When it comes to academic excellence, it's hard to beat Chantilly High. It just won the Wachovia Cup for Virginia High School League (VHSL) academic activities, for the second year in a row, making it the champion in seven out of the past 11 years.
Winners receive points for their performances in VHSL state competitions and, in the AAA division, Chantilly stood head and shoulders above the other schools. It racked up a total of 227.5 points — far out-distancing the second-place finisher, Princess Anne, which received 175 points.
"I'M JUST so proud of our students and our sponsors for each of these activities for maintaining our level of excellence so we could remain a powerhouse," said Chantilly Principal Tammy Turner. "It's a combination of wonderful teachers and students; the students do 99 percent of the work. We're very fortunate to have such talented students in this community, and our sponsors deserve a lot of credit for guiding these bright minds."
Chantilly's magazine and yearbook received the top designation, Trophy Class, and the school earned first-place honors for its newspaper. Chantilly came in second in forensics, tied for third in debate, fifth in theater and sixth in creative writing. Forensics garnered 45 points; debate, 37.5; magazine and yearbook, 35 each; theater, 30; creative writing, 25; and newspaper, 20.
Michaela Northrop, forensics and debate teacher and coach, says a "huge part" of the school's success can be attributed to the fact that it has elective classes for this program. "We have the time during the school day to help students focus on their logical- and critical-thinking skills," she explained. "Some schools just do it as an after-school activity, so we're fortunate to have the support of our principal and department in giving the students these choices."
As for winning the cup, itself, Northrop said it's exciting and "a sign that the students are doing really well academically and have an excellent work ethic."
JOURNALISM TEACHER Brett Zinger, advisor for the school newspaper, The Purple Tide, said his students' greatest strength is "their ability to work together to create the best paper they can. And they see that it means doing the best in their individual roles to make the group project, the paper," so outstanding.
"I think [winning the Wachovia Cup] is an indication of the level of quality of the school — that excellence runs across all areas," said Zinger. "It also has a great deal of support from the parents, faculty, students and administration."
Yearbook advisor and English Department Chairman Mary Kay Downes said she's "immensely proud" that Chantilly again brought home the Wachovia Cup. "It's a tribute, not only to the talent of the students, but to the dedication of their teacher/mentors," she said. "Mentoring played an important part in the creative writing score because, even though the teacher was on maternity leave all year, she'd come in and work with the students after school to help them prepare their portfolios."
Regarding the yearbook, "Odyssey," Downes said, "Truly, the program has a deep bench. From the time they're sophomores and first get into the yearbook program, students take photo journalism I, II and III. By recruiting people then, they start developing the skills they'll need as journalists and future editors." So by the time they're juniors and seniors, it's not a new concept to them. In fact, she said, "They've already begun work on the 2006 yearbook."
Downes said many school yearbooks are just celebrations of the seniors. But at Chantilly, students learn how to interview and reach out to a wide variety of the school population. "And success breeds success," she added. "Each editorial board wants to outdo the ones before them."
This year, yearbook students worked with PCs and Adobe for design, and both were new to them. They had new computers with a different platform and a whole, new desktop-publishing program. Nonetheless, said Downes, "They took to them instantly."
She said she's also proud to be English Department chair because "of the eight opportunities to earn points for the Wachovia Cup, six are directly related to English courses."
Suzanne Abdelrazaq is advisor for the school's literary magazine, "Andromeda," and she said winning the cup was fabulous. "The school completely deserved it," she said. "They worked so hard and the students were so dedicated."
The literary magazine is completely student-driven, and she said its staff put in a tremendous amount of effort. She said its strong points include its attention to detail because the staff picks from "a wide variety of student work."
ITS EMPHASIS on design is also important, said Abdelrazaq: "The students focus on putting together the written work and artwork into an aesthetically pleasing, finished product."
Creative writing teacher Wendy Hahn has been on maternity leave after the birth of her daughter, but she helped in the creation of the creative writing portfolio for the VHSL. And she's thrilled that the school won the cup.
"I know we have a lot of talent at Chantilly High, and it's wonderful to have the students recognized," she said. "We were able to draw from a number of different sources — such as the literary magazine and from the creative writing teacher, Beth Clauser [who picked some student work]."
Hahn also worked with some students for the National Council of Teachers of English, and they spent some extracurricular time assembling a portfolio of their own work. That included a student who won a medal in essay in the individual VHSL creative writing contest. Said Hahn: "I'm very proud that we have students at Chantilly who write on their own and are interested in writing beyond the classroom."
Theater teacher and Director Ed Monk said his students are "always so pleased that we helped the school get the points" it needed to triumph in the Wachovia Cup competition. Besides that, he said, "It's a neat award because it shows how balanced a school we are. You can't just be good in one thing; you have to be good in several different things, so it's really an impressive award."
Chantilly's VHSL play, "The Cards of Fate," was written by Monk, and he said the students "did a really nice job with it. We had a very talented group of kids."