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FEB. 8, 2018 || VOL 3 ISSUE 5 ||




1.5 IN 100 For the past three years, African-American admits to Jefferson have remained at only 1.5 percent. This month, tjTODAY looks at how African-American students deal with with diversity and difference. P.6



Dating without social media



Are we to blame? How can we change?



Making it to the final round of the Water Cube Cup in China

CONTENTS 06 African-American Students at Jefferson EDITORIAL BOARD Ankit Agrawal Katherine Du Angel Kim Adithi Ramakrishnan

Uzma Rentia Avni Singh Christine Zhao

A look at the experiences of African-American students at Jefferson


Sabria Kazmi


Lynn Nguyen

STAFF REPORTERS Roja Ayyadurai Rena Cai Nehal Chakraborty Ashley Huang Sneha Joisha Tanya Kurnootala Irina Lee

Grace Mak Anushka Molugu Forrest Meng Clay Reppert Sadhana Suri Prerak Thakkar David Xiang 1


Erinn Harris 1. Sitting on a bench, Operating Engineer Jerome Ware monitors electrical lighting, plumbing and air conditioning at Jefferson. 2. Rowing on an erg machine, junior Prabhat Adusumalli works out with members of the crew team. He notably is not a member of the crew team. 3. Overseeing a basketball game against Marshall High School, Jefferson mascot Tommy the Colonial provides school spirit and energy to players and fans.






04 Science Fair

18 Jeffrey Wang’s Weather Forecasts

26 Jefferson Admissions Test

Students present their research to judges

Senior Jeffrey Wang discusses why he follows the weather

Lack of transparency penalizes disadvantaged students

In-Depth 16

Rachel Mills

Getting to know the new Geosystems teacher

Sports 20 Return of Tommy the Colonial Jefferson’s sports mascot is back on the sidelines

Entertainment 30 Cynthia Hu Making it to the final round of a singing competition in China

tjTODAY is the official newsmagazine of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology published by the journalism staff. The staff is deeply committed to a code of journalistic ethics that demands the exercise of accuracy, good judgment and impartiality. The content of tjTODAY is determined by the editorial board. Unsigned editorials reflect the majority opinion of the staff of tjTODAY, but not necessarily the opinions of individual editors.


NEWS || FEB. 8, 2018 03

Senior Kavya Kopparapu wins Health Hero award from WebMD for her inventions for doctors to determine which genes were mutated and hyper-expressed in patients with advanced cancers.” GlioVision was originally developed to obtain information about Glioblastoma Multiforme, a type of brain cancer, but according to Kopparapu, it is adaptable in the information it can detect. “At the TJ Science Fair I had the opportunity to talk to a judge who explained that a very close friend of his was recently diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer and it took a month to determine specific mutations in order for an oncologist to prescribe targeted gene therapy,” Kopparapu said. “The best part of GlioVision is that although I developed the project for glioblastoma, it can easily be adapted to any cancer.”

Standing at the podium with her award, senior Kavya Kopparapu answers questions from the audience. “The highlight [of the event] was meeting the other recipients,” Kopparapu said. “After receiving our awards we had a panel discussion with WebMD employees and guests in the New York so that was a wonderful opportunity to hear what people thought about our initiatives.” Image Courtesy of Kavya Kopparapu.

Prerak Thakkar || STAFF WRITER


s part of WebMD’s initiative to honor innovators in the field of medicine and health, senior Kavya Kopparapu received the Health Hero award on January 22. Kopparapu received the award for a number of projects she has done. The most recent of these projects was a platform to obtain information on tumors called GlioVision. “[GlioVison] is a personalized medicine platform which extracts a cancerous tumor’s molecular and genetic information from a biopsy,” Kopparapu said. Molecular and genetic information is very

important for determining how the tumor should be treated. The innovative aspect of GlioVision is the speed with which it can determine this information.

Kopparapu began research over the summer and continued through the year in Jefferson’s Neuroscience Lab, where she received help from lab director Mark Hannum. “Mr. Hannum helped me a lot with brainstorming my project, what new parts to put, how to do it correctly,” Kopparapu said. “He recognized that the concept of it hasn’t really been done before, so he put me in touch with a patent lawyer that had worked with him before and helped me get a patent on it.” Rather than apply for an award, she was approached by WebMD for the Health Hero award.

“GlioVision reduces the current time it takes to extract tumor information [from] several weeks to several seconds,” Kopparapu “Someone from WebMD contacted me said. about it [the award],” Kopparapu said. “Health Heroes is all about inspiration and Currently, it can take doctors more than a month to find this information about tumors. motivation; giving innovators and pioneers a platform to continue their research and “I read a lot about the personalized meet others in the field. It was a wonderful medicine push that President Obama started experience to meet everyone from WebMD, in 2008,” Kopparapu said. “While I saw many many of whom flew into New York from papers about new therapies and clinical trials, their Atlanta office for the event.” there was no timely, cost-effective method



NEWS || FEB. 8, 2018 05





1. Making a hand gesture, junior Korrina Gidwani describes her project to a student. 2. Carrying her poster, senior Sophie Koh enters the gym to set up before judging. 3. Standing in front of his poster, sophomore Arnav Bansal describes his research to a group of students. 4. Putting a plush doll on his poster, freshman Shan Lateef sets up his poster. 5. About to point to his poster, senior Sujay Kandwal presents his research to a student.

One Hundred and Thirteen Students Participate in the Science Fair Fair Alex Howe || TEAM LEADER


n order to allow students to show their research to judges, Jefferson held the annual science fair for students on Jan. 31 during eighth period and after school. Student projects were judged by parents and professionals, who listened to presentations of a student’s research, and asked questions about the project.

person in my category, and my category had to stay the longest. I think it was just a lack of judges; it wasn’t anyone’s fault. We were just unlucky that cell biology was the third of three or four categories. The judges had to go to different categories, and we ended up staying until eight.”

While students did review their research, much of their knowledge came as a result of long periods of time working on their projects.

“The presentation is really how well you know your project,” sophomore Arnav Bansal said. “I’ve worked on my project When not being judged, students reviewed for eight months, so I already knew the ins and the outs and every part along the way, “There are three to four judges that will see their projects, looked at other projects, and socialized with their peers. and then a lot of the current literature and your project,” senior John Krause-Steinrauf research in the field. That helped me answer said. “You are judged by category. For “I was just looking over my poster and example, I was in the cell biology category. reviewing my paper, making sure I could field questions.” You get three to four judges that see every any questions they could throw at me for Student researchers found the fair to be project in your category, and they give you the first hour or so,” Kandwal said. “Once useful for their future research. ratings, and at the end, a winner is chosen.” I got the grip of that, I was talking to other “I liked the experience a lot, and I think Judging began at 4:15. While some students people, looking at their posters, figuring out in general it is a rewarding experience,” what other research at [Jefferson] goes on. finished being judged rather quickly, others Bansal said, “because you just gain so many Some people were doing homework, talking skills from the process, the researching, the had to wait a few hours. to friends, socializing. It’s a good time. It’s “I was the second-to-last person to leave,” just a different community of people doing presenting, the writing, the design of the poster.” senior Sujay Kandwal said. “I was the fourth research and presenting.”







IN-DEPTH || FEB. 8, 2018 7


Searching beyond numbers: African-American students and faculty members compare Jefferson to previous social environments and reflect on avenues created to increase racial representation Katherine Du and Christine Zhao || EDITORS

What’s it like to be Black at Jefferson? Walking through the halls on a regular day, you are likely to see few, if any, AfricanAmerican students as you walk to your various classrooms and settle down for lunch.


It’s hard for black students to find others who look similar to them, even though many of the people they encounter have similar interests. The average composition of African-American students in the accepted applicants pool hovered at around 1.5 percent over the past three years.


“I felt like I stuck out when I first got here, but it really went away after not that long. Everyone here is so close and it’s a big family, so it doesn’t feel all that different [from middle school].” Sophomore Victoria Agrinya

Incoming African-American students face a jarring initial impression of the school: many originate from more racially diverse communities where their ethnicity doesn’t make them stand out. When placed in Jefferson’s predominantly Asian and white

community, these students often feel more conscious of their race. Some of these black students express their candid thoughts below on their transition from middle to high school and the challenges stemming from being a minority at Jefferson.

““The school would have to try and appeal to other ethnicities to try and increase diversity, because it wouldn’t be fair to give an advantage to minorities.” - freshman David Kwabi-Addo In his Prince William County middle school, David Kwabi-Addo was surrounded by mainly African-American and white students. Apart from him, only two other students -- both Pakistani -- were accepted to Jefferson from his school. When transitioning to Jefferson, which has a 74.9 percent Asian population in the Class of 2021 and similar trends for the other classes, he felt a drastic change in environment. “I feel like there’s not enough black freshmen,” Kwabi-Addo said. “I did start uncomfortably. My middle school was more mixed.”

While going to a school with a sizeable African-American population, freshman David Kwabi-Addo was the only African-American student admitted to Jefferson

Kwabi-Addo attributes some of the lack of African-American students to differing cultural values. According to him, Asians seem more willing to study for the Jefferson admissions test and pay the $90

IN-DEPTH || FEB. 8, 2018 9 fee. Despite being a minority, Kwabi-Addo is reluctant about asking administration for support or to express personal struggles because he doesn’t want it to be viewed as a handicap. Besides, he feels more comfortable interacting with school staff members that look like him.

base school. “There’s more affinity for level of social merit based on level of hardworkingness, or how well you do in class,” Jones said. “There’s also less social interaction in general.” Jones observed that at Oakton High School, the base school he was zoned for, students all congregate around a speaker in the hallways during lunch to listen to music, which is predominantly absent at

“It’s awkward talking to teachers, because I can’t relate to them as much as I could in middle school,” Kwabi-Addo said. “None of my teachers are black.” However, Kwabi-Addo acknowledges that there are efforts to support AfricanAmericans at Jefferson. Over the announcements, he recently heard about the Black Engineer of the Year Awards, and has attended the first monthly college-preparation meeting of the year held by counselor Andrea Smith. Kwabi-Addo mentioned that he now has “wonderful friends,” although every once in a while he is reminded of his race. “In English we just started watching ‘Selma,’ the civil rights movie,” KwabiAddo said. “It’s kind of odd, because I’m the only black person in the class, so I just try to ignore [that fact].”

“There’s a point where you’ve got to favor level of academic ability over ethnic diversity, but at the same time if you don’t have enough ethnic diversity the level of cultural discussion you’re able to have is not going to be good enough where everyone can be exposed. Striking the balance between those two is a challenge, especially for a school where you have to apply to get in.” - junior Maxwell Jones After visiting a plethora of high schools, Jones chose Jefferson because of its level of academic rigor. He wanted to be challenged. After attending a private school, he felt that progressing to Jefferson would be manageable. However, for Jones, there was a slight culture shock between Jefferson and a


them to varying perspectives and stimulates thought-provoking discussions. Overall, Jones perceives that he experiences the best of both worlds. “I’m able to keep my own cultural things intact -- chilling with people from base school, listening to music, going out to parties -- and at the same time take advantage of the atmosphere at TJ and be able to further myself academically,” Jones said.



Jefferson. Jones enjoys hip-hop tracks and playing basketball, which are not subjects on which he can connect with other Jefferson students. His personality has helped him to adapt. “I feel like I can voice my opinion to a point where I’m not going to be scared or I’m not going to be upset that no one else has the same opinion as me,” Jones said. Jones believes it is up to the Jefferson community to decide on the school’s dynamic, whether that be prioritizing learning or quenching students in a richer cultural experience. Racial diversity may be more beneficial for non-minorities, as having a diverse student body exposes

1. Art teacher Timothy Davis sketches in his classroom. “I feel that TJ is lacking a number of Black and Hispanic teachers and students. My hope that it will be increased in the future as it will broaden the scope of ethnic and cultural understanding for students and the TJ community,” Davis said. 2. Assistant Principal Shawn Frank works in his office. Frank is the co-founder of LIFT, a program that aims to increase representation of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds 3. Sitting in her office, counselor Andrea works at her desk. Smith participates in the BEYA Stars and Stripes Sustained Mentoring Program, a year-long program that provides African-American youth with sessions on college-readiness, leadership and STEM careers. Smith believes BEYA is one way isolated African-American students can adjust to the Jefferson environment. “I would say that they need to get involved in the cultural groups. We have the BSU or BEYA which is the sustained mentorship program that we have,” Smith said. “So I would say try and get involved in a group like that and to hang out with some students they have things in common with.”


“That was one of the big jokes: you got in, and you’re black? That’s when I started finding out. I didn’t actually realize how extreme it was until I arrived.” Senior Camdyn Davis

“[People at TJ] have to stop thinking affirmative action is bad. I don’t think it’s bad. At least with TJ, it’s not that they would admit people who aren’t qualified, it would just help people from underrepresented races get a shove through the door.” - senior Angel Peprah “I found out about TJ the summer before I applied.” Senior Angel Peprah originally applied to Jefferson on a whim; she’d expected to attend Forest Park High School in Prince William County until she stumbled upon this school, initially drawn by the word “science” in its name. From then on, she was committed; she thought she’d found the perfect fit for her driven and nerdy side. “I wanted to attend because of how in-depth this school goes in STEM; I was doing robotics in middle school and I wanted to keep doing that,” Peprah said.

She’d already applied to Forest Park’s Information Technology program and didn’t enroll in any TJ preparation courses, a culture she wasn’t aware of until she got in. When she did get in, Peprah also felt like she stood out -- she is the only AfricanAmerican girl in the senior class -- but it is a consciousness that’s faded with time and the welcoming community of the school. “Open house freshman year, it felt like all the parents were staring at me. I’m such an anomaly, but that’s just how I felt,” Peprah said. “Freshman year, people were like, ‘You got in because you’re black.’ If I did, you’d think there would be more black people here, but no. Over the years, I don’t care as much because I’m over it, but I’m definitely looking forward to a more diverse landscape in college.”

“When we’re talking about race in [Young Democrats club], everyone looks at you for your opinion because you’re the only

black person here. I sometimes feel like I’m the representative for the entirety of my race. It’s kind of frustrating that there’s this level of ignorance, but at the same time, I feel like most people are well-meaning about it. So, annoying, but I recognize it could be worse. I just think they don’t know and I think I have a duty to educate my peers.” - senior Camdyn Davis Peprah and senior Camdyn Davis both came from racially diverse middle schools; Davis was a student at South County Middle School where the black population is 19% and there is an approximately equal representation of Asians, Hispanics, and blacks ranging from 12-19% of the overall

population (FCPS, “School Profiles - South County MS”). “Once I was accepted, a lot of the kids in my base school were like, ‘Oh, you’re going

IN-DEPTH || FEB. 8, 2018 11 to be the “only black kid” [at Jefferson],’ or ‘There aren’t going to [be] any more, ever,’” Davis said. “That was one of the big jokes: you got in, and you’re black? That’s when I started finding out. I didn’t actually realize how extreme it was until I arrived.”

these schools and they’ll recognize that [students from those schools] don’t even know what TJ is, whereas schools like Robinson will have all these interest meetings and everyone knows about it. I feel like that’s part of the problem.”

Since then, Davis has been working with the Black Student Union (BSU) to increase middle school students’ awareness of Jefferson as a viable option. He works hard at this effort in order to increase representation and diversity within the student body. Though his own middle school peers were well-aware of TJ, Davis feels students at similar schools don’t have the same type of exposure. Lack of exposure, even to the possibility of attending Jefferson, can contribute to the continually low numbers of students from racially diverse schools who apply to and attend Jefferson.

Assistant Principal Shawn Frank is the co-founder of Learning through Inquiry, Fellowship, and Tutoring (LIFT), a program to “lift” middle school students from low socioeconomic backgrounds by lifting their visions, confidence and chances of being admitted to Jefferson. Frank wants racial representation at Jefferson to look demographically similar to surrounding schools.

“A lot of racially diverse and lowincome schools, they just don’t know about [Jefferson],” Davis said. “There’s a panel that’s supposed to go out to

“Representation is what I’d like to see,” Frank said. “That really increases diversity and that’s valuable in the conversations we have, formal relationships, and learning how to work with different groups.” According to Frank, having honest conversations about race and recognizing that we are still working to solve racial

issues is integral. It can help break down stereotypes and perceptions and allow students to be more sensitive of each other’s cultures. From March 6-10, 2017, the Student Government Association held their first Diversity Week, where the community celebrated the diversity of our students and highlighted the importance of inclusion and understanding amongst our student body. Recently, a Va. Senate bill sought to increase representation of those different groups at Jefferson; the Senate committee’s decision to strike down the bill, which would institute admission quotas for middle schools and students who receive free or reduced-price meals, sparked discussion in the TJ Alumni group about how to increase diversity. Many alumni and sources voice progress still needs to be made; several groups and individuals continue to push for this issue by penning letters to the Va. Senate, expanding outreach, and supporting students within the community.

PHOTO // Frank Ding, Katherine Du and Uzma Rentia

Chastising a student for arriving to class late, math teacher David Hill hands out papers to his Math 3 class. While a student himself, Hill had a varied experience with diversity. He initially attended a high school with a majority African-American student body before moving to a suburb that was more diverse. However, his experience at MIT, where he estimates African-Americans only made up five percent of the student population, meant that he was not surprised to see underrepresentation at Jefferson. “I would love to see if there’s a way to get more diverse or get more balanced demographics,” Hill said. Still, he was surprised at just how low the number of African-American students were at Jefferson. Now in his third year of teaching, Hill estimates that he has taught only about six African-American students. “I taught in D.C. public schools… about 85 percent of students I taught were African American. When I came here, I think I definitely taught less than 10. This is year three, I think I’m up to 6, including this year. So on average, two per year. So very, very low… I’m surprised it’s that low.” For students struggling to fit into the Jefferson environment, Hill encourages them to adjust by reaching out. “I would definitely say the Black Student Union – I’m glad they have that here so that African-American students can talk to each other and have that network so that they can feel like they have somebody they can talk to and relate with.”


NOSOCIALMEDIA? How a relationship survives without Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat Nehal Chakraborty || STAFF WRITER


unior Alice Fontaine pulls her phone out of her backpack and turns it on to enter in her password. She presses a combination of buttons on the phone keypad and slides her thumb along the trackpad to navigate her way to the phone application. Using the trackpad to scroll through her contacts, she selects her boyfriend’s number and raises her Blackberry to her ear.

Generally, Fontaine doesn’t use her Blackberry too often, except to contact her parents and sometimes have a short text conversation with a friend. While a smartphone may display notifications from games and social media, Fontaine’s Blackberry will notify her of money being spent on her data.

“Every call costs five cents. And for each text, either sent or received, Jefferson juniors Alice Fontaine and Todd Hartman maintain their costs five cents,” Fontaine said. “I probably use the text messages most relationship without the use of social media. The couple keep in touch often, but I only have $10 dollars a month so I have to space out texts so I with each other after school through Gmail, instead of other popular social have enough for emergencies.” media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram. As she doesn’t have access to Facebook Messenger, Fontaine uses Fontaine’s separation from social media stems from a household rule Google Hangouts to keep in touch with her friends outside of school. regarding personal devices and internet access. “I try to make all of my friends download Hangouts, which is an “My family has a rule: No social media and no smart phones until senior year,” Fontaine said. “It’s to make sure I don’t get addicted to social media and scroll through stuff for a long time. And [my parents] want to make sure we stay focused on school. So this summer, I’ll get a Facebook, and social media, and a smartphone.”

extension of google. It works off of Gmail for me. It’s basically a Messenger app, so I can contact them and they all get notifications,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine has been in a relationship with Hartman for a year and four months. The couple started off by exchanging emails for school. Fontaine and Hartman worked on a project together and communicated

Fontaine uses the keypad to enter letters into the search bar of her phone. Due to a household rule, Fontaine is not allowed to have a smartphone or any social media accounts until senior year.

SCI-TECH || FEB. 8, 2018 13 solely through Hangouts, which they continue to use to this day. “It started when I had to email him, like a physical email, and email back and forth,” Fontaine said. “It was originally for a project in Forensic Science Society and I said, ‘Can we just use Hangouts’, and [Hartman] agreed. Nowadays, if I’m meeting up with him or with other friends, we’ll make a small group chat and plan things there.” Before he and Fontaine started dating, Hartman would use social networks at a low frequency. In fact, he seldom communicated through these platforms, even though he had them on his phone. “I wasn’t that big into it. I just browsed stuff sometimes,” Hartman said. “I just didn’t read my texts at all.” Hartman, like a lot of Fontaine’s friends, use Hangouts specifically to keep contact with her. Prior to meeting Fontaine, Hartman didn’t use Hangouts to communicate with others. “I only have [Hangouts] to talk to [Alice],” Hartman said.

“People ask me how I live without Facebook, and I say you can’t miss something that you don’t have.” -Junior Alice Fontaine Despite its similarities to other social media platforms, Hangouts is divergent from Twitter and Instagram in the sense of sharing pictures. Hangouts does not have the feature of being able to post pictures which will show up in one’s friends’ feeds. However, that isn’t much an issue for some people. “Posting pictures is easier to share with other people, but at the same time, you don’t really need to share everything with other people,” Fontaine said.

When it comes to collaborative school assignments, Fontaine’s group members would include her by using Hangouts, instead of having a group chat on Messenger without her.

There are many different routes to interacting with people other than the conventional social media platforms. Fontaine, despite not being able use Facebook like a lot of her friends, can still enjoy many of the same benefits by using Hangouts.

“In my classes we have group projects where everyone goes on Hangouts just because I don’t have Facebook,” Fontaine said.

“People ask me how I live without Facebook, and I say you can’t miss something that you don’t have,” Fontaine said.

In many ways, Fontaine’s method of communication isn’t all that different from that of many others in the school. Hangouts allows one to message, call, and video call multiple people at once, or just one specific person.

Frequently, a conversation is interrupted by a text alert or a Facebook notification, which takes away from the face-to-face aspect of any kind of relationship. By not having to deal with this, Fontaine’s and Hartman’s relationship consists of more “in person” interaction, which in turn, strengthens their relationship.

“[Hangouts] is not really that different from Messenger, it’s just a different way to [communicate],” Hartman said. As a student who doesn’t use the common forms of social media that her peers use to publicize events, Fontaine faces drawbacks to not having Facebook. Sometimes, she’ll miss out on an important announcement regarding a school assignment or a social gathering.

“It gives us more time to talk,” Fontaine said. “When we’re with each other, we don’t spend time scrolling through Instagram.”

“I understand how Facebook’s convenient for organizing stuff and I miss out on stuff, like iNite perhaps. The choreographers will post stuff on Facebook groups and tell when practices are. And sometimes, my friends will forget to tell me when practices are,” Fontaine said. A disadvantage of having Hangouts as a primary source of digital communication is that not everyone is used to it checking often, as compared to Instagram or Twitter. Nevertheless, this does not affect Fontaine’s relationship with Hartman and her other friends. “I think, since it’s not Facebook, my friends don’t check Hangouts as often, but because we’re friends, I think they’ll understand,” Fontaine said.

Fontaine and Hartman enjoy spending time togher in-person during school. Outside of school they use Google Hangouts to stay in touch.


Where I Go, Who I Am H

While pursuing his career, Operating Engineer Jerome Ware finds pride in his culture and insight into perseverence.


alf the building plunges into darkness. As emergency lights flicker on, students and teachers scramble towards available commons spaces to resume lessons. At the same time, Operating Engineer Jerome Ware also rushes out of his office to determine the voltage issue in the school’s first power outage of the year. Ware is the school engineer at Jefferson, in charge of electrical lighting, plumbing, the AC, and exterior and interior structural maintenance. “My job here is to make sure that everything is working properly,” Ware said. “I love everything about this job. I like the atmosphere, I like the people, and I like the staff. I love getting up to come to work in the morning.” Beginning of Aspirations Before reaching his current engineering position, Ware held a slightly different vision for his potential career path.

“It was like high school all over again and a little bit of a technical school,” Ware said. “Once I got into the field, different things were required of me to learn so I had to tackle that as far as taking on different trades and knowledge in those trades.” During his schooling, Ware began to notice and experience subtle differences in staff attitudes toward students of one cultural group compared to the next. “I had an experience at trade school where it seemed like more help was given to one culture than to the next culture. Even in school, it seems like more attention was given to another group than the other group… You can just feel the attitude or the tension in the air,” he said. The Reflection of Attitudes in Society Ware sees evidence of similar treatment in the current social climate as well.

“I see it right now today in this time that we live in,” Ware said. “At first, when I was in high school, I wanted to work at the White “Even with the president that we have and the remarks that he House,” he said. “I did wrestling and football [and] figured being a makes. Different culture, different people. We are faced with that bodyguard at the House would be good. I just thought that would fall everyday.” right in place with what I was trying to do.” Despite the reflection of racial discrimination within society, Ware After he graduated from T. C. William High School, Ware lost does not let it interfere with his goals. interest in becoming a guard and began his search for a future career “I don’t let [attitudes of others] deter me or take me away from my when he found FCPS. focus on what needs to happen. Only I can control of my actions “When I got out of high school, I was just working jobs here and then.” Ware said. “I didn’t have any interest to go to college or anything like that. I just knew I wanted to do maintenance of some sort and that’s when Fairfax County came in line.”

From an FCPS job fair interview, Ware got his initial job as a general custodian in 1988 and began to gain experience in that field, opening the door to higher positions and greater opportunities. “From there I moved up to Assistant Supervisor and then from there, I wanted to do something more with my hands. [I liked the] technical part of the job… and troubleshooting things. And custodian work wasn’t that. So I started going to school and fell into HVAC,” Ware said. New Dream in a New School In realizing his passion for the engineering aspect of maintenance, Ware enrolled in the Bryant Apprenticeship School. He soon found himself in a familiar academic setting as his previous schooling.

and how I perceive things,” Ware said.

The Drive Towards Succcess and its Challenges Ware prides himself in being African American and the efforts he has taken to reach success. “I love being African American, [but] it comes with struggles,” Ware said. “I feel that being African American, you have to work much more harder to be noticed for what you do. We face [that] in society now, with different situations. It can be tough at times. I feel that you have to work harder.” In looking back to his experiences in trade school to his recent role in dealing with the latest school power outage, Ware shares a word of wisdom to students and their endeavors. “Pursue your dreams,” Ware said. “Stay focused on what you want to accomplish in life and hard work pays off… You see, it can be difficult [and] life [presents] challenges. Stay on course, and everything will work out.”

IN-DEPTH || FEB. 8, 2018 15

Jerome Ware

Beginning from his custodial position in ’88, Ware upheld school maintenance duties as assistant then acting supervisor for 14 years. He then proceeded into the engineering fields, working as a steamfitter helper, refrigeration helper and tech, HVAC tech, and his current position as the Building Engineer. In looking back towards each responsibility and position, Ware shares his insight into personal growth and outlook. “I always evaluate myself.” Ware said. “I don’t want to be in the same position as I was last year as far as knowledge, as far as my health, as far as my relationship with my family, and me as a person. I always take a look as myself and how I am as a human being and what I have to offer to someone. What I have to offer to society. I’m always trying to give back because I didn’t get to where I am without help from someone. I always want to give back.”

PHOTO // MiJin Cho


HITTINGTHE GROUNDRUNNING Geosystems teacher Rachel Mills settles into her new role midway through the year Anushka Molugu and Tanya Kurnootala || STAFF WRITERS


hen geosystems teacher Rachel Mills first walked into her classroom on Jan. 2, her students had already been sitting there for close to four months.

It was her first day as a contracted teacher at Jefferson - and it was halfway through the year. “I think starting anything in the middle can be a bit of a challenge,” Mills said. Despite coming into the classroom at a later time, Mills quickly adjusted to her new students and staff members.

“It’s not just teaching basics, it’s actually getting into issues. It is a much more advanced textbook, so for me it’s kind of cool to read it from a different perspective,” Mills said. “Instead of just, ‘Let’s memorize this and this, freshmen,’ it is like, ‘Let’s actually think about why this is happening.” So I’m finding it really fulfilling to come at it from a deeper perspective.” In addition, the structure of Jefferson’s science courses differs from that of her previous school. Even though the content taught is similar, Jefferson’s syllabus for geosystems integrates many disciplines of

“What I’ve been very happy to see is that the students have welcomed me, the other staff members have welcomed me, people have popped in just to introduce themselves and say hi,” Mills said. “All things considered, I think it’s going really well. I had no idea how the students would interact with me once I got here and I’ve been really pleased.” Mills became a contracted teacher for geosystems following the unexpected passing of geosystems teacher Douglas Cullen. After Cullen’s passing, principal Dr. Ann Bonitatibus and the geosystems team worked to fill the vacancy, posting an announcement for application submissions and scheduling multiple interviews. After going through such a thorough process to find the right teacher, Bonitatibus and the geosystems team believed that Rachel Mills was highly qualified for her new position. “Once we started the year, in that position of having a sub, our goal all along was to get a contracted teacher in there. And so it just took time for us to find the best and most highly qualified teacher for that role and we’re really, really pleased with Ms. Mills,” Bonitatibus said. “All the other geosystems teachers are absolutely thrilled because she filled a very specific niche that they wanted.” Before coming to Jefferson, Mills taught at a community college and was a teacher at a high school in Massachusetts, teaching ninth grade science. Once she began teaching at Jefferson, Mills noticed significant differences between teaching freshmen and seniors.

Right: Geosystems substitute teacher Rachel Mills responds to questions from students at her desk. Far Right: Mills enthusiastically talks to her students at the beginning of class.

IN-DEPTH || FEB. 8, 2017 17

science, whereas her previous class focused solely on a specific area of science.

“Since I’ve come in, they’re all responsible for running the classroom discussion at least once during the year, so everyone’s “[Jefferson] looks at it from a systems approach, applying physics, been taking turns and part of that means they lead the discussion on whatever the topic is. They seem to all work really well together more chemistry, some of biology that you guys have already covered, as opposed to teaching ninth grade students, who maybe though, they’ve been productive, they’ve been turning things in on haven’t had biology or more of chemistry,” Mills said “It was more time and it’s functioning, it’s nice.” Mills said. of an introductory course when I was in Massachusetts. Here it’s The welcoming nature of the geosystems team has been helpful kind of a synthesizing course where you are putting everything to Mills during her transition. together.” “[The geosystems team] are all super nice, they’re very Mills’ background in science education seems to have improved classroom dynamics. In her early weeks, Mills spent time making sure her classes were caught up with the previous lesson plans.

“I think we’ve been moving in a good general direction, and I’m getting [the students] used to my teaching, so regularly putting up the plan for the day,” Mills said. “Everyone has been really responsive and welcoming and I think the students seem happy to have me, so that is good.”

approachable, they’ve been willing to chat with me anytime I go into their classroom. It’s been a very open-door policy, and I had no idea how that would go either. The stress levels have gone down because they have been willing to kind of chat with me whenever I needed to talk,” Mills said. Although Mills’ contract is set to finish out the rest of the year, when asked if she planned on staying at Jefferson, she seemed optimistic.

Her teaching methods have not only been proven resourceful, but “So far it’s going great. I’m really enjoying it here. I really like my they have also seemed to guide the general participation in class. coworkers, the other geosystems teachers. I would love to we’ll see, I’m going to keep my fingers crossed,” Mills said.


acebook orecasting

One senior shares his love for meteorology through social media Sneha Joisha || STAFF WRITER


ooking to track weather? Want to find some more data about storm updates? Wishing to find reliable sources for information about snowstorms? No problem, if you’re willing to sift through pages upon pages of unreliable websites and analyze convoluted storm models. The sheer amount of forecast models and meteorology websites available makes weather tracking a tedious task. But for senior Jeffrey Wang, analyzing models and posting weather updates to his Facebook account is all in a day’s work.

As he learned more about tracking weather, Wang discovered weather models and how they can provide useful, detailed data about storm events. “If you go online, there’s a bunch of websites where you could look at some of those models they have and output it,” Wang said. “They have some nice outputs. But yeah, mostly the best ones to look at are the American Model and the European Model, although there’s others too that I use.”

Wang developed his interest in meteorology by himself well Wang described one experience he had when reading Capital before he attended Jefferson during the winter of 2009-2010. He Weather Gang, a meteorology website he uses the most, about how recalls becoming interested in learning and developing his interest in people would sometimes post unreliable information about weather meteorology by reading from various weather sources in the Internet. forecasts. “[The winter of 2009-2010] was the snowiest winter on record for “I read an article from Capital Weather Gang, and they were talking this area, and we had a lot of historic snowstorms that winter, and I about people sharing 10-day snow forecasts, and [how] generally thought that was pretty fascinating,” Wang said. “After that, I decided people shouldn’t be doing that because you’re just taking one run of to follow forecasts like Weather Channel, and then later, I started a model, and that’s completely not supported by anything else,” Wang reading the Capital Weather Gang, and then a few years after that, said. “You’re taking stuff out of context. So I saw that and I was like, I started looking at weather models and reading from a bunch of ‘Oh...’ I wanted to see what was going on. forums.”

SCI-TECH || FEB. 8, 2018 19

2 PHOTO // Sneha Joisha


1. Showing a picture of 18z and 6z GFS model runs from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), senior Jeffrey Wang shows the total accumulation of snow from Jan. 18, 2016 to Jan. 25, 2016, with every run indicating for snow except for run e7. Using his Facebook account, Wang has been posting weather updates, especially during snowstorms, using weather data he gathers from reliable sources such as Capital Weather Gang. “I occasionally posted some images of model forecasts, but also I’ve also posted stuff from the Capital Weather Gang, some of the articles, and some products from National Weather Service office,” Wang said. 2. Mapping out the snowfall accumulation across the nation using data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Wang shows what parts of the nation have been affected by the snow the most and least, with light blue indicating over 50 feet of snow and white indicating very small amounts of snow. Wang showed the total accumulation from Sept. 30, 2017 to Jan. 4. 3. Showing the total snowfall from the High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) model from, Wang posts about how there is a total of 0.0’’ of snowfall on Jan. 17. Due to the light amount of snow that accumulated, Fairfax County Public Schools ended up issuing a two-hour delay for students on that day.



4. Noting the most interesting experience he had with tracking snowstorms, Wang indicates the total snowfall across the northeastern United States from Jan. 22, 2016 and Jan. 24, 2016 using data from NOAA. He said that this weather post was about a major blizzard that occurred between these two dates, which resulted in Maryland, Pennsylvania, a small part of northern Virginia, and West Virginia to receive over 30 inches of snow. PHOTO // National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Wang also enjoys reading weather forums about different storm updates. He mainly reads about storm updates from the American Weather forums. “I feel that they provide a lot of interesting and very informative information about upcoming storm potentials, and I think that really adds a good experience to tracking storms,” Wang said. Wang created a Facebook account and started to post weather updates because he wanted to share with others storm, especially snowstorm, tracking updates. “I made my Facebook account but that wasn’t the intention just to post about weather,” Wang said. “I just felt like one day why not share about a bunch of these things, and I just kept doing that. If I post in Facebook, it’s just mainly because I feel like it. I don’t have really specific reasons. If there’s storms coming, I’d probably post about that, but otherwise, I’ve just posted a bunch of random stuff. Just whatever I feel like.” In the future, Wang plans to major in computer science, but he hopes to continue learning meteorology as a hobby. Out of all the experiences he had, Wang noted one that really stood out to him. “Two years ago, we had a historic blizzard,” Wang said. “What was cool was that models caught onto this about five days in advance, and that was very well-forecasted. It was a ton of fun just seeing what kind of meticulous output the models would put out.”


moreMASCOT than a

A Numbers Game

6 years old Tommy’s age

5000 dollars Cost to purchase the costume

21.2 pounds Weight of Tommy’s head

ommy the Colonial makes his comeback at basketball games Minjoo Song || STAFF WRITER

Excited faces. Enthusiastic cheers. Energized crowd. These are just some of the things that make basketball games special. However, Jefferson basketball games feature something else other schools lack: an eight foot, eight inch mascot with a giant head and enough spirit to electrify the entire gym. Named after Thomas Jefferson himself, Tommy the Colonial started as an ambitious idea in 2010. Shawn DeRose, Director of Student Activities at the time, was searching for a unique way to promote the clubs and athletics at Jefferson, and looked into the possibilities of getting a custom-made mascot. “[The old mascot] was getting old and I wanted to buy a new mascot to have fun in school at pep rallies, football games, and other events,” DeRose said. “I was inspired by the Washington Nationals mascots, so I reached out and found information about who designed their mascots.” Set on this idea, DeRose contacted the company, Carfagno Productions, to make inquiries about purchasing Tommy the Colonial. “I called up and I told them my idea; what I really wanted was a younger version of Thomas Jefferson,” said DeRose. “[They told me] it was very expensive; I believe the cost was a couple thousand dollars. The class of 2010 had extra money leftover from their class gift, so they donated it to purchase Tommy.” Tommy first began coming to football games in the fall of 2011. Students greeted his appearance with enthusiasm. “[Tommy] naturally got people to look at him; people gravitated [towards him],” DeRose said. “It drew a lot of attention, and just looking at Tommy made people smile. I mean, how many schools have a mascot that is as cool and as different as Tommy?” Jefferson’s mascot soon became a regular at school-wide events, coming out at any and every chance he could. Tommy

SPORTS || FEB. 8, 2018 21 always brought spirit and energy to the field at Jefferson football games. “To be honest, I actually thought our mascot was a calculator at first, so I didn’t think there would be that much hype surrounding the [football] game. But [Tommy] works with the cheerleaders, the marching band, and all of the students to help raise as much peppiness and spirit as possible,” freshman John Lee, a member of Thomas Jefferson’s Marching Colonials (TJMC), said. “When I was at my first football game, I saw Tommy bringing school spirit and morale to the field. I thought it was really cool to have a giant mascot cheering [us] on. I definitely think this spirit makes an impact on the performance of TJ’s football team.” This winter, Tommy began making an appearance at Jefferson basketball games as well. Junior Maxwell Jones, who is on Jefferson’s varsity boys basketball team, believes that this boosts the team’s morale. “He brings a feeling that people care about the [basketball] games,” Jones said. “Even when there aren’t many fans, if the mascot is there, it feels like there are twice as many people [at the game].” Tommy’s presence has also encouraged more students to come out to the basketball games. “In the same way that the atmosphere is better for the players, I bet it’s the same way for the fans. It brings a level of hype, which makes more people want to come,” Jones said. “Our team has the most energy and plays the best when we have people cheering us on. And the mascot magnifies that effect.” Senior Wonwook Do has first-hand experience on what it’s like to be the mascot. Dressed as Tommy, he started bringing school spirit to basketball games this season. “For one, both basketball teams enjoy having the mascot out there, and that’s something I really appreciate,” Do said. “It also makes me very happy when someone comes up and asks for a picture. [It] makes me feel appreciated.” Students agree that Tommy the Colonial is a unique part of the TJ culture and community. “I don’t think a lot of other schools can claim to have their own mascot, so I think I can speak for most of TJ when I say that we are proud to have [Tommy] as our mascot,” Lee said. “He’s part of what makes TJ a special place.”

Did You Know? There are


students who switch off the responsibility of being Tommy the Colonial: Wonwook Do (pictured), Scott Becker, and Andrew Butler.


Junior Prabhat Adusumalli attends crew conditioning despite not being part of the team Forrest Meng and David Xiang || STAFF WRITERS


hen junior Prabhat Adusumalli first entered Jefferson, he had no thoughts of doing a winter sport.

“I wasn’t even sure that I wanted to do sports,” Adusumalli said. “I think I would’ve started [freshman year] but I didn’t know about [the different] sports.” Two years later, you can find Adusumalli lifting weights, rowing ergs and pumping iron at crew conditioning practices after school. He works hard to develop his technique and physical capabilities. Adusumalli stands with a bar of weights on his shoulders before beginning to squat.

While most students attend crew conditioning so they are ready to compete in races come springtime, that isn’t the case for Adusumalli. Rather, he attends crew conditioning in preparation for a completely different sport: track.

SPORTS || FEB. 8, 2018 23 “Crew is a bit expensive and [time consuming], so I’ll most likely be doing spring track this year,” Adusumalli said.

of crew conditioning due to his prior experience with track. “It just depends on what you like,” Adusumalli said. “I like both, but I’ve been doing track longer so I’m going to continue.”

Adusumalli found that crew conditioning had more to offer than he first anticipated. The practices, which began in late November, focused on more than preparing for a rigorous crew season.

However, it’s likely that come next year, he’ll be returning to winter conditioning.

“[Crew conditioning] is a lot of fun. It’s a fun way to get in shape,” Adusumalli said. Adusumalli feels that the crew conditioning experience is something that he enjoys and looks forward to. Besides physical wellness, the relaxed environment of crew conditioning gives Adusumalli many academic benefits as well. “[I can] get my mind off tests and school. Just having something to do after school is a source of motivation [for me].” Adusumalli said. “I need to catch up on grades, so [I felt] that [crew conditioning] would still be a good way to keep myself fit in the winter. [Crew conditioning definitely] improved my work ethic. I’ve been finishing work more quickly.”

“If you’ve never done a sport before definitely it’s a good way into ease into doing [school athletics],” Adusumalli said.

1: To strenghten his core, Adusumalli does a plank. 2: Adusumalli performs a pull-up. Pull-ups help train muscles near the elbow, such as the brachialis and brachioradialis. 3: To train his arms, specifically his biceps and triceps, Adusumalli uses a machine to push upward. 4: Adusumalli rows on the erg. A major component of crew training is using the erg, as it simulates rowing on a crew boat.


Crew conditioning practices are very lenient on attendance as long as students continue to participate in the exercises. “It’s pretty easy. You can come whichever days you want. If you are busy one night, you don’t have to worry about getting cut,” Adusumalli said, “If I need to stay home to study for midterms, being able to stay home and not needing to attend [crew conditioning] is handy.” Crew conditioning workouts range from lifting weights to rowing ergometers, machines that simulate the action of rowing a watercraft. Adusumalli performs both aerobic and anaerobic exercises during crew conditioning. “Crew gives you a mix of everything because we go to weight room Tuesday and Thursday, and we do cardio as well,” Adusumalli said. “Rowing is a great workout too, you get a little bit of everything because you get to row and do weight training.” One of the main focuses of crew conditioning is the endurance and repetition of doing exercises, which Adusumalli found unique about the winter sport. “[Crew conditioning] focuses on endurance; it has been almost two months and we just started adding on weights,” Adusumalli said. “[A few days ago] was the first day we did strength instead of endurance, so it is a bit different than other sports,” Adusumalli will likely be doing track in the spring instead

2 4





COMPET1T1ON Has competition at school gone too far?

“If you’re going to create the Hunger Games, you should not wonder why students are struggling.” Dr. Tara Lateef, a faculty member at the George Washington University School of Medicine, spoke these words to thunderous applause from an auditorium of juniors and seniors at the Ethics Forum held on Jan. 22. Her words describing the competitive Jefferson community resonated with students to such a degree that they felt the need to stand up and cheer. Why is that?

quickly transitions to the face-off for a college one. Students desperately grasp for summer internships and research projects, applying to national competitions galore, all in hopes of seizing that elusive Ivy League congratulations. And when they do earn it? They’re subject to scoffs of disbelief and hateful hallway whispering from their peers. The college competition causes students to put a heavy emphasis on their grades, because at the end of the day, their dream college won’t understand how that one test tanked their yearly average. All colleges see is a stack of printed letters, unscrambling to form a rough estimate of selfworth. And thus, the stress builds, the weight on the chest thickens, and self esteem drains.

The Jefferson community is inherently competitive; to a certain degree, all school systems are. The tense comparing of test grades outside classrooms, the relentless resume-building with excessive amounts of extracurriculars, the arduous quest for the most over-the-top GPA--all are staples of the high Jefferson has a nasty habit of correlating self-worth to school experience. But the atmosphere at Jefferson seems to have something academic achievement - intentionally or accidentally. It’s in a little extra - something that makes it that much harder to get through four the students rushing to compare grades or resumes. It’s years with high self-esteem and sense of self worth. in the teachers quipping that if we don’t do well on a test, we’ll end up at NOVA (as if that was an insult). It’s in our Jefferson is linked to competition right from the very beginning of its process: the application. Thousands of students compete for highly coveted culture, prioritizing success and survival over health and and limited spots, taking expensive prep classes to slide into those seats instead happiness. of their peers. Applicants compare practice test scores, beef up their resumes Sometimes, the only way to pick ourselves up is to put and wait with baited breath for that be all, end all acceptance. A school others down - so when we mock each other for getting that holds a rat race just to make it through the doors can’t help but foster a a lower score on a test, or brag about our GPAs, it’s competitive environment. more to But the flaw in Jefferson’s culture has to go deeper than that. The heated fight for a Jefferson acceptance

OPINION || FEB. 8, 2018 25

elevate our own sinking balloon of self esteem than to pop others’. But often times, it has the opposite effect -- making us feel even worse about ourselves while hurting our peers as well. It is challenging to go about changing what appears to be such an ingrained aspect of Jefferson’s culture. But that shouldn’t be the case. The society outside our school -- college, jobs, and beyond -- is increasingly merit-based, encouraging our school culture to be the same. We can’t eliminate competition entirely, and we may not need to - it does push us towards self-improvement, but that is where we need to draw the line. Adding that crucial element of empathy to our daily lives - realizing that it doesn’t matter what our friend’s GPA is as long as we are focusing on ourselves, and that getting one point higher on a test won’t help us sleep easier at night - just might be the ticket to understanding each other instead of opposing each other. And with a little bit of understanding, we just might prevent our school from descending to the same level as a grim dystopia.

PHOTO // Sabria Kazmi



On Feb. 3, the lucky pool of TJ semi-finalists filed into local middle culture that fuels TJ prep encourages students to take classes from schools to sit for the writing portion of their exam: three student elementary school while parents’ money purchases the best prep information sheets (SIS) and a math essay. With the newly-set books and hires the best teachers. benchmarks for math, reading, and science scores, only Given the additional vague guidelines, little the highest scoring test-takers on the first-round exam guidance, and a complete lack of prep proceeded to this semi-finalist round. material, TJ Admissions and its applicant Right here, in these newly set benchmarks and newly revamped admissions exam, is where the root of the problem lies. Almost every year since I applied to TJ, the Admissions Office has transformed its admissions process; though this purportedly prevents tutors from coaching students to a test, in actuality, this only makes it harder for disadvantaged groups to help themselves prepare for the exam. The set of skills needed to excel at the exam is different from the one that’s typically taught in schools: for those who haven’t been taking test prep for years, this may as well be the first time that they’ve taken a timed, standardized test. For those who’ve prepared for years, frequent practice exams and sample prompts allow them to gain experience taking three hour multiple choice exams like the Quant-Q/ACT-Aspire. As a senior who went through more than three years of TJ prep classes, the contrast between tuition-based courses and free outreach programs is saddening because tuitionbased programs simply have more time and money: the competitive

site denies ordinary people, those without access to expensive courses, the opportunity to get ahead. The gap between applicant and finalist demographics continues to widen as fewer and fewer preparatory resources are made public for applicants.

The Root of the Problem The current admissions process is unrecognizable but for the SIS and the teacher recommendations. In winter 2015, Admissions replaced the moral/ ethical dilemma essay with one requiring applicants to calculate a math word problem. In winter 2017, Admissions replaced the former Pearson exam with one similar to the ACT, reflecting a change in testmakers.

expected questions.

That too is gone. In its place is a onesentence line on the Admissions site that tells us the character limit on each portion. There is no time limit stated for the writing portions nor is there any description of what the SIS or the math essay even is. TJ Admissions also only gives a time limit and an abstract list of concepts to know for Beyond the constant changes, the agency making the ACT-Aspire. It’s like the Admissions Office the Quant-Q/ACT-Aspire doesn’t release public assumes that every visitor has known the admissions materials. Subsequently, already disadvantaged process from birth. There is absolutely nothing on students have a low chance of bolstering themselves the website that helps you prepare for any part of up onto the same playing field as other applicants. the exam. With an even higher weight placed on Nowhere on the website does it list expectations this test than ever before, this situation inherently or a rubric or any sort of document I could use to harms applicants and families who are new to the prepare for the exam. In fall 2013, we were at least admissions process. given a practice test in a document detailing types of




BEHIND Our admissions process disadvantages disadvantaged students Christine Zhao || Investigations Editor

This is the only information on the TJ Admissions site that gives you insight into what’s tested on the first-round entrance exam.


OPINION || FEB. 8, 2018 27

“Money doesn’t grow on trees” At first glance, the changes on paper might seem insignificant. Isn’t the Admissions Office simply revamping the exam to increase the quality of their accepted applicants? Changing the test a little won’t matter to those who’re really qualified to get in: smart people are smart no matter what test they take. That popular perspective stems from an ignorance about what conditions are like for people who haven’t been testprepping for years. Income has already been correlated with test scores in two popular standardized tests, the SAT and ACT. The CollegeBoard’s “Total Group Profile Report” in 2013 and 2016 showed that each income bracket increase represented an average score increase of 10-30 points per section on the SAT (CollegeBoard doesn’t release SAT income data for the new SAT). In 2016, ACT scores were approximately 4 points higher for testtakers whose family income exceeds $80,000 a year.And according to Emeritus UCLA professor W. James Popham,

“one of the chief reasons that children’s socioeconomic status is so highly correlated with standardized test scores is that many items on standardized achievement tests really focus on assessing knowledge and/or skills learned outside of school—knowledge and/or skills more likely to be learned in some socioeconomic settings than in others.” With the admissions requirements shrouded in obscurity, low-income students stand an even greater disadvantage than they do on the SAT. Families with more money can afford to give children that extra edge by signing them up for whatever prep classes they can find. They can pay money to tutoring organizations to teach their children test-taking skills, “skills learned outside of school,” and to access a cache of previous and example prompts, as I witnessed when I took TJ prep; even if prompts become outdated by test changes, even access to old prompts enables private tutoring pupils to gain an upper edge over others; pupils become accustomed to the format of the writing sections and gain an approximate idea of what to expect.

Branching Off: Who this affects

Top of the Crop

Applicants must score higher than 5090% of other applicants to move forward to the semifinalist round

I’ve sat down with LIFT students’ parents and witnessed their difficulties, even in the initial stages of the application process. They’re confused about which of the similar-looking buttons will truly direct them to the site that they want. The application site is difficult to navigate, featuring multiple sub-pages providing few pieces of useful information. With a family unfamiliar with the TJ prep culture, it is impossible for them to go into this test prepared.

2020, the class for which LIFT was first implemented), even the number of reduced/waived fee applicants has steadily declined. Minus the LIFT mentees, who all have application fees waived, the admissions office could barely boast 200 reduced/ waived fee applicants from across all five counties and cities.

The numbers speak for themselves. For the class of 2020, 10 out of 333 reduced/waived fee applicants were accepted, a 3% acceptance rate. For class of 2021, 8 out of 289 were Unfortunately, this is the reality for accepted, a 2.7% acceptance rate. children of many first-generation Their representation in the incoming immigrants. With each, almost annual class has hovered around 1-2% for change, even people who try to help the past decade. In comparison, the those disadvantaged groups are overall acceptance rate last year was rendered helpless; every year, we, the 16.9%. mentors and teachers in the LIFT The implications of TJ admissions Program (an outreach program for statistics were discussed in a underrepresented groups), have less controversial Washingtonian of a sense as to what’s on the test article, “Does the No. 1 High and how to anticipate those types School in America Practice of questions. Last year, 37 LIFT Discrimination?”, published Apr. mentees made it to the semi-finalist 26, 2017. Though I hardly think that round. This year, 12 did. This trend the Admissions Office is actively in our own LIFT Program has discriminating against specific races simultaneously occurred with a or socioeconomic groups, the lack of saddening trend in the applicant pool; exam transparency and any support though the number of TJ students materials inherently discriminates eligible for free/reduced lunch rose against low-income applicants. in the 2000’s, since the class of 2016 (with a spike for the class of

OPINION TJ Admissions needs a wake up call to reality; every other testing agency’s model has worked. With CollegeBoard’s partnership with Khan Academy, CollegeBoard sought to “confront one of the greatest inequities around college entrance exams, namely the culture and practice of high-priced test preparation,” CollegeBoard said in a statement on March 5, 2014, two years before the new SAT launched. Hundreds of practice questions are available for public use and all eight practice tests from the Official SAT Study Guide are published on Khan Academy, providing those without means with the same access to practice materials. This has allowed both students and the CollegeBoard to prosper; six hours on Khan Academy increases scores by an average of 90 points and the number of SAT takers has risen by 15 percent. The CollegeBoard rebranded its SAT into a standardized test more approachable than ever, while every single time our admissions exam changes, it moves backwards.

Even the New York’s SHSAT (Specialized High School Admissions Test), long found to hold similarities to the Pearson admissions exam, provided a comprehensive 15-page document when it instituted a new exam in fall 2017 (with translations in multiple languages for those not fluent in English). This document fully detailed changes and answered frequently asked questions. Then, to follow that up, the NYC Department of Education released a 160-page student handbook with general directions, guidelines, and sample problems and tests. Though it doesn’t necessarily need to be as large scale as the Khan Academy/CollegeBoard partnership, the Admissions Office needs to offer a web platform somewhere in-between one sample practice test and Khan Academy’s individualized problem sets. Right now it is offering nothing. And that needs to be fixed.

A change occurs when ordinary people speak up against the status quo. Take a few seconds or minutes to pen an email to The Admissions Office needs to provide more notice of any the Admissions Office (; bring up your exam changes and free, comprehensive preparation materials for the own points or mention some of mine. There should be more redesigned exam, just like the CollegeBoard did. If the test makers transparency with clear-cut guidelines and a well-developed system still refuse to release materials publicly, then a possible compromise of preparation. Our power comes from empathizing with the can and must be made: find another testing agency, provide reasoning decreasing opportunities for future applicants, bright and driven, for and details of the eventual change to the public, and work for two but underprepared for the system of exams, even when the ultimate to three years to make the CollegeBoard standard a reality. effect bears no immediate effect on ourselves.

INFOGRAPHIC // Sadhana Suri, Roja Ayyadurai


ADS || FEB. 8, 2018 29


MCC is a special Fairfax County agency operating under the general oversight of an 11‑member Governing Board elected by residents of Small District 1A – Dranesville (the MCC District). Two board members are teens 15–17 years old. MCC’s Mission is to provide a sense of community by undertaking programs; assisting community organizations; and furnishing facilities for civic, cultural, educational, recreational, and social activities apportioned fairly to all residents of the MCC District. To serve on the Board, submit a petition signed by at least 10 teens living in the MCC District and in your high school boundary area – Langley or McLean – regardless of where they go to school. Key Dates: January 22: Petition packets available at MCC’s Administrative Office. March 16: Completed petitions due at MCC’s Administrative Office. March 19: Orientation for Board Candidates. April 9–May 16: Absentee Voting. May 6: Meet the Candidates Reception – sponsored by the Friends of MCC. May 19: Voting on McLean Day. For more information visit the Center at: 6631 Old Dominion Dr., McLean, VA 22101 call: 703‑790‑0123, TTY: 711 or go to:

ENTERTAINMENT Hu performs at a talent show in 2017. PHOTO // Jason Zou




STARDOM Singer Cynthia Hu’s journey to a national appearence Irina Lee and Grace Mak || STAFF WRITERS


CROSS CHINA, THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE TUNE IN TO WATCH AS THE FINAL ROUND OF THE 2017 WATER CUBE CUP REACHES ITS CLIMAX. Among the glitz and glamour, pop songs and love ballads, is a 15-year old classical singer from Jefferson. Sophomore Cynthia Hu steps up to the mic and feels her nerves fade into the expanse of expectant judges, flashing cameras and blinding lights. She has watched dozens of singers perform on television since she was a child; little

ENTERTAINMENT || FEB. 8, 2018 31

did she know that she would one day find herself on the other side of the screen. Hu began professional training for singing at the age of nine. Her road from the safety of her studio to the jarring exposure of the stage was often grueling physically and mentally. She won numerous accolades with her performances for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) and the Northern Virginia Music Teachers’ Association (NVMTA). After hearing about the Water Cube Cup, a Chinese singing contest for adolescents, from some of her vocal teachers, Hu decided to give it a try. At 12 years old, she was too young to participate in China, but placed well regionally in the US. Two years later, Hu won the top spot in the regional round and a trip of a lifetime. “Everyone was really professional and it’s like what you’d envision it to be when you’re looking at reality TV shows when they have these ‘Behind the Scenes’ clips,” Hu said. “It was a lot of fun too.” The Water Cube Cup has drawn over 8,000 participants from more than 30 countries around the world, with around 100 people qualifying for the final round broadcasted throughout China. There are two qualifying rounds in the US based in three locations. As one of the two people selected out of hundreds to compete in the final round, Hu gained a greater insight

into the music industry while working with judges and contestants at a higher level. However, the leap from local competitions to performances critiqued by harsher judges required a mindset foreign to what she had been accustomed. “The feedback that [the judges] gave was constructive, but harsh as well. There were some things talking about pronunciation because, since none of us were born in China, pronunciation was a big issue. In Chinese, if you can’t pronounce a word right, it can mean a completely different thing,” Hu said. Yet it was not the critique, but its delivery, that took her aback. “At the round in the US, it was a little difficult to take it all in because I was still standing on the stage, and they were just going on and on about what was wrong, so

I did feel a little uncomfortable,” Hu said, “It was hard at first because it was really awkward and I didn’t really know what to do other than stand up there and just nod my head.” Backstage, the judge’s comments had brought her close to the verge of tears, but they strengthened her in a way no other experience had. “I realized it was all mentality. So once I realized that, it was all okay,” Hu said. “Because I went through that many times, it was easier at the international level.” Hu also came face to face with the realities of showbiz upon arriving in Beijing for the final round of the competition. “When I went to China, I realized that just being able to have good technique and singing songs that require a lot of vibrato and high notes isn’t everything, and a lot of people there, especially public voting, was based off of pop music,” Hu said.

Hu performs at the annual Lunar New Year Celebration hosted by the TJ Partnership Fund on Feb. 11, 2017. PHOTO // Hilde Kahn

Though the hardship of the few months was unexpected, she found the experience interesting and eye-opening. For her, the most important lesson came not from technique or ability, but from within. “[I learned from this competition that] hard work can get you anywhere,” Hu said, “If you put in the effort your dreams will come true.”



PHOTO // Alexa Nguonly REPORTING // Alexa Nguonly

GUT FEELING IS IMPORTANT. After watching the stock market, you just know what is going to happen. Sometimes, I have a feeling that something is going to happen in the stocks based on a lot of other information, rather than just if it has a bad rating.

LIFE IS SHORT. You don’t have a lot of time with people so YOU SHOULD SPEND IT WELL, rather than maintaining grudges forever.

One of my friends and I would always go out and do stuff. One time his bike fell and almost broke. I was worried about it, but he said, “Don’t worry. It’s just a bike. We will have more fun together, even if the bike is broken.” He taught me that FRIENDSHIP, THE FUN, AND THE MEMORIES ARE MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE MATERIAL OBJECTS USED.

Instead of studying just for the test, PAY MORE ATTENTION IN CLASS to what the teacher is teaching and YOU WILL LEARN A LOT MORE.



February 2018  
February 2018