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.”
Fairfax County Native Earns Super Bowl Ring — “Years before making it to the most elite game in football, Nick Scott, the starting safety for the Rams, suited up for Fairfax High School, where he wowed fans, connected with coaches, and made lifelong friendships.” [FCPS/Inside NoVA]
Vienna Reexamines Leaf Collection Practices — The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on March 21 to get feedback on potential changes to the town’s practice of collecting leaves and turning them into mulch. Alternatives proposed by a contractor would eliminate mulch delivery and the use of a controversial facility on Beulah Road. [Sun Gazette]
Valentine’s Cards Delivered to School Employees — “7,000 personal valentine cards were delivered to FCPS staff members in more than 40 schools last week as a part of the @VolunteerFFX annual #Valentines Challenge. Thank you @GrandInvolve & all who supported the effort!” [FCPS/Twitter]
Masks No Longer Required in Falls Church City Schools — Falls Church City Public Schools now allows parents to opt their children out of wearing masks, following through on a plan announced last month as COVID-19 cases continue to fall. Students who aren’t wearing masks and haven’t been vaccinated are required to participate in weekly PCR testing screenings. [WTOP]
Real Estate Company Relocates Tysons Office — After nearly a decade in its current space at 1850 Towers Crescent Plaza, the real estate firm JLL will move its Northern Virginia office to 1800 Tysons Boulevard in the first quarter of this year. The new office will occupy 26,500 square feet in the Lerner-owned, 12-story-tall tower. [Commercial Observer]
Spring Hill Rec Center Pool Closed This Morning — “The Spring Hill Rec Center pool will be closed through at least midday Tuesday (February 8, 2022) due to mechanical issues. The rest of the facility remains open.” [FCPA/Twitter]
Lane Shift Coming for Route 7 in McLean — “Starting on or about Thursday, Feb. 10, drivers on westbound Route 7 will experience a lane shift to the south (towards the median) between Laurel Hill Road and Lewinsville Road as crews perform utility work under Route 7. All residences, businesses and other public facilities will remain accessible.” [VDOT]
McLean Teen Makes Science Competition Finals — Ben Choi, a senior at the Potomac School, is among 40 finalists in the nationwide 2022 Regeneron Science Talent Search, a prestigious science and math competition. For his project, Choi designed a “low-cost 3D prosthetic arm that can be controlled by a brainwave-detecting headband worn on the forehead.” [Patch]
McLean Coding School Has Global Reach — “When she helped start Codefy in 2019, [Lucy] Chen was a 17-year-old junior at Langley High School in McLean. Now 19 and a student at Columbia University, Chen helps oversee an online coding school that has grown exponentially and has taught thousands of students — all for free.” [Inside NoVA]
Ilia Malinin, a 17-year-old junior at George C. Marshall High School in Idylwood, is serving as the first alternate for the men’s singles team at the Olympic Games this month.
The placement is an honor itself, but with sports continuing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a higher than usual chance that Malinin could compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which will kick off with the opening ceremony at 6 a.m. tomorrow (Friday).
“As an alternate this year, anyone at any time could test positive, so you just have to be ready to go,” Malinin told Fairfax County Public Schools for a blog post.
Malinin’s parents both competed in the Olympics and had illustrious careers in singles figure skating.
His mother, Tatiana Malinina, finished eighth at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan while representing Uzbekistan. His father, Roman Skorniakov, also represented Uzbekistan at the 1998 Games and again in 2002 in Salt Lake City. He finished 19th each time.
Last month, Malinin won second place at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earning him a silver medal. But U.S. Figure Skating chose Jason Brown, Nathan Chen, and Vincent Zhou for the men’s singles team, a controversial decision that left many heartbroken.
Team selections can include subjective factors, though, and the committee looks at multiple competitions of skaters.
The Games run through Feb. 20 with primetime TV coverage on NBC. Live-streamed events will be available through the network’s Peacock streaming service, among other options.
The ice skating schedule has the men’s singles program starting tomorrow with the medal event on Feb. 10.
I-66 Ramp Near Vienna to Close Tonight — The ramp from westbound I-66 to the Vienna/Fairfax-GMU Metro station will close for approximately three weeks start at 11 p.m. today (Friday). The closure is needed for utility work related to the I-66 Express Lanes expansion. Drivers will be detoured via Route 123 (Chain Bridge Road) South and I-66 East, with the Nutley Street exit as an alternative. [VDOT]
What Happened to Yesterday’s Snow — “After our forecast of a coating to two inches of snow in the region, most places saw no accumulation Thursday morning. Some spots didn’t even see a flake, only raindrops…The flawed predictions can be traced to computer model errors and the inability of human forecasters to adequately account for them.” [Capital Weather Gang]
ABC Stores Change Hours Due to Covid — The Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Authority will adjust operating hours at all of its stores to noon starting Monday (Jan. 24), citing reduced staffing capacity due to COVID-19 cases among workers. Closing hours remain the same, and curbside pickup and delivery services are still available. [WTOP]
McLean School Awards Student for Service — “The Potomac School has announced its first-ever Potomac School Award for Exemplary Service to recognize individuals who make a difference through service to others. The inaugural award went to Ericc Powell, a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity Metro Maryland.” [Patch]
County to Talk Affordable Housing — “Fairfax County and the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority, in partnership with the George Mason School of Business, is planning the third annual Fairfax County Housing Symposium for Thursday, March 17, 2022, from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The theme of this year’s event is ‘Affordable Housing: A Foundation for Economic Recovery, Growth, and Opportunity.'” [Housing and Community Development]
Inova Launches COVID-19 Testing Site — “Experiencing COVID-19 symptoms? An Inova COVID-19 Vehicle-Side Testing Clinic will open Dec 30. Open M-F, 8am-5pm. PCR testing only, no rapid antigen testing. Appointments are required, please contact call ctr: 571-472-6843. Open M-F, 8am-6pm.” [Inova Health/Twitter]
Fairfax County Public Schools Commits to In-Person Classes on Return — “We recognize that a lot has changed over the past two weeks, with the omicron variant causing an increase in COVID-19 cases nationwide. As we continue to live through this ever-changing pandemic, we are committed to keeping our schools safe and open for in-person instruction.” [FCPS]
Men Arrested for Local 7-Eleven Robberies — Fairfax County police have arrested two men who are allegedly connected to robberies of a 7-Eleven at 9511 Blake Lane in Fairfax on Dec. 6 and a 7-Eleven at 8110 Old Dominion Drive in McLean on Dec. 11. Police believe the suspects were also involved in other robberies in neighboring jurisdictions. [FCPD]
Fire Department Further Adjust Staffing Due to COVID-19 Cases — The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department detailed additional staffing changes yesterday (Wednesday) on top of ones reported earlier that day by Tysons Reporter’s sister site FFXnow. The department now has 66 employees infected by COVID-19, with another 12 staff members required to quarantine. [FCFRD]
Langley Student Gets Perfect ACT Score — “Kaavya Radhakrishnan, a junior at Langley High School in McLean, scored a perfect 36 on her ACT exam this year…Only about a third of 1% of students who take the ACT earn the top score – or just 5,579 out of 1.67 million students who took the ACT in the United States in 2020, according to the nonprofit that administers the test.” [Inside NoVA]
Highline Office Buildings Refinanced — “Westbrook Partners and American Real Estate Partners (AREP) have landed a $148 million refinance from CIM Group for Highline at Greensboro District, a 460,851-square-foot, Class A office campus in Tysons Corner…Westbrook and AREP purchased the two-building Highline complex — at 8401 and 8405 Greensboro Drive in McLean, Va. — in 2017 for $132 million, and have invested a further $31 million to renovate and reposition it since.” [Commercial Observer]
From state exams to college-prep tests, James Madison High School 11th-grader Aidan Jones knows how stressful it can be as a student.
With the pandemic adding to concerns about students’ mental health, Jones is working to turn therapy dog visits into a regular occurrence and possibly have one pet make its second home in Madison’s counseling office.
“My goal is to try to get a therapy dog as an extension to the counseling staff,” Jones said, noting that ideally, a teacher would take care of the dog and bring it to school during the day.
Jones developed the idea of a permanent therapy dog program while taking an interdisciplinary course last year, where one assignment had students come up with plans to improve people’s circumstances.
Students shared their ideas in “Shark Tank“-like online presentations, and 1970 Madison graduate Ted Dintersmith, a filmmaker and author who advocates for education reform, agreed to fund some projects, including Jones’s, according to Madison High School Principal Greg Hood.
In the cross-curricular program, Jones met and spoke with Melanie Meren, who represents the Hunter Mill District on the Fairfax County School Board. He says working with her allowed the idea to morph into an actual thing.
Meren said in a statement that she’d like to see therapy dogs serving in more schools.
“This is something close to my heart — as a dog owner, I’ve experienced the calm and reassurance that a trained dog can bring to humans with its unconditional love,” she told Tysons Reporter by email. “As a parent, I’ve seen how dogs trained for reading therapy support can encourage reluctant readers to read aloud to gain confidence in their abilities.”
Research has shown that even petting a dog can help relax people, one of numerous mental health benefits.
“Therapy dogs are nonjudgmental, and that really lowers the anxiety,” Jones said.
However, Jones says he would like Madison to have a dog as part of its counseling staff, or at least make the outreach more regular. He noticed that having a therapy dog at the school made a difference not just for students, but also for teachers.
Jones has been working with school leaders to move the project forward. He suggested that the school target particularly stressful periods for a group to bring in a trained dog to help students.
“I think this would be really beneficial to just help…the Fairfax County Public School system in general, starting with Madison High School,” he said.
How to Dispose of Your Christmas Tree — The Town of Vienna will provide curbside collections of Christmas trees to all customers through Jan. 31. Fairfax County collections will be from Jan. 3-14. All lights, decorations, and stands should be removed prior to pickup. [Patch]
Virginia Time Capsule Possibly Found — “Workers removing chunks of granite that had once supported this city’s Robert E. Lee monument finally found what appears to be an elusive 1887 time capsule shortly before noon on Monday…This is the second time a capsule was discovered under the monument; a small lead box opened last week contained mementos of several men who designed the memorial.” [The Washington Post]
Churchill Student Makes Food Network Debut — The Food Network kicked off the 10th season of its reality show Kids Baking Champion yesterday (Monday). Among the 13 young contestants competing to win $25,000 is Churchill Road Elementary School fourth-grade student Finley Sheers, who started making cupcakes as a hobby during the pandemic. [Inside NoVA]
Vienna Rotary Club Hosts Unhoused Youth for Holidays — “Our youth had a fun-filled event hosted by Vienna Rotary Club to celebrate the holidays. They created pillows, decorated wooden arts and crafts, made jewelry, decorated cookies, took pictures at the photo booth and with Santa, and ate a lot of pizza and snacks!” [Second Story/Twitter]
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
FCPS Seeks to Let Students “Test to Stay” in Class — Fairfax County Public Schools has requested to participate in a not-yet-announced pilot program that would let students identified as close contacts of someone infected with COVID-19 stay in class if they test negative. The Virginia Department of Health plans to implement the program in January after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed the approach. [WTOP]
School Security Officer Arrested for Alleged Assault of Student — A 26-year-old security officer at Stone Middle School in Centreville has been arrested after he allegedly assaulted and restrained a student. The incident occurred around 12:30 p.m. on Dec. 13 and was reported to police by another school employee. No injuries were reported to the school resource officer that responded. [FCPD]
Metro to Buy Electric Buses — In the hopes of achieving zero carbon emissions from its bus fleet by 2045, Metro has issued a request for proposals to purchase 10 electric buses “from multiple manufacturers to test different bus and charging technologies and assess their performance. Metro will also separately buy chargers for the buses and install infrastructure to support the chargers.” [WMATA]