February has been a hectic month for McLean’s high schools.
While Langley High School drew some heat this week for a slightly cheeky book display sign in its library, rival McLean High School was shaken earlier this month by a different kind of conflict over messaging.
An unidentified individual defaced a rock in front of the school used by clubs and athletic teams around 9:23 p.m. on Feb. 8 by painting “ALM” — an acronym standing for “All Lives Matter,” the student newspaper, The Highlander, reported.
The rock had been decorated a week earlier by the school’s Black Student Union, which painted phrases like “BLM” — Black Lives Matter — and “I’m Black and proud” in recognition of Black History Month.
McLean High School Principal Ellen Reilly said in a newsletter on Monday (Feb. 14) that the school was “disheartened” to see the BSU’s message “met with vandalism.”
“At McLean High School, we believe unequivocally that Black Lives Matter,” she said. “We are invested in creating a culture in which all students and staff experience belonging as Highlanders. As such, we will address all issues of racism and discrimination at our school.”
According to The Highlander, school administrators have identified the person behind the “ALM” message, which has now been covered by white paint, but it was unclear what discipline they could potentially face.
Fairfax County Public Schools declined to comment when asked to confirm if a culprit had been identified.
The Fairfax County Police Department said it was aware of the incident but ultimately determined that no crime had been committed, since the school allows anyone to paint on the rock.
“The school took care of it internally,” an FCPD spokesperson told Tysons Reporter.
McLean High School’s Black student population has marginally grown in recent years, from 73 students in September 2017 to 103 students, as of January. That’s still just 4.4% of the school’s 2,370 students.
The isolation that the school’s Black students experience inspired them to create the BSU this year, according to The Highlander.
The day after the defacing incident, BSU President Jasmine Andresol, one of the group’s founders, delivered a message to students that FCPS shared with Tysons Reporter:
Martin Luther King stated that “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” On February 2nd our Black Student Union painted the rock in celebration of Black History month. It was vandalized last night.
As we walked to paint the rock last week, there were mixed emotions of joy and pride, but also fear. The fear was that someone would misunderstand the reason and meaning of why we decided to paint BLM on the rock. When you hear or see the words Black Lives Matter it does not mean that other lives do not. These words bring awareness to the struggles, injustices and racism that black people have endured in this country for far too long. The words that were meant to be a reminder to celebrate black history were seen as an opportunity to discourage our efforts.
We must continue as a school community to support, embrace and be kind to one another.
McLean High School students and staff also gathered at the rock after school to “stand in solidarity” with Black students, according to Reilly.
“We were uplifted to see how our student body came together to support one another,” Reilly said in her newsletter. “We are committed to keeping students at the center of our decisions and working alongside them to find a solution. As a school community we must continue to support and embrace one another. We are committed to learning and growing and building the best McLean High School for everyone.”
McLean Woman Accused of Stalking Apple CEO — “Apple has filed for a restraining order against a woman who allegedly stalked the tech giant’s CEO Tim Cook, showed up at his house at least twice and sent him threatening photos of guns and bullets, according court filings in Santa Clara… Choi allegedly drove cross-country from McLean, Virginia, to Cook’s house in Palo Alto – which she visited at least twice on Oct. 22, 2021, according to the documents.” [Fox Business, Daily Mail]
Capital One Center Part of Corporate Urbanization Trend — Major companies across the U.S. are turning their suburban headquarters into mini cities, with Capital One’s growing 24-acre campus in Tysons as one example. Executives say the trend reflects competition for workers as well as public and private investment aimed at making suburbs denser and less car-dependent. [The New York Times]
Former McLean High Students Climb Africa’s Tallest Mountain — “After a grueling six-hour hike from their camp in the middle of the night in early January, McLean High School graduates Rebecca Berkson and Katie Herold were treated to a magnificent vista: the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro at sunrise.” [Sun Gazette]
County Completes “Winter Warming” Project — Fairfax County’s senior center staff finished a project this month to collect hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and socks for adults and children in need. The donation drive kicked off in October and ultimately distributed 1,404 items to local nonprofits Cornerstones, Homestretch, and Shelter House. [Neighborhood and Community Services]
Funds Sought for Great Falls Traffic Control — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution yesterday (Tuesday) asking that the U.S. Park Police include $100,000 in its next budget request to address traffic from Great Falls National Park. The funds would cover overtime costs for officers working the Georgetown Pike and Old Dominion Drive intersection. [Patch]
McLean families are no strangers to overcrowded schools.
The challenges have been concentrated in the McLean High School pyramid, where the home of the Highlanders and feeder school Kent Gardens Elementary have been over capacity for the past decade.
At 121% capacity, Kent Gardens is experiencing one of the biggest space deficits in the county, trailing only Wakefield Forest Elementary School (132%) and Oakton High School (125%), according to Fairfax County Public Schools’ proposed Capital Improvement Program for fiscal years 2023-2027.
Capacity Deficits Projected to Continue
Kent Gardens had 1,023 students to start this school year in a building designed for up to 896 students. The school’s profile indicates that enrollment has dipped to 1,019 students as of November.
There are currently 11 temporary classrooms on site, with the most recent addition of trailers coming during the 2019-2020 school year.
According to the CIP, Kent Gardens has been over capacity since at least 2012, when it had 906 students and was at 111% capacity. While enrollment is expected to decline over the next five years, the school will still be at 118% capacity with 1,003 students by the 2026-2027 school year.
McLean High School has had more students than program capacity since the 2011-2012 school year. The introduction of a 12-classroom modular earlier this year helped cut the capacity deficit from 118% last year to 107% this fall, though enrollment appears to have grown from 2,347 students in September to 2,366 students, as of November.
FCPS says it is monitoring the school’s capacity after implementing a phased boundary adjustment in September that moved an estimated 190 high school students and 78 middle school students to the Langley High School pyramid.
However, the CIP indicates that overcrowding will persist at least through 2026-2027, when 2,317 students are projected to be enrolled and the school will be at 105% or 121% capacity, depending on whether the modular is still in place. Read More
A few teenagers can’t solve world hunger on their own, but some McLean High School students are doing their part to at least make a difference on a local level.
Steven Guo and Rehan Marshall started organizing food drives in June 2020 after seeing news reports about the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic downturn pushing more people to seek food assistance.
“Not enough donations were going to food banks, so many food banks around the nation were running dangerously low on supplies,” said Guo, who was a sophomore at the time. “We saw this and didn’t want it to happen locally.”
Over the past 18 months, the two students’ effort has grown into the nonprofit Teens for Food Banks, which now boasts about 50 members and remains entirely student-run.
The organization has collected 7,793 pounds of food with 17 food drives held every month since June 6, 2020. The most recent campaign concluded last weekend and brought in 328 pounds, according to Guo.
With past events ranging from McLean and Falls Church to Centreville and Arlington County, Teen for Food Banks operates differently from a traditional food drive, where people bring donations to a designated site.
Instead, the nonprofit follows a model similar to Food for Neighbors’ Red Bag Program. First, volunteers distribute flyers throughout a chosen neighborhood. Then, they return the following week to pick up the food and drop it off at a food bank.
“The TeensforFoodBanks group is a wonderful group of teenagers,” AFAC Associate Director of Communications Jeremiah Huston said by email. “We are always amazed to see teenagers take it upon themselves to do great things in our community. They are very self sufficient and self motivated.”
Teens for Food Banks has given AFAC about 2,000 pounds of food, according to Huston.
Guo says organizing the food drives involved “a lot of trial and error,” with navigating COVID-19 safety protocols as the top challenge. Initially, the entire process was contact-free: students picked up food without ever meeting the donors and only saw their fellow volunteers at drop-off time.
However, for Guo, the logistical demands of Teens for Food Banks have been outweighed by an “outpouring” of community support and his neighbors’ generosity. For the last food drive, one family contributed two boxes of food that he estimates weighed 60 to 80 pounds.
“These acts of kindness, especially during COVID, during a very rough year for everyone, it was very inspiring,” Guo said. “I’m also just glad to know I was able to have an impact on the community.”
Now, he hopes to empower other students to get involved in their community. Read More
McLean High School will undergo another summer of construction next year after the Fairfax County School Board approved a second contract for its roof replacement project Thursday night (Nov. 11).
While it won’t address persistent overcrowding challenges, replacing McLean High School’s roof will improve the efficiency of the facility’s heating and cooling systems by implementing new high-energy insulation roofing, Dranesville District School Board Representative Elaine Tholen says.
“The insulation, covering, and waterproofing roofing system also utilizes high energy-efficient materials that reflect the sun’s harmful rays and actually lowers the roof temperature, leading to a longer roof life,” Tholen said at the meeting after the contract was approved as part of the board’s consent agenda.
Built in 1997 with some additions installed in 2001, the existing McLean High School roof was nearing the end of its life cycle, according to Tholen.
Fairfax County Public Schools previously told Tysons Reporter that the new roof is being constructed in phases across four summers while students are out of school.
Work on the second phase is scheduled to start in June and be finished by September 2022.
“I am excited to see this needed building improvement at McLean High School,” Tholen said by email. “Along with my colleague, Karl Frisch, Providence School Board Representative, I am closely monitoring the capacity of McLean HS and all of our Tysons area high schools to determine the future capacity needs of those buildings.”
She notes that the project does not preclude FCPS from pursuing any future plans for renovation or capacity enhancement efforts at McLean High School, though no capital improvement projects are currently in the works for that particular school.
McLean High School has been over capacity since the 2011-2012 school year, according to FCPS’ adopted capital improvement program for fiscal years 2022-2026.
As of the 2019-2020 school year, the school’s student population exceeded its capacity of 1,992 students by 118%.
To alleviate crowding, FCPS replaced some of the 22 trailers at the school with a modular addition. The facility has 12 classrooms and bathrooms and is now in use for the 2021-2022 school year.
“The modular addition improved the current educational and facility conditions at McLean HS and did provide some capacity relief by providing bathrooms for both students and teachers within the modular,” Tholen said. “This has eliminated the need for students in those classes to walk to the building in order to access a bathroom, as was the case previously with the temporary classrooms.”
FCPS has not calculated the school’s current capacity utilization yet, but after dipping from 2,350 students in 2019-2020 to 2,292 students last year, McLean High School’s enrollment has climbed back up to 2,361 students, as of October.
In addition to introducing the modular, the school board sought to address crowding issues by approving a boundary adjustment in February that shifted some students to the Langley High School pyramid, starting with this year’s new ninth graders.
However, the full impact of that change won’t become clear until the 2025-2026 school year, when all grades will be fully phased in according to the new alignment, Tholen says.
Tysons Leads D.C. Suburbs’ Growth — “Tysons…is growing in almost every area, from population to office space to hotel rooms. While the area’s development boom started before the pandemic, the ability to work from home and the desire for more space have only helped areas such as Tysons.” [Axios]
Vienna Church Sponsors Charity Effort for Afghan Refugees — “Vienna Presbyterian is seeking volunteers to sign up and donate items for Welcome Backpacks for Afghan refugees as well as unaccompanied minors at the border. The church is working with Church World Service, one of the largest faith-based organizations assisting with refugee resettlement.” [Patch]
Tysons Defies Office Space Trends — “In the late innings of the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for office space in Tysons appears to be bucking some trends, according to local developers and brokers. In a market environment characterized by lease renewals, Tysons saw the only new lease in Northern Virginia over 50,000 square feet during the second quarter of 2021, according to CBRE’s second quarter research.” [Commercial Observer]
School Board Renames McLean HS Dressing Rooms — “The theater dressing rooms at McLean High School were renamed after Janie Strauss, a School Board member for the Dranesville District from 1993 to 2019, an avid former educator, and director of the nationally acclaimed Critics Awards Program for High School Theater, known as the Cappies. Her three children graduated from McLean where they were active in the arts and athletics.” [FCPS]
Local Arts Groups Receive Funding — “Twelve Fairfax County arts organizations will share just over $100,000 in funding through ArtFairfax’s ‘Arts Ignite Recovery’ (AIR) initiative. The organization established the AIR grant program to support arts groups as they emerge from the pandemic and restart their programming.” [Sun Gazette]
McLean Downtown Plan Public Hearing Today — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will hold a public hearing at 4:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) on the McLean Community Business Center plan, which unanimously passed the planning commission earlier this month. The plan aims to revitalize McLean’s downtown area but has faced objections over parking, building heights, and the potential impact on local schools. [Fairfax County Government]
Capital One Center Starbucks Closed — The Starbucks at Capital One Center (1610 Capital One Drive North) is temporarily closed “due to limited office occupancy during the COVID pandemic,” a spokesperson for the development confirmed to Tysons Reporter, adding that the coffee shop is expected to reopen “in the near future.” [Capital One Center]
Madeira School Expansion Approved — “Fairfax County supervisors on June 8 voted 10-0 to grant a special exception allowing Madeira School to add a new science building, more faculty housing and improved equestrian facilities on its McLean campus…Under the newly approved plan, Madeira will have 518,255 square feet of gross floor area, with up to 45 residential units and up to 12 accessory-dwelling units.” [Sun Gazette]
McLean HS Turf Field Replacement Starts Today — “Starting tomorrow (June 22nd), the turf field and track at our stadium will be closed until early August. This shut down is due to our turf field being replaced. We apologize for inconvenience.” [McLean High School]
Wolf Trap to Salute Front-Line Workers — “Wolf Trap is officially back open for in-person shows after a year of pandemic closures. So what better way to celebrate than a series of ‘Thank You Community Concerts,’ saluting frontline workers, education workers and health care workers?” [WTOP]
MCA Shares Concerns About McLean Central Park Proposal — The McLean Citizens Association unanimously approved a letter last week highlighting its reservations about the Fairfax County Park Authority’s McLean Central Park redesign. Top concerns include noise and traffic impacts from the proposed amphitheater and a need to coordinate with other county projects, such as the McLean downtown revitalization plan. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
Federal Relief Will Be Windfall for Falls Church City — The Falls Church City Council learned Monday (June 7) that the city will receive an estimated $18 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds over two years, including $15 million from the American Rescue Plan and about $2.9 million from the CARES Act. Councilmembers say it’s “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for a city with an annual operating budget of just over $100 million. [Falls Church News-Press]
McLean Student Will Compete on Reality TV Show — Max Feinberg, a rising senior at McLean High School, will appear on Season 13 of American Ninja Warrior, a reality TV series where athletes compete to navigate obstacle courses. This is the show’s first season with a lowered age limit of 15. Feinberg’s episode will air on NBC on June 23. [Dranesville District School Board Member Elaine Tholen]
Falls Church Arts Grant Program Opens for Applications — “The City of Falls Church welcomes applications for eligible non-profit organizations that support the arts, culture, theater, and history based within the City of Falls Church. The application deadline is July 21, 2021 and funds must be utilized before May 16, 2022.” [City of Falls Church]
A teenager born when the Brood X cicadas last emerged is now running a business to help people handle these creatures’ unusual life cycles.
With her older brother’s help, McLean High School student Michelle Martinkov started Cicada Defender to sell netting and other products and services to assist people during the cicada emergence and mating season, which happens on this magnitude only once every 17 years.
Michelle notes her parents, who immigrated to the U.S., always joked that she was a cicada baby, telling her stories of trillions of cicadas emerging seemingly overnight.
“For 17 years I have been excitedly waiting to finally experience what my parents were talking about,” she told Tysons Reporter.
She started the business with help from friends and other workers, setting up protective nets for cicadas that lay eggs on vulnerable young trees and providing clean-up services for exoskeletons left behind.
Cicadas shed their exoskeletons, a protective covering, before they take flight. They live above ground for only a few weeks to fly and mate before they die off. The buzzing that has filled the Fairfax County air over the past couple of weeks are calls to signal their availability to potential mates.
Eggs deposited on trees will hatch after about six weeks, fall to the ground, and then burrow into the soil, remaining underground for another 17-year cycle.
“I started Cicada Defender to learn about entrepreneurship and e-commerce and to spread awareness about Brood X,” Michelle said. “My goal with Cicada Defender is to see how many homes/businesses we can help and how much of our online presence we can expand over the next two months of the emergence.”
The Environmental Protection Agency advises against using pesticides, saying they don’t help stop the massive numbers of insects that will continue to come and could harm people and other insects and animals that eat cicadas, including pets.
In addition, cicadas themselves don’t pose any danger to people and, in fact, play an important environmental role. Along with providing fodder for animals like birds, they can aerate lawns, improve water filtration in the ground, and add nutrients to the soil as they decompose, the EPA notes.
While they can damage young trees, the insects can’t harm larger, more established trees, and they will not eat leaves, flowers, fruits, or garden produce, making it unnecessary to cover them, according to the EPA.
Michelle says Cicada Defender uses a “highly sustainable” process with no pesticides or heavy machinery.
“All we use is netting, shovels, trash bags, buckets, and occasionally a ladder when necessary,” she said.
She hopes to help the community by educating them about cicadas and providing some support through the experience.
“Something we are extremely proud of is that we intend to donate a portion of our proceeds to local plant nurseries,” Michelle said. “We feel this gives back to our community and provides a business a greater sense of purpose.”
Photo courtesy Judy Gallagher/Flickr
(Updated at 5:05 p.m. on 4/2/2021) Vienna Urges Locals to ‘Bee’ Aware of Honeybee Swarms — “A swarm of honeybees is a sight to see this spring, but don’t panic. A swarm isn’t dangerous unless provoked. But if you feel a colony or swarm is in a place it shouldn’t be, contact the Northern Virginia Beekeepers Association at novabees.org.” [Town of Vienna/Twitter]
Virginia Bans Police from Using Facial Recognition Software — “The legislation, which won unusually broad bipartisan support, prohibits all local law enforcement agencies and campus police departments from purchasing or using facial recognition technology unless it is expressly authorized by the state legislature.” [AP]
McLean High School PTSA Hosting Silver Diner Fundraiser — “Enjoy Spring break with our “first Thursday of each month” fundraiser at Tysons @Silver_Diner, Thursday, April 1st from 5-8 pm. Enjoy new menu items while supporting our school!” [McLean PTSA/Twitter]
Board of Supervisors Looking for Input for Police Chief Search — “Next Tuesday, April 6, @SupervisorLusk and I are holding a public input session on the selection of our new Police Chief. Provide your comments on what you hope to see in our next police chief ahead of time or live.” [Jeff McKay/Twitter]