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Best in State for Academics

Chantilly High wins Wachovia Cup for the sixth time.

Hats off to Chantilly High! It's just won the Wachovia Cup for academics for the sixth time in 10 years.

"We were number one out of all 140 AAA schools — and by a big margin," said Principal Tammy Turner. "We amassed 240 points; our nearest competitor, Westfield, had 165 points."

The Wachovia Cup for academics is awarded for excellence in particular Virginia High School League (VHSL) activities — magazines, newspaper, yearbook, theater, scholastic tests, forensics, debate and creative writing.

Winners are determined by a point system based on performance in VHSL state competitions. For first place in team activities such as creative writing and debate, 50 points are awarded for first place. For publications, 35 points are given to those receiving the highest ranking of Trophy Class.

The publications awards are for 2003, and both Chantilly and Westfield swept these categories with Trophy Class magazines, newspapers and yearbooks. But Chantilly pulled ahead — topping Westfield by 75 points — because it also won the championship in creative writing and finished second in debate and third in forensics. Westfield tied for fourth in both forensics and debate.

TO EARN its number-one ranking, Chantilly received 35 points each for its literary and art magazine, newspaper and yearbook. It received another 40 for forensics, 45 for debate and 50 for creative writing.

Chantilly also won the prized Wachovia Cup in 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2002. Because of that record, said Turner, the VHSL and Wachovia call Chantilly a "powerhouse." She attributes the school's success to bringing together "good kids and good teachers — can't beat it."

"I really give credit to our humanities program," she continued. "Our yearbook is nationally recognized and used as a teaching tool in schools across the country. I'm really proud of our school for that — it's a great achievement."

Yearbook advisor Mary Kay Downes said it's difficult, but "we've established a yearbook program at Chantilly where we've found the winning combination of good writing, good design and good photography, all tied together with a theme. Our staffs always try to top the book that came before, and that work serves as a model of excellence for the current year's students."

Chantilly's yearbook program has twice won the Charles Savage Award — a VHSL honor for sustained excellence. Each award represents the yearbook's receiving five Trophy Class designations within seven years, so last October's second Savage Award for Chantilly's yearbook, "Odyssey," marked 10 Trophy Class designations.

"But I'm more thrilled with the success of the Purple Tide [newspaper]," said Downes. "The Andromeda [literary and art magazine] has won the Trophy Class previously, but last year was the first year the Purple Tide did as well. And when you nail all three publications for 35 points each, the rest is gravy."

The "gravy" that got Chantilly this year's Wachovia Cup, she said, was "the outstanding success of the debate and forensics team. And winning the state championship for creative writing was the crown."

Downes is also pleased because all these things spring from English electives taught in the classroom. And, she said, "This points to the strength of the English Department and the commitment, dedication and sheer talent of Wendy Hahn, Michaela Northrop and Suzanne Abdelrazaq who devote so many hours teaching, advising and coaching these activities."

HAHN, AN AP language and English II teacher, compiled the winning portfolio for creative writing. Northrop is the debate and forensics coach and teacher, and Abdelrazaq is the literary and art magazine advisor. All their efforts come together helping students achieve this potential, said Downes: "Their work really merits this award, and we're the ones privileged enough to work with such wonderful students."

Northrop said she was really thrilled that her students did so well. "It's my first year with the team, and they worked really hard and had a good, team ethic," she said. "I think that's why they did so well. They'd share information with each other [so they'd succeed as a team, rather than individually]. And we've taken that attitude all year in leadership and preparation, as well."

Her teams have about 45 students, and many were first-year students. "Three out of four of our state debate finalists were new to the program," she said. "And in forensics, about half of our finalists were new. These were students who, at the beginning of the year, thought forensics meant 'CSI,' instead of public speaking."

Hahn called her students' achievements wonderful. "We have such talented writers here at Chantilly that it's great for them to receive recognition," she said. "Half of the writing came from students in our AP language and composition program for 11th grade."

She said senior Colette Becker received third place for poetry as an NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) winner from 2003. She competed last year and was one of 600 winners throughout the nation and, said Hahn, "It figured into our total for the Wachovia Cup."

Likewise, junior Neil Solmons placed second this year in essay, also contributing to Chantilly's total points for creative writing. "And our overall creative writing portfolio won first place in the AAA competition," said Hahn. "It's the first time ever that the school came in first place in this category. I'm very proud of our students."

Abdelrazaq was also overjoyed at her students' success. "Last year, our editor in chief, Tiffany Ju, had a very original, very complicated theme for the [literary and art] magazine, and she pulled it off beautifully," she said.

The theme was "You Are Here," and the students created an imitation of the Metro map and used it throughout the rest of the magazine — in its design, as well as in the pieces selected for publication. And Abdelrazaq said "a lot of hard work" went into the 48-page final product.

"The students put in a tremendous amount of effort," she said. "They worked both during and after school to complete it and to raise the money they needed to print it. I have very brilliant students involved in the magazine."