s not a matter of the quantity of studying, but mores o the quality of the time you spe nd studying

Guidance Counsel Amber Simpkins’ t or ips: • Start a stu

dy group wit h like-minded students who will keep you ac countable • Have a sp ecific worksp ace for school at ho me • Plan time to study but als o to relax and re set

Page design by Makda Bekele & Sabrina Boughanem

Senior Susan Shobeiri’S Tips:

• Make a general plan and try your best to stick to it • Set goals to accomplish each week • Maximize your time—even if it’s just 15-20 minutes of studying

Science Teacher Austin Blackford’s Tips:

t minute • Don’t wait until the las really because then you won’t ng retain what you’re learni rs be • Have your extracurricula ing a break time from study in your • Rewrite teachers’ notes own words

ENGLISH TEACHER Elise Emmons’ Tips:

able to • Have a plan and be by dates organize everything key terms • Find and study the to know and things you need upon hours • If you spend hours going to studying, you’re not retain information

MAY 2022 | FEATURES | 13

admissionS cha swe

The future of college admissions in a rapidly changing education system 14 | IN-DEPTH | MAY 2022

Image Zakareya Hamed Photo byby Zakareya Hamed




anges weep the nation











n response to outcries across the U.S. over opportunity gaps in higher education, universities have adopted holistic application systems that supporters say increase college access through decreasing the use of outdated and inaccurate assessment methodology. The SAT and ACT being disregarded in admissions is no longer a distant prospect but an impending reality. More than 1,800 colleges and universities have now pivoted towards test-optional or test-blind admissions for current high school seniors. “I do hope [other universities follow these footsteps],” said Laura Venos, the college and career specialist at McLean. “It’s the best solution in terms of equity.” Some changes were temporary pandemic-related accommodations, but an increasing number of schools are making them permanent. “Many [schools] will remain test optional for many years or even long term,” Venos said. “Students are having more test-optional college options than ever before.” The University of California (UC) system, for instance, announced that it will entirely disregard SAT and ACT scores through at least the

2025 admissions cycle when making acceptance decisions. A diverse array of schools, from the California Institute of Technology to Loyola University New Orleans, have followed suit in permanently instituting test-optional admissions. “Standardized testing is not the best way to gauge whether a student is prepared or not for a certain college,” senior Yanni Aknine said. “The SATs and ACTs seem to just be about how well you can take a test. People who struggle with testing anxiety or don’t have as many resources like proper preparation materials are going to receive lower scores than people who do.” Inequitable access to test preparation led some colleges to maintain their test-blind or test-optional policies past the pandemic. “My experience has been that the more resources [and time] a student can spend preparing for the SAT/ACT, the better they will perform,” Venos said. While test-optional and test-blind policies decrease the significance of standardized testing in applications, they encourage schools to look at a wider view of students and their passions. “Going test blind would definitely help with a general understanding of a student’s grades, extracurriculars and focuses,” said senior Ella Park, who chose not to submit her test scores. Both Aknine, who was accepted to UCLA but committed to the University of Virginia, and Park, who recently committed to UC Irvine, are part of a growing number of people who believe removing standardized testing requirements would enable students to focus more on their own personal initiatives and academics. “[In the new admissions process,] you can really see that they read

­ ­

Page design by Zakareya Hamed & Dania Reza

MAY 2022 | IN-DEPTH | 15

your essays thoroughly. Rather than tests, they’re looking at your underrepresented groups,” Venos said. extracurriculars,” said senior Umran Koca, who recently committed It has produced significantly more diverse student populations to permanently test-blind California Institute of Technology. and preserved merit, opening the opportunity pool for millions of Because test score requirements acted as a psychological barrier American students. that discouraged students from applying, schools with test-blind or “I don’t think [test-blind admissions] affect the quality of education test-optional policies have seen an increase in applications. in any way,” Park said. “It would be more inclusive for people to get “When a student applies test judged based on their GPA [and optional, colleges will [focus other factors].” more on] the transcript, any Colleges have been altering recommendation letters, essays,” their factors to assess whether Venos said. “[This shift] has students are prepared for higher been raising student application education or not, due to the rates from all populations, imbalance of access to test including underrepresented preparation. - LAURA VENOS populations.” Colleges also justify their COLLEGE AND CAREER SPECIALIST According to a study policies by arguing that conducted by Inside Higher Ed, standardized tests unfairly application rates have surged by 29% in private universities and 11% misrepresent students’ academic capabilities—scores determined by in public universities when test-optional policies were implemented. access and a single test could outweigh four years of dedication and Admissions changes moving away from standardized testing could hard work. produce student populations reflective of all communities. “The SAT and ACT are things that you do better [on] based on “[Schools emphasize diversity so much because] they aim for their your privilege,” Park said. “People who have specialized tutors for populations on campus to reflect how diverse our world actually this stuff would definitely do better than people who are forced to is. That’s why they are trying to grow their student numbers in study all on their own.”








enior Umran Koca, who committed to the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), a selective test-blind elite research university, has spent much of her high school career indulged in her passion for astronomy. “I worked in a team of three to track a specific asteroid called 2003 HB6,” Koca said. “We took images of this asteroid over four weeks and processed these images to estimate how the position of the asteroid changed and calculate it’s orbit.” Koca believes that removing SAT and ACT requirements in admissions for research-based and science-focused schools like Caltech could help centralize the focus on students’ holistic ability. “When I got my acceptance letter back, I got a full note from the admissions person at Caltech...[that said], ‘We really want you to do neutron star research with us,’ and that was something I had direcly talked about in my essays,” Koca said.

16 | IN-DEPTH | May 2022


or senior Yanni Aknine, college admissions changes affected both his application and his mindset for college. Aknine has observed the effects of educational gaps on his classmates’ college applications first hand. “I personally don’t think standardized testing is the best way to gauge whether a student is prepared or not for a certain college. Just because someone can get a 1590 with access to a private tutor doesn’t mean they are prepared,” Aknine said. Aknine shifted his focus towards extracurriculars throughout his high school years. “I’ve always been really focused on extracurricular activities, not only because it’s fun, but also because it’s a good way to show colleges how you’re actively trying to explore your interests and what you want to pursue,” Aknine said. “I encourage this for everyone else too.”

“It will be more equitable if we require all applicants who take the tests to disclose their scores, rather than ask each student to guess whether or not to send them to us,” Schmill said. Regardless of their stance on test-optional policies, 2000 admissions offices are attempting to judge applicants relative to their peers, because even neighboring schools 1500 differ in education resources. 1000 “In low-income communities, school programs don’t receive nearly as much funding, the quality of education is 500 lower than [school districts] like FCPS and some schools don’t even have a Student Services Department,” Aknine 0 said. 2020 2021 2022 2019 One major study conducted by the National Association for College Admission Counseling compared data from over 900,000 applications at 28 four-year Still, opponents to these changes have held steady in their institutions with test-optional policies to peer institutions requiring requirements for SAT and ACT scores. The Massachusetts Institute testing. The report concluded that standardized tests fail to identify of Technology (MIT) recently announced it will reinstate its SAT/ talented applicants and lead to “narrow assessments” of potential. ACT requirement. “There is no pathway through MIT that does not include a rigorous foundation in mathematics, mediated by many quantitative exams along the way,” MIT Dean of Admissions Stuart Schmill said in a press release. “It is not surprising that the SAT/ACT math exams are predictive of success at MIT; it would be more surprising if they weren’t.” He said test-optional policies introduce inequity, compared to the test-mandatory ones currently in use.



uc irvine

ella park


hen senior Ella Park applied to several test-blind colleges, she decided to take advantage of the opportunity under new admissions systems by not submitting her own scores. “[Before,] I felt like SAT scores completely determined someone’s acceptance, but now it’s very different,” Park said. “[That’s why] I decided not to send in any of my scores.” Park moved from Tennessee to Virginia and saw how regional differences in education impacted students’ abilities to succeed. “In Tennessee, test scores are a lot lower than they are here because of the different levels of competition and access to resources,” Park said. “Different regions have different education opportunities and tutor opportunities... [The SAT and ACT] questions aren’t exactly questions you would call normal or something you would expect at school. They’re very targeted towards students who have been trained for it.” Infographics by Minsong Ha & Natalie Vu

The issue of an access gap is further exacerbated in higher education, with Harvard Magazine reporting that nearly 70% of students at Harvard University are from the top 20% richest Americans—and similar numbers mirrored across all Ivy League schools. “Unless the SAT and ACT go away, there will always be an extra layer of inequity in college admissions,” Venos said. MIT’s policies may be in the minority; a significant number of schools have extended more lenient test policies well into the future. This shift suggests that universities are more firmly considering the SAT and ACT as less insightful indicators, and schools and students are adjusting to the new policies by placing more emphasis on academic achievements outside the testing room. “My extracurriculars were probably one of the most helpful parts of my application,” Aknine said. “They are good ways to show colleges how you’re actively trying to explore your interests.” Ultimately, these admissions policies increase students’ access to universities they may have previously considered out of reach. “[Test-optional admissions] give students more confidence to apply to colleges of interest without worrying about what happened [within] a few hours on a Saturday,” Venos said. As changes to college admissions sweep the nation, both schools and students are working to adjust to changes reflective of the educational gaps that have until recently been disregarded. “Test-blind and test-optional policies are definitely steps in the right direction,” Aknine said. “But it’s still not perfect, and it’s something the whole community has to work towards.”

May 2022 | IN-DEPTH | 17


Alex KOFINIS managing editor

Captivating novels to keep readers turning the page

Alma Classics

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, who must overcome their animosity towards each other in order to be together. “It is a fun, entertaining, and engaging book,” freshman Soyam Amanuel said. “[It fits] all the characteristics of a perfect summer.”

Five Feet Apart by Rachel Lippincott

William Morrow

Simon & Schuster Books

Five Feet Apart tells the love story between two chronically ill teenagers with cystic fibrosis. “It shows change and growth in two individuals,” freshman Nora Venetianer said. “[Five Feet Apart] reminds me of the spirit of summer because it’s a time to reflect and improve yourself.”

Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth Chosen Ones highlights five teenagers who discover their prophecy to destroy a monster that wreaks havoc all around the world. “[Chosen Ones] was a good dystopian/sci-fi/fantasy book [for summer], and it was an easy read,” English teacher Bridget Donoghue said.

The Maid by Nita Prose

18 | A&E | MAY 2022

Harper Collins

The Maid is a mystery novel about a hotel housekeeper who is accused of the murder of Charles Black, a wealthy guest. “[For me,] the perfect summer feelings are all about being able to tune out and take a break from your daily life...that’s why I like mystery/thriller books,” English teacher Rosie Clements said.

Page design by Makda Bekele

back to the mullet ‘80s hair comes back into style jacob daly & MJ kim REPORTERS

Aaron chandler, freshman


ven in 2022, decades after the short-in-the-front, long-in-the back hairstyle hit its peak level of popularity, the mullet is still standing. Recently, the style has been appearing more frequently in the halls of McLean High School, especially among athletes. “My dad actually gave me my mullet,” said freshman Aaron Chandler, a McLean baseball player. “I was kind of forced by the baseball team to get one. At this point, I would say about 60% of the team has a solid mullet.” The style has caught on with several other teams across McLean, including the boys lacrosse team. Thus, the question remains: does the mullet improve athletic performance? “The mullet instills a sense of confidence,” Chandler said. “It is definitely part of the reason I was able to impress the coaches at tryouts.” (Photo by MJ Kim)

marc cascio, english teacher

est. 2021


est. 1980

nglish teacher Marc Cascio experienced his prime high school years during the 1980s, the pinnacle of the mullet. He claims that he was one of the first to hop on the trend. “It was considered the hairstyle for boys,” Cascio said. “It was the ‘80s, the pivotal generation, just a great time to be alive.” As with any style that evolves over time, people have developed their own interpretations of the cut. Nonetheless, there is a standard to the hairdo. “A lot of kids shave the sides of their head, but that’s not necessarily a good mullet,” Cascio said. “The key to a mullet is having a good top-back ratio.” Although it may be back in style today, Cascio is skeptical about personally bringing the coiffure back. “If I did it now, it would just be to embarrass my children,” Cascio said. “I don’t know who started it or who to blame. My bet is a group of kids got together, said a mullet would be funny, and then it just caught on.” (Photo courtesy of Marc Cascio)



espite the popularity among sports teams, the mullet does not discriminate. The style has ventured past athletic purposes into a stylistic and creative choice. “One has to be able to match the energy that comes with the mullet,” sophomore Nathan Mahoney said. “If you don’t give positive vibes, the mullet isn’t going to feel like it fits you.” Of course, with elaborate fashion comes great responsibility. Even in the modern world, the mullet still has its guidelines. “It’s crucial for the mullet to not look ratty. You have to rock it,” Mahoney said. (Photo by Madie Turley)

Additional reporting & page design by Madie Turley

est. 2022 MAY 2022 | A&E | 19

sarah’s melody Junior teaches herself guitar, forms band G’NASH with friends MINSONG HA EDITOR-IN CHief | JESSICA PUREVTuGS OPINIONS EDITOR


hen 14-year-old Sarah Tran picked up a guitar for the first time, she never imagined that just three years later a whole auditorium would be filled with booming applause for her solo performance. Tran, a current junior, was first introduced to music at age 6 through piano lessons. “The problem was my parents forced the piano onto me, and so I ended up dropping it after a few years,” Tran said. Tran’s creativity and preference for a more hands-on style of learning clashed with her parents’ extracurricular expectations. As she approached middle school, familial pressure to excel with the piano pushed her away from the instrument and towards the guitar, which she decided to learn on her own. “Guitar is something I like because it’s something I chose, and that’s what makes it special,” Tran said. As a self-taught musician, Tran has learned to become independent, finding her own resources and discovering different techniques through the internet. Tran plays without professional guidance, so producing a short cover for her Instagram account can turn into a lengthy task of more than 10 hours. “It can be a frustrating process sometimes because getting sounds right is difficult,” Tran said. “Overall, [though], it’s nice to have that capability and at least be able to use this software that I can work with, because that’s an opportunity not a lot of kids can get.” Tran covers others’ songs, but she aspires to take the next step and produce her own music. However, with little help, she occasionally faces complex hurdles. “I have a lot to learn about music production in general,” Tran said. “One of the struggles I find is that I’m constantly thinking about how I’m self-taught and I’m probably not as great as many other musicians.” Despite these challenges, Tran has turned to live performances as her next musical frontier. Her first performance was an electric guitar solo at McLean’s International Night in March 2022. “[You just have to] put yourself out there,” Tran said. “After International Night, I felt like there were more opportunities. Now that I’ve performed once, I [could] definitely do it again.”

20 | A&E | MAY 2022

Tran’s parents sat in the audience, accompanied by other eager friends and family members ready to support her debut guitar performance. “As a parent, I was very proud,” her father, Hung Tran, said. “I was surprised that she was able to perform in front of a big crowd like that­­—she had never done that before.” In addition to her solo performance at International Night, Tran played guitar with G’NASH, a band she formed with her friends, juniors Abby Chung, Gianna Yu, Hannah Lin and Nathan Dubuc. G’NASH collaborated to deliver a mashup of “Lovesick Girls” by BLACKPINK, “Polaroid Love” by ENHYPEN and “Electric Love” by Børns. “There was a really big turnout,” Chung said. “The whole auditorium was filled, and there was a very diverse crowd. The [audience] even pulled out their phone flashlights while we were performing. That was a pretty cool [experience] because it really felt like we were at a concert.” Like Tran, most of the band members are self-taught musicians with no prior experience playing on stage. “For some reason, we weren’t nervous at all,” Lin said. “I guess we were just excited to show people what we made.” G’NASH plans to hit the stage again soon, performing at McLean Day in Lewinsville Park on May 21. Photo courtesy of Meera Shah

“Next time, we’ll have a lot more experience, and we want to try expanding through new genres,” Tran said. Even as a busy student, Tran approaches guitar not as a task, but a way to release stress from her daily life. “I try to practice every day, even when it’s not for very long,” Tran said. “I don’t really have a practice schedule. When I come home and I want to wind down, I’ll just pick up my guitar for scales, riffs or a part of a song I like. I just turn on my favorite playlist then try to play along with it.” As both a student and musician, Tran has a number of responsibilities to balance. “She has to juggle multiple priorities like schoolwork, tennis and music,” her father said. “She understands that school is a priority and that if she does well, she can take time to do what she likes.” Following high school, Tran hopes to continue music as a pastime that allows her to express herself freely. “[Even if I don’t] go into music as a career path, it’ll be a good hobby to have outside of school,” Tran said. Tran’s family and friends have noticed the positive impacts of music on Tran as a whole.

“As a parent, I encourage her to continue enjoying music and producing [her own] as well,” her father said. “[Music] is a lifelong skill, which she can use to make friends and develop relationships with others.” The band actively disputes the stereotype of the necessity of traditional and formal music education, demonstrating how genuine passion for music can inspire creators to take new risks. “My biggest inspiration is people who post their own music covers on Instagram,” Tran said. “It’s [inspiring to] see the rise of social media, how it’s enhanced, and how people can make short - SARAH TRAN covers [that help] them get really JUNIOR popular.” Tran hopes that her performances and musical journey will inspire even more self-taught artists to continue their passion, regardless of how challenging it may be. “To other aspiring musicians, I would just advise that you shouldn’t be afraid to learn by yourself,” Tran said. “Don’t get discouraged by seeing anyone who’s way better, which happens to everyone. This is high school—it’s time to experience [everything] and do what you want.”


musical muses — Hannah Lin, Gianna Yu, Abby Chung, Nathan Dubuc and Sarah Tran, who make up the band G’NASH, pose together after their debut performance at McLean International Night on March 11. Their performance consisted of covers by popular bands like BLACKPINK. Their next show will be at McLean Day in Lewinsville Park on May 21. (Photo by Minsong Ha) Page design by Dania Reza

MAY 2022 | A&E | 21



Which pool after school? Sabrina Boughanem Editor-in-chief | liyat amman reporter



ent Gardens Recreation Club is a very homey pool with a private location off of Westmoreland Street. “It’s kind of close-knit and the community is really good,” sophomore Jocelyn Brooks said. The social atmosphere and festive activities at Kent Gardens are what makes the pool seem like a family. “[The pool] throws parties and little get-togethers,” Brooks said. “Every year there’s a movie night where you can swim in the pool and you watch a movie.” On the downside, Kent Gardens is a small pool. It contains the main pool with a diving well and a baby pool for children under 6. “The pool itself is pretty small and shallow,” Brooks said. “It’d be great if it could be a bigger, better facility, but other than that, it’s perfect.” Brooks would recommend this club to anyone looking for a place to spend their summer. “I would say that my experience at Kent Gardens is 10 out of 10,” Brooks said. “It’s a really nice club, and it might be a small pool but it’s my favorite place.”



hesterbrook Swim & Tennis Club’s sunny location and welcoming environment make it a great spot for summer fun. Since its recent renovation, the facility has been significantly improved and is now an even more pleasant recreational space for all ages. “I love my local swim club,” senior Callie Hamilton said. “The location is great, the activities are super fun and I have a really positive association with the swim team.” Though Chesterbrook is a great pool for a sunny day, Hamilton sees room for improvement. “If I could change one thing, it would be to update our snack bar,” Hamilton said. The snack bar is expecting renovations in the future, but the changes may not come in time for this summer’s pool season. “[The snack bar] is planned to be renovated but it’s in a stage further down the road,” Hamilton said. Hamilton reccommends Chesterbrook for its vibrant community. “I think everyone should join [the pool] because it is really nice and everyone is super nice and welcoming,” Hamilton said.

HIGHLANDS swim club


ighlands Swim & Tennis Club has a top-of-the-line facility including a baby pool, two main pools with a diving well, a slide and an extensive snack bar with multiple seating areas. “The facilities are nice along with the social events. Everyone is friendly, and the food is really good,” freshman Caitlin Farley said. “There are many opportunities to interact with other members of the club and form bonds with other families.” Located off of Kirby Road, Highlands has some distance from the outside world. “The club is quite secluded which is nice because you aren’t able to hear noises from the road,” Farley said. “The seclusion and the activities definitely set our club apart.” The facility’s snack bar is another attraction to its guests. “I think one of our club’s best features is the snack bar building,” Farley said. “There is seating and air conditioning which is nice in the warmer weather.” Farley strongly recommends Highlands to anyone. “It is a great community with plenty of events and activities fit for your personal taste,” Farley said.

22 | A&E | MAY 2022

tUCKAHOE rec club


uckahoe Recreation Club’s indoor and outdoor pools make it a great facility for both sunny and rainy summer days. Its spacious amenities make it a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. “[Tuckahoe has] an indoor and outdoor pool, a baby pool and a medium-sized pool,” sophomore Jason Babalitis said. “Wherever you feel the best to swim, you can swim, and [the pool] is open almost all year round.” Bablitis likes the facility’s snack bar and finds its various features unique and impressive, but he thinks the lawn is in need of a minor renovation. “[Tuckahoe has] a good snack bar,” Babalitis said. “[They should] make the grass a bit nicer because sometimes the field and areas where people sit are not the nicest [and can] get muddy.” Regardless of these flaws, Babalitis suggests this pool to anyone who can access it. “It’s a really nice pool and has nice facilities,” Babalitis said. “It’s really available to everyone who’s able to get in.” Page design by Dania Reza


FCPS decision to take off religious holidays is the right one The staff editorial represents the opinion of the majority of The Highlander editorial board


hoosing between religion and attending school is a difficult decision a significant portion of FCPS students have had to make every year. The 2022-23 school calendar properly addresses this issue by providing an increased number of school holidays. Fairfax County residents practice many different religions and should be given the ability to celebrate their religious holidays without having to sacrifice school time. It should be a no-brainer that students who celebrate major holidays for their religions should not have to choose between honoring their faith and attending school. The FCPS School Board voted on Jan. 27 to make Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali and Orthodox Good Friday school holidays, beginning in the 2022-23 school year. This decision is the right one, especially with the disaster that was cultural observation days.

The system of recognizing holidays with in-school religious observance days was insufficient. Although rules were put in place to try to avoid students missing new material or taking tests, the fact remains that students


who miss school will always miss things of importance, including classroom time and time to work on projects. “I had to go to school on Rosh Hashanah because I had a test and I knew my

Reporting & page design by Noah Kales | Cartoon by Liz Nedelescu

teachers would ignore the observance day regulations,” sophomore David Weinstein said. Up until the 2021-2022 school year, the winter break included two weeks over Christmas and a week for spring break which coincided with Easter. Christmas and Easter are two of the most important holidays for Christians, and no one would suggest that schools remain open for those holidays. Other religions have not been given the same privilege. “The [calendar] change will help students who don’t want to choose between celebrating a holiday and attending school,” Weinstein said. Opponents of the new school calendar are worried about the increased number of school holidays, which resulted in the school year being lengthened by one week. “[Parents] feel like we have several weeks that are not full weeks, and childcare is their biggest concern,” school board member Karen Corbett Sanders said. This argument does not hold much weight, as working parents have the same challenge during winter and spring breaks, as well as the various teacher workdays and early release days in the current calendar. The shuffling of student holidays barely increases parental burden for obtaining childcare. Student absence data collected by FCPS demonstrates that there is a rise in student absences on religious observance days, indicating that efforts to make the school calendar more inclusive are increasingly allowing students to participate in holidays that are important for their religions. Closing schools during major holidays of minority religions ensures that students of these faiths are not forced to choose between practicing their religion and going to school. Christian students are not expected to make these decisions, and students who are participants in other faiths should not either. FCPS did the right thing by giving students of minority faiths these days off, as it removes operational difficulties related to continuing school and eliminates stress caused by deciding whether to attend school on religious holidays. They should continue to make sure future calendars reflect the county’s diversity.

MAY 2022 | OPINIONS | 23

gaming unlocks hidden Positives

Playing video games offers multiple benefits


Charles Seten Copy Editor

icture the average gamer. It’s probably something along the lines of an unathletic, super pale, energy drink addicted incel, rapidly moving a mouse back and forth. Perhaps it could be some overweight, middle-aged man with a bag of chips by his side, or a skinny teenager who has issues with socializing and an obsession with Terraria. Since their inception in the mid-1900s, video games have always been viewed in a bad light. They have been shunned as excuses to stay cooped up inside or procrastinate on homework and widely disliked by teachers, parents and other adults. However, in a new era of digital technology development, these adults need to recognize playing video games as an outlet for creativity and stress relief. The video game industry and community is larger than ever. Now, FCPS is slowly embracing esports as an extracurricular activity, and McLean formed its first team this school year. The esports team challenges other schools in games such as Rocket League, where players compete in sports such as basketball and soccer with rocketpowered racecars. The reality is simple—video games are becoming a larger part of everyone’s lives, and it’s time for schools to aknowledge their benefits and make them a greater part of education. Not only have video games become a more integral part of society, but they have been proven to provide many benefits to students. Researchers at the University of Toronto compared gamers’ reaction times to non-gamers in a study where participants tracked an object across a screen with a mouse. Gamers reported significantly higher scores by the end of the trial, indicating video games’ positive effects on human reaction times and hand-eye coordination. “I’ve noticed my reaction time improving a lot since I started playing Valorant more,” freshman Joshua Koh said. Video games help improve reaction time, coordination, memory and movement. These traits play into a bigger picture beyond climbing the ranks in League of Legends and can be crucial characteristics to help students advance in school settings. Despite these benefits, video games haven’t been able to shake their reputation as mentally damaging sources of entertainment. Parents and educators continue to believe that video games are nothing but mind-deteriorating, mental illness-fueling distractions to students. However, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information debunked the stereotype, proving that depression has no correlation with video games. While video games in excess can cause adverse physical conditions

and mental health, they can be played in moderation. Instead of shaming video games, schools should encourage students to set limits for themselves and discover a wide range of interests. In a digital world dominated by digital games, social media and constant news updates, schools should focus on helping students live with technology in a healthy way, not evade it. The fast-paced spread of technology, specifically among the youth, is inevitable. Instead of suppressing the use of technology and games, schools should embrace their positive effects and increasing accesibility. Extensive research on video - JOSHUA KOH games has cast an important light FRESHMAN on their positive impact on students. It’s time to finally increase their use in educational programs and properly teach students to develop a healthy relationship with them.


24 | OPINIONS | MAY 2022

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

COLLEGE BOARD, IT’S TIME TO GO Organization places unfair pressure on students A


5.0 GPA, 1600 SAT, 5/5 AP Exam score. These three numbers may look like simple statistics, but they are some of the most significant factors deciding students’ futures. What influences these numbers? A private monopoly. College Board is a not-for-profit organization that has almost complete control over education as they control the SAT and AP courses, which contribute to colossal GPA inflation in FCPS. The courses and tests thrown at students by College Board are doing much more harm than good and need to be reevaluated or even eliminated. One of the most prominent issues many across the country face with College Board is financial inequality. In the U.S., taking advanced classes and preparing for standardized tests is not cheap. Students across the country spend $96 to take AP Exams and pay even more for test prep books, sending scores and even cancellation fees if they want to opt out of the exam. College Board is obstructing equality on the exam side of its courses. It also strictly limits the curriculum teachers can work with

and does not give them enough time to teach cotent, overwhelming young students with more than they are ready to handle. One of the courses most limited by the curriculum of College Board that McLean offers is AP Latin. Cameron Keuning, McLean’s Latin teacher, highlights that the curriculum provides set themes and skills but only allows students to develop through two pieces of text: “The Aeneid” by Virgil and “De Bello Gallico” by Julius Caesar.

COLLEGE BOARD HAS OUTLIVED ITS PURPOSE.” - CAMERON KEUNING AP LATIN TEACHER “Virgil and Caesar are foundational authors. I really enjoy them by themselves, but it’s hindered by the fact that that’s all we read,” Keuning said. “A good AP curriculum is a little bit broader than that so that we can have a survey of authentic texts. It’s harder for me to get excited when we are on day 30 of the same basic thing.” This strict system comes at the expense

Page design by Dania Reza | Cartoon by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

of students’ mental well-being. It also heavily intrudes on their teenage years, crucial for social development. “I end up missing out on things like sports practices and going out with my friends because I’m either doing work or I’m so tired and stressed out from doing so much work that I can’t do any more, and I just go to sleep,” junior Evie Johnston said. One could say that students are inflicting stress upon themselves by choosing to take these courses, but it is challenging for students to mentally fight the pressure to take the most advanced courses in an environment where taking AP classes is the norm. Approximately 49% of students at McLean took at least one AP course during the 2020-21 school year. Students feel compelled to overload on AP courses to stand out on college applications and boost their GPAs, putting themselves in a stressful situation for the rest of the year. “There’s way too much pressure. I’ve heard students say that if [they’re] not taking AP [courses, they’re] making a mistake—I think that’s the problem,” McLean’s AP Academic Coordinator Crissie Ricketts said. While fostering this high-pressure environment in communities is not what the College Board intended to do, it’s been the lasting effect. The organization is not doing enough to reduce pressure and student stress. The corporate world will not provide students with a productive and valuable learning environment. Students must not succumb to the stress and obstacles College Board places upon them and should work to create a more positive environment for themselves. Students would gain much more if College Board valued the flexibility, availability and quality of education over test results. Next time you’re choosing between an introspective elective or an AP to impress colleges, challenge yourself to ignore the devil on your shoulder from a College Boarddominated society. Instead, follow your heart and choose the elective so you can pave the way for others to do the same. “College Board has outlived its purpose,” Keuning said. It’s time for us to move beyond the limits the College Board has imposed on everyone.

MAY 2022 | OPINIONS | 25


Rolling gradebook has unintended side effects


jessica purevtugs opinions editor

ulling occasional all-nighters for 36 weeks, the high-pressure environment rewards students with the anticipated one -point grade boost. Struggling students are given two choices: work even longer to maintain the grade or allow it to drop. The rolling gradebook should not be the norm for core classes at McLean as it is overwhelmingly discouraging. Unlike quarter grades, which offer students a “fresh start” following the end of a school quarter, the rolling gradebook merges all assignments given during the year to be calculated simultaneously. The rolling gradebook provides teachers more time to grade submitted work, which also delays the grading process, as teachers are more likely to work at a slow-moving rate compared to the quarterly gradebook. Cumulative gradebooks are aimed to make it easier for both students and teachers to maintain progress in their classes. Initiated by FCPS following the stress of online school, the cumulative gradebook aids students who stay on top of their work while attempting to take the pressure off of quarterly grades. The system made sense for last year’s hybrid learning environment, but the rolling gradebook now provides more setbacks than advantages as it forces students to focus on upholding their current average rather than making it easier for them to manage their classes. The rolling gradebook lowers student morale considerably, limiting the extent to which students can improve their grade. This contradicts the previous intent of helping students, who are no longer guaranteed to be able to boost their grade sufficiently before the end of the school year. Some students like the way the cumulative gradebook averages the grades in their classes, which they say makes it easier for them to maintain a stable grade so long as they work consistently. “[The rolling gradebook] makes it so that my grades are a more accurate representation of my knowledge on the subject,” sophomore Millie Jarvis said. “[The system]

26 | OPINIONS | MAY 2022

benefits most students enough to be widely implemented with generally positive results.” Though this may be the case for a few, other factors, such as the fear of failure and need to balance other responsibilities outside of school, make it impossible for the grading system to meet everyone’s needs. Those in favor of the rolling gradebook

THE [ROLLING GRADEBOOK] PROVIDES SUCH LITTLE OPPORTUNITY FOR STUDENTS TO RAISE THEIR GRADES.” - AILEEN WU FRESHMAN claim that doing well in a class over a long period of time is reassuring, providing them with less stress as a result. This, however, is not the case for many students, resulting in lower confidence and self-esteem.

Furthermore, the rolling gradebook creates an impossible situation for students who fall into a slump or experience a slow start in the first quarter. These students must struggle to bring their grades up to a satisfactory degree due to the grading policies in which all work over the course of the year compounds. “It’s been noticed that [the rolling gradebook] provides such little opportunity for students to raise their grades, regardless of the commitment that they show,” freshman Aileen Wu said. With most Highlanders aiming to build an impressive transcript by the end of their high school careers, grading policies should favor students, not the complete opposite. The quarterly gradebook should be reconsidered for customary use as soon as possible, as there is more to gain from it compared to cumulative grading. Though it was created to take stress off students in an unforeseen educational environment, the rolling gradebook does not successfully aid students in maintaining their grades, providing not a safety net but an ongoing issue. The only solution is to abandon it so students can reach their full potential.

Cartoon by Liz Nedelescu | Page design by Jessica Purevtugs


Seeking academic validation does more harm than good


Alex kofinis managing editor

very day, students at McLean are overwhelmed by the pressure to excel in school, from aiming to receive top scores to taking as many AP classes as possible in order to eventually get accepted into a college of a certain status. Constantly having to meet the level of excellence fostered in a competitive environment with such high standards, students feel the need to exceed unrealistic academic expectations. Failing to fulfill the need to be the very best can lead to damaging effects on a student’s self-esteem. A lack of confidence in work can make school feel like an endless cycle of rigorous expectations.


cultivated. “I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to maintain my grades,” senior Susan Shobeiri said. “Even as a second semester senior...I’ve found myself stressing out just as much as before.” The obligation to get perfect grades can be detrimental to students’ mental health. In the same poll of 102 Highlanders, 87.3% admitted to putting excessive pressure on themselves in school. The desire to do well along with the added responsibilities outside of school becomes exhausting. Some argue that applying a healthy amount of pressure is necessary in order to prepare for life in the real world. However, when students are unaware of the severity of pushing themselves too hard, it can do more harm than good. There is a fine line between a will to succeed and a fear of failure. Without a proper work-life balance, the pressure is too much to handle for just one person. “Some students can handle [the stress of academics],” Lodwig said. “On the other hand, others experience psychological and physical effects such as anxiety and depression.” In such a fast-paced environment,

“[The need for academic validation] can stem from internal and peer pressure, family expectations and even living in a community that is high achieving and competitive in nature compared to other parts of the country,” counselor Tara Lodwig said. Despite being taught that trying one’s best is what matters, many McLean students do not accept failure. In a poll of 102 Highlanders, 69.6% said they have reacted negatively to receiving a poor grade. When students hyperfixate on grades it only emphasizes this negative environment. The weight of always having to perform at the height of their abilities sets Highlanders up for disappointment, a feeling many students cannot handle. Even upperclassmen nearing the end of their high school career feel the need to meet the standards previous classes have Page design by Alex Kofinis | Infographic by Dania Reza

many tend to procrastinate and become overwhelmed. A common misconception is that procrastination is the students’ fault, but sometimes anxiety levels can be so high that finding a place to start is difficult. “School has turned into watching numbers, percentages and letters rising through the screen and not gaining knowledge for your future,” an anonymous survey respondent said. The constant need for academic validation does nothing but promote unhealthy habits, creating toxic boundaries between personal and work life. The pressure prompts a struggle, as students start to believe their entire worth is based on a letter grade. “There have been tests that I have studied and prepared for weeks in advance, and I’ve still scored below 80%,” another survey respondent said. “It just goes to show that tests do not reflect students’ work ethic.” Prioritizing mental health and stability teaches students to acknowledge personal limits. Strengthening one’s mind has the ability to improve grades and minimize the effects of stress. “If students are struggling, let them know they are not alone,” Lodwig said. “Encourage them to reach out to their support systems.”

Do you put excessive academic pressure on yourself to succeed in school?* *in a poll of 102 McLean students

No (12.7%)

Yes (87.3%)

MAY 2022 | OPINIONS | 27


Freshmen on varsity teams showcase future of McLean athletics Elise walker Fact checker & copy editor

Lauren Wood, Golf


y favorite part about playing for McLean is that you get to meet friends with the same interests as you, even if you’re in different grades, and you can connect over your sport,” Wood said. “It’s really special and exciting to make varsity. I feel like all of the hard work I’ve put into the sport over the years has finally paid off.”

SUPER SWING — Lauren Wood tees off at a golf tournament this fall. Wood shot

a 91 at this season’s zone qualifier against other Liberty District teams. (Photo courtesy of Jim Henderson)


aaron chandler, baseball

he team bond is definitely my favorite part [of playing baseball]. The team is really close and it’s fun every time we are on the field or in the clubhouse,” Chandler said. “I’ve always loved baseball—there are so many little things that you don’t see unless you are playing and those are the things that make me love the game.”

GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL — Aaron Chandler plays catcher in a game against Chantilly in March. McLean Baseball currently holds a winning 9-4 record on the year. (Photo courtesy of Stewart Fruman)

Hailey Simpson, softball


oftball has taught me so many valuable life lessons, like how to handle stress, as well as how to work as a team to be successful. Playing on varsity is a great experience because it’s a new environment where I can learn from upperclassmen and improve my game,” Simpson said. “It’s a great experience because everyone on the team is inclusive and supportive.”

PERFECT PITCHING — Hailey Simpson pitches in a pre-season scrimmage against South County High School. The team subsequently won 10-2. (Photo courtesy of Kent Arnold)

28 | SPORTS | MAY 2022

Will lewey, wrestling


y favorite part is the team atmosphere. It’s really cool being a freshman on varsity because I’ve worked hard to get to be really good at my sport and it’s nice to see the hard work pay off,” Lewey said. “Wrestling has influenced me by giving me something to work for. My goal for next season is to be All-State.”

WRESTLING WINS — Will Lewey celebrates after pinning a Langley senior at his wrestling match. Lewey went on to win Districts for the 170-pound weight class. (Photo courtesy of James Ross)



y favorite part of being on cross country is the team dynamic. Being a freshman on varsity means I have to put in some extra work, but it’s all worth it. Running has taught me determination and perseverance,” Durkee said. “It takes a lot of motivation to push through during races even when you’re exhausted both mentally and physically, but cross country pushes you to overcome those challenges.”

FAST FINISH — Leah Durkee finishes her race at the state championships this October. Durkee helped her team win district and regional championships this fall. (Photo courtesy of Ed Lull)



chose this sport because my mom was an amazing swimmer when she was younger and she was an inspiration to me. My sport has shown me how to be a leader and how to push through unmotivating situations,” Hughes said. “My favorite part about swimming for McLean was having familiar faces all around me.”

SMOOTH SWIMMING — Danielle Hughes represents McLean’s swim team at the regional competition. Her 200-meter medley relay team went on to win second at the state championship, setting a new school record. (Photo courtesy of the Hughes Family)

Page design by Dania Reza

MAY 2022 | SPORTS | 29

Heading to the top Get to know the JV boys soccer team Ben Brunelle Reporter | Charles seten Copy editor

Tiago hallen Sophomore, Attacking midfielder

Ben Frechtel Freshman, RIght back

How does it feel to be captain of jv?

WHen did you start playing soccer?

A lot of people think JV doesn’t really matter, but it’s important to have JV to get the kids ready for varsity because they need to understand the passion [that comes with] playing in high school.

I started playing when I was around 5 years old. I played recreational soccer until I was 10 years old, and then I played travel.

Given the chance, would you continue playing soccer in college?

Trent Alexander-Arnold—he influenced me to go forward more and be more involved in the attack.

If I was given the opportunity to play Division I, I would take that opportunity immediately. Soccer is a passion I have, and I would love nothing more than to continue to play.

WHo do you try to model your game around? WHat is your favorite soccer team?

what is your favorite soccer team?

I’m a big fan of the Premier League. If there’s a team I have to ride with, it’s Chelsea Football Club.

Marco Garcia HEAD COACH

Owen Boykin FRESHMAN, Goalkeeper

My favorite soccer team is Adelaide United. It’s an Australian team, and I was born in Adelaide, so it’s my home team.

What are your goals for the season?

I would like my players to learn from [the season] and hopefully take away a [positive] experience and just grow as a person and as an athlete and as a student.

Who did you base your play style around growing up? There was a player named Marco Etcheverry who played for [D.C. United] in MLS. I remember watching him in the 1994 World Cup. He was a star midfielder, so he was a playmaker but he was also a goal scorer.

30 | SPORTS | May 2022

what are your goals for the season? As a goalie, I don’t have any goals yet, but I plan to score a few. The main thing I’m getting from this season is a lot more experience because this is my first year playing soccer at this level—all I played before was rec.

When did you start playing soccer? I only started playing about three years ago. I used to play football, and this is my first year of high school soccer.

Photos by Ben Brunelle & Tanner Coerr | Page design by Taylor Olson

ATHLETE OF THE ISSUE “ Dash to the finish — Caitlin Farley competes in the Virginia

Beach Invitational for winter track. Although she mainly runs in the 800-meter race, she also participates in the 400-meter and 1600-meter individual events, as well as the 4x800 relay.

CAITLIN FARLEY Field Hockey & Track My mom ran for a Division i college, so I have this competitive mindset to try and beat her times.”

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TRACK EVENT? My favorite track event is either the 800-meter individual run or the 4x800 relay. I tend to run mid-distance events, and the 800-meter is by far my favorite distance to compete in. I like running the 800 both individually and on a relay, but the relay is definitely more fun since I get to run with a team.

WHEN WAS YOUR FIRST TIME RUNNING TRACK? Winter track was my first time ever competitively running. I had originally decided to do it as conditioning for field hockey, but I really enjoyed it and decided to continue running in the spring season.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO PLAY FIELD HOCKEY? Initially, I started playing field hockey when my mom signed me up for a recreational league. I really enjoyed it, and after a couple years I joined a travel team. I loved playing the sport so much that I decided to additionally play in high school.

Is your family very active? My family is fairly active. My mom ran for a Division I college, so I have this competitive mindset to try and beat her times.

DO you like sprints or distance more? It really depends on the day for me. Personally, I don’t enjoy going on “long runs,” but I know the 100-meter dash isn’t my strongest event. Both the 400 and the 800 are technically sprint events, so I’d have to say sprints.

FAVORITE FIELD HOCKEY AND TRACK MEMORIES? My favorite field hockey memory would probably be Sunday morning practices with my friends. Sunday practices are by far my favorite practice days of the week and usually the one that most of my teammates are at. My favorite track memory would have to be our trip to the Virginia Beach Invitational. The race competition was amazing and there was so much bonding between my teammates and I.

Photo courtesy of Isabella Andreoli | Reporting & page design by Aaron Stark

May 2022 | SPORTS | 31



tell us YOUR...


dream summer vacation

Favorite Summer TReat

Favorite Summer Activity



Ice Cream

Hanging out with FRiends



Ice cream




Banana Smoothie Bowl

Coaching Tennis

Sea lion


Strawberry Shortcake Ice cream Bar

Spikeball on the Beach

sea turtle


Cookie Dough Ice CReam With Sprinkles

Summer nights outside with family







Photos & reporting by Haley Riggins | Graphics & page design by Dania Reza

MAY 2022 | SPORTS | 33

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