Reston, VA

Although the pandemic changed plans for Reston Community Center’s Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration, a community-based virtual choir is in the works.

RCC is partnering with Reston Community Orchestra, South Lakes High School’s choral director Rita Gigliotti and SLHS alum Harrison de Wolfe for a special virtual event on Jan. 16. The participants will produce a virtual recording of Lift Every Voice and Sing, which is also known as the Black National Anthem.

This year, due to the pandemic, the concert has been canceled so we intend to join together in song with a virtual celebration of the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement,” wrote Kevin Danehar, RCC’s community events director, in a statement.

Members of the public can take part in the performance by following a step-by-step instructional video guide that will include major parts of the vocal track and how to record with a smart phone, tablet or laptop.

The deadline to register for the community virtual choir is tomorrow (Wednesday). All video recordings are due by Dec. 8. The complete video will be released on RCC’s website.

The center is seeking 50 performers. The registration form is available online.

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With traditional graduation ceremonies canceled, South Lakes High School found a new way to celebrate the graduating class of 2020 on Wednesday night.

Cars congregated for a drive-by parade in honor of graduating seniors around 7 p.m. yesterday. The community-wide celebration gave a nod to graduates whose plans for celebrations were drastically changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Graduates stood along the sidewalk near the school on marks designated by the school. Some gathered together for embraces as people from cars showered flowers, candy, and messages from inside their vehicles.

Earlier this week, students were able to pick up their caps and gowns. Each graduate was assigned to a designated spot as cars drove by to celebrate the students and their accomplishments.

The school’s administration also compiled a video to honor students who won special awards or recognition this year, including scholarships and decisions to serve in the military. 

Fairfax County Public Schools closed until the end of the school year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The school system has not yet determined if closures will continue in the beginning of the next academic year.

Staff photos by Jay Westcott

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It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the food supply chain, making it harder for some food pantries and food banks to keep their shelves fully stocked.

South Lakes High School’s food pantry is not insulated from these struggles, according to pantry coordinator Roberta Gosling. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the food pantry quickly shifted from its location at the school to a new distribution and collection model.

Since schools closed in mid-March, food is collected and packed at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Volunteers then drive bags of food to SLHS on distribution day.

Gosling says food distribution has grown from 40 to 73 bags in just a few weeks. She expects that number to grow between 25 to 50 percent each week.

The pantry urgently needs the following items:

  • Pasta
  • Pasta sauce
  • Tomatoes/sauce
  • Dried beans
  • Rice
  • Canned meat
  • Canned veggies
  • Peanut butter
  • Jelly
  • Cereal
  • Crackers
  • Granola bars
  • Deodorant

Donations can be shipped to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (1133 Reston Avenue, Herndon, Va. 20170). Non-contact drop off on Mondays from 2-4 p.m. and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to noon.

More information about the pantry is available online.

Photo by Holly Vanderhoof

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South Lakes High School’s food pantry — which serves students in the South Lakes pyramid — is accepting a final round of drop-off donations today.

The pantry is expected to close its physical location today after Fairfax County Public Schools’ moved to close all school buildings today (Monday), except 18 sites that operate as food distribution centers.

Drop-off donations will be accepted today from until 10:45 a.m. at the school (11400 South Lakes Drive). Bags will be distributed from 2:30-4 p.m.

Roberta Gosling, a coordinator of the efforts, says that distribution is expected to shift to coordination with county-wide initiatives.

Gosling stressed that the situation is “very fluid.”

As of Saturday, the pantry volunteers had originally planned to scale back hours and offer 200 pre-packed “grab and go” bags on a weekly basis. Volunteers were also expected to assemble later this week to assemble the packages.

The pantry is in need of the following items:

  • Pasta sauce
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Pasta
  • Dry rice
  • Dry beans
  • Cereal
  • Oil
  • Peanut Butter
  • Crackers in boxes
  • Oatmeal
  • Applesauce
  • Soup
  • Bar soap
  • Toilet Paper
  • Tuna
  • Microwave popcorn (individual packages)
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toothpaste
  • Maxi pads (24-unit packs)

Photo by Roberta Gosling

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South Lakes High School students won the boys and girls titles at the 6A Northern Region D Indoor Track and Field Championships this week.

The girls’ team defended their title, scoring 116 points and just enough to win a third consecutive championship. The boys’ win, with 96 points, for the Northern Region title was the first for the team since 2011.

Here’s more from SLHS on the win:

Hannah Waller won the 55 meters with a region record time of 6.95. The previous mark of 6.96 was set by Alyssa Aiken of Chantilly in Feb. 26, 2000. Waller also won the 300 meters (40.05) and was second in the triple jump (38-08.25). Waller anchored the 4×200 meter relay team of freshman Julianna Byrd and sophomores Megan Luczko and Jillian Howard, that finished third (1:46.73).

Emily Lannen, who was third in the 1,000 meters last year, won the event in 3:05.89 this season. She also teamed with senior Caitlyn Morris, sophomore Annika Yu and freshman Annalise Williams to win the 4×800 meter relay (9:43.68). 

Mary Gregory won her third consecutive 500 meters with a time of 1:16.57. She was also third in the 55 meters and 4×400 meter relay with teammates Lannen, Yu and Luczko (4:05.52).

Jackson Cooley dominated the horizontal jump events winning the long jump (21-05.50) and triple jump (43-07.25). He also finished second the 55 meters (6.59).

Mira Cuthill won the girls high jump (5-01.00) while Caleb Miller successfully defended his title in the boys shot put (50-08.50).

David Ramirez was third in the 500 meters (1:09.13).

The regional championship took place on Feb. 12 in Landover, Md.

The school plans to send two dozen athletes to the 6A State Championship on Feb. 28-29 in Hampton, Va.

Photos by Deborah Lannen

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A South Lakes High School student was killed in a car crash on Sunday (November 3) in Oakton.

Carter Smith, a junior at the school, was one of five passengers in the car, which was travelling eastbound on Stuart Mill Road around 6:30 p.m. that day when the car ran off the right shoulder and hit a tree, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.

Five teenagers who were in the car at the time were taken to local hospitals. The driver remains in life-threatening condition. The SLHS student was pronounced dead at the hospital and the three other passengers were treated for injuries that are not life-threatening.

Police believe speed may have been a factor in the accident. Preliminarily, alcohol and drugs do not appear to be factors that led to the crash.

With permission of Smith’s parents, SLHS Principal Kimberly Retzer released information about Smith.

On Monday (Nov. 4), Retzer wrote the following in a letter to the SLHS community:

Our sincere condolences are extended to family and friends of all involved, and to all members of our community who may be hearing of this terrible incident. I will maintain contact with the family and share about funeral services as that information becomes available.The unexpected death of a young person is very sad and difficult to process and can have an impact on anyone, whether they knew the person or not. South Lakes will provide counselors and clinical team members tomorrow, Tuesday, from 9:00AM to 12:00PM. Students should gather in the Lecture Hall. We will have additional supports on Wednesday as well when all students return.

Anyone with information about the incident should contact FCPD’s crash reconstruction unit at 703-280-0543.

No other information about the incident has been released.

File photo

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Friday Morning Notes

Reston Association to Hold Public Hearing on Budget — RA’s Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on the 2020-2021 biennial budget on Oct. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at RA headquarters. The budget is set to be approved by the board in November. [Reston Association]

Mentoring Program at South Lakes High School Kicks Off — “DIAMONDS (Determined, Intelligent, Ambitious, Motivated, Original, Nifty, Dazzling, Strength) is a mentoring program for young minority women-led by Angel Scott and Lisa Girdy. The program’s mission is to inspire, transform, and educate young ladies on how to be successful in every area of life. DIAMONDS kicked off its second year with many returning students, some new students, volunteers from the community, and dedicated South Lakes staff members who serve as mentors.” [Fairfax County Public Schools]

Reston-based Company partners with Leading Cloud Security Company — “FireEye, a publicly traded cybersecurity company with an office in Reston, Virginia, is partnering with cloud security company iboss to provide a joint tech solution for cloud-based cyber threat protection.” [Technical.ly]

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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A South Lakes High School teacher who was reported missing earlier this month was identified as the motorcyclist found dead Thursday near Fairfax County Parkway.

Simon Chang, 39, of Ashburn, was a special education teacher and a member of the boys basketball coaching staff. He was reported missing on August 16.

The news comes just days before students return to SLHS. Kim Retzer, the school’s principal, wrote the following message to parents about Chang’s passing:

The South Lakes High School community is mourning the death of one of our teachers, Simon Chang. As a special education teacher and member of the boys basketball coaching staff, Mr. Chang was as a beloved member of the Seahawk family. He will be remembered for his positivity and dedication to our staff and students.  He will be greatly missed. We have been in contact with Mr. Chang’s family to offer our condolences and support. 

We feel it is important for you to be aware of this situation so that you can provide any support your children might need.  Our counselors and an FCPS crisis team will be available Monday to meet with any students or staff who need assistance.  All staff will have information on where to direct students who need support. We are taking every step we can to be responsive to the needs of our students and families.  Please reach out if there are ways we can support you.  

Our thoughts are with Mr. Chang’s family and friends during this difficult time.

Police believe Chang was riding a motorcycle from Lee Highway to northbound Fairfax County Parkway when the motorcycle ran off the shoulder of the ramp and drove into a wooded area near a pond.

Chang’s body was found on Thursday, August 23 after a groundskeeper found the wreckage.

Detective do not believe other vehicles were involved in the accident. It is unclear if speed or alcohol were factors.

Photo via Loudoun County Government

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Monday Morning Notes

South Lakes High School to Begin Distributing Laptops — Distribution of laptops provided by the school system begins this Wednesday (August 7). Students must be present to receive the laptop, which is part of a recent initiative by the school system to give laptops to students across the county. [South Lakes High School]

Police Search for Missing Great Falls Man — Local police are looking for William “Billy Brener, an 83-year-old Great Falls Man who went missing over the weekend. Brener is roughly 150 pounds and has gray hair and brown eyes. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Silver Line Construction Prompts Closures — Access to several lanes and ramps will be limited this week due to ongoing construction, including Sunrise Valley Drive, Sunset Hills Road, and Herndon Parkway. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

Photo by Caroline Causey/Flickr

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Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Following the daily news coming out of our Nation’s Capital is enough to leave anyone despondent. The backing away from long-sought freedoms against discrimination and oppression to a seeming lack of concern about the health of our planet and its people to a rise in hateful speech and behavior punctuated by the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the many contribute to the feeling of desperation on the part of many who share values very different than those holding positions of power today. Add to the very real concerns about the direction of our country the plight of millions around the world and one can become very depressed.

I remind myself regularly that it is important to remember that behind all the dark clouds there is a sunny side. While my examples of the sunny side will be from our community over the last couple of days, the sunshine of care and compassion shines in different ways and intensities throughout the world every day We sometimes have to clean the lenses through which we view our community and the world to gain a clearer perspective of where we are and where we are headed.

Just last weekend Jane and I spent an evening with the caring and compassionate people in our community who raise money and work through FISH (Friendly, Immediate, Sympathetic Help) to help those who are down on their luck pay their utility bills and rent, fill prescriptions, and learn to manage their finances. A golf tournament this week with Kids R First along with the volunteer help of many will provide funding to ensure that thousands of children in our region start school with book bags filled with needed school supplies. Students in South Lakes High School (SLHS) who do not have enough to eat at their homes can get food through the SLHS Food Pantry on school days and for the weekends.

Days in a homeless shelter can no doubt seem bleak despite the best efforts of volunteers to make them seem otherwise, but nothing can replace the burst of sunshine that comes from Cornerstones and all its supporters who work mightily to end homelessness in our community. I spent an evening recently with the volunteers of Britepaths who are doing the same kind of work in other areas of our region bringing hope to many.

I spend time monthly with volunteers from Moms Demand Action, Brady Campaign, and other groups working to end gun violence. Their commonsense approach to the public health crisis of gun violence will pay off. I continue to be impressed with the determination and hard work of the Herndon-Reston Indivisibles who are devoted to the election of caring candidates to office and to bring focus on bad public policies.

I am honored to be in public office to observe and participate in the hard work of citizens who bring sunshine where it is needed. I have listed just a few examples. Join with us and pull back the shades to let the sunshine in. Let me know at [email protected] if you are looking for ways to become involved.

File photo

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A force behind more than 150 performances at South Lakes High School’s Theatre Arts program is leaving the program. Maria Harris, the program’s theatre arts director, plans to retire after 30 years of coaching students, putting on productions, and watching the program grow over the last three decades.

Harris is now turning toward what she calls her final act: her own acting career and production company, Rising Star Productions, and spending more time with her family and aging parents.

“It’s been a good career, but it’s not over yet,” Harris said. She commutes two hours daily from her home in Loudoun County to SLHS.

After teaching for a few years in Michigan — where she was born — and two other Fairfax County schools, Harris landed a full time job at SLHS. She’s worked as the performing arts chair and taught speech, english, theatre and film — watching the program grow from two shows required per year to an around-the-year program. The job has given her the opportunity to travel with her students — including the prestigious American High School Theatre Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland where the school was selected to represent Virginia. Her students have also won two state championships in the Virginia High School League’s film competition.

Over the years, she said she has most enjoyed watching her students grow. “I’ve really enjoyed my time here at SLHS. I love, love, love my kids and I’m going to miss them the most.” Before shows, she assembles her students into a big circle and leads them through breathing exercises, passing a squeeze of good wishes down the chain of linked hands until they reach her.

Ryleigh Line, one of her students, told Reston Now that Harris has helped many students realize their full potential.

“The most important thing that she does for us is support us and she pushes us to be the best we can be by having high expectations and constructive feedback for us after every assignment and production,” Line said. “The South Lakes community will miss Mrs. Harris very much and are forever thankful for her.”

For Harris, who calls herself a “Motown girl,” the arts were ingrained in her lifestyle since she was five. She received her bachelor’s degree in education from Wayne State University.

While she was working in the school’s program, she launched Rising Star Productions in Reston in order to fill the lack of “cultural theatre” in the community. For years, she worked with her team to bring African American Theatre to Reston Community Center. She has appeared in films including Broadcast News and Accidental Tourist.  Her stages roles include Addapearle in The Wiz, Bloody Mary in South Pacific, Asaka in Once on This Island, and Myrna Thorn in Ruthless! The Musical.

“I wish my students the very best, whether they take their careers into theater or whatever they endeavor to do.”

Photo via Maria Harris

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Farmers and Makers Market Kicks Off Today — Local farmers and artisans will sell a mix of items in Reston Town Center today. The market is open Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through November. [Reston Town Center]

County Weighs More Housing for Amazon Workers — “Fairfax County officials are weighing new steps to beef up their investments in affordable housing programs, with the promise of even more ambitious spending next year. The Board of Supervisors’ budget committee signed off on the changes at an April 26 meeting, ensuring they’d be included when officials vote on a full spending plan for fiscal year 2020 next month.” [Washington Business Journal]

South Lakes High School Sophomores Learn About Careers — Around 50 career professionals came to the high school to talk to sophomore about education, training, and career experiences. The event was coordinated by the career center and local parents. [Fairfax County Public Schools]

County Guide: It’s Snake Season — “Fairfax County is home to an array of snake species, most of which are non-venomous and pose no threat to people. Among the most frequently observed resident snakes are the Eastern rat snake, Eastern garter snake, Dekay’s brown snake, Northern water snake and Northern ring-necked snake; common and important predators in our ecosystems. These snakes, and others, are beneficial and provide a valuable service in our communities in the way of pest control.” [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via Charlotte Geary 

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Tuesday Morning Notes

Google eyes Reston Station — Google is considering leasing a block of office space near the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station. The Mountain View, a California-based company, is in talks to lease about 100,000 square feet from Comstock Cos. at 1900 Reston Metro Plaza, the building designed by architect Helmut Jahn. [Washington Business Journal]

If you’re coming to the football game — At South Lakes High School’s football game, don’t forget to bring a donation for the school’s food pantry. They’re looking for cereal, toothpaste, deodorant, canned veggies, applesauce, and/or beans. [SLHS Food Pantry via Twitter]

An artful run and a run in the arts — Three runners who also happen to be artists will show off their work beginning today at Reston Community Center. The exhibit ends on Nov. 5. [Reston Community Center]

Photo by Bako Glonti

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The food pantry at South Lakes High School is moving beyond the typical scope of community pantries that give students in need a chance to discreetely shop for food and toiletries. In the coming weeks, the pantry, which currently caters to students in the SLHS pyramid and is run by the school’s Parent Teacher Student Association, will begin offering cooking skills classes.

The after-school cooking workshops will give students a chance to learn more about healthy eating. Through eight sessions during the school year on Wednesday afternoons, students will learn how to make one recipe using healthy ingredients and meal kits that do not rely on processed ingredients, according to Roberta Gosling, one of the founders of the pantry.  The initiative is made possible by a $7,000 grant from the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

The idea began to take root when Alana Pudner, a Girl Scout, approached pantry organizers with a three-meal pack she prepared to earn her Silver Award. Students began ordering the meal kit, which includes ingredients for veggie chili, lentil stew, and a tuna pasta casserole, as part of their weekly orders.

To take that further, we also looked at some of the broader trends and felt that if we could help students learn to cook healthy, budget-friendly recipes that it would equip a broad group of people with life skills and take students a step closer to nutritious choices,” Gosling said.

Recipes will contain ingredients available in the pantry and through SNAP and WIC benefits. At the end of each session, students will get bags with recipes and ingredients, including a kitchen starter kit with basic tools like a cutting board, measuring cup, a pan, and spices used in multiple cuisines. Although the classes are open to all students at the school, organizers plan to market the class through the pantry to reach students most in need.  Each session will accommodate about 20 students.

Organizers are also making an effort to focus on foods from around the world. Shopping lists are available in English, Spanish and Arabic and participants will get a chance to try different cuisines in the classes.

Roughly 30 percent of all SLHS students experience food insecurity, according to pantry organizers and volunteers. Every Thursday, students in need turn in their shopping list for the week. Volunteers pack shopping bags and distribute them to students as they head out on Fridays. Students can also shop at the pantry on Thursdays from 3-6 p.m. and on Friday from noon to 3 p.m. The pantry is also open in the summer on Thursdays from 3-6 p.m.

Since April 2017, the pantry has filled more than 2,500 orders and weekly order averages are also increasing.

Now, pantry organizers and volunteers are looking for new ways to make the initiative more sustainable and comprehensive. On September 30, the school’s PTSA will partner with Lake Anne Brew House to present the “Do It Your Way 0.5K.” All proceeds from the event, which is set for 4-6 p.m. at Lake Anne Brew House, will go to the food pantry.

The pantry is led by Gosling, Abbe Pascal, Andy Sigle, Amy Shaw, and Sherri Pudner. Items in high demand include rice, beans, jelly, canned fruit, shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, and toothbrushes. Monetary donations are also accepted online.

Photos via Roberta Gosling

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South Lakes High School’s track and field team made a strong showing at Liberty University’s Christmas invitational over the weekend.

In her first indoor high school track meet, sophomore Hannah Waller won the girls’ 55-meter race, setting a school record of 6.94. During trials, Waller broke a record of 7.28 set by Nikayla Hoyte during the 2015 season. Both times qualify Waller for the 6A State Championship. Her time in the final is also the fastest in the nation this season, according to a statement issued by the team.

Waller, junior Nicole Post and sophomores Mary Gregory and Rhema Konadu finished second in the 4×200 meter relay with a time of 1:45:54, qualifying the team for the state meet.

Junior Isabelle Gulgert won both the 1,000 meters and 1,600 meters race, qualifying her for the Liberty District championship meet.

Senior Sean Casey finished with a region championship qualifying time of 4:30:87. Casey, who is the Liberty Conference cross country champion, also qualified for the region meet in the 1,000-meter race, during which he finished fourth.

Other highlights include:

  • Senior Ronak Cuthill finished fourth, earning a qualification for the region meet.
  • Junior Stevie Jones qualified for the region meet in the preliminaries of the boys’ 55-meter.
  • Juniors Sophie Halkett, Jordan Anderson and seniors Reagan Tobias and Aly Rayle won the first running event of the meet, the girls 4×800 meter relay, in 10:17.72.
  • The boys 4×800 meter relay team of senior Peter Delmolino and juniors Calvin Warstler, Webb Nims and Alex Lawson finished third (8:45.87).

Photo by Traci Waller

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