Vol 5, Issue 2: The Blaze Winter 2022

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Environmental club and PTSO help fund a new garden and courtyard A new safe space to share experiences among other women of color Celebration of the law that lets all women partake in high school sports

Tips and advice for a thriving senior year Staff reviews latest album from The Weeknd





Megan Hayes Megan Langsam Sruthi Sakala Nanaki Bawa Dominika Butler Rohan Iyer Shivoy Nagpaul Amelia Chen Prajna Chakravarty Zain Khalidi Mariam Abdelsayed Lilly Khalkho Alyssa Yoon Divya Iyer Rachel Adams Harini Kannan Karis Adnan Shreenidhi Manchala Hylay Assefa Jackson Mitchell Sarah Baig Smrithi Balakumar Aarohi Motwani Anik Mridha Nicolas Biernacki Lars Nyman James Bowles Maddie Nyman Lily Bridges Sudeepa Pasupuletti Naomi Cho Manika Porchezhian Alexis Cortes Kaleb Ryans Negron Abhishek Sharma Tanishka Enugu Abhishek Solipuram Mars Foley Rishi Sundaram Bella Gerardi Rodrigue Gomado Lucian Tiller Shaima Tora Aline Gonzalez Abby Welch Anushka Goski Sydney Hackett Katy Greiner John Duellman Front: Amelia Chen, TOC: Bella Gerardi, Nidhi Manchala, Back: Megan Langsam A total of 500 copies of “The Blaze” Winter Issue 2021-22 were published by School Papers Express. The newsmagazine is designed in the Bodoni, Function, and Garamond font families.

43460 Loudoun Reserve Drive, Ashburn, VA 20148

LETTER FROM THE EDITORS “The Blaze” continues its return to The Rock, highlighting diverse stories and sparking conversations. As former first lady Michelle Obama said, “there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.” This is no more apparent than in our halls where women — and students of all genders — persevere both academically and in their extracurriculars to accomplish their goals. In this issue, you’ll read about the progress of women’s rights through the 50 year anniversary of Title IX and its impact on Phoenix athletes. Clubs such as the Women of Color Club and Ms. Phoenix have a similar goal to provide a safe space for those who seek to discuss social issues with peers. We also document Phoenix culture with the celebration of Black History Month, a review of The Weekend’s “Dawn FM,” and a sneak peak at the upcoming Women’s Summit. As always, we would also like to thank our incredible staff for their hard work in producing this winter issue and continued effort in producing online content. Finally, our journalism program would not be possible without the immeasurable support from our sponsors, faculty, and community. Sincerely, Megan Hayes Co-Editor-in-Chief

Megan Langsam Co-Editor-in-Chief

MISSION STATEMENT We, “The Blaze” news staff, are committed to serving the Rock Ridge High School community through student-centered perspectives. We aim to publish accurate, up-to-date information, highlighting diverse subjects and sparking conversations for underrepresented stories.

@rockridgehsnews @rockridgehsnews www.theblazerrhs.com Students on the front cover (from left to right): Junior Ainhoa Johnson Diaz, sophomore Ankita Kamath, junior Sruthi Dacherla Photos by/courtesy of (from left to right): Jeff Scudder, Harini Kannan, Amelia Chen

PHOENIX CELEBRATE BLACK HISTORY MONTH In February, the equity and inclusion team, and the Obsidian Club

worked to show elements of black history through various displays. COPY BY: Mars Foley and Hylay Assefa | DESIGN BY: Nidhi Manchala and Bella Gerardi


rom Feb. 9-14, panels in the library from a traveling exhibit from the Hampton Museum called “1619: Arrival of the First Africans” informed patrons and offered an opportunity to learn about Black American history. Since 1926, the month of February has been recognized as Black History Month. February was chosen because it includes the birthdays of historical figures including Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery and become national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, and Abraham Lincoln, who issued the Emancipation Proclamation which eradicated slavery after the Civil War. According to CTE teacher Roxana Cromwell, in the past, Rock Ridge has hosted assemblies during February to celebrate Black History Month, but the equity team has since changed that tradition. Instead, this year, the team hosted an event alongside Stone Bridge and Park View High School to display the exhibits from the Hampton Museum at the library. Cromwell is one of the two heads of the equity and inclusion team, and it is Cromwell’s hope to continue to create library displays for Black History each February to educate the student body. “Once you are informed, you can form strong, knowledgeable opinions,” Cromwell said. “Replace all the negativity with positivity. Black history is American history; it should be part of history.” Freshman Maurice Barton said that more recognition for slavery could

help make people realize how harsh it was. He appreciated the library’s display. “I am happy with what happened in the library with the pictures and biographies of black people,” Barton said. Along with the equity and inclusion team’s efforts to bring attention to the contributions of Black Americans, the Obsidian Club has also led similar efforts. Senior Amaya Monroe, president of the Obsidian Club, said that the club’s mission is to bond over common interests and learn about their own roots with others. On Feb. 10, the Obsidian Club held an event for students to learn about the Harlem Renaissance and its effect on Black people and culture. They invited students and staff to learn about this influential time. On their Instagram, The Obsidian Club posted tributes to Black historical figures like Gordon Parks and Judge Jane Bolin. In addition, they have held several afterschool activities for their members where they conducted presentations on the racial wealth gap and financial literacy. They are currently planning a presentation on Black stereotypes and a movie night. All their events and activities are held in room 1510. In the future, students hope to continue to acknowledge Black History Month in school-wide efforts. Freshman Donte’ Allen wishes for a party honoring Black individuals for fun at the end of February. “This might be hard to do, but I think that if we all work hard on it, we can do it,” Allen said. “It could be in the gym and every-

body could be there.” Cromwell said that Black History month is a wonderful way to celebrate the culture, history, and heritage of Black Americans. “We take at least one month to point out and highlight not just the bad stuff like slavery, but to highlight the fantastic Black excellence,” Cromwell said.

NEWS: Black History Month|02 theblazerrhs.com|03

NEW IDEAS BLOOM AS COURTYARD PROGRESSES Co-leading the effort to renovate the courtyard with the PTSO, the Environmental Club is working hard to create a useful, stress-free outdoor space for students. BY: Pranja Chakravarty and Lily Khalkho| DESIGN & ART BY: Alexis Cortés Negrón


tudents spend at least seven hours a day indoors while at school. After school, they do homework for upwards of five hours, and perhaps have an extracurricular or two after they finish that; throughout the school day, students spend the majority of their time indoors. The PTSO and the Environmental Club are collaborating to create a new outdoor space to change that. “As the Environmental Club, we just want a lot of nature and green space for students to relax and enjoy,” Environmental Club President senior Preyonty Rabbani said. Rock Ridge has two courtyards surrounded by the building, which have remained empty since their construction in 2014. According to PTSO President Tiffany Ahmed, the current PTSO, “[is seeking] to leave a more lasting impact and legacy for the Rock Ridge community.” “When the PTSO announced [that they] would work on [renovating the courtyard], Mr. Duellman made

sure that it would be student run — especially by the Environmental Club, because we’ve been trying for so long to get something [like this] started,” Rabbani said. The courtyards are also utilized in the AP environmental science curriculum to help students enhance their skills through experiential learning projects. In order to prepare for this new initiative, the Environmental Club gathered considerable research. “[The club] has conducted soil samples, assessed lighting and rain accumulation, researched plants and vegetation best suited for the environment, and considered past plans created,” Ahmed said. Also, the club organized a survey to receive feedback from students and staff regarding features to incorporate into the outdoor space, “The Environmental Club is hoping to have a student garden in the courtyard and we are also going to have a lot of seating areas and shade,” Environmental Club member senior Paris Rudy said.

Other ideas include benches, trees, bushes, flowers, lights, walkways, and multipurpose platforms. Technical theater and art classes may also contribute to the effort by helping to build and decorate the outdoor equipment. According to Rudy, the focus of the project is to get as many students involved as possible. In addition, the owner of Green Works Nursery, a local landscaping and gardening center, is working with the Environmental Club to prepare a landscape design for the courtyard. Prior to the implementation of these new features, a detailed plan of the renovations must be submitted to LCPS for approval. Because the Americans With Disabilities Act must approve of the plan, the courtyard must be accessible. In addition, the custodial staff must be able to maintain a simple upkeep of the courtyard. Although the PTSO is working with Home Depot to receive la-

THANKS 2021-2022


The staff of “The Blaze” appreciates your support of student journalism bor and materials for free of cost, they are creating an initiative to raise additional funds for this project. According to Ahmed, the effort is being headed by PTSO Vice President of Fundraising Diane Greene, who has sought grants, community sponsorships, and donations from local businesses. In addition, Band Director Justin Ratcliff invited the PTSO to sell concessions for the Virginia Band and Orchestra Directors Association Marching Band Assessment. Through participating in fundraising events like these and help from the community, the PTSO has gathered $10,000 for the proposed project. The PTSO and the Environmental Club had first met to discuss the courtyard developments in late November 2021, and the PTSO is planning to start construction in the spring of 2022. “[This] project [will] provide an opportunity for students to learn and be able to take pride in playing a part in bringing the project to fruition,” Ahmed said.



Aishwarya Salur Ami and Byron Adams Dana Spencer Kemal Adnan Habib Tora Anbupazhamnee Athmanathan Haseeb Tora Ria Athreya Khalil Tora Ehsan Baig Sonia Troxell Rabia Baig Humaira Uddin Divjot Bawa Prabav Vaiaramani Noni Bawa Katherine Vencer Mary Bernardini Marie Claire Villars Valamarthi Bhaskaran Sivakumar Bhusarapu Gwen Biernacki Paul Biernacki Kari Boucher Jonathan Babcock Scott Butler Izabela Butler Madhavi Chakravarty George Butler Srihari Chakravarty Sunitha and Manohar Engu Vasudha Chakravarty Nandukumar Goski Christopher Bowles Archana Goski Lakshya Engu Persona and Magali Khalkho Matt Frye Poritosh Mridha Anuj Goski Shanti Roy Dawn Hayes Kannan Perumal Srini Iyer The Alemayehu Family Jessilavanya Jeganathan Ronald Kulik Shilpa Manchala Sudheer Manchala Mukesh Bhakta Raj Manimaran Mary Elizabeth and Tim Babcock Sanjit Mridha Vinod Motwani Elaine Moss Mylene Nyman Shivoy Nagpaul John and Denise Powers Pradeep Mysore The Langsam Family Anita Pascual Shilpa Patel Sonal Patel Adam Powers Sher Singh Chris Relopez




NEWS: New Courtyard|04 theblazerrhs.com|05


The Women of Color Club provides a safe space to discuss topics that affect women while giving back to women of color in need. BY: Mariam Abdelsayed, Naomi Cho, and Maddie Nyman | DESIGN BY: Nanaki Bawa


rom discussing self-esteem to organizing hygiene drives, the Women of Color Club aims to create a safe space for women to share and bond over their experiences. The club meets monthly on Wednesday mornings in Room 1515 and is sponsored by special education teacher Brittany Thomas and science teacher Dylan Cashman. The Women of Color Club strives to promote inclusivity and community involvement among women of color. They organize donation drives to collect feminine hygiene and baby products and raise awareness for minorities. “My favorite thing about the Women of Color Club is building a community within the school,” senior and Vice President Ariana Snekeim said. “I want us to come together and build friendships and bonds. It’s crazy that I’ve seen the same people in the Using hues of pink and lavender paint, senior Maddie Kesler and sophomore Jacob Zarate work together to create a sign to sit above the Women of Color Club trifold at the club expo. Photos by Women of Color Club’s Instagram

hallways from elementary school all the way up until high school, and I still haven’t had a conversation with them or know their names.” During club meetings, members discuss self esteem representation for women of color and views on sexual assault, racism, and colorism. Through these discussions, members are able to connect with each other and form new friendships. Snekeim says these small, but memorable club meeting discussions are impactful. “I love sitting and chatting with everyone about everyday issues,” Snekeim said. “We just talk about the stress-

es of life, and it is so comforting.” Although COVID-19 has decreased the volunteering opportunities available, the club still stays active within the community. “We had an item drive in December [for the] Loudoun’s Abused Women Shelter,” senior and President Megan Casas said. “We also plan to have another drive at the end of the year.” The Women of Color Club also aims to collaborate with other clubs such as Ms. Phoenix and the Obsidian Club. “We reach out to different organizations and often offer volunteer opportunities to our members to promote community involvement,” Casas said.

“I love sitting and chatting with everyone about everyday issues.”

-Vice President Ariana Snekeim “I think the activities and discussions Women of Color initiates are really memorable, because this can actually make impacts in these womens’ lives, and it’s always great to help people,” senior club member Tanyka Matthia said.

LADY PHOENIX RISE HIGH The annual “Rise To” Summit aims to raise awareness for various social issues and educate students on women empowerment.

BY: Anushka Goski, Shivoy Nagpaul, Manika Porchezhian, and Shaima Tora | DESIGN BY: Nanaki Bawa


n March 26, English teacher Jessica Berg will host the “Rise To” Women’s Summit. Inspired by a leadership summit that Berg attended with some of her students in 2019 in Durban, South Africa, the summit will provide students with the opportunity to hear from local and state leaders, activists, and organizers to inspire student involvement in social issues. Topics include women’s rights, patriarchy vs. matriarchy, sexism, discrimination, violence, abortion, and more. The Ms. Phoenix Club and Women’s Gender Studies class, sponsored and taught by Berg, respectively, are also aiding in the effort. Together, they are creating a committee to volunteer and coordinate the event through advertising and fundraising, organizing its activities, and communicating with speakers. Junior and Ms. Phoenix Co-President Neha Bhusarapu says that the summit is important as it allows for students to “network with all the powerful ladies that will be coming.” Scan the QR code below for more information about attending the summit.

Q: Why do you think the summit is important, and why should people attend? Bhusarapu: I think it’s important because it’s a way to network with all the powerful ladies that will be coming, and an opportunity to understand more about women empowerment. Q: How would you describe this summit? Berg: There’s this phrase that ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ and my goal with the summit, with the women in gender studies, and with Ms. Phoenix is to counteract that. To show you, you can be this, you can run for public office, and you can make a difference. I would say that’s my goal and takeaway with this. To show you that these people are out there. Q: What is the goal for this summit; what do you hope people take away from it? Bhusurapu: I hope that [people] get to talk to the guest speakers more; I think it is really important that they get inspired [by the speakers] and learn more about women’s empower-

ment and what they can do about it. It is an opportunity to become more educated and I think networking is the biggest thing.

Q: What is the overall theme? Berg: This year’s theme is ‘knowledge is power.’ It’s cliche, but I think [knowledge is] where everything starts. To fix these issues, you first have to know what exists and also know the activists and organizations out there fighting — that’s part of that knowledge too. Graphics by Nanaki Bawa via Canva

NEWS: Women of Color Club and “Rise To” Summit|06 theblazerrhs.com| 07

To celebrate 50 years on the field, athletes reflect on the impact of Title IX through their experence with athletics in high school. COPY BY: Dominika Butler and Megan Langsam | DESIGN BY: Nic Biernacki and Amelia Chen


ith bruised elbows,

muddy sneakers, and a sports headband, Assistant Athletic Director Jennifer Virbickis spent much of her youth on the field. Heavily influenced by her older male relatives playing sports like football, Virbickis often joined in. Yet, she was constantly told by society and loved ones about what sports girls could and couldn’t do. “I think there’s this huge stigma of what girls should do versus what boys should do,” Virbickis said. Thinking back to her teenage years, Virbickis remembers following in her brother’s footsteps. “A rule my parents [had] in high school [was] you either played three sports or you worked,” Virbickis said. “I wasn’t always the best athlete on the team, but it was something to do.” Even so, as the first daughter born into the last six generations of her family, she tackled stereotypes everytime she picked up a ball.

A Brief Look at Title IX June 2022 will mark 50 years since the passing of Title IX, a federal civil rights law passed under the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex (both sexual orientation and gender identity) under any educa-

tional program. Although the Title IX broadly applies to all school programs or extracurriculars, it most famously required all schools to provide equal funding and opportunities to school-level competitive sports for all students and not just male sports.

A Life Without Title IX For athletes across the Rock, lives would be fundamentally different — from their mental and physical health to their outlook on life and themselves — without the ability to play high school sports. “I think my life would be very different [without Title IX], especially considering that sports are a huge part of helping people have a good mental state,” junior thrower Jahnavi Haryani said. Haryani said sports “matter a lot” for strong mental health, affecting everything from attitudes on the field, diligence in the classroom, and the ability to collaborate and work with the team. Similar to teammate Haryani, senior thrower Marina Ashurkoff ’s life has been positively impacted by their participation in sports. Especially during COVID-19, “getting out and throwing [had] a huge impact on my mental health and helped me to be able to control my racing thoughts,” Ashurkoff said. “So, without that element of throwing, I wouldn’t have

that mental strength. And then with the physical strength, and without throwing, I wouldn’t be able to do lifting and really get stronger and be in the place I am now both mentally and physically. I would be a completely different person.” The community competitive sports provides for all student athletes also impacts who they are as people and who these student athletes become. “If I didn’t have the choice to participate [in crew] as a freshman, I wouldn’t be who I am today,” senior rower Anna-Maria Lleshi said. “Because of the community and how much it’s pushed me and changed me…I am really grateful that I have the opportunity to play sports.” Being able to communicate and work alongside others to reach a larger goal has a great impact on students both on and off the field. “[Without Title IX] I would assume that I would be a very different student who didn’t have higher goals and probably didn’t know that much [about] teamwork, since it’s such a big part [of playing a sport],” Haryani said. Scan the QR code below for more about the history of title IX and to read more from our Phoenix

SENIOR TRACK THROWER MARINA ASHURKOFF Photo courtesy of Marina Ashurkoff

Q: Have you experienced or heard any mistreatment occurring with individuals with regards to the ability to participate in sports due to being a certain gender? MA: I have definitely heard situations where that does happen, especially with throwing, because you have an eight pound shot for the for the girls versus a 12 pound shot for the guys, so there’s already that immediate assumption that women in the sport, no matter what level they’re at, [they] are always going to be ‘comparitively weaker,’ when that’s not reality.

Even with Title IX, it’s kind of always that immediate assumption. There was one time when there was a freshman guy [from another school]. He had probably never thrown before, and he immediately assumed that I wasn’t going to be able to throw very far at all, and that I should just quit. [In the end] I was very proud; I ended up throwing further than he did, so that made me feel good.


Photo courtesy of Victor O’Neil

Q: How has track impacted your life? What have you learned about yourself from track? JH: I learned a lot about my athletic capabilities from track. I also learned a lot about my stamina, and how I can manage my time with school work and other extracurriculars while doing sports. Q: Have you faced any challenges in track? JH: Most people assume that you have to have a good height and really good stamina. My mindset was like ‘I couldn’t throw’ because of certain physical aspects. It was blocking until I changed it into a growth mindset: ‘you can still do things like this.’

Q: What would you say to anybody that’s interested in participating in sports or track specifically? JH: Even if you have never run before, I’ve seen a lot of people go from not running at all to being able to run for good distances. And it increases your stamina, it really does. It puts you in a different mindset and a different mood, and it can be pretty relaxing if you have a lot of stress on your mind.

SENIOR CREW MEMBER ANNA-MARIA LLESHI Q: What’s your favorite part of crew? AL: I would say the team. Our team is co-ed, so we have guys and girls, and it’s really fun because everyone -- but mainly the guys -- are stupid sometimes, so we get to experience some of the shenanigans. But also we push each other really hard, and it’s been great to meet other people who struggle and can show you how to get through hard times. Now I’m an upperclassman, but when I was younger, it was just really cool to see how the upperclassmen helped me grow, and how I’m doing that for the underclassmen now.

Q: How do you feel that crew has impacted you; do you feel it is more than the sport, just general personal life like school? AL: I think it’s shown me work ethic. I remember I had no time management, and you have to work hard at crew, so I’ve seen how my hard work can change my times and make me faster, and I’ve translated that to my school work. Also, I would say it made me more resilient, and that’s also because of my teammates, they’ve impacted me so much.

Photo courtesy of Anna-Maria Lleshi


Q: What motivated you to play field hockey and basketball? NM: My mom was my motivation [to play field hockey]. She played field hockey in her high school years and she wanted me to give it a shot, [and] I wanted to try a new sport. My grandpa was my motivation for basketball. He’s always told me he sees great potential with me in basketball, and he pushed me to try out finally after years of watching me shooting hoops in the backyard since I was little up until now. He [also] played basketball when he was younger and was very good at it, which pushed me even more to try out and see what I could accomplish.

Q: How has playing sports impacted your life? What have you learned about yourself from playing sports? NM:[Field hockey] has impacted my life in many different ways. I find it as an escape from reality and it clears my mind from things I stress about and have no control over. [Through playing], I’ve learned that nothing is handed to you. You have to earn what you want, and that hard work pays off.

FEATURE: Fifty Years of Title IX|08 theblazerrhs.com|09

How To Prepare For Your 13 years of schooling prepares you for your final year of high school when you decide how you’re going to leave the nest. Here are some tips to make the process smoother. COPY & DESIGN BY: Megan Hayes |ART BY: Nanaki Bawa It’s never too early to start preparing for your senior year. Regardless of whether you want to attend college, take a gap year, or go straight into the workforce, there is a never ending mountain of senior chores to start climbing. Here you’ll find tips specifically geared towards those wanting to pursue a college degree after graduation. Career Center Specialist Mary Barnes will also be holding a college application jump start seminar the first Monday before school starts (Aug. 22, 2022). A sign-up link will be provided in May.

Take standardized tests as soon as possible

The dreaded SAT and ACT. Some of us have spent years in prep courses to prepare for this monster of a test, while others have decided to just “wing it.” No matter which path you choose, you need to start early. Luckily, you can take these standardized tests multiple times and only your best score will be reported to colleges. Even if you plan to apply test-optional, it’s still a good idea to take the SAT or ACT. “It just gives you flexibility and where you are today isn’t necessarily what you’re going to be thinking next year [during your senior year],” Career Center Specialist Mary Barnes said. “In addition, some schools, even though they’re test-optional, [have] programs within the school, like nursing or engineering, [that] do require the test.” Barnes added that most students at Rock Ridge prefer the SAT, but colleges will accept either one. “I decided to take the SAT, because compared to the ACT, it gives you more points for having good reading comprehension skills and that’s always been my strong suit in school,” senior Jada Aiken said. Taking a practice test of each can be helpful to see which fits you best.

Ask for teacher recommendations at the end of junior year

Your recommendation letters for college should ideally be from teachers you had in your junior year, as they can attest to your most recent abilities and your senior year teachers haven’t really gotten the chance to know you yet. These should also be from core teachers (English, science, history, and math), as some colleges don’t accept them from elective classes. The most important part, though, is that they know you well. “[Pick a teacher] who can attest not only to your academic skills, but your personal strengths and weaknesses,” Aiken said. “That’s what helped me to narrow down who I’d ask.” Aiken was able to build positive connections with her teachers during her sophomore and junior years by talking to them during study hall and office hours. “Teachers take notice when you’re engaged in the class, so put forth the effort,” Aiken said. However, the most important piece of advice is to ask your teachers for recommendations before the end of your junior year. Not only does this give them more time to work on it, but it’s also a sign of respect. Teachers also don’t check their email as frequently during the summer, so the middle to end of June would be the ideal time frame to ask. Finally, don’t forget to thank your awesome teachers for writing your recommendation!

Start working on your college essay

It’s important to note that you don’t need to survive a helicopter crash or have lived on Mount Everest to get into UVA. However, Barnes’ warns us to stay away from cliches. “Don’t tell them about the ACL tear you had your freshman year, because they see quite a few of those,” Barnes said. “I think any topic can be successful [as long as it’s unique to your personality]. I’ve heard counselors talk about somebody who wrote about making pancakes for their family on a Saturday morning, because their family was important to them. It just needs to be authentic and something that really brings across who you are.” Barnes also advised to start working on your drafts the summer before your senior year, as the prompts will be available by then.

Compile a list of your colleges

Nothing is more stressful than seeing all of your friends go on and on about their dream school when you have no idea where you want to go. Luckily, there are options to guide you through this process. First, attend a college fair. You can visit this website, https://www.nacacfairs. org/, to find a fair near you or even explore virtual ones. Second, make sure to utilize Naviance. “Naviance has [a Super Match setting] where you put in what your ideal college would look like,” Aiken said. “This was a huge help in figuring out what colleges I’d be interested in, because I’m a pretty indecisive person.” Naviance also has scattergrams that can tell you your chances of getting in based on your statistics and the success of other Rock Ridge students who have applied there. Some other factors to consider when looking are: if the college offers your major, the location and size of the school, if they allow cars on campus, the nearest cities and attractions, diversity ratings, and if it has an LGBTQ+ community.

Scan the QR code for more tips!

Consider earning college credit in high school

The hard truth: college is expensive. A great way to get a jumpstart on your college education and save some serious money along the way is taking Advanced Placement and dual enrollment classes. These courses can translate into college credits if you perform well on AP exams or earn a C or above in your DE classes. If you receive free or reduced lunch, you can talk to your counselor about options for how to pay for AP and DE fees and if you are eligible for a fee waiver. “Even though they can be a real pain sometimes, [AP courses] help give you a head start for college,” Aiken said. “It is so much cheaper to pay $96 for an AP test than to pay thousands for a college class.” However, some schools may not accept DE credits or only accept your AP exam if you got a four or five. You can visit college websites to see their policies on accepting credits earned in high school. In addition to earning college credits early on, taking these rigorous courses can help your chances during the admissions process. “We offer a lot of rigor here, and when [colleges] evaluate your application, they’re looking at the amount of rigor that we offer versus the amount of rigor that you take,” Barnes said.

Tour colleges

The best way to find your true college match is going on college tours. “Ideally, it would be great to go visit [colleges] your junior year to get an idea [of the campus and location],” Barnes said. “But then once you’re accepted, it’s really great to go back. More than academics or anything else, it should be about [seeing if you’re a good] fit [for] the school.” Tours are a great way to meet possible future classmates and explore the nearby cities or towns to find out if you can see yourself living there. However, the spots fill up fast, so make sure to book these tours early (preferably a few months in advance), especially if you want to visit in the fall.

FEATURE: Senior Year|10 theblazerrhs.com| 11

WINTER SEASON RECAP Athletes reflect on the highlights of their winter seasons. COPY AND DESIGN BY: Rohan Iyer

“It’s been a good season, everyone on the [team] has really grown as players. I’m excited [for] making it up to JV and Varsity, and I want to improve on pretty much everything all around, like shooting and other stuff, so I can be better as a player.” -Freshman center Alex Canfield Photo courtesy of Victor O’Neill

“[Being a captain] and having the authority to help improve the team has benefitted me positively, because it allows me to reflect on everyone’s different strengths and weaknesses on the team, and it allows me to build off of that and help the team become better. The team has great spirit; everyone is willing to take the steps necessary to improve, and it’s overall a phenomenal team to be a part of.” -Junior swimmer Morgan Fowle Photo by Rachel Adams

“[Since] I was a freshman, I’ve been on varsity, and I’ve been a starter, but I’ve had senior mentors or junior mentors. This year, I’m the leader…so it definitely feels different [that] I’m leading a team.” -Junior point guard Sruthi Dacherla Photo by Sarah Baig

“When quarantine hit, it was kind of hard to keep running, but once they said, ‘winter track is coming back’ I was like, ‘Ok, maybe I should come back because I like [track].’ I think [competing] is really fun, and I hope that I can do it in college.” -Junior distance track runner Ainhoa Johnson-Diaz Photo courtesy of Victor O’Neill

“I want to do well [in wrestling]. I’ve already put so much in, so it’s like a reward if you win, and losing kind of sucks; it feels [bad]. I did better [than] before, [in] my sophomore year, so I’m pretty proud of that. I want to shout out my coaches: Coach Hayne, Richard, and Gaskin. They’ve really been there for me and my teammates.” -Senior wrestler Ming Yu Photo courtesy of Victor O’Neill

Congratulations to these athletes for making Regionals or States: REGIONALS





James Cheeks, Neel Chethan, Morgan Fowle, Jeet Metu, Nikhil Midda, Payton So, Andrew Takach, Sam Tyson, Justin Warwick

Marina Ashurkoff, Viraaj Bali, Alex Cranford, Roya Cranford, Elizabeth Horstman, Ainhoa Johnson-Diaz, Lilia Jones, Tienna Martin, Sierra Matheson, Alyssa Tucker, Micah Younger

Ilias Cholakis, Seth Cogar, Hunter Cox, Ming Yu

James Cheeks, Neel Chethan, Morgan Fowle, Jeet Metu, Nikhil Midda, Andrew Takach, Sam Tyson, Justin Warwick

Elizbeth Horstman, Lilia Jones, Sierra Matheson, Micah Younger

Ilias Cholakis, Seth Cogar, Ming Yu


“Xanadu,” a musical mixture of 80’s jukebox and Greek mythology, was the first Musical Theater class show of 2022. BY: Rohan Iyer, Nicolas Biernacki, & Lars Nyman| DESIGN BY: Rohan Iyer


lthough actors and actresses have graced the theater stage in the last two years with performances such as “High School Musical 2” and “Class Acts,” “Xanadu” was the first musical theater class show since “Legally Blonde” in 2020. “It’s really great that we’re able to continue to tell stories with our community in the way that we love to do it,” theater teacher Anthony Cimino-Johnson said. “Xanadu” is an ‘80s-inspired musical. “[It] follows the story of Kira, a Greek goddess, who wants to help out [an] artist who has lost his art, and she ends up falling in love with him,” sound engineer and designer sophomore Zehra Hassan said. At the center of “Xanadu” lies its lead performers: senior Maddie KesAt a rehearsal, senior Grayson Scheefers lays on stage in costume, clutching a roller skate. Photo courtesy of Danny Fortuno

ler, playing the muse Clio, or Kira, the name she uses as part of her disguise while interacting with mortals; senior Grayson Scheefers, playing lovestruck artist Sonny Malone; and senior Matthew Miscio, playing cynical real estate magnate Danny Maguire. The three seniors carried the emotional weight of the musical, with each of their dreams and ambitions flowing together, and the comedic undertones of the show left the audience rolling with laughter. “Xanadu” boasted immaculate production values, with the set containing sliding doors and an upper platform for both actors and the live musicians — a culmination of over two months worth of hard work. “Seeing the finished set and being able to say ‘I did that’ is an awesome feeling,” Deck Captain and build crew member junior Olivia Helfen said. The lighting was also impressive, with flashy strobes and intense colors, along with some precise spotlight work from the lighting crew. For instance, in the “Don’t Walk Away” number, Scheefers’ and Miscio’s characters’ parallel experiences are reflected in simultaneous spotlights, separated by the unbreachable gulf of darkness covering the rest of the stage. The musicians, while in smaller numbers than previous shows such as “Newsies,” still carried the weight of a rock musical between three performers: junior Hannah Adnan played the acoustic and electric guitar, senior Diego Martinez was on the drums, and alumni Arjun Tarafdar played the keyboard.

“Xanadu” only got better after opening night. “The difference between opening and closing night [was] like night and day,” Cimino-Johnson said. “Opening night was a good solid show, but closing night was Rock Ridge Performing Arts quality.” Scheefers agreed with this sentiment. “As we kept going on, you’re doing it more and more,” Scheefers said. “We had a couple of shows under our belt, people are getting more comfortable, they’re trying new things.” Closing night included a fair bit of challenges for the cast and crew. During the final show, Scheefers’ microphone suddenly stopped functioning. However, with some quick, on-thespot thinking by Helfen and two actors, Scheefers mic was quickly turned back on, and this incident instead added to the quality of the show rather than detracting from it. “The students backstage felt empowered to go out there and use one of the characters, Erato [played by senior Karishma Ruhnke]...to turn [Scheefers] mic on,” Cimino-Johnson said. “And then Maddie Kesler, who played the lead, later on referenced that moment in an improv line.” Quick problem-solving like this is evidence of the time, effort, and commitment of cast members to deliver a performance of the highest quality. With its comedic punch and lighthearted storytelling, “Xanadu” showcased Rock Ridge Performing Arts’ ability to tell powerful, moving stories through theater. SPORTS & ARTS: Winter & “Xanadu”|12 theblazerrhs.com|13

TUNING INTO “DAWN FM” On Jan. 7, The Weeknd released his new album, “Dawn FM,” almost two years after the release of his previous album “After Hours.” COPY BY: Amelia Chen and Abhishek Sharma| DESIGN BY: Abhishek Sharma


n the music industry, streaming platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music have replaced the need for old radios. However, with “Dawn FM,” The Weeknd takes us back on a nostalgic journey through his new radio-inspired album. Three days before the release, The Weeknd posted a trailer of the album to his official YouTube channel. In the trailer, he labels his new album as “a new sonic universe from the mind of The Weeknd.” In addition, he provided a list of artists who were going to be featured on the album, such as Tyler, The Creator and Lil Wayne. In “Dawn FM,” The Weeknd heavily focused on EDM beats and incorporated different musical concepts to add variety. As each song ended, the beats smoothly transitioned into the next song, making his album feel like a cohesive and vintage radio. Even within the songs, there was a sort of “radio vibe,” as an announcer would begin or end tracks with vague messages hinting about later songs. The album begins with the title track interlude “Dawn FM,” where The Weeknd sets the scene of tuning into a radio channel. In it, he leaves us with a few elusive lines singing about being alone, before immediately transitioning to Jim Carey reporting from “103.5 Dawn FM.” From that, it dives straight into the first chapter with the songs “Gasoline,” “How Do I Make You Love Me,” and “Take My Breath,” describing the adoration The Weeknd holds for his lover. He wishes to keep her forever and wonders how he can

make his lover stay by his side. However, with “Sacrifice,” The Weeknd loses his lover because he slips back into bad habits. He doesn’t want to sacrifice his personal time, so in turn, he sacrifices their relationship and breaks off from her. The rest of the album is split into two more segments. The first segment talks about how they ended up back together, but did so knowing each other’s faults by re-entering their relationship, realizing it won’t last. Their relationship ends when The Weeknd realizes his lover loves someone else. In the second of those segments, The Weeknd wonders if they fixed their problems or if the relationship could have worked out if he was better to her. The album concludes with the final words of the “Dawn FM” radio host, where Carey gives some advice to the listeners after The Weeknd’s character dies. At a sort of crossroads before parting, Carey says that no matter the mistakes you’ve made, there will always be a way to redeem yourself. Heaven isn’t dying, wanting to die after making mistakes won’t help you heal. Forgiving and making peace with yourself is what heaven really looks like. With the implementation of R&B music with “Out of Time” and EDM music with “Gasoline,” the album truly felt like a real radio show. Each song had it’s own defined message and intricate musicality that made the album stand out from all of The Weeknd’s other albums. In addition, there was always a consistent essence of an old radio in the songs

that we have never seen in an album before. However, although there were a variety of musical concepts, the album did feel repetitive at times, due to the constant use of EDM beats. Even though he tried to separate the different sections with the interludes introducing them as “30 minutes of slow tunes,” he didn’t quite meet the mark by making the songs almost uniform with similar beats and instrumentals. Overall, with “Dawn FM,” The Weeknd gave listeners an entirely new concept that was completely different from his other albums. The Weeknd depicted themes of heartbreak, death, and toxic obsession by showing the act of tuning into the radio as a distraction, only for it to remind the lovers of their mistakes yet again. Image Curtesy of Kayla Johnson via Creative Commons


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