The Highlander - Issue One - October 2020

Page 1

Volume 65 • Issue 1 • October 2020 • McLean High School • • @MHSHighlander



Website Editor-in-Chief: News Editor:

Akash Balenalli Arnav Gupta & Nyla Marcott

Features Editors: A&E Editor:

Belen Ballard & Grace Gould Dalia Fishman

Opinions Editor:

Mackenzie Chen

Sports Editor:

Paarth Soni


School & community updates Stay in the loop with regular McLean High School and local news updates

Arts & Entertainment


Check out Highlander reporters’ takes on the freshest music, movies and TV shows.


Games & announcements Keep up to date on school athletics and national sports.


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Letter from the editors Dear McLean, With the 2020 general election quickly approaching, high school students are more politically engaged than ever. This month, The Highlander’s in-depth dives into the polarizing political climate at McLean just days before the presidential election. We hope that as you read this in-depth, you remind yourself to treat your friends, family and classmates with respect, regardless of who they vote for on Nov. 3. Despite the limitations of distance learning, our staff has been working vigorously from home over the past month to publish our first issue of the school year, and we hope you will take the chance to flip through and enjoy our other sections too. Here’s to a great year! Yours truly, Heran Essayas, Jack Shields & Marina Qu | @MHSHighlander Editors-in-Chief: Heran Essayas, Jack Shields & Marina Qu Website Editor-in-Chief: Akash Balenalli Head Designer: Taylor Olson Managing Editors: Addie Brown, Kyle Hawley, Shruthi Manimaran & Nicky Varela Copy Editors: Maya Amman Josh Bass Mackenzie Chen Arnav Gupta Gianna Russo

Social Media Manager: Layla Zaidi

Photography Editor: Katie Romhilt

Features Editors: Cc Palumbo Laine Phillips Polina Zubarev

Photographers: Akash Balenalli Dalia Fishman Sydney Gleason Cartoonists/Artists: Arin Kang Jayne Ogilvie-Russell Cameron Tebo Digital Media Editors: Layla Zaidi Polina Zubarev Designers: Akash Balenalli Ariana Elahi Chief Marketing Manager: Dua Mobin

News Editors: Maya Amman Aleena Gul Lia Vincenzo

A&E Editors: Michelle Cheng Swetha Manimaran Opinions Editors: Saisha Dani Ana Paula Ibarraran Sports Editors: Josh Bass Emily Friedman Fact Checkers: Belen Ballard Stella Keum Cc Palumbo Laine Phillips

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

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

Adviser: Lindsay B. Benedict

Editorial policy:

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

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 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.

CONTENTS on the cover



A DIVIDED HIGHLANDER McLean students divided more than ever amid 2020 election Cover photo by Katie Romhilt

news 4-5 6-7 8-9 10

Return to school plan Equity issues of online learning TJ admissions changes New modular at McLean

features 11 12-13 14 15 16-17 18 19

A student’s experience with COVID-19


Arts electives go virtual

New counselors New assistant principals


10 Qs with Ms. Pullis Highlander of the Issue: Leah Siegel

Online school tips to get motivated


a&e 30 31 32-33 34-35 36-37


Changes to college admissions process

38 TheatreMcLean hits the screen Rap refuses to support “WAP” Ben Cudmore acts in socially distanced plays Toxic beauty standards on social media Sydney Marvin racks up TikTok followers ‘17 Pacemaker Winner; ‘15, ‘19 Pacemaker Finalist; ‘15, ‘17, ‘18 All-American; ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, ‘16 First Class; Hall of Fame ‘14, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 George H. Gallup Award; ‘15 International First Place

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

‘19 Crown Finalist; ‘17, ‘18 Silver Crown Winner; ‘15, ‘16 Gold Crown Winner ‘05, ‘07, ‘12, ‘13, ‘14, ‘15, ‘16, ‘17, ‘18, ‘19 CSPA Gold Medalist

39 40-41 42

Editorial: Online classes are draining Online college tuition should be lowered Sports Crossfire: Should sports return? Media’s role in portraying pandemic

sports 43 44 45

Going back to practice Livestreaming sports & new turf coming soon Q&A with McLean athletes

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

Page design by Pran Kittivorapat | Printed by aPrintis


TEACHING TAPESTRY — Erin Kreeger teaches her physics students online while standing in her classroom. She teaches in front of a background displaying physics concepts and refers to it often. (Photo by Marina Qu)

BACK TO SCHOOL UNCERTAINTY REMAINS FCPS proposes gradual shift to in-person learning



n mid-October, selected students began the first wave of in-person instruction, and additional groups of students will be set to return every two weeks. According to the current plan, high school students are scheduled to go back beginning in February. Starting on Oct. 19, about 30 special education students and 20 teachers from McLean returned to school four days a week. To ensure their safety, all students and teachers are required to wear masks. The McLean staff has equipped classrooms with hand sanitizer and students will be able to clean their desks with wipes after class. “The special needs kids will be using the red hallway,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “[Students and teachers will] be using rooms down that art hallway where the driver’s education classrooms were and part of the silver hallway. Everybody will be pretty well spaced out.” The next few stages of the back-to-school plan include English language learners and newcomers. Certain career and technical education students, who are mostly in academy classes, will also be returning. Then, FCPS will target students by grades, starting from pre-K and kindergarten in November.


Dranesville District school board representative Elaine Tholen recommended that the school board prioritize returning students in transition grades, such as seventh, ninth and 12th grade. “We’re about to have [seniors] graduate from FCPS, and we understand the [difficulty of the] college application process and finishing up your diploma. [It’s hard] to help seniors virtually with those transitions,” Tholen said. “Seventh graders just left their elementary school, and now they’re going into middle school. Ninth graders are in the same boat. They don’t really know how their school works yet.” FCPS has taken measures to protect students and faculty as they come back. Schools have built plexiglass shields in offices, health rooms and some special education locations. “A lot of our air conditioning systems have all been reviewed to make sure that they’re working properly and that we’ve got the highest grade filters possible to try to mitigate any virus,” Tholen said. In early July, FCPS presented students and staff with the option to choose between a two-day in-person model or an all-virtual

learning commitment for the year. In the survey, McLean ranked second highest in the student participation rate—more than 70% of students chose in-person learning. Due to FCPS’s decision to go virtual, about 100 students did not return to McLean for Fall 2020, leaving McLean with a returning number of about 2,300 students as opposed to the predicted 2,400 students. According to Reilly, this number is uniform throughout the county public schools. “Parents wanted their kids to go to school, and private schools are allowing at least two days a week in person, so a lot of families chose to go do that,” Reilly said. Reilly and Tholen acknowledged the uncertainties presented with the current back to school plan, but both of them assured that if students were allowed to go back, the school would move forward with the proposed hybrid model of instruction. “We’re spending quite a bit of money on installing cameras in our classrooms. We will have the camera on in the classroom so that you might have a composition of kids that are there in person and kids that are watching it online,” Tholen said. “You might have a teacher who is virtual, and you’re sitting at

Infographic by Marina Qu | Page design by Maya Amman

McLean High School on your laptop for that particular class. Teachers, however, have more concerns about returning to school. About 55% of McLean teachers said they were willing to teach in-person, according to the July survey. Teachers who said they would prefer to do virtual learning all year cited reasons such as childcare issues or personal and family health problems that would place them at high risk for COVID-19. During the school board meeting on Oct. 15, parents and teachers voiced mixed opinions about returning to school. They expressed concerns about security issues that come with cameras in classrooms, struggles in online learning, hopes for bringing students back earlier and worries about teachers’ health and safety back at school. English teacher Anna Caponetti, as a single parent of a child with autism, said she was concerned about the selected groups of students returning to school in the gradual back-to-school plan. “I don’t think it makes sense to start now, right at the beginning of the cold and flu season,” Caponetti said. “I think that there’s some political expediency in having students return to school now in the court of public opinion. I think that that’s, unfortunately, a heavy factor that’s implementing this return before it’s time.” Some students see the benefit of the gradual back-to-school plan, especially for students with learning disabilities and children in lower grade levels. “[COVID spread] is obviously going to happen. I think it’s inevitable based on the amount of kids in the county,” junior Veronica Betancourt said. “But in the end, [going back to school] is still going to be worth it because it can be incredibly damaging to put education on hold, especially for younger

EMPTY CLASSROOM — Social studies teacher Joseph Dwyer instructs AP Psychology in an empty classroom at McLean. He chooses to teach at school despite virtual learning. (Photo by Marina Qu) kids, for over a year.” According to Caponetti, if schools were to go back, the hybrid back to school model could also potentially increase COVID-19’s community transmission. Because teachers will still meet all of their students, they will be more like to be exposed to the virus and could easily spread it to their students. Not all adults have been following the proper health precautions, and it will be even harder to enforce it among teenagers. “Half of the time students are not learning synchronously at home, they’re going to be socializing with their friends. I think it actually opens up more potential for students to practice bad behaviors that are putting us all at risk,” Caponetti said. “It’s like Russian roulette—people don’t know if they are at risk of fatal consequences because

FCPS Tentative Back-To-School Schedule Nov. 16, 2020

Nov. 30, 2020

Jan. 4, 2021

-Early Head Start -Pre-K -Grade 3-6 -Kindergarten -Secondary Public -Grade 1-2 -Intensive Support Day Programs -Specialized Career Needs Special Education Centers -Specialized -Davis and Pulley Center-based Center Programs

Feb. 1, 2021 -Grade 7-12 (and Davis and Pulley Career Centers) Students will be brought back based on the survey preference in July

nobody can know that with any degree of certainty.” The fear that students aren’t the most trustworthy when it comes to following health guidelines is a prevalent theory. “If I had a choice, I would not go back to school right now because it is so dangerous,” senior Ari Ablyazova said. “I do not trust that the students would want to wear masks at all times and social distance because the halls are small and so are the classrooms.” Although online learning may not be ideal compared to in-person school, teachers have adapted their curriculum to fit the needs and the constraints of the virtual world. “I can record my revision conferences with students and send them the link, and then they can go back and listen to it,” Caponetti said. “If they miss class, they can listen to everything that has happened. I think I have more time now to meet with students in a way that’s conducive to their growth, so that it’s not a total loss in this format—it’s not unilaterally inferior.” With the increase of “Open FCPS” yard signs appearing across the county, the difference of opinion on the return to school plan continues, even as the transition is beginning to be implemented. “I hope everyone is trying their best to stay safe,” Ablyazova said. “I hope that people are trying to make the best out of this situation but not at the expense of others.”

*Data obtained from FCPS Townhall on Oct. 19, 2020



Equity issues exacerbated by c



ADVANTAGEOUS ALTERNATIVE — Elementary students attend private learning pods in small groups that are supervised by a teacher. They get assistance with their homework to help them cope with online learning. (Photo by Dua Mobin)


s FCPS students throughout the county began the school year in front of their computers, myriad problems started to accumulate behind their screens. From lagging internet to familial responsibilities, some students face a number of disadvantages while navigating through their academics in the new virtual realm. Every household encounters its own unique set of challenges depending on its socioeconomic condition. The financial situations of students and their families can heavily impact their virtual learning experience. “Region Three [which includes pyramids such as Hayfield and Edison] is considered to be one of the poorest regions in the county. A lot of our students come from immigrant households and are part of marginalized minority groups,” John R. Lewis High School senior Kimberly Boateng said. “A lot of us have different living situations. I live in a townhouse, and I have six people in my family.” Although socioeconomic gaps have historically existed in Fairfax County, the pandemic and the introduction of virtual learning have significantly widened those gaps. “There’ll be students who are doing a lot better because they have access to a tutor or learning enrichments, and other students who don’t even have parents that are able to help them navigate through an online course,” Boateng said. One of the major concerns students have is their access to effective technology, specifically WiFi. “Sometimes the WiFi goes out, or there are connection problems, and then I’ll be late to class or I’ll miss class,” senior Shifa Zalawar said. Because of technical issues, some students are forced to take alternative methods such as switching locations in search of accessible internet. “Since [my WiFi] was messed up for a few days, I went to my aunt’s house to do school,” Zalawar said. “So I guess I had a backup plan, just in case my WiFi ever went out, but it’s just [inconvenient] for the other kids out there that don’t have a backup plan. Some kids don’t have access to WiFi at all. They have to go somewhere else like a public library. That’s terrible because public libraries aren’t even open for more than 30 minutes. So they just don’t have access to an education.” In addition to financial and technical disadvantages, a number of students are heavily laden with family responsibilities amid the pandemic. “My friend whose parents unfortunately got sick from coronavirus has been taking time off school during his senior year to take care of his family and his siblings and manage everything,” Boateng said. Page design by Ariana Elahi


y continuation of online learning ALEENA GUL NEWS EDITOR

While some students have the responsibility to take care of their family members, others are put in challenging positions as they cope with noise or distractions, like junior Auvai Ramilingam. “[My brother] plays the trumpet during my school [hours] and it is really loud and distracts me from my work,” Ramilingam said. “We are in separate rooms, but we can hear his trumpet playing throughout the house. If I’m talking to someone else in breakout groups, they can hear his trumpet playing, so I can’t talk that much in class.” Not all students have the luxury of living in big homes with more than enough accommodations. Many students struggle to find a suitable area to work away from distractions and have a hard time adjusting to their situations. “I can’t sing inside because everyone would hear me,” said senior Elizabeth Hughes, a member of the Madrigal Treble Choir. “I have to go outside to sing which can be challenging especially if the weather is not good. Treble Choir is the first period of the day so it’s pretty cold at 8 o’clock in the morning.” County officials are aware of increasing equity issues and aim to help students voice their struggles to the school board. “I think the equity issues that we’re concerned about are absolutely still relevant and if anything are even more pressing,” Fairfax County School Board member-at-large Abrar Omeish said. “We had a work session with the minority student achievement Oversight Committee

and I was really trying to push for more regular meetings because this is going to be a year when we may anticipate [many more] gaps.” Omeish said she is working to help support students from lowincome households or marginalized communities. The school board is trying to develop a plan to track this and support targeted populations of students who tend to struggle the most. “Dr. Brabrand presented three main metrics for us to consider when we open,” Omeish said. “One is the health and safety of the situation. Another one was implementation and school preparedness. And the third was school preparedness in the sense of if there’s a case and our ability to handle it. I was really pushing for a fourth metric for looking at student success metrics.” Younger elementary and middle school students who are not academically independent and are unable to receive support from home struggle to cope with their schoolwork. Some parents have resorted to paying for learning pods. “It has been wonderful for the kids because they have supervision during the school hours and [assistance] for school assignments,” said Silvia Hidalgo, a Kent Gardens Elementary School parent. “It is very beneficial for them because they have a small group with a teacher just for them.” While some students have access to these privately run pods, the majority of families do not have the finances for this resource. “The school system should provide a reliable system for everybody and make sure that everyone is getting a good education and is academically independent whether they go to a learning pod or not,” Hidalgo said. “Because if you go to a learning pod, you have to pay, so [virtual learning] is not equal for everyone.” Since students with disabilities face some of the most disadvantages in their learning, the school board plans to reopen schools for special education students before others. “They’re going to start with certain high school classes like special ed [classes], especially for students with enhanced autism as some of those kids are not receiving what they need right now,” Omeish said Although some students will be returning to school, most students facing adversity amid the pandemic are unable to receive support to aid their situation. “We’re all in the same ocean but some of us have cruise ships and some of us are in little tug boats. We’re not all in the same boat,” Boateng said. “Some of us are just struggling to stay afloat.”



Current system reveals deep-rooted education inequity

MARINA QU EDITOR-IN-CHIEF | ALEENA GUL NEWS EDITOR o increase diversity in the top-rated performers from a certain area through a hopeful that a process that bolsters STEM public high school in the country, FCPS selective admission process. experiences in earlier grades, removes introduced a merit lottery application system The intention of the proposed plans financial hurdles for families and takes for TJ’s 2021 admission cycle. Located in is to make the admission process more a more holistic view of students would Alexandria, Thomas Jefferson High School inclusive—bringing in students from all encourage more students of all backgrounds for Science and Technology (TJ) admits segments of the FCPS community. to apply and be accepted to TJ.” around 500 top students in the Northern “The current TJ admissions process has The lottery would select students based Virginia area each year. historically resulted in disproportionate on the student population in regions of FCPS The Fairfax County School Board demographics that do not represent to benefit students from underrepresented approved the elimination of standardized middle schools. Currently, Rachel Carson, testing and the $100 application fee in the Longfellow and Rocky Run Middle Schools admissions process.FCPS The county is currently top three “feeder” middle Student Population WE (FallWANT 2019) TO HELP TJ Admitted serve Class as of the 2024 deciding between a full merit lottery system, schools for TJ. Students from those three THE PIPELINE REACH a hybrid merit lottery and a holistic review. schools make up nearly half of the TJ class. ELEMENTARY SCHOOL “I believe our country—in the middle The plan sparked controversy with the of the pandemic and after the murder of Asian 19.5% AND MIDDLE SCHOOLWhite 17.7% TJ PTSA and other groups, who began George Floyd—has reached a moment where protesting against the proposed changes. TJ 37.8%MORE KIDS SOMultiracial THEY FEEL we have to with a fresh perspective to relook parent and activist Asra Nomani published White 37.8% EMPOWERED TO APPLY at equity in everything we do. We’ve had an an op-ed in The Washington Post, citing this as Black 9.8% TO TJ.” Hispanic 3.3% Asian 73.0% movement. over 25-year conversation about [improving] an “anti-Asian” Black <1% TJ admissions,” FCPS Superintendent Scott “What Fairfax County Public Schools - DIDI ELSYAD Brabrand said in a town hall about TJ’s have decided in this approach is that Asian Hispanic 26.8% admissions process on Oct. 7. “I do believe students are not a valued minority,” Nomani TJ SENIOR & CO-LEADER OF it’s time to do something other than the said in an interview with The Highlander. “So THE TJ ALUMNI ACTION GROUP Multiracial 5.7% status quo.” what you have is a whitewashing of students As a response to the Black Lives Matter their Data obtainedin from FCPSdiversity. website As a parent, that is what Movement and increasing awareness of really angered me when I started hearing that social equity issues, the Virginia Department the economic, racial and special needs kind of rhetoric.” of Education required a plan from all 18 percentages found in FCPS and throughout TJ consists of over 70% Asian students, governor’s schools, including TJ, to raise the Northern Virginia jurisdictions TJ compared to the 20% county average. diversity. Governor’s schools are magnet serves,” TJ Principal Ann Bonitatibus said According to Nomani many parents of high schools that take in top academic in an interview with The Highlander. “I am TJ students, much like herself, are first or


Two Proposed TJ Admissions Options -Both eliminate admission test and application fee -Both include a holistic review of each student

Information obtained from FCPS website


Holistic Review

Merit Lottery -Core class 3.5 GPA -Enrolled in Algebra 1 -Holistic Review -Selection by lottery based on FCPS regions proportional to enrollment

-Student Portrait of a Graduate sheet -Math/science problemsolving essay -Experience factors

Hybrid Merit Lottery -Highest evaluated students in holistic review fill 20% of seats (100 students) -Remaining 400 seats filled by merit lottery

Infographics & page design by Marina Qu

second generation immigrants, and the idea of the American Dreams led them to believe that hard work and merit can ultimately lead to success. “It’s teaching our students...that hard work is not as important and that luck is more important than hard work,” said Himanshu Verma, a data scientist and TJ parent who emigrated from India. While FCPS officials said the shift intends to reduce TJ prep classes that privilege wealthy students, some parents see it differently. “They just disparage them as having literally bought their way [into TJ]. Shaming is often used as a weapon in silencing people, and what I’ve noticed is that there is a rhetoric of shaming our students and our families,” Nomani said Nomani said she believes diversifying TJ is important but that FCPS needs to actively encourage minority students to apply to TJ. “It’s not just students—it’s also the lack of FCPS [policy],” Verma said. “They [can’t] just write information. They need to transmit passion. They need to transfer excitement [for STEM to minority students].” Racial stereotypes have caused misrepresentation for Black and Hispanic students in the applicant pool. Senior Didi Elsyad, a Sudannese immigrant and one of the few Black students at TJ, was once discouraged from applying. “In seventh grade, my history teacher overheard me talking about TJ and she was like, ‘Why are you talking about TJ? You know that school is only for smart kids, right?’ and I was like, ‘You don’t know me,’” Elsyad said. “It’s not that we’re not motivated, it’s just that we’re constantly being shoved down. I think it’s unfair to ask the students to get up every single time when they are shut down.” Encouraging more diverse students to apply to TJ is just one aspect of the issue. The lottery aims to increase equity in enrollment from the applicant pool. Statistics from TJ’s admissions portfolio for the Class of 2024 shows that 6% of applicants are Black, but they only make up 1% of the semifinalists, students who pass the admission test. “When I got the acceptance email I thought, ‘If I go to the school, I am going to be one of five or six Black people in my whole entire grade,” Elsyad said. “‘How is that going to make me feel? What are other people going to say to me? Am I going to experience racism? Am I going to have anyone to turn to when I do experience that

FCPS Student Population (Fall 2019)

Asian 19.5% White 37.8%

Black 9.8%

TJ Admitted Class of 2024

White 17.7% Multiracial 37.8% Hispanic 3.3% Black <1%

Asian 73.0%

Hispanic 26.8%

Multiracial 5.7% Data obtained from FCPS website

racism?’ and the answer, quite honestly, in most times is no.” Elsyad is the co-leader of the mentorship and Two outreach team in Proposed TJ the TJ Alumni Action Group (TJAAG), which includes TJ students Admissions Options -Both eliminate and graduates who advocate for more admission test and Merit Lottery fee diversity.application The organization is in support of -Both include a holistic the lottery -Core class 3.5 GPA review ofsystem. each student in Algebra 1 “We want to help the -Enrolled pipeline reach -Holistic Review -Selection by lottery elementary school and middle school kids so based on FCPS regions they feel more empowered to proportional apply to toTJ,” enrollment Elsyad said. “There is a cultural inclusivity Information obtained from FCPS website group that [tries to] change the toxic culture—again, encouraging people to be more thoughtful and less ignorant.” Coalition for TJ shares TJAAG’s goal of increasing diversity but opposes the lottery system. Both groups recommend the sponsorship of more STEM-related activities for underrepresented populations and have held rallies to advocate for their interests. The Coalition proposes improving the Advanced Academic Program (AAP). “Out of around 350 students who were selected in Fairfax County from the year 2022, only 22 were outside the AAP. We can do the math, so the probability of getting selected as a non-AAP student is very, very low,” said Verma, who analyzed the admission statistics. TJ’s lack of diversity is only the surface of the educational inequity that is deeply rooted in FCPS, according to Brabrand. They are looking to improve the AAP. In first and second grade, students take the NNAT and CogAT test, which are designed to measure the students’ potentials. Those tests determine student admission into the AAP, where they receive an advanced curriculum from third to eighth grade. “A vision of separating kids at such a young age and telling them, ‘OK, this group is smart, this group isn’t’—that’s going to shatter your self-confidence, and you’re

developing that self-confidence at such a young age,” Elsyad said. “If you have to spend third through sixth grade being told constantly, ‘I’m in the dumb class, all the smart kids are in this other class,’ what happens is that [in middle school] Holistic Reviewthey don’t -Student Portrait of have the confidence to really step up [to take a Graduate sheet -Math/science problemhonors classes] and applysolving to TJ.” essay -Experience factors In certain elementary schools in FCPS, sixth grade students in general education Hybrid Merit classes are not allowed to take the IOWA Lottery Test, which could place them into Algebra I -Highest evaluated students in holistic in seventh grade and therefore prevent them review fill 20% of seats (100 students) from being admitted to TJ and from taking -Remaining 400 seats advanced math in high school. filled by merit lottery “In Virginia, some of the AAP program was actually [established] shortly after the schools went through periods of required integration,” Fairfax County School Board member-at-large Abrar Omeish said. “Elected officials here decided they were going to resist it and find new ways without racially charged language to discriminate. And the AAP was one of the things that came out of that.” Some parents recommend the county to address the inequity surrounding STEM education across different high schools. “Fairfax County is not getting that there’s a significant demand for STEM courses,” Verma said. “[The county] needs more science and technology courses, rather than a lottery. We need our existing high schools to be able to become as good in their science and technology as TJ and be able to offer more advanced courses in STEM.” TJ’s principal is confident a bout the outcome of the proposed plan. “I am hopeful [about the lottery],” Bonitatibus said. “A process that bolsters STEM experiences in earlier grades, removes financial hurdles for families and takes a more holistic view of students would encourage more students of all backgrounds to apply and be accepted to TJ.” OCTOBER | NEWS | 9



In a typical school year, students would be complaining about the overcrowding at McLean. From the hallways that are nearly impossible to walk through, to the packed classrooms, McLean’s building has exceeded its capacity. To help alleviate this issue, trailer classrooms were added several years ago, but the learning environment in the trailers is sub-par compared to the classrooms in the building. To improve the learning experience, the FCPS Design and Construction team began building a new modular unit to expand McLean’s campus and improve the learning environment. “[The modular] will provide 12 classrooms, have a couple of offices for the teachers and will be like an extra wing to the building, just not connected,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. The modular will have bathrooms for both students and teachers, which will eliminate the need for students in those classes to walk to the building in order to access a bathroom. Construction started in March, after school went virtual for the rest of the year.

MODULAR CONSTRUCTION UNDERWAY New 12-classroom unit will be an upgrade from old trailers

Before the project began, the old trailers were moved to the tennis courts in order to clear up space for the construction. According to FCPS Coordinator of Facilities Improvements Paul Scott, the new modular will be around 13,600 square feet with a total project cost of approximately $2 million. Scott said the projected date of project completion is early January 2021. World language classes and offices will be located in the modular, and teachers in other departments who taught in the trailers will return to classrooms in the main building. “Most kids only take one language class,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “If you’re taking a language class, you’re only going out there [two or] three days a week, so it won’t [cause] such an impact in going back and forth from the [main building] out to the modular [for multiple classes].”

FULL COURT STRESS — The old trailers were moved to the tennis courts to make room for the modular. After construction ends, the tennis courts will be replaced. “The court is old, making it really slippery and dangerous,” junior tennis player Tommy Lam said. 10 | NEWS | OCTOBER

The modular is meant to be temporary, so when the building has adequate space for all classrooms, the modular unit can be relocated. Scott noted that the last time McLean High School was renovated was in 2005, and FCPS is currently operating on a 37-year renovation cycle, so the modular may be around for quite some time. Though the modular construction will not do much to alleviate overcrowding, since it contains the same number of classrooms as the old trailers did, it will provide a better environment for students and staff when McLean fully reopens, which is projected to happen in February 2021. The administration has high hopes for the new modular. “In the next couple of weeks, everything should start going up—we’re ordering furniture, we’re getting it all set,” Reilly said. “It should be a lot nicer than the trailers.”

BUILDING BEGINS — Construction workers build the base of the modular on the blacktop, where the trailers used to sit. The modular is projected to be completed in early January 2021. Photos by Andy Chung | Page design by Akash Balenalli




can still hear the thermometer beeping rapidly. 99.0. My temperature was higher than usual, but surely it was nothing to worry about. As I drove to a nearby basketball court, ready to put up some shots for the day, I could tell that something was off. My head was pulsating and I felt very sleepy. Thinking that I was tired from staying up late the night before, I proceeded to tie my shoes and start practicing. With every dribble and every shot I took, it felt as if my energy was leaving my body. My mouth started to dry up, even after drinking half a gallon of water. At this point I knew there was something wrong with me and called my dad to pick me up. Sitting out in the open on a scorching summer day, I could feel lines of sweat pouring down my body, but for some reason I was shivering. Thankfully, I made it home soon after that. “How are you feeling?” My parents checked on me. Now, in this situation it would have been best to tell my parents that I was feeling sick and should get tested. But instead, I pulled the “I’m just tired” line and headed off to bed, thinking I’d feel better in the morning. Oh, man, I regret that. I woke up the next morning with a 100-degree fever. As soon as I told my parents, they made me quarantine inside my room and scheduled an appointment later that day for a COVID-19 test. It was crazy to think that I was about to get tested for a virus that had closed down the entire U.S. economy and killed thousands, but nothing was really going through my mind. The only symptoms that I had were a low fever and body aches. I mean, I’ve had the flu, and it was way worse than this virus was for me. I wasn’t stressed throughout the whole process. However, I realized it was because I had gotten lucky. After a few days, my results came back as positive. I was not Environmental portrait by Paarth Soni | Page design by Marina Qu

allowed to leave my room. Since my parents were exposed to me, they had to quarantine inside the house as well. Luckily, my parents ended up being safe, but one of my friends tested positive for COVID as well. Talking to him on the phone, he was miserable. He was feeling dizzy, nauseous, had body aches and even had a fever. I was sitting in my room with no symptoms. Around three days later, he felt better, thankfully. But despite that, we both couldn’t believe that we had the virus. It was honestly the weirdest feeling, since you hear people talking about COVID all the time and you see it in the news but could never imagine yourself having it. We were both thankful that we didn’t have to be hospitalized and that our lungs weren’t affected. Once my health was back at 100 percent, the two weeks began. Spending these next two weeks locked in my room was probably the most demoralizing part of the entire process. It really felt like a prison. My parents would bring food to my room only three times a day and made sure to cover their faces when walking in. On top of that, I was not allowed to step outside or exercise. I was glad that I had my Xbox to keep me company during these times and would either play that or be on my phone. Some people like spending all their time at home, but I was just happy when it was all over. Taking that first step outside after remaining indoors for two weeks felt so refreshing. All of this could have been prevented if I was social distancing and didn’t go out to play pickup basketball. You see, for the first three months of the lockdown, I did a great job of limiting the number of people I came into contact with. However, after Phase One of Virginia’s re-opening, I became a lot more lax and would play basketball at courts where there would be 30-40 people. Regardless, I learned my lesson, and the whole experience taught me not to take the things I have for granted. OCTOBER | FEATURES | 11

JOINING THE SESSION: NEW COUNSELORS AT MCLEAN DOG LOVER — Jenny Fernandez takes a selfie with her family dog, Milo. She couldn’t bring Milo to her apartment in Virginia, so he stays with her family in New Jersey. (Photo courtesy of Jenny Fernandez)



ven though this is Jenny Fernandez’s first year as a counselor at McLean, she already has a sense of familiarity in her new role. “I had my internship here last year, so I kind of had a pre-glimpse. Then, Ms. You announced that she was leaving, and things just fell into place,” Fernandez said. Student Services was fortunate to have Fernandez as an intern before school turned completely virtual, allowing her to bond with students before taking on a full-time position. “It was great because she interned with Ms. You and got to know quite a few of her students before she was even hired,” Director of Student Services Paul Stansbery said. During her internship, Fernandez demonstrated outstanding skills that would later land her a job at McLean. “She took a lot of initiative, shared good ideas with our team and went well above what was expected,” Stansbery said. Fernandez has prior experience working in schools, but not as a counselor. “I actually became a teacher first, and I loved everything to do with learning with students and spending time with students,” Fernandez said. “I [originally taught] elementary school, and I really loved it.” While fulfilling an early career as a teacher, Fernandez realized that she was more intrigued by the world of counseling.


“I actually taught English abroad in Taiwan, and I felt like mental health was not a big topic of conversation with students. I found myself talking to parents a lot and including them in what was happening in school, and that’s what a counselor does,” Fernandez said. “So I decided to get my masters in counseling at [George Washington University], and I just felt like that was the best fit for me.” Her experience teaching and her passion for helping students with their mental health has been crucial in adapting to her new role as a counselor. “I think [teaching and counseling] are intertwined in that you need patience, empathy, understanding and an open mind,” Fernandez said. Like many students and teachers, Fernandez misses the human interaction that was common during an in-person school day. “It’s like a ghost town. It’s eerie,” Fernandez said. “I see some teachers here and there, but it’s so quiet. I’m excited to be in a lively environment again and able to connect with students in real life. ” Even though she can’t meet with students in person, she wants to give all students a key piece of advice. “Be a strong self advocate. That is such a strong tool in life when it comes to setting your own boundaries with family and friends, in your work life and in your future school life,” Fernandez said. “Have that confidence to be your own self advocate because no one can know you as much as you do.”

Q&A with Jenny Fernandez What do you like to do in your free time? I’ve been going to the gym and hiking, and I just moved to Tysons.

What is your dream vacation? My dream vacation is Hawaii or any island or beach.

What is one thing you learned over quarantine? I learned how to make whipped coffee. I saw a video of it and immediately went downstairs and got all the ingredients. I’ve been trying to cook different meals more. Page design by Heran Essayas

Introducing Jenny Fernandez and Amber Simpkins as they navigate their first year at McLean SIGHTSEEING SIMPKINS — Amber Simpkins poses while visiting Tulum, Mexico, in 2015. She loves to travel and normally takes a trip every year. (Photo courtesy of Amber Simpkins)



mber Simpkins is no stranger to the world of working with students. Though she began her first year of high school counseling this fall, her previous experience with children provided her with the necessary foundation to become a counselor at McLean. Simpkins obtained an undergraduate degree in psychology and worked with elementary school students at an after-school program for 15 years. Originally wanting to become a social worker, Simpkins decided to switch careers to counseling. “I was constantly interacting with kids and giving resources to parents and communicating with teachers,” Simpkins said. “So I was like, why not just become a school counselor? I mean, that’s what they do anyway.” After completing her graduate degree in counseling at George Mason University this past spring, Simpkins set out to find a job. McLean appealed to her because the students are driven in terms of both academics and extracurriculars, a balance Simpkins believes is crucial for high school students. At first, her transition into being a counselor was difficult because of her increased workload. Simpkins persevered because she loves working with the McLean staff and students. “When I came, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a lot of work.’ It’s a lot of emails that I’m answering every single day. But as

time went on, and I was able to manage my time and do what I needed to do, things kind of slowed down for me,” Simpkins said. “I mean, I love my job; I love what I’m doing right now. I love being at McLean.” Stansbery has been working with Simpkins to answer any questions she has, and he acknowledges the hard work she has put in to adjust to McLean in an online setting. “Simpkins was hands down the best candidate that we interviewed in our second interview process of last spring,” Stansbery said. “In addition to her caring and positive energy, she had a very calming demeanor and a good sense of humor.” While Simpkins continues to become acquainted with the McLean atmosphere and interacts with more of her students, she wants to emphasize her availability through office hours and emails to answer any questions students may have. “Whether it be academic, social or emotional, I’m here to assist,” Simpkins said. Simpkins wants her students to feel comfortable reaching out to her so they can build a strong relationship. She hopes to support her students as they make decisions about their future. “Be true to yourself and think about the things you want to do and where you want to be, and then implement those things now,” Simpkins said. “Surround yourself with good people who are like-minded, who want to do the same things as you or have the same drive as you.”

Q&A with Amber Simpkins What do you like to do in your free time? I exercise almost every day, and I like to watch a lot of reality TV. It may not be the best, but I like to watch a lot of Housewives and shows like that.

What is your dream vacation? The best place that I went to was Jamaica.

What is one thing you learned over quarantine? I’ve really forced myself to cook every day because I like eating out. I have a few meals that I can cook, so I would eat baked salmon or chicken with rice and broccoli. OCTOBER | FEATURES |13


Monica Charles-Williams


reviously working at Westfield High School as a dean of students, Monica Charles-Williams joined the Highlander staff as an assistant principal this school year. “The number one reason I came to

Rob Plunkett


ob Plunkett, a former McLean social studies teacher, returned as an assistant principal after five years of working at Longfellow Middle School. “I got a phone call and was presented with the opportunity, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I


McLean High School was that I really love the community. I love how this school encompasses leadership in everything that you do,” Charles-Williams said. “Also, Ellen Reilly is amazing as a principal. It wasn’t hard to choose a school—I’m looking for leadership, and she is one of the best.” Becoming an assistant principal was a new opportunity that Charles-Williams was more than eager to take. “With being an assistant principal, I get to still be a part of the school system. It’s just something about the high schools, the students and the mature issues they bring,” Charles-Williams said. “All those reasons led me to choose becoming a high school assistant principal over middle or elementary school.” During her time at McLean, CharlesWilliams is determined to make a difference in the McLean community and help as many students as possible.

“I see myself being here for a while,” Charles-Williams said. “I believe everything is happening for a reason. I’m here to learn; I’m here to lead and serve my purpose. However long that takes, I’ll be here.” Outside of school, Charles-Williams loves spending time with her family, relaxing at home and eating food from all over the world. “I love food. I feel like naming one is like disrespecting all the other greats,” CharlesWilliams said. “I love Italian, Thai and Mexican, but it’s so hard for me to decide.” Charles-Williams’ main goal for this year is to inspire and encourage students to explore, learn and live life to the fullest. “With a crazy pandemic over us, I am going to leave you with my favorite quote that applies now more than ever,” CharlesWilliams said. “‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.’”

would love to work with Dr. Reilly and the team over there,’” Plunkett said. “And what’s even cooler is that the students who are here are the students that I had at Longfellow.” Plunkett is happy to be back in the high school environment. “High school is great because when you have high schoolers, they’re practically adults, and you can have conversations with them that you may not necessarily be able to have with someone who’s 12,” Plunkett said. “High school is like a small community—we call it the Highlander nation for a reason. Everyone here has this sense of community, and that’s something that I truly enjoy about the high school experience.” In a virtual world, for Plunkett, the worst part of his job is the lack of student interaction. “Honestly, it’s just odd being in a school without any students. I didn’t get into this job to sit in front of a computer for seven hours—I got into this job because I wanted to see people’s faces. We’re all wearing face

masks, so if someone’s smiling, you would never know, and it’s just so surreal,” Plunkett said. “When we get to the point when everyone can come back, I think that’s going to be probably the greatest celebration that we’ve had in a very long time around here.” Outside of school, Plunkett is very involved with athletics and is a huge sports fan. “I officiate high school football and have had this post for the past 22 years,” Plunkett said. “I also, among other things, am the referee trainer for McLean Youth Basketball and have been for seven years.” Plunkett encourages McLean students to remember where they all came from during this challenging year. “Just because this year is different doesn’t mean that we’re not all part of a community. It doesn’t mean that we’re not Highlanders,” Plunkett said. “It just means that we’re not in the same place at the same time. But that doesn’t change who we are, and it doesn’t change how amazing we are.”

Photos courtesy of Rob Plunkett & Monica Charles-Williams | Page design by Ariana Elahi

10 Qs with Jess Pullis (English Teacher)

Reporting by Khushi Rana Photos courtesy of Jess Pullis Page design by the Highlander staff

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How have you been getting to know your students? Being able to chat with kids in office hours has been hugely helpful. Honestly, the best way for me to form connections has been when students come for help or questions.

Tell us about your cat! I’ve had Agnes for about two years, but we don’t know how old she is because I adopted her from a rescue, and she has a lot of health problems that make it hard to guess an age. She’s a dwarf cat, so she has teeny tiny legs and a little stubby tail.

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What was your favorite Hallowen costume? Halloween is my favorite holiday. I’m actually going to say that my costume for this year is my favorite. I’m working on putting together a Coraline costume with a blue wig, star sweater and shiny blue boots. Why is being a vegan important to you? I love animals. It feels like the best choice for animals and the planet, which is really important to me. What’s your favorite hair color that you’ve had? I had my hair bright neon coral for a while and I think that was my favorite. I have the coolest hairstylist ever, so I like giving her the chance to play with crazy colors. They feel very natural to me. What is your favorite movie and why? My favorite movie of all time is The Devil Wears Prada—I can quote every line. Even still, it makes me laugh every time. What’s a secret/hidden talent that you have? I wish I had a quirkier answer for this… I can sing? I can wiggle my ears?

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What has been the hardest part of starting at Mclean while it’s virtual? The hardest part is not getting to see students and teachers in person. It’s much harder to build connections through the screen. What book has been most influential on your life? I think I would say Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. It was eye-opening, and it changed the way I taught AP Lang. I’ve seen so many students engage with it, which really makes me appreciate it more.


What were you like in high school? I was definitely an overachiever. I took all AP classes, was president of a bunch of clubs, and probably tried to do way too much. I was really into theater and choir.


Youth climate activist Leah Siegel organizes protest against U.S. Attorney General POLINA ZUBAREV FEATURES EDITOR


total of 10 protestors sat waiting in front of Attorney General William Barr’s house at six o’clock in the morning. With five days of rigorous planning behind her, junior Leah Siegel was ready to confront Barr. Siegel is a member of the Sunrise Movement, a national organization of youth climate activists. She also founded the McLean chapter for Sunrise several months ago. Throughout her life, Siegel has attended numerous protests—more than she can count—and has remained politically active. “The earliest protests that we started going to were in 2017,” her older brother, Jeremy Siegel, said. “I think, just as a whole, even our grandparents, aunts, uncles— everyone [in our family]—is very political. It’s just something we grew up with.” Siegel admires how protests are public and allow anyone to participate to voice their opinions. “The right to protest is an extremely 16 | FEATURES | OCTOBER

powerful and important thing. [Protesting] connects people to a greater cause and gets the word out about certain issues,” Siegel said. As the founder of the Sunrise McLean chapter, Siegel leads the group and its members. “It’s not a new thing for [Leah] to be a leader. She’s very vocal about almost everything she does,” Siegel’s brother said. “She brings genuinely good leadership to... the McLean chapter and the overall Sunrise Movement.” On Aug. 18, Siegel joined members of Sunrise McLean and leaders of other local activist organizations in front of Barr’s home in McLean to protest. “We specifically targeted William Barr because he does not uphold democracy and justice in our country, even though he is supposed to do that as the Attorney General of the Department of Justice,” Siegel said. Barr, a Republican attorney, is serving his second term as Attorney General under President Trump and has received criticism. The Attorney General’s primary

role is to act as the head of the Department of Justice, which Siegel and other members of Sunrise believe Barr has not fulfilled, especially regarding the handling of the Mueller report. The Mueller report documented former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible interference in the 2016 election. Confronting Barr was nothing new for Sunrise. The organization specifically targets high profile figures in order to bring a greater level of awareness to certain issues. “[The Attorney General is] a figure that [people] vaguely know, but it’s not a figure that they pay attention to, so that was also one of the main motivations for the protest,” Siegel said. While the protestors met around 6 a.m., they remained silent for an entire hour to abide by a Fairfax County noise ordinance that Siegel had researched. As soon as the hour was up, the protestors began chanting, reciting speeches and banging pans at high volumes. “The moment it hit 7, [all of the protestors there thought], ‘OK, we can make noise now,’” said junior Clare A’Hearn, who helped Siegel plan the event. “We all collectively were like, ‘We got this— this is the moment we’ve been waiting for to get our message across.’” Barr made an appearance, only to quickly sneak out of a side door of his house to get in his car. He did not acknowledge Siegel or her team. “Around 7:30, he came out of his house and went to his car. At that point, we were specifically...yelling to him, saying, ‘You need to fix this, this is your responsibility, come face us,’” Siegel said. Equipped with a megaphone gifted to

Photos by Clare A’Hearn & Bobby Monacello | Page design by Akash Balenalli

her by her family, Siegel recited a prepared speech directed to Barr. “The passion really shone through [when she spoke],” A’Hearn said. “I was standing right next to her, and she really meant every word of what she was saying. With the fact that climate justice is being ignored, there was a tone of desperation too in her words.” While Siegel was the main speaker at the protest, she also did the majority of the organization and planning with the help of A’Hearn. “I definitely felt nervous [planning the protest], but also excited,” Siegel said. “It was stressful and nerve-racking organizing everything from the art build to getting people to show up.” One of the major meetings that Sunrise McLean had to organize prior to the protest was an “art build,” which served as a time to create posters to bring to the protest. Members of the protest also went through a training to make sure that everyone would be fully prepared for the protest. “The art build was just to make all of our signs,” Siegel said. “Because we are so new and don’t have much of a budget, they were kind of amateur signs made with just spray paint and cardboard.” Although she was hoping for a larger group, Siegel was still satisfied with the 10

Sunrise members and activist leaders who came to the protest. “Getting people to come out early in the morning, on a work day, in the suburbs... is pretty difficult just because people need to think about getting there and...about coronavirus as well,” Siegel said.

we live in a privileged area that can afford to ignore problems, and that needs to change.”

-Leah Siegel

The art build, training and hours of planning seemed to pay off, as Siegel and A’Hearn reported that the protest went smoothly and without any of the major issues that they had researched and made plans to avoid. “I think that the protest did go really well. Some neighbors obviously weren’t too happy about it, but at the same time it’s to

raise public attention,” Siegel said. “We live in a privileged area that can afford to ignore problems, and that needs to change.” Siegel is dead set on continuing to advocate for the climate and working with the Sunrise Movement. “Right now before the election, [Sunrise is] focusing on phone banking and getting out the vote to help Green New Deal champions get elected,” Siegel said. “So for now, [protesting is] kind of put on hold, but later in the year there will definitely be more actions.” Siegel’s passion for the issues that she cares about, like climate change, will always shine through. “She’s definitely going to stay political no matter what she does,” Siegel’s brother said. “It’ll probably change in terms of what she wants her career path to be, but I’ve always heard her talk about becoming a lawyer or politician or [continuing with] activism.” With support from her family and friends, Siegel is looking forward to planning and attending more protests in the future. “All the adults in my life were proud of the protest I organized. My parents were supportive of the protest from the beginning, offering help [and advice],” Siegel said. “I think my future will definitely include more protesting, especially after coronavirus.”

Waking William Barr The process to find Barr’s McLean home address was an easy one for Siegel. “The address of William Barr is public record—you can just go through property tax databases and find all the properties that were bought and sold in the area,” Siegel said.



Colleges offer virtual tours, make tests optional SANGMIN SONG REPORTER


he Class of 2021 has seen several changes to the college admissions process as COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country. In-person college campus tours that most students look forward to were canceled and held virtually. “There were no official campus tours this year, so I used the online tours that some schools featured on their websites,” senior Hayden Formica said. “While they were better than nothing, I found them nowhere near as helpful as an actual tour.” McLean’s college visits also went virtual this year. “We are in the middle of our virtual college visit schedule of over 150 colleges,” said Laura Venos, the college and career center specialist for McLean. “The visits connect students directly to the admissions representatives who read McLean applications, and students are receiving the same information they would in the career center.”


Before the pandemic, standardized testing scores, which include the SAT and the ACT, were required for first-year applicants. at most colleges However, as testing centers closed and the exams were canceled, a majority of colleges and universities announced that they will have optional test policies for Fall 2021 admissions. “Most colleges are allowing the class of 2021 to apply ‘test-optional.’ This means that students can decide whether to apply with SAT/ACT scores,” Venos said. “Many seniors did not have an opportunity to prepare for and take a standardized test for college admissions, and most colleges recognize that and are not penalizing students.” Seniors throughout Fairfax County were able to take the SAT during the school day on Sept. 23. The fees for the test were paid for by FCPS, and classes were held asynchronously for the whole day. “I was scheduled to take the SAT in August and assumed earlier in the spring that things would return somewhat to normalcy by August,” senior Ryan Sim said. “I couldn’t have been more wrong, unfortunately, but still got a chance thanks to the SAT McLean offered to its seniors.” In order to give students sufficient time to prepare for college, many colleges are extending their application deadlines. “Writing the essays has been a huge pain as it’s been tough being able to balance out with schoolwork, but extended deadlines helped me portion parts of the day to do both tasks,” Sim said. Regardless of the situation, seniors have full support and all of the usual

resources available to keep them on track. “We want seniors working on their college applications to focus on a ‘stress less’ approach,” Venos said. “Make sure your list is well-balanced, make sure you stay organized and don’t wait until the last minute.”




Due to the rapidly evolving application processes and requirements for each college, Venos advises checking regularly for updates. “The only changes happening at this time are more colleges going test-optional, and the best source for that information will be the colleges’ websites,” Venos said. “The weekly Student Services Newsletter is emailed to all students and parents each week, so all students should check their email every day.” For juniors, Venos suggests they start getting ready for the college application process they will go through next school year. “Don’t panic! Think about which colleges you would like to visit and go on their websites to see if they’re offering socially distanced tours, and you can also participate in their online programs to learn more,” Venos said. “Juniors should leisurely start their self-exploration and research with tons of support from me and the school counselors.”

Cartoon by Cameron Tebo | Page design by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

MANAGING MENTAL MOTIVATION Highlanders share tips on how to stay motivated and successful during distance learning






Avoid taking classes and doing schoolwork in bed. “When kids do their schoolwork in bed, it becomes really easy for them to snuggle up and close their eyes,” Forrest said.


In an isolated environment, it is important to get enough exercise, especially walking. “The process of moving your body forward is very good for releasing stress,” science teacher Catherine Hott said. “Physical forward movement helps create mental forward movement so that you can see your next step.”

ABSOLUTE GOALS Set goals and find the reasons behind them. “For students to feel motivated, they have to think why,” Hott said. “Buy into the idea that motivation is an important thing to develop and stay in tune with.”

STOP SCROLLING Take scheduled breaks throughout the day and try to maximize time off screen. “[After school,] I force myself not to look at another screen for 1530 minutes,” school psychologist Carol Ann Forrest said. She prefers going outside on walks, talking with friends or listening to audiobooks while reminding herself that part of the reason she’s doing it is to give her eyes a break.


Taking time to journal for a couple minutes can help relieve stress. Hott said that what you write does not matter—put down whatever thoughts you have in your head. Page design by Akash Balenalli

Set some time after school for personal activities. “After school is over, have stuff to maybe go out on a walk, watch a movie or do [some other] activity,” sophomore Tabasum Chowdhury said. “Make plans ahead so you have something to look forward to; [it will help] you get through school with much more energy and positivity.”


Hott recommends the Pomodoro method, in which you work for 25 minutes and take a 5- to 10-minute break afterwards. If you’re in a productive slump, try the 10-minute rule—promise to only work on that one assignment for 10 minutes. You’ll most likely want to continue working, but if not, move on to the next assignment. Over time, these methods can make you feel more driven.

OCEAN OF OPTIMISM Remind yourself that many of the things happening now are temporary. “Understand that it’s not forever and it’ll pass…people will get over it,” Chowdhury said. “Everything will go back to normal—maybe not the normal we know now—but it will become less hectic.”


Use meditation apps like Headspace and Calm in order to calm down and decompress. Work timer apps can also improve focus. When it comes to setting clear objectives, use list-making apps or hand-write lists and outlines. OCTOBER | FEATURES | 19

COOPED UP WITH CLAY Ceramics students learn the ways of clay from makeshift home art studios MACKENZIE CHEN COPY EDITOR


n the future, 2020 will be known as the year that pushed students to challenge the limits to their learning against all odds, and that couldn’t be more true than in McLean’s ceramics classes. In order to help ceramics students make the transition from an interactive working environment to a disconnected online setting, ceramics teacher Christina Carroll spent the summer exploring technological resources and strategizing how she could keep her students creatively stimulated. “I’ve been working with all the ceramics teachers in Fairfax County, trying to problem-solve all the issues that will arise from ceramics,” Carroll said. Because she still wanted her students to have a fulfilling experience in her class, Carroll was determined to distribute clay to her students. “On Sept. 14, I passed out 2,000 pounds of clay,” Carroll said. “I think it’s pretty amazing that about 98% of the McLean students from my class showed up on that day and picked up their [materials].” Despite the accommodations Carroll has made to guarantee that her students will have a great experience in ceramics, she has been surprised by her class’s significantly slower pace. In order to make the learning process as smooth as possible, she modified her curriculum by minimizing the coursework. “We’ve been slowly going over [the basics], such as how to set up a studio in their homes and how to clean up after themselves, as [both concepts] are very important to [ceramics],” Carroll said. Carroll had to make tough decisions, specifically in regards to eliminating glazing, a process that is used to color, decorate or waterproof clay. Instead, students will be using acrylic glaze patinas or surface treatments. “Glazings require too much work from the kids, as they would have to constantly drop off their work at school, and the cost factor would be unbelievable for the sheer magnitude of [students] who would need it,” Carroll said. She expects her classes to cooperate as 20 | FEATURES | OCTOBER

SLAY THE CLAY — ­­ Through her online classroom, ceramics teacher Christina Carroll educates her students about the basics of molding clay. To ensure no one is left behind, she carefully walks her classes through the entire process, making sure that everyone understands what she is doing at every step of the way. (Photo courtesy of Christina Carroll) she navigates through the ups and downs of distance learning. One requirement that she has for students is to turn their cameras on so she can monitor their progress. “[Ceramics] is very much a visual thing, so they have to keep their cameras on to show me their work,” Caroll said. “The students constantly are angling their cameras, [which allows me to] see what they are doing and try to help them out if needed.” Although Carroll can more easily anticipate her students’ needs because they are visible, some still run into difficulties when attempting to execute their projects. “It can sometimes be frustrating to pick up a new technique with the clay through online study,” junior Susan Shobeiri said. “Typically, Ms. Carroll would help us each individually position our hands, but instead, she is limited to verbal instruction and what she can see through the camera.” To help students combat these challenges, Carroll has notably increased her online presence, whether it be answering questions during after-school meeting sessions or responding more quickly to emails from frantic students.

“I’m hoping to utilize Mondays to help them out a little bit more, not just during my office hours,” Carroll said. “I just want to help them and guide them.” Even in the somewhat isolated online learning environment, Carroll’s classes have benefited immensely from her efforts to foster meaningful connections among students. They collaborate and try to assist each other in any way possible when the teacher is unavailable. “[Ceramics] is a class where you should suggest ideas to help others out,” senior Robin Carleton said. “Students might say to their struggling peers, ‘Oh, this strategy helped me a lot on this project, so maybe you should try it.’” Carroll looks forward to seeing her students every day and making magic with clay. She wants to be able to help her students maximize their potential and become confident with their craft. “My goal is to show everybody that [my ceramics students] can be successful [in a virtual setting],” Carroll said. “That’s just my kind of attitude, and at the end of the year, I’m going to be like, ‘Yep, we all did it.’”

WHAT ARE OTHER ARTS ELECTIVES UP TO? APERTURE IN PROGRESS — Junior Hallie Kerrigan works on an assignment for her photography class while adjusting to a different editing platform. “[Even though] my teacher has made [online] learning easier, it’s difficult to [get things done] because we don’t have access to resources, such as Adobe Photoshop, that we would normally use at school,” Kerrigan said. (Photo courtesy of Hallie Kerrigan)

BANDING TOGETHER ­­— To make the most of her time at home, junior Julia Tan is using SmartMusic, a program meant to simulate an entire ensemble accompanying a student’s part in a piece, to help her learn new songs. “I think because of the lag, it’s impossible to play as a band, so rather than hearing a metronome click, it’s nice to hear a blend of instruments,” Tan said. (Photo courtesy of Julia Tan)

STRINGED SUCCESS — Arlen Bermudez-Morejon, Arav Mathapati, Zoe Evans and Faith Whare record themselves playing their string instruments in their homes. Orchestra teacher Starlet Smith edited the videos together to create a collage of beautiful melodies. “[My classes] learned a lot about intonation, rhythm and playing styles,” Smith said. (Photo courtesy of Starlet Smith)

Page design by Ariana Elahi




McLean students polarized more KYLE HAWLEY MANAGING EDITOR






ollowing months of a deadly, uncontrolled pandemic and cries for justice and equity from marginalized groups in the U.S., Fairfax County was set to begin the new virtual school year. Excited for the start of their senior year, a friend group from Marshall High School posted a first day of school photo waving a campaign flag in support of President Donald Trump. Despite the hostility towards conservatives and Trump supporters over the summer, Marshall seniors Finn Gillespie, Luke Plawin, Gavin Kelbaugh and Caleb Cook posted the now-infamous picture on Instagram, where it spread quickly, sparking county-wide controversy. “When the photo was taken we did not even think about it being sent around on social media. And we definitely had no idea it would


receive the amount of backlash that it did or that people would even be offended,” Gillespie said. “This was all really a spur of the moment decision when a friend pulled up and happened to have the flag.” Most notably, the photo was re-posted on a popular Virginia-based hip-hop news account, @vahiphopandnews. The post gained about 1,600 likes and was flooded with aggressive comments targeting the boys. Some of the comments even came from their classmates. “After the post blew up on the [hip-hop news] page, I read comments from friends I used to be close with calling us Trumpers, MAGA boys or straight up saying things like, ‘We don’t claim them,’” Gillespie said. “That’s not even mentioning the death threats some of my other friends in the picture have received, including one of my friends whose address was leaked in the comments.”

Additional reporting by Dua Mobin


re than ever amid 2020 election As former friends and other Fairfax County students attempted to publicly shame the group, they were determined to not cave to the harassment. Their families and friends showed support for them, regardless of their own party alignment. “My friends and family both supported me during it and understand the right of having your own opinion. They also support me in standing up for what I believe in,” Kelbaugh said. Much like their Democratic counterparts, the Marshall seniors wanted to express their conservative political ideologies. “On social media, at Marshall High School, there’s some students that were posing with these big Trump signs on a truck, and that got a lot of students angry,” school board member emeritus Ryan McElveen said. “At the end of the day, you know, there are free speech protections, and those students had every right to be doing that.” McElveen graduated from Marshall in 2004. Aware of the liberal majority throughout Northern Virginia, the Marshall seniors point to a lack of political understanding as the reason for the divide within the community. “The political divide at Marshall and all around FCPS is extremely left leaning and I believe way too one-sided. This can cause young people who aren’t that politically educated to automatically assume all Republicans are racist and terrible people,” Gillespie said. “To me,

Page design by Heran Essayas & Taylor Olson

this is just sad that we are living in a world where being a Republican is considered repulsive to a large portion of the population.” The attacks from fellow classmates and students fueled the Marshall students’ frustration with the divide. They said they do not care that a majority of FCPS students are liberal, but they want the school system to create a more politically tolerant county. “Northern Virginia is one of the most Democratic areas in the nation, so I understand why people are so extreme in their views. However, I believe FCPS does not do anything to promote healthy political conversation, nor do they emphasize the importance of different opinions in politics,” Plawin said. “If all Americans agreed on everything, we wouldn’t have politics—it would just be a relentless echo chamber. That being said, kids need to learn that it is OK to disagree as long as you are respectful in doing so.” The discontent these students feel is not solely found on social media, but also in the classroom. “I’ve been told my opinion isn’t valid because of my race and skin color in a class discussion, and the teacher told the student, ‘Oh sweet pea, you can’t say that,’” Plawin said. “If roles were reversed and I told a minority their opinion was invalid because of their race and sex, which I never have nor would I do, I would be sent to the principal’s office. As long as teachers live by these double standards, and the


administration allows them, nothing will change.” As the country nears the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, the split is worsening. While many accuse the incumbent administration for dividing the country, the Marshall seniors say that both sides of the aisle are to blame. “I personally think Trump does not help lessen the polarization in the United States, and may even create more, but he is not to blame for it,” Plawin said. “America has been trending towards this polarized climate for years now starting under Obama, and it is not any one president’s fault.” Despite whoever wins the election, the boys unanimously agreed that the divide within the county and the nation as a whole needs to improve. “I do hope Republicans and Democrats can fix this divide in Northern Virginia after the election regardless of who wins,” Gillespie said. “I do believe given where we are right now, no matter who wins, our country as a whole is on track to become a lot more divided.” It is hard to imagine a time when students in Fairfax County did not engage in political and national affairs. Millions of Americans travel great distances to the capital to witness a historic presidential inauguration or to attend a massive protest, while McLean students nowadays can easily catch the metro to pay their respects to the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. But this was not the case 20 years ago.

DISENGAGED UNITY AP Government teacher Karen McNamara graduated from James Madison High School in 2001. She recalls students being disengaged in political affairs. In a push to get the students active during the election season, McNamara and her classmates were forced to volunteer for a campaign despite the lack of interest. Their disinterest came at an abnormal time for American democracy: the 2000 U.S. Presidential Election. It was a heated race between Texas Governor George W. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore. On Election Night, major swing state Florida was too close to call and would remain so for a period of time following the election. After a series of legal battles and district recounts over the hanging chad controversy—a punchin ballot that was designated as incomplete—Bush managed to clutch Florida’s 29 electoral points in an extremely narrow margin of 200 votes. Bush won the presidency in December. “With the 2000 election, we came back to class after election week and we did not know the results, and this didn’t concern anyone too terribly much,” McNamara said. “I remember feeling confident that it would eventually be solved in a fair manner. Hanging chads were a joke, and we were a lot less apprehensive about what an undecided election meant for the future of our country.” At the time of the 2000 election, Virginia was a solid red state. After being GOP-reliant for nearly four decades, the political division seemed dormant during this 40-year period.


Who are registered McLean students voting for?




54.5% 20.1% 25.4%


Have your beliefs and/or political party changed since the 2016 election? 15.8%

Not sure

25.9% Yes

58.3% No

Have the opinions of your peers changed your political beliefs? 13%

Not at all

58.7% A little



How comfortable are you having controversial political conversations with your friends? 13%

Not at all


46.2% Very


*From a poll of 245 McLean students Infographics by Taylor Olson

“I think Northern Virginia was trending blue certainly before the rest of the state,” McElveen said. “But I do think that as we’ve seen the state become progressively more blue, that there has been more willingness among students to express their opinions.” When President Barack Obama won Virginia in both his presidential bids, it was clear to political scientists that the state that once housed the capital of the Confederacy was now a blue state. Since then, Virginia rapidly transitioned from a swing state to solid liberal. “I think when Democrats win races, particularly when we win the governor’s race, we govern in a way that gives Virginians comfort. So when we didn’t have [Democratic] officials for a long time, they may have wondered, ‘Well, if we elected a Democratic would it go?’” Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) said as he spoke with the inaugural fellows of Global Leaders of Fairfax. “Mark Warner was the first [Democrat from Virginia to be elected to the U.S. Senate] in a long time. People who may have thought they were taking a chance on a Democrat saw that he did a good job, they saw that I did a good job, and so we have been re-elected ever since.” Teachers and elected officials who once attended Fairfax County schools hold differing beliefs as to how the impact of the party switch in Virginia has polarized the political climate. While McElveen said he believes the liberal progression has created a more politically active environment, McNamara said the ruling party has no major effect on the climate in Northern Virginia. “Between my time in high school and now, I have always found FCPS to be a place focused more on learning than politics. I have been at McLean for 15 years, and I think we have become a more welcoming and accepting community,” McNamara said. “But there will always be people who do not see eye to eye on issues, whether Virginia is a red or a blue state.” This divide is now more prevalent than ever as Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden take sides on key issues.

FRACTURED INTO FACTIONS More than 220,000 deaths. George Floyd. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. The aftermath of these three events have motivated the two major political parties to secure a large voter turnout this upcoming Election Day. While the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and the COVID-19 pandemic would have seemingly encouraged the parties to act as a unified front, they have only divided the two even more. This discontent has further sharpened the split between Trump-supporting Republicans and Democratic Biden advocates. While living near our nation’s capital enables students to become engaged and informed about American politics, it also sparks some of the greatest political division among students and families. “I don’t interact with Republicans and Trump supporters that much, just because when it comes to social issues, a difference of opinion on human rights is not something that I can accept, and it’s not something that I’m willing to accept,” said junior Leah Siegel, a key member in the Sunrise Movement, a student-led OCTOBER | IN-DEPTH | 25

activism club. “But I still think it’s extremely divided, and I think that a lot of times it’s difficult to hear each other out, and it’s something I’m working on. I think it’s something that everyone should always try to work on.” While Siegel is interested in conducting thorough, mature debates with members of the opposition party, students who identify as Republican and hold conservative values do not feel a sense of openmindness in the McLean community when it comes to discussing politics. “As we [draw] closer to the election, I feel like [Republicans] have been less and less inclined to share in fear of getting judged. I’m even hesitant to tell people what I believe and voice my opinion on things. I’d rather just stay quiet,” junior conservative Reese Smith said. Republican students have fallen silent. Each party’s stance was adopted by the candidates and became a major contributing factor to the split between the two parties. “I think that the campaign platforms from both presidential nominees have made our country more divisive. It has become less about unity and more about topics that attack the other side,”

opposition for starting the violence. “Trump is a denier of systemic racism. He is a denier that anything is wrong in America, which harms the movement because we’re unable to make change if the person who is in the highest office in the United States won’t even recognize that the problem exists,” Siegel said. “[Biden] is not the ideal supporter of the Black Lives movement; however, I believe he’s trying to adapt his ways to better fit the BIPOC communities in America. He wants to help everyone and create a more equal society.” On the other side of the argument, conservative Americans say the Trump administration has supported the Black community far more than the Democrats. After conquering his criminal justice reform legislation, Trump supporters do not believe that the president is actively working to harm the marginalized group. “I think that Donald Trump has made a conscious effort to remain neutral on issues concerning race while simultaneously not alienating predominantly white communities that helped him get elected,” said junior Marc Lampkin, a Black conservative. “I support the [Black Lives Matter] movement but less so the actual organization itself. I


said senior Emma Steel, leader of the Equity Task Force for the Committee on Raising Student Voices. A key issue for millions of Americans is the federal response to the pandemic. Combined with the Trump administration’s controversial response to COVID-19, the contrast between strict mask-wearers versus people eager to return to normalcy has sharpened the public split. Americans gathered and protested across the country during late March and April in an attempt to end lockdowns and quarantine. On the other end of the spectrum, people who believed Trump was prioritizing the health of the economy over human lives argued that the reopening of the country was unethical. Opinions regarding social justice have caused the most division between the presidential campaigns, congressional representatives and the American people. Following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, allies of the BLM movement marched in large numbers to protest systemic injustices. As riots began following the push for police and systemic reform, Americans opposed to the movement attempted to disregard the integrity of the protests, while BLM supporters blamed the


believe they abuse the movement’s purpose to excuse illicit behavior and unethical policies.” Lampkin said he is rarely called racist by other Black Americans. He said he mostly faces discrimination and name-calling from white, liberal Americans. Despite his personal beliefs about Trump’s moral compass, he thinks Trump is a better candidate than Biden. “I think that Joe Biden has had a lifetime in politics to prove his value to the country and has fallen short of making any significant difference,” Lampkin said. “While Donald Trump has not been exceptional by any metric, I think he’s been hindered in part by the serious division within the country.” With the passing of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the vacancy in the Supreme Court has fueled the tensions between the two parties. Her death is untimely for the Democrats, who do not have the White House or a majority in the Senate—the two powerhouses needed to appoint and confirm the next Supreme Court justice. A week following her death, Trump nominated judge Amy Coney Barrett to the bench. Not only was the devout conservative Catholic received poorly by liberal Americans, they were unsettled by the idea

that the Republican Party would hold a 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court. “Within weeks of the election, Trump appointed a new justice despite the fact Americans are heading to the polls in November to determine the future of Trump’s presidency,” Steel said. “If he were to lose, it is not fair to the American people that his parting gift is a justice that does not reflect the true values and ideologies of the citizens.” The same issue arose in the final months of Obama’s second term in office. In the middle of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, Justice Antonin Scalia passed away, leaving a vacancy on the bench. Obama attempted to fill the seat with judge Merrick Garland. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said the winner of the 2016 election should appoint the next justice as previous administrations had done. He ordered GOP senators to boycott the confirmation hearings, never holding a proper vote for Garland. “Mitch McConnell and his Republican Senate were following the precedent in 2016 by blocking the president’s appointment,” Steel said. “While Democrats failed to acknowledge that at the time, they have every right to block Amy Coney Barrett now. McConnell continued the precedent in 2016 and should continue it now.” Steel said Republicans’ clear hypocrisy and defiance of the precedent is furthering the divide amongst the voters. Conservative students beg to differ.

“As long as the Republicans hold the White House and the Senate, Amy Coney Barrett should and will be confirmed to the Supreme Court as cited in the Constitution,” said senior Jacob Fernicola, president of McLean’s Investors Club. These three issues will play a major role in the outcome of the presidential election. As tensions between the political parties remain high, the voters will choose who they believe is best fit for the country’s highest office. While students remain separated from one another due to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of their debates are taking place on social media.

DIGITAL DIVISION As social media increasingly integrates itself into our daily lives, it sharpens the political division between the American people. Social media has allowed for political participation never seen before. “There’s just really just such a new sense of political activism among students today,” McElveen said. “I’m connected with students on social media. I see the kind of stuff that they put out there. It’s far more sophisticated than anything that we would have done back in the day.” Before the technology boom of the early 2000s, students resorted to other means of expressing their political opinions. Students

IN MEMORIAM — A flag flies at half-mast in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in honor of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Her death comes at a polarizing time for the nation as Americans prepare to head to the polls to determine the fate of Trump’s administration. With the nomination of judge Amy Coney Barrett, Americans are demanding that the U.S. Senate waits until after the election to fill Ginsberg’s vacant seat. (Photo by Josh Bass)


wore merchandise promoting their preferred political candidate, designed campaign posters and wrote op-eds for their local newspapers. “Technology has certainly made it easier for students to convey their political opinions with each other, but only if they choose to share it,” McNamara said. “What you post on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, if you aren’t comfortable with the world knowing this, you have the choice not to share it.” Student activists at McLean have taken advantage of their First Amendment rights by sharing their thoughts on issues like protecting reproductive rights or demanding justice for Breonna Taylor. “I would call myself an activist,” junior Zora Rodgers said. “Because of all of the things that have been going on, I just realized that I needed to wake up and stand up for the people who don’t have a voice. I use my platform [to raise awareness]. I’ve been given the resources to do so.” Holding leaders and their enablers accountable has been a key mission for activists. When Trump demanded Ilhan Omar, an American congresswoman of Arab descent, move back to her home country, infographics were published on stories declaring that “if you vote for Trump, you are a racist.” While some would say publicly shaming all Trump supporters is extreme, others believe it is necessary and effective. In fact, they would prefer it if people who disagree unfollow them. “I don’t find anything I post to be aggressive because I believe that

Where do McLean students get their news?


what I share online should be common knowledge,” senior Jasmyne Zu said. “The unjust treatment of minority groups and women are topics that I am constantly bringing attention to to remind people that those issues are still very much prevalent in our society. My end goal of sharing these posts is to bring awareness to significant issues in our country and unite our generation to fight against them.” When colleges began releasing their return to school plans, most colleges opted to host virtual classes to contain the coronavirus on campus. Immigration and Customs Enforcement declared that all international students must return to their home country if their university was not hosting in-person instruction. After a photo of an immigrant pleading for help made its way across the internet, the demand for reversal of this policy grew to the millions, ultimately managing to convince the Trump administration to overturn this decision. “Posting things such as links, petitions and GoFundMe pages is a great way to utilize your platform to get signatures, raise money and most importantly raise awareness for a great cause,” Rodgers said. “Although it may seem useless, it actually makes a big difference. That one signature and that one extra dollar actually goes into something so much bigger than you think, showing that a simple post on your story can do so much for a cause.” But the use of social media comes with an increase in cyberbullying. Upon posting content conveying their political opinions, students often receive rude remarks that they would never hear in person.

What issues do McLean students care about most? 200

Social Media





activism ∙ follow


Social justice






Reproductive rights


NEIGHBORHOOD DISPUTE — Two neighbors in McLean face off in a campaign sign war in their front yards. While the relationship of the two neighbors is unknown, the lone Trump supporter on the block has faced scrutiny from passersby as people have egged the house and spray painted vulgar language over the president’s name. (Photo by Kyle Hawley) “During my sophomore year, I posted on my story in celebration that states were finally adopting the Heartbeat Bill,” a senior girl who asked to remain anonymous said. “A number of people slid up telling me that my pro-life stance is disgusting and horrifying. One McLean student even went as far to say they wish I was aborted.” From Democrats bombarding their stories with liberalleaning infographics to Republicans losing followers for reposting conservative-based content, social media has surely increased the split between the parties. In Northern Virginia, conservative-based media has decreased in fear of facing the wraths of cancel culture. “Every time I post something on Instagram, I’ve always gotten backlash, whether it just be voicing my conservative opinions or posting anything about Trump,” Smith said. “I always get backlash and people trying to come at me for my beliefs, which half the time they don’t even really completely understand.” This is not the same for liberal students. Democrats feel more at liberty to post left-wing content without fear of backlash or public remarks. “I couldn’t care less about what people think of me when I post something political, because everything that I post is something that I think is important and want to bring more awareness to,” Zu said. “I am always open to a debate with anyone who has a different opinion than me, and I don’t care if they unfollow me or not.” Democrats are willing to openly talk to Trump-supporting Republicans. They say that mature debates and open discussions fix the divide on social media. “I try to use my Instagram story not for bashing

people and their views, but more for informing people of things,” said junior Atticus Gore, former president of the Young Democrats club. “I like giving information on my story about certain events or people, because I think the biggest issue people have is that they don’t have all of the facts or all of the information, and that’s what leads to toxicity.”

BALANCE IN POWER After Nov. 3, America will learn who their next president will be. On Jan. 20, 2021, whether it is Trump or Biden, the president-elect will recite the oath of office that puts him in charge of the free world. While the peaceful transfer of power has been a lawful tradition in the republic for nearly two and a half centuries, the U.S. still exhibits the division amongst the American people. While Democrats and Republicans agree that they must work to fix the divide, they have been clear that there is no sign of unity in the near future. Despite their differences of opinion on national and international affairs, there is a sense of agreement that both must compromise for the country to prosper. “I think learning how to respectfully discuss issues, to try and empathize with people who disagree with you is important,” McNamara said. “McLean has students of all different political viewpoints, but regardless of how many liberal or conservative students there are in my class, I think it is important for students to think about why they side with the issues or policies that they do.” OCTOBER | IN-DEPTH | 29


THEATREMCLEAN HITS THE SCREEN McLean’s fall plays will be virtual this year



ith innovative virtual plays coming to computer screens this November, TheatreMcLean perfectly encapsulates the idea of theater constantly evolving. They will be performing two shows— Cards of Fate and Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom. “We are going to continue doing shows, but it’s going to be done in the virtual landscape,” TheatreMcLean director Phillip Reid said. “We will have fall productions like we would normally do, except instead of being on stage, they’ll be through Google Meets or [Blackboard Collaborate], and then broadcast on YouTube Live or Facebook Live.” The first play, Cards of Fate, will be prerecorded. It will be available to watch on Nov. 19. Cards of Fate is a dark comedy about a game show that progressively has more and more sinister situations. In this production the main character is a girl named Nick. “She's on this game show, and if you win, you get a lot of cool prizes and something good happens to someone out in the universe,” Reid said. “If you get the question wrong, you don't get any prizes and something bad happens to them.” Cards of Fate may not be appropriate for younger audiences. “It gets spooky, man,” said junior Erin Sharpe, who plays Cinnamon, the game

Cards of Fate Nov. 19

VIRTUAL REHEARSALS — Seniors Chloe Lahr and Ben Cudmore rehearse for Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom using special software. Both of TheatreMcLean’s fall plays will premiere in November. (Photo courtesy of Phillip Reid)

show host. “We’re talking about what people would do to win and where we draw the line and playing off of how artificial some people can be through the camera.” The second play, Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom, will be performed live and aired virtually on Nov. 20. It’s about a new video game teenagers are playing that resembles

Purchase tickets at starting Oct. 31

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom Attendees will receive a Nov. 20 link to the performances after purchasing tickets

30 | A&E | OCTOBER

their neighborhood, where they have to kill zombies that look an awful lot like their parents. “It’s a commentary on virtual reality and how parents and children [grow] more and more apart as technology kind of divides us a little bit,” said senior Ben Cudmore, who is playing one of the lead roles. “As things progress between the virtual reality and our actual reality, it becomes almost unfamiliar which one is real.” Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom also deals with themes that may be too mature for some viewers. Although the delivery of the play will be completely unprecedented for TheatreMcLean, the actors will all be performing off book, in full costume, just as they would in person. “Theater adapts. It is alive. It's always changing,” Cudmore said. “The best way for theater to stay alive is for audience members to come see these shows to encourage actors to keep going, keep pressing on, because we’re there to perform for them.” Page design by Heran Essayas


Hit song “WAP” opens discussion about the double standard in the rap industry CC PALUMBO Features Editor | GRACE GOULD Online Features Editor


ven in 2020, the double standard between men and women in the rap industry has yet to be toppled. Unsurprisingly, when Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B released “WAP” in August, a song about women embracing their sexuality and empowering themselves, criticism and controversy quickly followed. When “WAP” dropped, its explicit lyrics drew worldwide attention, especially from the media, which categorized it as crude and inappropriate. Many people, including political commentator Ben Shapiro, even pegged the artists as “bad role models.” Shapiro labeled the song as “vulgar,” but when compared to other popular rap songs sung by men, “WAP” does not stand alone in being explicit. “When women and men sing the same lyrics, we criticize women much more. For example, in ‘WAP,’ the lyric ‘wh**es in this house’ was taken from a rap song in 1993 by Frank Ski. But when Cardi and Meghan used it, it was criticized very harshly,” said junior Rohini Kumaran, co-president of the Girls Leadership Committee. The rap industry is notoriously based around the objectification of women, but the criticism of “WAP” revealed the negativity that is associated with women taking control of their sexuality. While male rappers have been able to profit off of this sexualization for years, female artists have been forced into the shadows, treated as objects within the industry to

be seen and not heard. “In society it is more acceptable for a man to talk about a woman sexually than for a woman to talk about herself sexually,” said senior Tallisen Scott, president of the Feminist Club. The double standard is made obvious when comparing “WAP” to “Kim” by Eminem—while one was widely acclaimed, the other was villainized. “This song that played a role in normalizing abuse and domestic violence was one of Eminem’s hit songs and a highlight in his career. By many, this was seen as artful and praised Eminem for his intelligence in its creation,” Kumaran said. “Frankly, I was disturbed to see the positive reaction it got from the media and audience.” This isn’t the only time women have been harshly critiqued for rapping about the same topics as men. While artists like Kanye West and Eminem have profited off of the exploitation of the female body for years, pioneering female rappers such as Nicki Minaj and Doja Cat have been forced to weather a barrage of criticism over everything from the content of their lyrics to their bodies for decades. “Since many hip-hop and rap songs created by men are very degrading, female rappers equate independence to having control over their financial stability and their sexuality,” Kumaran said. “Songs like this are looked down upon because our society doesn’t support powerful, self-confident and self-assured women like it does men.” The reaction to the song has shown society’s true colors in regards to gender equality. Underlying sexism becomes more evident, especially to the public eye, when these conversations come to the surface. “Women being critiqued more harshly in the music industry is reflective of a larger patriarchal society which holds different standards for men and women in nearly every industry,” said junior Susan Shobeiri, co-president of the Girls Leadership Committee.

Photos: Atlantic Records | Page design by Ariana Elahi

However, not everyone sees this gendered double standard. Some see the criticism of women as reflective of the content of the music they create. “I think that a lot of times, women’s rap can come across as shallow and less about sending a message, which many male artists attempt to do and many female artists don’t even try to do,” junior Paul Kim said. “I think that a lot of the mainstream woman artists in hip-hop aren’t about sending an actual message, so any criticism towards that point can be harsh but valid.” Some see sexualization as the only avenue to success for women in hip-hop, stemming from deep-rooted sexist ideologies. “I think that women need more viable avenues to become mainstream without sexualizing themselves and trying to appeal to that side of the music industry in general,” Kim said. Rather than seeing this kind of expression as women bringing harsh criticism upon themselves, others say it is reflective of the double standard that has persisted in societal expectations for generations. “It really comes back down to what society deems as acceptable for a woman,” Shobeiri said “Men have always been perceived as more dominant and controlling, and I think when women defy this culture, the underlying misogynistic views held in our society present themselves.” OCTOBER | A&E | 31



s COVID-19 runs rampant, it has become increasingly difficult to pursue one’s passion. Everything has changed, especially the live entertainment industry. It seemed like it would be impossible for live entertainment to come back during the pandemic, but senior Ben Cudmore found a way to return to the stage sooner than expected. Cudmore has done theater for six years and has participated in 20 shows, and he was determined to not let COVID-19 stop him. While it seemed impossible to do theater, at Alden Theatre’s “drive-thru dramas” and the City of Fairfax Theatre Company, Cudmore was able to keep performing. At Alden’s drive-thru dramas, audience members simply drive from scene to scene from a safe distance of six feet and watch actors, with face shields on, recreate magical performances. At the City of Fairfax Theatre 32 | A&E | OCTOBER

Company, audience members sit in the Fairfax Veteran’s Amphitheater, which has designated 10-by-10-foot squares marked on the ground that are each 10 feet apart, ensuring that both the actors and the audience members are safe and socially distanced. “Actors stood six feet away and performed their scenes to [the audience],” Cudmore said. “Actors also remained six feet apart, did not share props and brought in their own costumes.” Cudmore describes acting with a face shield as strange and difficult, but he fought through the discomfort to ensure safety. “Though they may be a nuisance to wear, once you are in the world of the show, you don’t notice them,” Cudmore said. Cudmore’s resilient attitude toward this difficult situation rubbed off on his castmates. He and his team bonded over

a series of successful, pandemic-friendly productions throughout the summer, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and two drive-thru dramas. “He’s got the talent, the work ethic and the attitude that I can really work well with,” Cudmore’s friend and castmate Jack Abba said. A concern with participating in theater during the pandemic is taking the necessary precautions while also providing the same level of theatrical performance. “The precautions taken were very helpful,” Cudmore said. “No one was diagnosed with COVID-19 and the productions were handled very thoroughly.” Cudmore’s mother, Heather Waulet, felt confident in his ability to come home safe and healthy. “At no time was I concerned for Ben’s safety or the safety of the audience,” Photos courtesy of Ben Cudmore


Waulet said. “The prospect of a summer without theater was a sad one, so we were thankful that he found these live theater opportunities.” Cudmore’s commitment to the art of theater was able to shine in spite of the restrictions. “Ben was just as entertaining with the face shield as without. It didn’t hinder his abilities at all,” Abba said. Cudmore’s love of theater began at a young age; he was fascinated by plays and acting. “I have always been drawn to theater—it’s an amazing community full of creative and bright individuals,” Cudmore said. Waulet recalls a pivotal moment for her son at school. “Mr. Enos’ freshman assignment of videoing scenes from Romeo and Juliet may have cemented his love for performing Shakespeare,” Waulet said. Cudmore’s exposure to Shakespeare also led him to start writing plays, which not only fell into the hands of McLean’s theater program, but were also noticed by other professional actors. “He even had a show performed by professional actors as well as short plays he [wrote] for TheatreMcLean’s spring Sketchfest,” Waulet said. When faced with the deadliest pandemic in a century, Cudmore found a way to pursue his passion. As he reflects on the sudden and drastic changes theater underwent this summer, Cudmore sees how theater viewership and performance may be altered forever. “These productions exemplify the steps and unique problem solving people in the acting world have taken to bring theater back to our communities,” Cudmore said. “We have truly entered a new age of theater and entertainment.” Page design by Taylor Olson & Marina Qu

CONCEALING CHARISMA — Ben Cudmore poses as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, incorporating his protective face shield into his costume. OCTOBER | A&E | 33



ocial media and COVID-19 have one thing in common: both have robbed us of reality. Naturally, they go together, with everyone spending hours and hours online during quarantine. “Social media often does not reflect reality but rather someone’s idea or hope of reality,” McLean’s psychologist Carol Ann Forrest said. “Many images have been altered and it is difficult to know in what way. While it is common for adolescents to become more aware of their own image and to think about how they want to project themselves to 34 | A&E | OCTOBER

others, if social media is used as a guide, it can result in teenagers having an unrealistic goal to pursue.” One of the most harmful aspects of social media is the toxic standards of beauty that it fosters. Looking at edited and staged photos can cause one to feel bad about themselves. To counteract this, different models have begun to show off their rare genetic disorders or natural beauty, altering how the public views what is beautiful or attractive. “Social media allows easy access to the opinions of others and as a result, contributes

to the desire of many students to be like someone else,” Forrest said. “When you try to be like another or imitate the behavior of another, it may lead to less respect for your own qualities and characteristics. When everyone is constantly seeing a standard of Eurocentric beauty, people of color (POC) can especially feel this pressure. Born with Waardenburg syndrome on the small island of Barbados, Jalicia Nightengale is a black woman with piercing ice blue eyes. Waardenburg is an extremely rare condition that causes loss of pigmentation in skin, Artwork & page design by Arin Kang

hair or eyes. Nightengale explained in a January 2019 Instagram post that she had received hate on social media because of how the disease affected her eyes, with people commenting that she appeared horrifying or that she was using fake color contacts. “News flash. It’s 2019. The world is so mixed up that we should all know by now that anything is possible, even for black people to have colored eyes: so why is it still so shocking?” Nightengale wrote. “I guess because it’s not in the mainstream beauty standards but maybe it’s time it is! Yes, I’m black. Yes, I have natural blue eyes. We exist.” Nightengale is not the only one whose eyes have been insulted by social media. The fox-eye trend emerged this summer, where non-POC pull their eyes back in order to make them smaller. This trend was brought to the attention of the media, who exposed the disrespectfulness it shows to the Asian community. “[During quarantine I spent increased time on] Instagram and TikTok especially,” senior Mimi Peng said. “That is where I discovered the fox-eye trend. Once trends are set, people follow. Whether it be models, TikTok stars or even my peers, I kept seeing people pulling their eyes back in pictures and doing their makeup to narrow the shape of their eyes. And people doing it were predominantly those who fit Eurocentric beauty standards.” Peng said the trend especially struck a nerve with so many in the East Asian community. “[Before the trend] we were mocked and made to feel that our appearances were inferior to those who had large, double-lidded eyes,” Peng said. “The reality is, I cannot control the shape of my eyes—my smaller, mono-lidded eyes are a hallmark of my Asian appearance. To have a facial feature—that has societal significance and out of my control to alter—be used by proponents of Eurocentric beauty was unsettling to say the least.” Peng encourages others to disregard these trends and speak out against them. To do so, she created an Instagram post to reveal the harm of social media. “I shared my experiences with my Asian beauty: the difference in facial features to my journey of perfecting my makeup look. I essentially shared my story—stories are so impactful. They are humanizing, resonating and inspiring,” Peng said. While women can feel put down by

images that they see in several different forms of media, men can be affected by this pressure as well. All people can feel uncomfortable with their body image or skin color, or go through the trauma of being deemed ugly for something as normal as having acne. Curtis McDaniel was only 11 years old when he began to see the effects of a skin condition called vitiligo. Vitiligo causes white patches or discoloration on one’s skin. The patches usually get bigger with time. “I was the only person in my family to have vitiligo and took it pretty hard at school. I was bullied a lot by people for my skin. They would call me burnt lips, Michael Jackson, zebra, giraffe, and people thought I was contagious,” McDaniel said in a 2017 interview with The Sun magazine. “Girls


would ask if I was burned and would say ‘Ew’ whenever they saw me. I was a spectacle everywhere I went. I once had kids running out of a store crying when they saw me and was called a ‘monster.’” When McDaniel was 17, he posted a selfie and was recruited to become a model, despite how some viewed his condition. “Before, I hated having my picture taken, so to me I never would have believed I could model,” McDaniel said. “I used to think my skin was a curse, but now I realize my skin is a gift—it’s allowing me to influence people.” In recent years, black musical artists such as A$AP Rocky and Tyler, the Creator have included colorist ideals in their songs, containing explicit lyrics that display favoritism towards light-skinned women, in turn demonizing brown-skinned and dark-skinned females. Colorism is the discrimination between people, usually of the same race, based on the social implications

and cultural meanings of different skin tones. Those of mixed ethnicity can even be called “not dark enough.” Similarly, men and women that have the 4C hair type, which is the tightest type of curls, can be made to feel insecure. Straighter types A and B are often called “good hair.” Ndija Anderson-Yantha is an African Canadian advocate for natural hair who runs a blog and an Instagram account, both titled The Natural Hair Advocate. “Women, worldwide, have hangups about their hair—regardless of their ethnicity—and this often affects their selfesteem,”Anderson-Yantha said. “Since hair is considered to be such an integral part of women’s beauty, if a woman doesn’t feel good about her hair, she probably doesn’t feel good about herself either.” When the models people see on social media always have perfectly straight hair, it contributes to a stereotype in which people believe that certain ethnic hair types and styles are not desirable. “I find myself always wearing my hair up or in styles because having my curly afro out is usually deemed as ‘unprofessional,’” senior Aretha Williams said. “I have noticed that when I have my hair up I get treated differently than if I were to wear braids or any other protective styles that POC with curly hair usually wear.” Anderson-Yantha worked with girls who had similar experiences. “This is why I want black girls and women to love and appreciate the uniqueness and versatility of our hair,” Anderson-Yantha said. “I would also like people from other backgrounds to learn more about natural hair and to understand that ‘black hairstyles’ are not ‘ghetto,’ ‘urban’ or ‘inappropriate,’ and to accept that natural hair is beautiful too.” The problem with the media’s standards of beauty is that its toxicity extends to people of all genders, races, ages, conditions and abilities. It doesn’t end, and it has no boundaries. As usual, society wants to project an image which is false and unrealistic. It’s time to make a change to this by supporting those who are willing to confront this ridiculous standard by exhibiting their own natural beauty. “Being a female especially, beauty standards can feel confining and pressuring,” Peng said. “I believe all types of beauty are truly beautiful.” OCTOBER | A&E | 35

LIFE THROUGH A LENS Senior Sydney Marvin promotes her videography talents to her 27,000+ TikTok followers GIANNA RUSSO COPY EDITOR BELEN BALLARD ONLINE FEATURES EDITOR


DEEP DUSK — Senior Sydney Marvin took this picture of her sister Hannah at sunset. “I brought my camera into the water with me, which was super scary, but I ended up with this shot so I think it was worth it,” Marvin said. (Photo by Sydney Marvin)


n a mission to share her videographic craftsmanship with the McLean student body and her more than 27,000 followers, Sydney Marvin is doing what she loves. From traveling all over the country to capturing intense shots in a basketball game, she is always working on her next project. While her TikTok popularity has grown rapidly in the last few months, this hobby began at a relatively young age and has continued to develop ever since. Marvin’s interest in videography began when she got a hold of her dad’s old camcorder to make short nature documentaries using videos of trees and squirrels outside. “Sydney expressed a very early interest in videography. When she was in elementary school, she and her sister would make short dramatic movies with our home video camera,” her dad, Tom Marvin, said. She used iMovie and other apps to put together clips to make videos from family vacations. These videos were not the best quality, so she decided that it was time to save up for an actual camera. “When I first started making little nature documentaries with my phone, they were really bad. Then when I really started pursuing videography, I decided it was time to get a real camera. I was broke, so I had to start working and save up for it,” Marvin said. Marvin’s videography hobby came from her father, who gained his interest from his family as well. Aspects of videography have

been in the family for 90 years. “My family has a deep archive of family movies dating back to the 1930s. We have digitized those old movies over the years, and I am hoping Sydney can someday compress that footage into short highlights for future generations,” Marvin’s dad said. After watching a video about a freelance videographer during her sophomore year, Marvin realized that videography could be more than a pastime. Marvin’s passion for videography suddenly transformed from a small hobby to a future dream career. “I never realized people did this as a full-time job, so ever since I watched that video I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what I want to do with my life,’” Marvin said. “It inspired me to start pursuing it now instead of waiting until I grow up.” Once Marvin became more invested in her work, she started a freelance videography business when she was 16. She commenced her work by reaching out to local businesses and offering her services for free to gain recognition, and she began doing brand deals and sports videography. “Sydney has laser focus on the things she is passionate about. I really love how she sets personal goals, devises a plan to meet them, and then executes every day until she is successful,” her dad said. Marvin makes most of her videos alone, but she occasionally features her sister, Hannah Marvin, in her videos and also has her model for pictures. “I love being involved with what she makes. It’s fun to hang out with her and I Page design by Ariana Elahi

HORSES HIKE — Sydney Marvin sets up a shot at the end of a rainy hike. “The rain was so worth seeing horses on the trail, such a memorable hike,” she said. (Photo by Tom Marvin) love being her model. I also get to post dope content afterwards,” Marvin’s sister said. Beginning with a small audience of friends and family, Marvin was able to get feedback from them. The encouragement she received from them encouraged her to explore more social media platforms to widen her audience. “I post most of my videography on Instagram, and all my friends and peers would comment with supportive comments, which helped me,” Marvin said. Marvin recently switched from Instagram to the popular video-sharing social media platform TikTok. At first, TikTok was only a source of entertainment for her—she would watch videos but not create any of her own. Considering that there are over 800 million users on TikTok, it’s difficult to get recognized. Marvin was able to quickly build her following by sharing her life and her passions with everyone. “In quarantine, I got really bored so I started posting random stuff that I was doing throughout my days and I guess people liked that,” Marvin said. TikTok has a feature called the “For You’’ page, a page containing popular videos made by users, that spreads videos to a larger audience. Getting on the “For You” page often results in a video getting thousands of likes and is the goal for aspiring TikTokers.

Marvin posted several videos about her daily routines and favorite places in Virginia, and she noticed that her account was gaining followers and her videos were growing in popularity. After seeing the amount of attention her videos were receiving, Marvin discovered her content was getting featured on the “For You” page.

I THINK THAT PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOGRAPHY IS SUCH A FUN HOBBY, AND I’D LOVE TO INSPIRE PEOPLE TO GET INTO IT.” - SYDNEY MARVIN SENIOR “I’ve never wanted a ton of followers, but I always thought the idea would be cool because of my videography,” Marvin said. “I’ve always wanted a place where I could put my videos, though, and have an audience to get feedback, which is really important to me.” Over the summer, Marvin made videos about the activities she did outdoors, and these types of videos became her most popular posts. In addition to her

videographic content, she posted more casual videos about her favorite recipes and activities. “These past few months, I would post videos of hikes or adventures I went on in Virginia and those got pretty big; they got around 500,000 views,” Marvin said. Now, Marvin has to plan her future. She has known that she wants to become a videographer for years, so her next step is to find the right place to pursue this dream. “Sydney is passionate about videography and is looking for colleges that offer her the opportunity to focus in that space. While it is not always easy to pursue a career in the arts, we believe she should let her passion guide her way to success,” Marvin’s dad said. Support from family members is crucial for Marvin’s growth and the development of her interests. She is lucky that she has support from not only her family and friends, but also from thousands of people on TikTok. “Feedback is really important to me, I am always interested in what people have to say about the videos I create,” Marvin said. As Marvin’s TikTok account continues to grow, she hopes to become an inspiration for her followers. “I’d like to inspire people to get outside and to do things that make them happy,” Marvin said. “I think that photography and videography is such a fun hobby and I’d love to inspire people to get into it.” OCTOBER | A&E | 37



Virtual learning takes a toll on students’ well-being The staff editorial represents the opinion of the majority of The Highlander editorial board


itting in an empty room with no one but a screen, spending hours each day staring at a computer, having little to no social interactions and school always in the back of their minds. With the majority of each week devoted to education, students and teachers are beginning to succumb to the stress and anxieties surrounding the digital world of online school. Virtual school is detrimental to the physical and mental well-being of students and teachers. In a world controlled by COVID-19, online education is the only safe method to prevent the spread of the virus. Although this type of schooling has its positive aspects, students’ mental health is being put at risk due to the overwhelming amount of schoolwork that’s being assigned. Teachers should be able to identify these common stressors and regulate the amount of work they give. Social interaction, especially in an educational environment, is imperative for students to succeed. Personal exchanges and relationships between students and teachers have been severely strained due to the lack of physical interaction. “I’m not seeing students as much because


a lot of people don’t want to turn on their cameras, and even when they do, it’s still not the same as in person,” English teacher Michael Enos said. “That building of a relationship and having that kind of natural conversation just isn’t there.” Students with mental health concerns find online learning even more challenging to understand and follow. “Students with emotional disorders are also at risk during this time and will require support to maintain emotional stability to remain engaged in virtual learning,” school social worker Marly Jerome-Featherson said. The unattainable expectations being set by teachers is causing students to be buried in assignments, resulting in extreme stress, but those battling mental health issues are affected even more. “Along with just school in general and getting assignments done, not being able to go into school to see friends has also affected me because seeing people is really important when you’re battling depression,” Cassidy* said. “It seems to have caused me to isolate myself a little bit, which has significantly shown to make depression worse.” Even for students who do not struggle with any mental health concerns, the world of online learning has been taxing on their well-being. The amount of time students are spending on screens due to both school and homework is draining. “Decreased in-person interactions contribute to loneliness and lack of motivation among students,” Jerome-Featherson said. Junior Franny Stroik suffers from chronic migraines that affect her on a daily basis, impairing her ability to stare at a screen all day. “I could have a migraine lasting from 45 minutes to seven hours a day, which makes me behind in school, causing me to have even

more stress,” Stroik said. Stroik faces the decision between keeping up with schoolwork or maintaining her physical and mental health. “My doctor recommends that for every 30 minutes I spend on a screen, I should take a 30-minute break. Online school ends up being a restrictor that causes me to lose the balance between work and rest,” Stroik said. Working with teachers is crucial, especially for students struggling with mental health problems. Both students and teachers have been putting in their best efforts to meet a middle ground for maintaining stress and work levels. “I think it’s really helpful when teachers try to be accommodating. It’s hard to meet deadlines all the time, but when my teachers are accommodating of my struggles, it definitely makes it easier on me and relieves a lot of stress,” Sienna* said. Most teachers are trying to be aware of the challenges that online school brings to students, especially those struggling with mood disorders. “If there are certain circumstances coming up or someone’s really having trouble adapting to it, [it is important to be] sitting down and working with that student and trying to come up with a plan, and being a little more flexible with people who are struggling as far as due dates and stuff like that,” Enos said. Even with accommodations, many students are still falling behind due to the heavy workload and the change of routine. “Although I do have a 504 plan, [it hasn’t] helped me very greatly, unfortunately,” Stroik said. “Ultimately it doesn’t help in as many ways as I wish it could because even if I do have extensions, that just means more work is piling up, which then is worse for my migraines since I should be balancing.” It is crucial for teachers to remain aware of the amounts of work they’re assigning and in order to reduce students’ stress and to develop an understanding of the mental states of their students in order to ensure everyone is able to succeed in this challenging new environment. *These students asked to remain anonymous

Reporting by Maya Amman & Hannah Parker Cartoon by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell | Page design by Maya Amman

COLLEGE PRICES DON’T REFLECT QUALITY Schools continue to charge full tution for less than satisfactory online learning ANA PAULA IBARRARAN OPINONS EDITOR




rica Bass, a freshman at the University of North Carolina at are compromised by online learning. Chapel Hill (UNC) who graduated from McLean in June, was “Usually you make a lot of friends during orientation week, looking forward to beginning her college experience this fall. Before but that was all online for us,” said Ava Rotondo, a 2020 McLean she set foot on campus, though, it appeared that she was not going graduate who attends Columbia University. “The online orientation to get the university life she deserved, and this year, millions of other we had was barely sufficient, and I didn’t meet anyone.” college students nationwide are also being stripped of their college A lot of schools seemed to have plans to reopen in person at first, experience due to COVID-19. but many of those plans fell through. Bass had a particularly worrisome start “Prior to moving in, I thought that UNC had to her college experience, as she caught a good plan for how they were going to handle KIDS DON’T HAVE COVID-19 upon arriving on campus. [COVID-19]. We were receiving email updates, ACCESS TO ALL OF “People started getting sent home, but and I thought that they were going to be doing THE ELEMENTS OF AN since I was living in a hotel instead of a dorm, more intense testing. None of that happened,” EDUCATION THAT THEY Bass said. I didn’t have to leave until I got COVID,” Bass said. Because of the overwhelming tuition cost, WOULD IN PERSON.” Catching coronavirus is traumatic for some students have decided to take gap years. - AVA ROTONDO anyone, particularly for an 18-year-old living COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY STUDENT Unfortunately, that is not realistic for everyone. on their own for the first time. To make “I know there are some students who have things worse, the university wasn’t very helpful in dealing with Bass’s deferred a year or started NOVA classes with the intent to transfer situation. later,” said Laura Venos, McLean’s college and career center specialist. “I had to figure out how to get my own testing done and how Rotondo considered taking a gap year, especially because of to deal with the health insurance all by myself. I’m an out-of-state Columbia’s extremely high $61,788 tuition, but she was unable to as student, so my parents were obviously not there [to help],” Bass said. many colleges, including Columbia, made the decision deadline for Despite these challenges and never actually stepping into a gap years far too early and without enough information about their physical classroom, Bass and other out-of-state students attending fall plans. UNC had to pay the outrageous tuition price of $36,159. Learning online does not give students the same enrichment and Tuition should reflect the quality of education available to students environment as in-person classes, and oftentimes technical difficulties because they are supposed to be receiving high quality instruction in occur that interfere with the quality of education. a superior learning environment. Without these things, students are “Under these circumstances, colleges should reduce the cost missing out on much of what they’re paying for. of tuition,” Rotondo said. “Kids don’t have access to all of the Besides missing out on quality of education, students’ social lives elements of an education that they would in person, and I don’t think professors are able to deliver the same caliber of education through online platforms.” There are reasons a school might need to keep tuition costs the same, such as paying professors. However, most colleges have endowments that could cover these costs, and surely they are saving money in other ways by not having students on campus. “I understand that schools are facing a financial crisis because of COVID, but students have been going into debt for decades because of college,” Bass said. It is important to understand that both students and the colleges themselves are struggling during this time. “This is a global health crisis for everyone,” Venos said. “I feel terrible for college students who are not having the experience they intended and also have a great deal of respect for colleges making difficult decisions in service of their students’ health.” Next semester, if school continues virtually, colleges must lower tuition. College students who are feeling concerned about online education should email the administrators at their college to demand change. Page design by Saisha Dani | Cartoon by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell


As COVID cases continue to rise, sports should be delayed KAAN KOCABAL REPORTER


ver since the pandemic stopped the world in its tracks, sports everywhere have been abruptly canceled in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Although professional sports were recently brought back to action, it is still too early for high school athletes to return to their school teams. Even though private club sports have returned with safety measures in place, it’s still not safe to think everything can go back to normal for student athletes. Ultimately, we are still amid a dangerous pandemic, and returning to sports is not a safe option for students at McLean. In Virginia, fall and winter sports have been postponed to December, and they should be postponed even further unless conditions drastically change. With the cold and flu season coming up, the virus will remain in the air much longer when the temperature is cooler. Now is not the time to start having large groups of students work out and practice together. “I think that if there is going to be any form of school in the future, then school sports should not be happening,” sophomore JV soccer player Nathan Jun said. “It’s the best option since local sports are already going on.” Jun plays on a local McLean travel soccer team. He is one of the many athletes who have been playing sports outside of school, putting themselves at greater risk of getting the virus. “I have been playing for my travel soccer team since June and so far there hasn’t really been a problem practicing within my team,” Jun said. “We recently started playing games against different local teams which is pretty nerve-racking—no one wants to get COVID. If sports are going to come back with less caution, I don’t think they should even be played.” 40 | OPINIONS | OCTOBER

Even soccer—a low contact sport—poses multiple risks for transmitting COVID-19. Football, on the other hand, is an incredibly tactile sport and would be a major risk for everyone involved, including fans.

SPORTS GAMES ARE PLACES WHERE LOTS OF INTERACTIONS HAPPEN, SO THERE IS A HIGH CHANCE OF SPREADING COVID.” - WILL WALBY JUNIOR “Football games would be affected because there are normally a lot of spectators,” junior McLean football player Will Walby said. “Spectators wouldn’t be

allowed if sports returned. Sports games are places where lots of interactions happen, so there is a high chance of spreading COVID.” In football, there are a maximum of 55 players on a team, plus the team staff and other programs that are permitted to be on the field at the same time. Even if people were not allowed to watch in person, the sheer number of players and staff on the field would be unsafe. “I have been training ever since I was ready to play again, and even though it would suck to miss another season, I wouldn’t want to risk my health because that can affect me [in the] long term,” Walby said. FCPS needs to cancel all school sports for the rest of the year. Making the decision to not have students participate in any sports this year should not be challenging, and the safety and health of McLean athletes should be prioritized above everything else. Bringing sports back too soon is not worth the risk.

IS IT SAFE FOR SPORTS TO RETURN TO MCLEAN? It’s time to move on and continue with life, including sports NOAH BARNES REPORTER


he online school experience has been limiting for students and staff. School sports—a source of joy, school spirit and irreplaceable high school memories—have been canceled until December. Instead of being outside playing sports, students are sitting at home all day absorbing the blue light beaming off of their laptops. McLean students desperately need a breath of fresh air and school pride. Although there are limits on large group gatherings, the successful return of private sports clubs at both the local and professional level has sparked hope in many student athletes’ hearts. It is time for sports to return to McLean. Local teams like McLean Youth Soccer and Arlington Soccer have had success returning safely. Several clubs have resumed their seasons without an outbreak, making it easy to see that the return of school sports can be conducted safely and efficiently with the right health precautions. “When we play in my volleyball club, safety is a big priority,” junior Julianna McFarland said. “When we practiced at Madeira, we had to wear masks and were provided with some Under Armour masks that are easier to breathe out of. ” Safety measures such as these help lower the chance of a student contracting the virus. Students that don’t catch the virus can’t spread it. So far, there have been zero confirmed coronavirus cases from local soccer and volleyball clubs since returning from the hiatus. “As long as we can do it safely, yes, I do think we should try to return to sports. Along with all of our extracurricular activities, sports provide an outlet to our students and give them something fun to look forward to each day,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. If school sports don’t return, athletes will

lose valuable experience with their teams, costing them the opportunity to represent their school on the field. “My soccer club is still playing at a high level despite the virus. It has had no impact on our play, but if teams that have been


- GREG MILLER DIRECTOR OF STUDENT ACTIVITIES out for a long time don’t return, they could lose their chance to continue to play at the highest level. This includes school teams,” junior Will Mahoney said. For those who can’t afford to pay for

Page design by Saisha Dani | Cartoons by Jayne Ogilvie-Russell

private clubs, school sports are the only way for them to have a team experience and the much-needed social interaction that comes with playing a sport. Returning to an environment that encourages camaraderie and teamwork would significantly improve the well-being of students amid this isolating pandemic. “School sports would improve the mental health of students for sure,” McFarland said. “We can’t expect to sit in front of computers all day and have no physical activity.” Social distancing can still be practiced in the stands by spectators during games. With McLean’s new ability to livestream home games while they take place, sports can even be enjoyed safely from people’s homes. Sports are a huge part of the high school experience, and being a part of school teams will be some of students’ most cherished memories from their four years at McLean. With proper safety measures in place, McLean athletes deserve to have a chance to play this season. OCTOBER | OPINIONS | 41


Informing public of factual information has become ever more important JACK SHIELDS EDITOR-IN-CHIEF NICKY VARELA MANAGING EDITOR


n a time when the concept of “fake news” is widely publicized, media outlets face the growing challenge of maintaining honest reporting and establishing themselves as credible sources. Add a global pandemic and the 2020 general election to the mix, and the criticism of the press today only continues to grow. Despite the pressure placed on the media, it still plays a crucial role in reporting with integrity and informing audiences. This should be the priority of any news publication, including student media sources. For students, the last seven months have presented challenging circumstances of social isolation. But as the new school year began, some students started making personal exceptions to social distancing guidelines. On Sept. 8, students got together for “Senior Sunrise,” a yearly tradition where senior girls meet up and take pictures on the football field before classes on their last first day of high school. “Even though it’s coronavirus, we still have to maintain the small little traditions, or else we won’t have a real senior year at all,” senior Anna Rodriguez said. The Highlander reported on the studentorganized event, posting one of many pictures taken of the gathering on our Instagram. Some students expressed their frustration that the photos showed seniors who were not social distancing or wearing masks. All audiences are entitled to their criticism of media outlets and news publications, just as publications themselves have the freedom to print or post anything that they deem newsworthy. When publications face criticism for the material they publish, their top priority should still be to ensure that all relevant issues are reported on accurately. “[Criticism] is part of news literacy. It’s a responsibility of living in this world,” said Caty Weaver, a reporter from Voice of America, a U.S.-owned international news organization. “That makes journalism better—demanding that you get the truth.” During the coronavirus pandemic, public 42 | OPINIONS | OCTOBER

health guidelines play an important role in fighting the virus. But even though McLean students at the Senior Sunrise event did not practice social distancing or follow the mask mandate, it was still a newsworthy event and worth documenting the student activity. “I don’t think anyone was trying to ignore social distancing,” Rodriguez said. “We tried just sticking to our friend groups, but the excitement of seeing our friends for the first time in months made us forget about it for a few minutes.”

[CRITICISM] IS PART OF NEWS LITERACY. IT’S A RESPONSIBILITY OF LIVING IN THIS WORLD.” - CATY WEAVER VOICE OF AMERICA REPORTER Still, the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic should not be downplayed. The McLean administration is already

brainstorming ways to rework senior events and provide alternative ways to celebrate seniors. “The administrative team will be meeting with senior class officers to try to find ways to recognize seniors this school year,” Principal Ellen Reilly said. “FCPS would like all schools to work together on this as well, and I am on a committee to start creating some ideas to do this school year.” Fundamentally, a publication shouldn’t censor coverage of an event for the purpose of appealing to the public. All student activities in McLean are worth reporting on, although frustrations about students failing to follow health guidelines are not out of place. To voice any future complaints regarding our website, magazine or social media content, we encourage students to write letters to our editors to discuss these grievances. “It’s not just news media, but all information that you receive, and if you find a flaw you should write to [the publication]. Or if you find something that you want to speak out about, you should write a letter to an editor or get a movement going,” Weaver said. “For people, that’s part of what makes journalism better.”

Cartoon by Arin Kang | Page design by Nicky Varela & Jack Shields



Highlanders wonder about the future of school sports in 2020 IVY OLSON & KHUSHI RANA REPORTERS


ou’re on the basketball court of the Langley vs. McLean game. There’s 15 seconds left, so you scream “I’m open!” to the teammate who has the ball and clearly needs help. They pass it to you, you dribble past the other team all the way down the court, take your stance on the 3-point line, shoot and then—beep beep beep—your alarm clock wakes you up from a night’s rest. You quickly realize that the only way you can play sports right now is in your dreams. With most sports involving close physical contact, players are not able to practice the way they did before the pandemic. “[The pandemic] has definitely slowed down the pace we usually learn at for sports,” said sophomore Layla Bizri, who planned to try out for the JV girls basketball team. Coaches have experienced the same setbacks as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. Trying their hardest to work around the social distancing guidelines in order to get practice time in, coaches want to ensure their players aren’t rusty at the beginning of their delayed seasons. “Our season won’t start until December this year, and we will play on a shortened schedule. We are allowed to hold yellow and green days, which has made it difficult to do typical drills that we use to improve our skills,” girls varsity basketball coach Jen Sobota said. Although FCPS has allowed the reimplementation of green and yellow outof-season practice and conditioning days into the athletic schedule, several restrictions have been put in place in an attempt to slow down the spread of the virus. “There are a number of restrictions as far as how many [athletes and players are allowed] in each group, social distancing restrictions while working out and limited use of equipment during the workouts,” Sobota said. Sophomore Josh John, who played on the freshman boys basketball team and varsity tennis team, thinks it is completely fine for McLean to continue the sports seasons as long as restrictions are in place.

“I think if everyone wore masks and we socially distanced a little bit, it would be safe enough to go back,” John said. Sobota has mixed feelings about going back so soon. “I have to admit that I go back and forth with how I feel,” Sobota said. “Basketball is a physical sport by nature. There is a lot of close contact, and I think that makes it difficult to follow a lot of the recommendations and restrictions that are in place. I think if the numbers are good and the safety of everyone involved is not compromised, then I would be comfortable.” In order for sports to return, it would be necessary for athletes to follow the social distancing guidelines that have been put in place. “I don’t think the players will follow the safety precautions if we were to have sports back because many students already don’t care and don’t realize how big of a deal the pandemic really is,” Bizri said. Nonetheless, Sobota is optimistic about a possible season this year. “In the experience I have had with our workouts so far this year, I have been happy to see that students are following the safety

precautions that are in place,” Sobota said. “I think they need to be reminded, but I think a lot of students are excited to be able to have these workouts and would hopefully be willing to stick to the precautions if we are back.” The coaching style in this situation is different, which will take some time for everyone to adjust to. “I think most coaches would agree that the lack of authentic interaction that you are able to have with your athletes has made it difficult as a coach right now,” Sobota said. Because the interaction between the coaches and players is different now, some worry the players will slack off until their seasons actually begin, but not Sobota. “I think the pandemic may have the opposite effect. I think once some of the restrictions are lifted, players will be eager to get back into the sports the way they used to be,” Sobota said. After months of canceled events, some students aren’t hopeful about the possibility of sports resuming this year. “My guess is next year sports will be back to normal,” John said. “And we will be able to watch the games like we used to.”

SHADOW ONE-ON-ONE — The girls basketball team begins their Sept. 22 yellow day practice by doing ball handling. Most players have their own balls due to the rule that only two people can touch one ball during the whole practice.

Page design by Marina Qu | Photo courtesy of Jen Sobota





ver since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the public into a strict quarantine, high school athletes around the country watched as their sports seasons were canceled. After seven months of selfisolation, fall teams have re-implemented green and yellow days, and McLean’s athletes have begun to return to the fields. With the first sports season of the year quickly approaching, McLean has been looking for a plan to safely reinstate sports, while matching the competitive atmosphere of the regular season. Their solution: livestreaming games. “We have the equipment,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. “We’re probably one of the first schools ready to livestream.” Livestreaming games would allow for the simple distribution of live game footage to hundreds of McLean students and parents, while also complying with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s group gathering restrictions. “Fairfax County Public Schools currently have some regulations in place [about streaming games],” Miller said. “[But] if the county gives us the OK, we are ready to rock and roll with livestreaming. It’s something as a school we’re pushing hard to have.” With the McLean administration on board to transition to livestreamed sports games, athletes are conflicted. “I play off of energy. When a lot of people are watching I get really hyped up. Hearing the crowd react feels so good and it gives me all the energy,” varsity girls basketball player Mia Fitzgerald said. “[On the other hand], I don’t want to mess up in front of my family members, or look bad for them, so if they’re watching from home, it would be pretty good for me.” Waiting for the green light from the county, McLean athletes and their fans will have to remain patient to find out when the cameras will start rolling.

Additional reporting by Josh Bass & Emily Friedman




or years, the McLean Highlanders have put their blood, sweat and tears into their sports on the football field. Although athletes have made countless memories on this field, from simple gym class activities to intense football games, the time has come for the turf to be replaced. A turf field usually lasts about 10 years, and McLean’s turf has been used for close to nine years. Fairfax County officials contacted the athletics board at McLean to inform them that the turf is nearing its replacement. “The stadium is getting new turf on top, which is different from a project of getting a brand new turf field and [requires] less work,” Director of Student Activities Greg Miller said. Miller hopes they will be able to replace the turf while students are still in online learning, so McLean athletes would be able to begin practices when fall sports start back up again in February. The appearance of the field will stay almost exactly the same, so students might not notice a difference. Though it is not a safety hazard yet, the new rubber pellets will allow for smoother games and fewer injuries. McLean will not be using any of its own funds to cover the price. Since the turf field was initially installed, the McLean Athletics Boosters, whose sole purpose is to support McLean sports, has saved over $150,000 to pay for the new turf. “The athletic boosters club has been paying $15,000 a year to Fairfax County, [who] kind of hold it in an account. Then when it’s time to replace the turf field, they use that money to pay for it,” Miller said. Although the turf field may not be considered a high priority to some of the McLean community, Miller explained that McLean signed a replacement contract when they first got the field. “I can definitely understand the optics of it with everything going on in the world right now, why are we getting a brand new turf field, but this has been money that’s been saved now for nine years that the school is required to come up with to pay for replacement. It just happens to be...that right now is our time to get it replaced.” Page design by Marina Qu


AARON BREMSER WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT SPORTS RETURNING? Sports should be able to go on with the proper accommodations. WHAT WAS THE BEST PART ABOUT BEATING LANGLEY LAST YEAR? The best part about beating Langley was the fact that we won in front of our whole entire school, and it was a great environment to play basketball in.


JUNIOR BASEBALL PLAYER IF YOU WERE NOT GOING TO PLAY BASEBALL, HOW WOULD YOU SPEND YOUR TIME? I’d probably just keep working out for baseball and get better any way possible.


WHAT’S YOUR BEST MEMORY FROM LAST SEASON AT MCLEAN? My favorite memory from last season was just being with the team. We had such good chemistry.

Photo by Katie Romhilt

Photo by Julia McElligott



ARE YOU ON A TEAM OUTSIDE OF SCHOOL? I play for the travel VEL team and fierce nation league. WHAT IS YOUR BEST HIGHLIGHT FROM YOUR MOST RECENT SEASON? When I was scored as a long stick middie off the face off. WHAT DO YOU LOOK FORWARD TO THE MOST ABOUT PLAYING FOR MCLEAN? I look forward to better competition and getting back out onto the field.

HOW OFTEN DO YOU WORK OUT? I work out four times a week. I work out my glutes and my legs mostly, and I run for 1.5 hours. DO YOU MISS YOUR TEAMMATES AND COACHES? I wish I could be closer to them and talk without standing six feet apart. I’m excited to get working again.


Photo courtesy of Isaac Bell

Photo courtesy of Caylie Kennedy

Page design by Marina Qu


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Articles inside

Q&A with McLean athletes

pages 47-48

Going back to practice

page 45

Livestreaming sports & new turf coming soon

page 46

Media’s role in portraying pandemic

page 44

Sports Crossfire: Should sports return?

pages 42-43

Online college tuition should be lowered

page 41

Editorial: Online classes are draining

page 40

Sydney Marvin racks up TikTok followers

pages 38-39

Toxic beauty standards on social media

pages 36-37

Rap refuses to support “WAP

page 33

Ben Cudmore acts in socially distanced plays

pages 34-35

Online school tips to get motivated

page 21

TheatreMcLean hits the screen

page 32

Changes to college admissions process

page 20

Highlander of the Issue: Leah Siegel

pages 18-19

10 Qs with Ms. Pullis

page 17

New assistant principals

page 16

Equity issues of online learning

pages 8-9

A student’s experience with COVID-19

page 13

New counselors

pages 14-15

TJ admissions changes

pages 10-11

New modular at McLean

page 12

Return to school plan

pages 6-7
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