Posted at 12:58 PM ET, 02/18/2009
What are you looking for?
By Andy Craig and Bob Stevens
On Monday night, some 30 to 40 Annandale students left the Annandale High School parking lot armed with digital cameras and prepared to thoroughly embarrass themselves all for the sake of competition. On February 2, high school students involved in Young Life collaborated at the jock lobby to start their scavenger hunt. Young Life is a Christian organization where high school students can hang out and have fun with their peers. It is held every Monday night usually from 8 to 9 p.m at a member's house. On these nights at Young Life there are many activities to do, such as singing, capture the flag, bowling and in this case, a scavenger hunt.
Sophomore Melvin Robinson walked up to a police car late on Monday night and asked "Sir, may I please sit in your car."
Why? This was one of many activities that could have been done during this past Monday's scavenger hunt.
There was a list of 30 tasks to be completed in a one-hour time limit.
"My favorite task was braiding a random girl's hair," said sophomore D' Angelo Boyce.
This was another one of the many random tasks that could have been completed in your time limit. The points ranged from 10 points to 50 points. For instance, one task was to serve food at a fast food restaurant, which was worth 40 points and was one of the highest ranked point values on the list.
"We asked the manager if we could serve the food to the customers for her. Then she looked at us like we were crazy, but she let us do it anyway," said junior Joe Turner.
Another task on the list, worth a lower amount of points, was to carry a stranger's groceries to their car. This odd job was worth 15 points. There was also an option on the list to create your own task for your team to perform and these made-up tasks were given points based on how funny the action was.
"I sang a Disney song to a women in the Safeway for my random task, but then she ran away," said senior Cason Kynes.
Everyone that participated in the event was divided into teams of four or five people, and every team had a driver to get them from place to place to perform their various tasks. Sophomore Nathan Miller was riding in senior John Copenhaver's car along with other sophomores and some freshmen.
"I rode with Cope, and we just went around doing crazy things. It was a lot of fun."
The team with the most points was deemed the winner of the Young Life scavenger hunt, and received prizes for their victory. All the members of the team got to choose between a best buy gift card or a Young Life apparel as their prize.
Other than going out to do crazy things, Mondays with Young Life can be spent in some one's basement where there are many ridiculous games, hilarious skits, and loud music that will make you want to get up and dance. All of these activities are leading up to the biggest Young Life event of the year. This event is held during the summer and it is a one-week camp with even more enjoyable activities to do. This year's summer camp will be held in New York. These seven fun-filled days are a great experience to all that are interested.
"I am really excited for this year's trip to New York. I have never been to Young Life camp but I am looking forward to it. All my friends tell me it is will be the best week of my life," said sophomore Nathan Miller.
Posted at 12:57 PM ET, 02/18/2009
Mixing it up
By Hope Stadulis and Torie Deible
Walking through the cafeteria at AHS, one of the more diverse schools in Fairfax County, can be a scary experience for a student that does not know where to sit. If you were to scan the large room, you would see a variety of groups, and ethnicities-most of whom sit together because they share a common interest.
Still, AHS students cannot be classified in typical cliques that everyone sees in the movies: preps, jocks, band geeks, mathletes... None of these titles apply to the AHS students that sit together at lunch. This makes one wonder, do AHS students subconsciously choose their friends, and judge those around them by race?
The only way to find the answer to this question is to simulate the experience. We decided to test a variety of students by sitting at numerous, random tables during lunch and observing the reaction of students when we interacted with them.
We attempted to choose tables that had an array of dissimilar elasticities. That way, we were able to test whether students felt uncomfortable due solely to the fact that we differed in races, or if it was simply because we were complete strangers. We are both Caucasian.
First stop: a table of friendly looking freshmen. This group of girls was composed of a variety of races including Middle-Eastern, African American and Hispanic.
We slinked into seats next to them and initiated conversation. As with meeting any new stranger, the first greeting and introduction was a bit awkward, but as our exchange began to develop, the mood dramatically changed.
Their attitudes were purely amiable and inviting, and we found ourselves delving into interesting conversations with our new friends.
After it was revealed to this group that we were surveying effects of race on interaction, they concurred that they were only thrown-off by the fact that they did not know us.
"I did not even think about your race when you walked up to our table. I don't think that very many people at AHS notice race because we are used to interacting with everyone," said freshman Abigail Mesekerg.
It was time to move on to the next group that we had pinpointed: a quiet looking clump of boys playing cards, mostly of Asian descent. Their demeanors were a bit intimidating from the moment we approached them, and when we asked if we could join their game they simply stared at us and then continued on. Multiple times, we tried to get involved or elicit conversation, but all we received were mumbles, and a whole lot of dirty looks.
We assumed that these gamers had stereotyped us as snobbish, ditzy girls at first glance, and immediately did not want to be associated with us. This was a disappointment, especially because it was difficult to understand exactly what characteristics had inspired them to view us in that light. So we moved on.
A seemingly intellectual group of boys seated at the end of a rectangular table was our next target. After introductions, conversation ebbed and flowed, and except for a few awkward glances, we felt comfortable. Unlike the other groups that we had forced our way into, this group was clearly united by Arabic culture.
"A lot of the time, we speak Arabic when we talk to each other," said sophomore Abdelwahab Hany. "I grew up in Egypt, so I am comfortable speaking it, and we all enjoy it."
As the lunch bell rang, we realized that AHS students are not close minded when it comes to race.
Sure, we had earned some confused looks when we sat at these random tables, but it was clear that these looks were made because we had never been acquainted with these students before. AHS students seem to live by the wise saying: Never judge a book by its cover.
By simply strolling through the hallways of AHS, one can clearly see the plethora of ethnicities blended into different groups. If all were to judge one another exclusively based on race, AHS would be an entirely different environment. There will always be the classic, "What are they dong here?" question, but what we learned today was that the question is not asked because we are of a different race, but simply because we were not familiar faces at their tables.
Posted at 12:56 PM ET, 02/18/2009
Dispelling health myths
By Beelan Yonas
Coffee is bad for you
Truth: There are so many false myths about coffee- it stunts your growth, it causes heart disease and cancer, it dehydrates you- but in reality, coffee has more benefits than most people are taught to believe, and is actually healthy to drink.
"I drink coffee everyday," said sophomore Salma Kerfal. "My parents always told me not to drink it, but I didn't listen to them. I talked to my doctor and he told me that [drinking] it would have no negative effects on my body."
Coffee is high in antioxidants, which can battle such health concerns as cancer and Parkinson's disease. It has also been shown to relieve headaches, and even lower the risk of heart disease. However, too much of a anything is always damaging, so it is best not to drink more than three cups of coffee a day to receive the full benefits it provides.
Chocolate causes breakouts
Truth: This goes the same for any food that has been "proven" to cause acne. There is no connection between what you eat and the appearance of acne. Acne is caused by the accumulation of dead skin cells, overly oily skin, hormonal changes and heredity. So consuming chocolate, fries, soda, or any other junk food will not have an effect on your acne- just your weight.
Some studies have shown that chocolate actually has some benefits for the skin, improving its texture and reducing its vulnerability to UV rays. "Dark chocolate actually has antioxidants in it that are good for you. I eat it instead of milk chocolate," said sophomore Kaitlyn Mann.
African Americans' cannot get skin cancer
Truth: Many people with darker skin believe that just because sun tans or burns do not show as easily means that they do not have to be wary of the sun or even use sun block.
"That's ridiculous," said senior Jerry Solomon. "Skin is skin. I hate when people say that because I've burned before. I always get darker in the summer than in the winter; just like fairer people get tanned I just get darker."
Darker skin has higher levels of melanin, which is a dark coloring found in the skin and hair. It is true that melanin can resist the harmful UV rays of the sun, but it is still possible for those with darker skin to get skin cancer.
Eating fish is good for your brain
Truth: Fish seems to have been labeled as being a cure-all, capable of preventing any damage to the body known to man- and it just may.
"My parents have always encouraged me to eat fish because it has Omega-3 in it," said sophomore Salma Kerfal. "So I eat a lot of fish at home. If I don't eat it, I [will] take vitamins [that contain] fish oils."
Fish is full of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are just as good for the rest of the body as they are for the brain. The fatty acids help with memory and, as you get older, slow down the process of mental deterioration. Fish oil has also been proven to cure depression, Alzheimer's, schizophrenia, and dyslexia. It is recommended that you eat fish twice a week.
Eating carrots improves eyesight
Truth: How many times have we heard from our mom to eat our carrots because they are good for our eyes? Carrots were thought for years to improve eyesight due to the fact that they are full of vitamin A, which is essential for healthy a eyesight as well as skin, but eating carrots will only improve your eyesight if you are suffering from a vitamin A deficiency.
"I used to eat a lot of carrots so I [would have] 20/20 vision," said senior Adama Fullah. "But [after] I had been eating carrots for a while and my eyesight never changed, I doubted [the myth]."
This myth is said to have been started during World War II by the British Royal Air Force. Germany was surprised at how well the RAF was able to shoot down the German planes in the dark, and Britain, not wanting to reveal its secret of using night radar, told them it was because its pilots ate an abundance of carrots. Germany believed the story.
Urinating on a jellyfish sting relieves the pain
Truth: Urinating on a sting has been the most handed down tip on beaches, most likely because anyone can urinate on themselves when other materials are not available.
"I've always thought that was really dumb," said senior Alba Fuentes. "Because when my brother got a jellyfish and someone peed on [his leg] the pain went away in the same amount of time as my cousin when he got a jellyfish sting and no one peed on his leg."
Though it may seem like the trick has worked because the pain does go away after a few hours, it is not because of the urine, the mustard or any other cure for the pain that you may have heard of. In reality, the pain of a jellyfish sting naturally lessens. Some people urinate on their stings as a way to clear the jellyfish tissue left on skin that contains the sting cells.
Thus, the myth may have been misconstrued as soothing the pain, when urination was simply a solution to getting rid of jellyfish gunk.
Toothpaste gets rid of pimples
Truth: Toothpaste can clear up pimples; however, if you have sensitive skin, this cure may not be so effective for you. Toothpaste dries out the skin and the methanol found in it can cause itching and inflammation.
So, while toothpaste may get rid of that pimple that has been bothering you, it may leave you with red and irritated skin. Unless you are out of acne cream, toothpaste is not meant for the face.
Though some may find it irritating, senior Mini Yupari finds that it is the perfect cure to get rid of her stubborn pimples that will not go away. "When I have a pimple," says Yupari, "I put toothpaste on it before I go to sleep and leave it on for five minutes. If I leave it on for longer it burns. [The pimple] gets smaller in two days and then I do it again and then it goes away."
Posted at 12:54 PM ET, 02/18/2009
Staff opposes SLEEP
By Emily Fruchterman
At 5:30 in the morning, sophomore Darlene Reyes reaches over to her bedside table to turn off her phone alarm, not quite ready for yet another day of school. She tiredly stumbles into her bathroom to get ready for another long, busy day. Throughout the county, students follow the same pattern, all getting up though they wish for more sleep.
It is for this reason that a parent advocacy group, titled SLEEP, is pushing for a later start time in Fairfax County Public Schools. SLEEP stands for the Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal.
Their main goal is to have Fairfax County High Schools begin their classes, not at the current 7:20 a.m., but over an hour later at 8:30 a.m.
Though many students are short on sleep and would likely appreciate the extra rest, many would rather not change the current system.
"An extra hour would be nice, but it wouldn't really help that much," said Reyes. "It would also mess up everything."
The "everything" that Reyes is referring to is the extracurricular activities in which many students participate. If SLEEP's goals are passed, not only would school start later, it would also end at a later time. This would cause many sports practices to both start and end later.
"If you do a sport and you have to spend more time at school than we do this year, that would be bad," said Reyes. "Students and athletes want to go to their houses sooner rather than later."
Pre-IB Government teacher Stratton Shartel is of the same opinion.
"I'm against the change," said Shartel. "I think it would have a negative impact on student's ability to participate in after school activities and still get their homework done."
Not only would the change in school starting times effect the time students have to do work, some teachers feel that it will take away from their time as well.
"I would lose after school planning time that I'd probably try to make up by waking up extra early in the morning," said Shartel. "So I wouldn't even get any more sleep."
Some teachers would be affected in an even more severe manner, such as english teacher Bethany Harar, who would have to make several major changes in her schedule.
"Right now it takes me about 40 minutes to get to work. When we had the two-hour delay, I got a taste of what it would be like commuting to work with a later starting time," said Harar. "It would take me over an hour to get to school. This also would greatly increase my gas expenses."
A group, very much like SLEEP but fighting for the opposite cause, calls themselves WAKE, or Worried About Keeping Extra-curriculars. They believe that changing the starting time would lead to a severe reduction in student participation in many after school activities. If the starting times are changed, it could result in many middle school students arriving home at close to 6 in the evening. WAKE also worries that evening rush hour would be negatively affected by this change.
Because this School Board decision affects so many students and teachers, the School Board has elected to ask for input from these groups. Many AHS teachers have filled out surveys already, and students are invited to do the same on their Blackboard accounts.
"I think that it's a good idea that they have a survey for students to take," said sophomore Steven Cardenas. "It gives students a say in something that's going to affect them."
Although many students at AHS are against the change, some feel that the change would be positive.
"Right now we wake up so early that we can't concentrate in school, getting the extra sleep will help a lot with that," said junior Dara So.
Posted at 12:40 PM ET, 02/18/2009
Smoking ban proposed for Virginia bars
By Erin Johnson
It is the end of the week, and after a hard day's work many people go to a local bar to have a couple of drinks, have a smoke a cigarette, and socialize with fellow bar goers. After Virginia's recent ban on smoking in most restaurants and bars, this picture seems to change has changed dramatically.
On Feb. 9, the Virginia House of Delegates met to vote on the smoking ban, which gives the Virginia government a say in how the local restaurants and bars impose and create their smoking rules.
Tobacco has been a staple in Virginia's trade and economy since Virginia was first colonized. However, almost any form of tobacco is harmful to people's health. According to the National Institutes of Health, smoking kills over 400,000 people in the U.S. each year, not only through direct smoking but also through second hand smoke.
The vote on the smoking ban comes at a perfectly controversial time. Since the economy at the moment is in a deep recession, many might argue that this ban comes at the worst possible time. Tobacco is critical to the state's economy, being grown and sold in every county, and it is possible that the ban could decrease tobacco sale, something like this could worsen the state's economy.
Nonetheless, the state's health is much more important that the state's economy. Smoking kills, and although a bad economy gets rid of jobs and money, it does not lead to death.
The ban does not, however, completely get rid of smoking in bars and restaurants. The proposal created by Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) permits smoking in private clubs and in bars or restaurants that have separately ventilated smoking rooms for those who wish to smoke.
While it does not eliminate smoking in these public places, the ban is a huge step forward for Virginia. The health concerns over smoking and secondhand smoke has made 23 other states and Washington D.C. create bans like this one. This is an especially important moment for anti-smokers in Virginia because Virginia has been considered "tobacco country", and now has created bans on smoking.
This ban, if created into a bill, would make Virginia the first state in the South to approve of a ban of smoking in restaurants and bars.
While this is a step forward, anti-smoking groups still have complaints with it. The ban does not completely ban smoking in all bars and restaurants, only in public establishments; which still allows for the danger of secondhand smoke.
Also, the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association all think that the proposal is not specific enough on what embodies the separate room that it required. They also argue against the consequence for violating this ban, which is a $25 fine for the company.
Secondhand smoke can be deadly, and the people who get sick from it are not even willingly choosing to smoke. If the ban is passed, and smoking is stopped in bars and restaurants the number of secondhand smoking deaths will decrease. Although the proposal has flaws, it is a step in the right direction.
Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 01/12/2009
By Amy Steinbuechler
Staying fit and working up a sweat can be difficult over the winter season. Often it is too cold to venture outside, and eating holiday feasts seems more tempting than exercising.
"Winter months are my laziest months. I rarely workout in the cold because I have a terrible immune system," said senior Anita Obasi. "It's hard to get motivated to go out in the cold."
Winter does not have to be all about gaining weight and making a resolution to lose it. It can also be about staying in shape and having fun. There are a number of ways to get your heart rate up without the low temperatures.
Running or playing sports are great ways to get some fresh air. Enjoying the snow by sledding, skiing or snowboarding are great cardio and muscular workouts outside as well.
Shopping can also burn a few calories. For every fifteen minutes spent on the stairs, an average person of 150 pounds can burn up to 153 calories according to dietbites.com. The number of calories increases as one's weight increases. Walking from store to store can also burn calories; the average person at 150 pounds can burn roughly 50 calories walking 15 minutes per mile according to spirita.net.
Maintaining a good diet during the holidays is another important factor in staying healthy and in shape this winter. "I try and stay away from dessert tables," said junior Madeleine Irwin. "Overall I keep my veggies, fruits and lean protein near."
Joining a gym can also be another way to slim down over the winter break. Some gyms even have discounts and gift specials during the season. Gyms offer a variety of exercise equipment and even personal trainers to assist in a personal workout plan.
Even with holiday discounts gyms, ski trips can get expensive and inconvenient. The most affordable and accessible form of exercise is working out at home. One can bring the gym home with them with a workou t video. Tae Bo is a fun cardiac work out originating from tae kwon do. Yoga and palaties can also be performed in the comfort of one's living room with more privacy and a personal workout. Not only do yoga and palaties allow one to lose weight, but they also relieve some of the stresses of the holiday season.
Music is another tool that helps one relax during a workout. Simply dancing for 15 minutes burns an average of 83 calories in an individual who weights roughly 150 pounds, according to Dietbites.com.
"A good iPod playlist makes working out easier," said Irwin. "Pump up music changes a pessimistic mood in an instant."
Exercise creates endorphins that will help anyone through the rough holiday season and leave one with a great body for the ever so soon bathing suit season. Staying in-shape can be difficult during the winter season in the cold weather, but using tricks during shopping and cooking can lead to a healthier holiday.
Posted at 12:56 PM ET, 01/12/2009
Go for a spin!
By Marie Benavides
The beginning of the holiday season also marks the arrival of many seasonal activities. Among these activities is the timeless classic, ice-skating.
Fortunately, there are many different places around Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. where people are able to enjoy this seasonal sport. This winter, bundle up, grab some friends and head to one of these ice rinks for a slippery time.
Starting in mid-November, the open-air pavilion at Reston Town Center is transformed from an area that hosts concerts and other events, to a full-size ice skating rink that is open to the public. This beautiful ice rink is adorned with seasonal decorations that create a magical mood for the skaters underneath.
Not only is the Reston Town Center Ice Rink a gorgeous place to go during the day, but also at night when the pavilion is fully lit, creating a glowing atmosphere. The skating rink is also surrounded by various restaurants where you can go to eat after a fun filled ice skating session.
If you are looking for a delicious and upscale meal, Clyde's is right next to the Skate Rental Shop. Do not worry though, there is also a Panera next to the rink, which offers a wide selection of soups and sandwiches at a reasonable price.
This ice-skating rink is also in the heart of Reston Town Center, which offers an array of different shops and stores for people to shop at while visiting the area. Experience a whole night of fun around Reston Town Center after enjoying the ice rink.
Another outdoor ice-skating rink is the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden Ice-Skating Rink in Washington, D.C. This beautiful outdoor rink boasts a state of the art sound system that people can listen to while they enjoy their ice-skating session.
In addition, this outdoor rink is larger than other ones around the area. Senior Annie Weiser visits the ice-rink at the Sculpture Garden during winter. "I love the atmosphere of this ice-rink and it's a perfect place to spend a day having fun with your friends," she said, "It's also a good place for beginners to go and just have fun because it is always so crowded that not many people do fancy tricks."
Weiser took ice-skating lessons when she was younger and values the skill greatly now. "It is a really fun, social activity that is also a good way to exercise."
While the Sculpture Garden Ice-Skating Rink is one of the most beautiful rinks in our area, there is not much of an area to take shelter if the weather gets bad. Also, remember that this rink is completely outdoors, so blustery winter days may not be the best choice for ice-skating.
There is however, a small café next to the rink called The Pavilion Café, which offers small meals and an array of both hot and cold beverages, in addition to a place of refuge for those avoiding the cold weather. Unfortunately, there are not many other choices for food or entertainment nearby, so the Pavilion Café is one of the only options.
The last ice-skating rink in our area is Fairfax Ice Arena's Indoor Ice-Skating Rink. This indoor location makes it possible to ice-skate year round, no matter what the weather conditions are.
People of all ages are able to go here to sign up for lessons or just enjoy skating with friends. Beginners can skate around the edges of the rink, while the more advanced skaters can show off their most advanced skills in the center ring.
"The hardest trick I can do is a single axel," said sophomore Katie Bui. She followed in her family's tradition of learning how to ice-skate. "I took lessons for 6 years when I was younger because it was a family thing that my sister did too." Like many other ice-skating students, Bui took her lessons at Fairfax Ice Arena. "It was a great experience and I loved the feeling of floating over the ice."
Weiser also took a year of ice-skating lessons at the ice arena too. "I was never able to master an axel or do very fancy tricks, but I did learn how to do some basic jumps."
Ice-skating is a great way during winter to exercise and take a break from the stress of the holidays. As Weiser said, "Ice-skating during the winter is like the pool during the summer, everyone loves it."
Posted at 12:54 PM ET, 01/12/2009
'Millionaire' provides heart-wrenching glimpse of India's poor
By Kelly McGarey
The idea of a day at the theater, sipping soda and munching on popcorn at the afternoon matinee is an iconic example of American escapism. When we go to the movies, we tend to migrate towards comedies that make us laugh, romances that make us cry, and action flicks packed with explosions and gore. It is unusual in this day in age to see a film that doesn't just entertain the viewer, but causes them to examine their own beliefs and change their opinions on important moral issues. Thankfully, a cinematic treasure has hit screens across America, in the form of the tale of a game show contestant competing for the chance of a lifetime.
Now, this idea doesn't seem at all revolutionary. Everyday we watch reality TV shows where we see average people winning millions of dollars for answering a trivia question correctly, or hitting a note at just the right pitch. Their rags-to-riches stories give us hope that one day; we too might be given the chance to stand out.
However, this film is quite unlike any of the shows we watch on primetime TV. Instead of taking place in America, the movie is set in India. In true Bollywood style, the game-show's host is flashy, animated, and a bit over the top. The set is glitzy and the prize is enticing, attracting millions of interested viewers from across the country.
Amidst the glamour of the popular Mumbai show, the film's protagonist, a teenager named Jamal, feels very out of place. He is the only contestant who is not a professional, and is the youngest person to ever be on the show. He is also a 'slumdog,' who, having grown up in the poorest of the city's neighborhoods, seems out of place in such an academic setting.
Once the show's network becomes aware of Jamal's background, they become convinced that he is somehow cheating the system. They call in the police who savagely beat and torture the boy in hopes of discovering his dishonest method of learning the answers to the trivia questions. However, it soon becomes apparent that Jamal has nothing to hide, as he answers his interrogators truthfully and tells them the harrowing story of his life.
Although he had no education, life in the slums equipped him with the knowledge he needed to survive. After his parent's murder, Jamal is forced to roam the streets of Mumbai with his brother. Soon after they begin their travels, they meet a young girl named Latkima. At this fateful moment, her destiny becomes entangled with Jamal's as the children make a pact to look after each other for the rest of their lives.
The subsequent part of the movie chronicles the development of their passionate, yet heart-breaking romance. Although terrible circumstances tear them apart, the pair always seems to find a way to reunite. While following them on their journey, the audience is treated to breath-taking scenes of India. It is also given an eye-opening look at the lifestyle of India's poorest citizens, a population that the world usually chooses to ignore.
Slumdog Millionaire is truly one of the best films of 2008. It's engaging story and important message that love, not money, is the true source of happiness provides a good lesson for our wealth-obsessed society. The unexpected look at India's slums and the painful tale of a survivor helps to humanize its inhabitants and cause the audience to empathize with their plight.
Posted at 12:51 PM ET, 01/12/2009
Next on the chopping block
By Shriya Adhikary
As Fairfax County Public Schools face the possibility of large cuts on school programs and activities for fiscal year 2010, the worsening economic crisis is sparing no one. Among the proposed budget cuts being made to alleviate the current $220 million budget deficit is the elimination of certain sports, most specifically girls' gymnastics.
"There's a 99.9 percent chance that girls' gymnastics will be cut next year," said Angelo Hilios, Director of Student Activities.
Eliminating girls' gymnastics is part of the first-tier of cuts proposed by Superintendent Jack Dale after considering costs of the sport versus the number of participants.
"It's not fair," said gymnast senior Sasha Thomas. "Just because the team doesn't get enough members doesn't mean it's not good."
Over the last five years, the highest number of female athletes on the AHS varsity girls' gymnastics team has been six. This year's team has five female athletes.
"It all has to do with the numbers. It costs the county over $4,000 per year to support only five of our girls, even though we share our coach and practice space with Lake Braddock," said Hilios. The AHS gymnastics team practices together with the Lake Braddock, Woodson and Falls Church girls' teams.
"We all practice together and help each other out a lot," said sophomore Anne-Marie Weiner, who joined the team for the first time this year. "I am mad that they are going to cut gymnastics next year. Not everyone who can do gymnastics can afford to be on a club team."
Weiner's sentiments are shared by all of the girls on her team. "I am really mad about this. They already don't pay for anything. We have to support our own supplies and we use uniforms that have been used for who knows how many years. So the only thing they spent on us were uniforms they bought years ago. We don't even have our own bus. We share with the swim team," said Thomas.
The proposed cuts would save Fairfax County an estimated $221,000 and affect around 125 female athletes and their coaches. If the budget passes in May of 2009, all gymnastics program that are supported by the county will be eliminated.
However, the girls wish that a different approach could be taken rather than simply cutting out gymnastics from the school program.
"I propose that we have to pay for it. That way we will be happy and so will the school board," said sophomore Adrienne Williams.
"I just think that Fairfax County should cut other things but not sports or after school activities along with teachers. It was their problem that they didn't know how to handle the budget and they should have had a plan for when this happens," said Weiner.
The last time FCPS experienced cuts on school sports was during the economic decline of the early 1990s. At that time, the number of events that certain sports teams could participate in, especially at the freshman and junior varsity level, was reduced to save costs.
"Of course no activities director wants to see programs being cut, but this is the reality due to the economic situation and the financial problems the county is facing," said Hilios.
However, the effects of the financial crisis will not end with the elimination of girls' gymnastics. Other programs are also being evaluated for elimination, such as winter track.
"Around 180 students participate in winter track which is a substantial amount, but we also have to pay rent for the space we use, so we have to take all that into consideration before we decide what to do," said Hilios.
Right now, the athletes in the varsity girls' gymnastics team are simply trying to enjoy the time they have, despite fears that they won't be able to participate in the sport they love next year.
Posted at 12:45 PM ET, 01/12/2009
Schools do more to waste less
By Charles Simpson
Last year AHS burned through almost 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity, spent $143,510.95 on natural gas and $503,050.10 in total on power. AHS will likely match these numbers this school year as well. The school's energy demand is immense, and with increasing emphasis on efficiency Fairfax County has undertaken several major efforts to help the school go green.
"I definitely have seen a dramatic increase of interest by the public in energy issues over the last couple of years driven by concerns about climate change, concerns about the ever climbing cost of energy, and concerns about oil supplies," said Fairfax County coordinator of energy management Tom Reinsel. "This new awaking to an old problem is something that is much needed."
"We did make a huge leap forward in energy efficiency in FCPS between 2002 and 2006 in a special project that Fairfax County used on making energy efficiency related improvement," said Reinsel.
At AHS these improvements included a new energy management system that controls lighting, heating and air conditioning from a central location via an Internet connection. Renovations also included efficient fluorescent lighting, double pane insulated windows, added roof insulation, efficient heating and efficient air conditioning systems.
The budget and it's limits
One factor limiting efficiency improvements and reducing AHS' carbon footprint is the county budget. The majority of the county construction budget goes toward the construction of new schools, rather than updating and improving existing ones.
"Three years ago, we moved up on our Capital budget from $130 million to $155 million... But most of this budget goes towards constructing new schools and additions, rather than renovations," said county superintendent Jack Dale.
"The cost of construction to do renovations is so expensive that it is not feasible to do it all at once and it had to be phased over many years," said Reinsel. Fortunately, many renovations do not take from the county budget on the long run. For example, according to Reinsel the Fairfax County efficiency renovation from 2002, "will pay for itself over about 8 and a half years by saving on energy costs."
With these additions AHS has become relatively efficient. "One way we measure efficiency is by energy use per square foot. Annandale is at 78.9 thousand btu per square foot, so Annandale energy use is almost exactly average for all high schools in the county," said Reinsel.
Despite reaching this average, AHS still has space for progress. "There certainly is room for improvement since we have some high schools as low as 58 thousand btu per square foot," said Reinsel. Other schools have more to spend on efficiency and becoming environmentally friendly.
A focus on improvement
T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria recently underwent advanced renovations, such as efficient lighting, glaze insulated windows and a 450,000 gallon cistern underground water reservoir that catches and conserves rain for general usage. These improvements reduce electrical and gas waste and save over 500,000 gallons of water per year.
Improvements like these have been instituted largely in response to increasing public understanding and concern towards environmental issues and climate change.
"I think we should be more environmentally friendly because any little thing will slow global warming. Our school and other schools should do what they can to help," said freshman Melanie Meline. While the public has only recently become focused on environmental issues, the county has been working to reduce the schools' carbon footprint for decades.
"We have been focused on improving the energy efficiency of FCPS since 1978. While the general public has finally taken an interest in climate change recently, it has been a concern of those in the energy management community long before that," said Reinsel.
With increasing public interest comes the opportunity for a unified effort of students, teachers and staff to make simple, but significant improvements on the schools impact on the environment. One common complaint among students and staff is the lack of an effective recycling program at AHS.
"I don't think we're [AHS] environmentally friendly because we don't even recycle anymore and we waste a lot of paper," said sophomore Aya Ibrahim while pointing at one of the numerous paper announcements hanging in the halls of AHS.
"In most of my classrooms we don't have a recycling bin," said junior Nicholas Den. The county does in fact have a recycling program, although making sure most of the school's paper finds its way to a recycling dumpster has proven difficult. Additionally, recycling programs do not give back economically in the way efficiency programs do.
"Our recycling program actually costs money, but we do it anyway because it is the right thing to do for the environment and the added cost is modest," said Reinsel. The need to recycle other materials than paper makes the challenge of bringing about a collaborative recycling effort even more difficult.
"All the trays for lunch aren't recyclable. We should have a separate receptacle for trays so they could recycle them," said senior Ariel Pak. Receptacles for other materials such as aluminum, plastic, or glass are also not widely available at AHS.
Another common complaint is excessive lighting, heating or other energy use.
"There's so much light, even in places that don't need it like the computer labs. I think we could turn off the lights more," said junior Daniela Guevara. Heating and cooling are also disproportionate in various areas of the school, adding to energy waste.
"In some of my classes it's really cool but in others it's really hot. It gets uncomfortable and makes it hard to work," said junior Summia Farooq. This is a common complaint from AHS students and staff alike.
Looking to the future
Fortunately Fairfax County is planning more programs to improve heating, cooling and lighting systems. "Obviously new technology has been developed during the last 30 years and it gets implemented as it becomes econonmically viable so there is always something in the works," said Reinsel.
"Going forward, the FCPS buildings that are currently being renovated are receiving even more advanced technology like the latest lighting systems, controls, and advanced HVAC systems," Reinsel said. These will allow better control of school energy use and reduce waste.
Importance of the individual
Students and staff can make efforts on their own to reduce energy waste. Teachers should be sure to turn off lights when their room is not in use, as well as shutting down computers, monitors and printers as often as possible. In addition, keeping doors and windows closed prevents wasting energy on heating and cooling.
A final complaint towards AHS environmental impact is the massive gas consumption and carbon emission of buses.
"They could redesign the engine to run off of something else," said freshmen Melanie Meline. Interestingly, public buses actually reduce carbon emissions by running on diesel, rather than regular fuel and transporting large numbers of students per trip.
"It turns out that a large part of the carbon footprint of operating a high school is from students and teachers driving cars to and from school when free public transportation is available," said Reinsel.
All of these improvements will need to be utilized to create significant environmental progress. It will require a combined effort from everyone at the school and county to reduce the environmental impact of AHS. Fortunately, there is a growing common interest among students, faculty and FCPS leadership to achieve these goals and help our schools go green.