Juniors Journey to Gettysburg

Thursday afternoon, Oct. 17, GWCS juniors watched the 4-hour loooooong, exciting (and sometimes boring) “Gettysburg” movie, starring many well-known actors plus hundreds of Civil War re-enactors.  Early Friday morning the juniors (including Christian who flew in from Belgium to join us!), Mr. Connelly and Mr. Lindner climbed in the school van for the 90-minute drive to the Gettysburg Battlefield National Historic Park in Pennsylvania.

We started at the Visitors Center, where we watched an introductory film narrated by Morgan Freeman and then viewed the famous Cyclorama Painting.  This 42-foot high and 377 feet in circumference canvas, painted by French artist Paul Philippoteaux and a team of assistants, toured the nation in the late 1880s giving citizens a 360-degree depiction of Pickett’s Charge during the third and final day of the battle on July 3, 1863.  A program of sound and light helped us get a taste of the excitement, confusion and terror of the battle.

After piling back into the van we spent three hours touring important sites of the battlefield while listening to a recorded description from a tour guide supplemented by information supplied by the teachers.  We saw first-hand the important geographical features of the battlefield that significantly affected the battle, including Seminary Ridge, Devil’s Den, Cemetery Ridge, Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, the Peach Orchard and the Bloody Angle, stopping to climb across the same rocks the soldiers shielded behind on Little Round Top and Devil’s Den.  We learned about the importance of technological advances in weaponry and real challenge of moving almost 150,000 troops to, around and through a small town of 2,400 inhabitants.

We then enjoyed a great buffet lunch at Li’s (no relation to General Lee) Buffet to prepare for our own GWCS Charge.  Mr. Connelly lead our stalwart juniors on a ¾-mile charge walk across the same field that 12,500 Confederate soldier charged across under withering cannon and eventually musket fire while Mr. Lindner waited with the van at the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy” where the charge ended in failure.  During that less-than-an-hour charge the Confederates lost 1,123 killed, 4,019 wounded and 3,750 captured.  Union losses were only 1,500 killed and wounded.

After imagining that fateful hour, we visited the Military Cemetery where hundreds of soldier, know and unknown, are buried and where President Abraham Lincoln gave his famous “Gettyburg Address”.  Observing the many graves and reading the names of many of the fallen, we contemplated the courage of those who sacrificed their lives, the foolishness of the leaders who prompted the conflict, and the joy of the millions of previously-enslaved people who gained their freedom through this war.

A final visit to the museum, which could have filled our entire trip’s available time, and its gift shop, we crawled into the van for the ride back to school, listening to a final description of the results of the battle that were presented to the 2,400 citizens of Gettysburg which reminded us of the horror and folly of war.

The students were great, courteous and interested, and the trip was a huge success.  A return visit lies in the future plans of many of those who took the trip.

GW Community School
Juniors Journey to Gettysburg
Mr. Lindner, Teacher
October 18, 2019


Best Senior College Essay Writing Retreat Ever


True, this was only my fourth year, but still…it was THE BEST SENIOR COLLEGE ESSAY WRITING RETREAT EVER!

If you believe in the power of symbols, here are two that illustrate just how good and successful the retreat was. First, we left GWCS for Lake Anna State Park in a biblical downpour, but the rain ceased by the time we arrived at our destination and within an hour the sun appeared. Ma Nature was definitely rooting for us, and she provided golden and glorious days and crisp, clear, starry nights to enhance the experience. Second, to bring the retreat to a ceremonial close on the second night, we started a bonfire by burning the draft essays the students had brought with them to the retreat. The draft versions were no longer useful or current; they represented the thinking of their pre-retreat lives and, as such, had been eclipsed by time, effort, and perspective.

The beauty of the retreat is that students have an opportunity to disengage from the rigors of their daily schedules and the demands of being constantly plugged in. In a scenic and (mostly) peaceful setting, they benefit from (and enjoy) personal reflection, individualized instruction, and camaraderie.

If you don’t believe me, ask them.

GW Community School
Best Senior College Essay Writing Retreat Ever
Dr. Steve Garon, English Teacher
October 18, 2019

Surviving the Campout

In many cultures there are events that are known as ‘rights of passage.’  They are moments in an adolescent’s life when they are required to demonstrate bravery, or wisdom, or compassion, or ingenuity, or grit.  They are moments that are not taken lightly.  They are moments that, after accomplished, will alter the way that the performer of the task will be regarded with a different air: noble, honorable, mature, or wise.  With your status elevated and your place in the community secured, you are a different person moving forward.  Confident.  Poised.  Empowered.

We have such a ‘right of passage’ at GWCS.  It is called the Freshman and Sophomore Campout.  The terrain is difficult.  The elements unkind.  The provisions scant.  It is not an activity for the faint of heart.  The youngest of the GWCS pack must endure these harsh conditions for nearly fifteen hours before they are scooped-up by their early-morning rides and driven quickly to a nearby restaurant for pancakes and waffles.  It is truly an ordeal for only the heartiest campers.  This year we were nearly 500 feet away from the bathrooms and showers!

Yes, there were s’mores, gogurts, and apple juice, but do not be deceived by these incidentals.  The conditions were brutal.  During a harrowing game of ‘assassins’ in the playground, or, that is, the dry, foreboding savannah, all of the campers except two were taken-out before Detective Jack captured Kaitlyn and ended her dastardly spree.  Truth or Dare was perilous.  The moonlight walk on paved roads was treacherous!  Cooking dinner on the iron grill that the park provided was indeed a harrowing experience!

Against all odds, we all survived.  We worked together.  We persevered.  We overcame.  We bonded.  We formed life-long friendships that are strong, even to this day.  Burke Lake Park was no match for our boundless ineptitude!  Wait, I meant intrepidness! 

Purple bandanas of the world unite!  The 2:00 AM hike has been cancelled!

GW Community School
Freshmen/Sophomore Camping Trip
Mr. Goldie, Camp Director
September 20, 2019

A Day at the Bay - Philip Merrill Environmental Center

Did you know that one oyster filters 50L of water a day?! On June 5, 2019 the entire GW Community School went to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Phillip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis, MD for an all day experiential, environmental, educational, and absolutely enjoyable learning experience! Students and staff canoed on the Blackwalnut Creek where we learned about eutrophication, wetlands, erosion, and bio-restoration. On the bay, we cruised on a real Chesapeake Bay work boat where we dredged oysters, mapped landmarks, and learned about the ecology and economy of the bay. Students fished by seining on the shore and learned how to test turbidity and water quality factors like temperature, dissolved oxygen levels, and salinity. We also got to tour their office building which was the first Platinum LEED Certified Building ever! The Chesapeake Bay Foundation composts their own sewage, which gives them the astonishing platinum rating. Everyone had a wonderful day in the sun exploring and learning. I believe we all left with more knowledge and appreciation for our watershed- which is the largest estuary in the country!

GW Community School
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
Philip Merrill Environmental Center
Ms. Julia Kohler, Teacher
June 5, 2019

Lake Accotink Cardboard Boat Regatta

The GWCS Honors Physics class fielded two teams for this year’s Lake Accotink Cardboard Boat Regatta.  Both teams built excellent, sturdy boats that could have survived multiple races.  Building a full-size boat that can carry two or more passengers requires planning, problem-solving, and many hours of work.  The boats are built based on physics principles that we learn in class, but the design choices and craftsmanship are entirely the work of the student teams. 

In an initial in-class design workshop, the students used a simple computer model implemented in Microsoft Excel to try out different boat designs within the size constraints of the race rules and the buoyancy required for the planned crews.  Small paper models made from a single sheet of card stock then allowed students to visualize how their design could be constructed.  After that, all construction was completed outside of class.  

Congratulations to both teams:  Gabe, Ben, Luke, and Nick and their boat, the U.S.S. Are (red), and Jack, Conner, Edward and Lizzie and their boat, the Unombigiguous (purple).  Both teams took a “slow and steady” approach to their heat at Lake Accotink, coming in 2nd and 3rd in their heat. 

Thanks to all who came out and howled for both of our coyote teams. Good times!

GW Community School
Honors Physics Class
Lake Accotink
Cardboard Boat Regatta
Dr. Caroline Cox, Teacher
June 2, 2019

Downward Coyote Yoga

Photo May 17, 3 32 45 PM.jpg

GWCS starts every day with PE at the Audrey Moore RECenter where students have the choice of waking up their bodies and brains with basketball, personal fitness or hiking. This year students had the option of coming to school once per week to take a special yoga class with Shayna from Yoga Beyond the Studio. Students, staff, and parents of all levels were invited to this personalized morning vinyasa flow. Shayna guided the practice according to the requests of the participants and provided scaffolding for an array of expertise. This weekly class enabled participants to strengthen and stretch out their muscles, relieve back pain, breathe their way through troubled times, and charge the day with a balanced mindset! Thank you Shayna!

GW Community School
Downward Coyote Yoga
Ms. Julia Kohler, Teacher
May 30, 2019

Stream Cleanup Community Service

For the second year in a row, many GWCS students spent one afternoon each month cleaning up the stream along Long Branch Trail near the school. Organized by Ms. Kohler and co-led by Dr. Garon, the Stream Cleanup Team would spend one hour per month – in all but the most extreme weather – picking up bottles, plastic bags, newspapers and other detritus that would collect around the otherwise beautiful stream banks. Participants racked up Community Service Hours and developed a deeper appreciation for our local natural environment. Stream Cleanup has quickly become a staple of GWCS, but it would not be the success that it is without the awesome effort from our students!

GW Community School
Stream Cleanup Community Service
Mr. Wallace, Teacher
Monthly 2018-2019

Coffeehouse Cleverness, Competence, and Courage

It was another Coffeehouse and another amazing (and entertaining) success.  The quality of Coffeehouse just seems to expand with the universe, and this one was far better than advertised with a mix of performances that ran the gamut from the ridiculous to the sublime. This year’s theme was “A Celebration of Cleverness, Competence, and/or Courage.”

  • Cleverness: Some of the acts were indeed very, very, clever.  Eva’s performance art piece (Click to Add Title) put the “avant” in avant-garde because it was way beyond anything, anything, performed at GWCS in recent history.  Similarly, Jack D’s alter-ego, Franklin S. Q. Ives-Cohen, regaled us with original poetry in original poetic form (Franklinian Duometer).

  • Competence: All performers demonstrated competence in their roles or performances.  These included Emma’s (Emcee extraordinaire), Edward’s (paper magic), Olivia’s (delightful chanteuse), Jonathan’s (ivory tickler), Julia’s (I got a song to sing), Evelyn’s (dead skunk), Nicholas’ (the bard), Conner’s (original comic), Lizzie’s (this is my final GWCS Coffeehouse), and Luke’s (bass slapper)

  • Courage: Performing in front of any audience – even one as supportive and forgiving as the GWCS community – requires loads of courage, especially for first time performers (Emma, Edward, Olivia, Jonathan, Julia, and Eva). 

    Congratulations to all performers (faculty as well as students) for demonstrating sparkle and shine, guts and gumption.  You made our Coffeehouse a great success. Just remember there would be no show without you.  

click image to enlarge

GW Community School
Annual Coffeehouse
Dr. Steve Garon, Teacher
May 15, 2019

A Parisan Nite Prom

Sacré bleu! This year’s Paris-themed prom, at the beautiful Civil War Interpretive Center at Historic Blenheim, was très bon! Nearly the whole school showed up in high style and ready to party. When not busting moves on the dance floor to Monsieur Muntu’s fine DJ-ing, students could be found enjoying M. Lindner’s delicious crepes, playing Cornhole Shoot outside, or even playing poker with M. Robbins. A special thanks to Mademoiselle Kohler and the PAC for organizing the elegant affair!

GW Community School
Parisan Nite Prom
Mr. Sam Wallace, Teacher
May 11, 2019

¿íQue sopa!? Panama!

Each year, GWCS organizes an optional international educational tour to visit places we’ve learned about in school. Immersing our students in new cultures – surrounded by the people, the language, the food, and the way of life - creates inspirational moments that can’t be listed in an itinerary, they can only be experienced. Our students come home as citizens of a global community with a greater understanding of their part in the world.

 Over Spring Break 2019, we decided to go to Panama. The Panama Canal, completed in 1914, revolutionized international trade by bridging the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and connecting the Americas. But there is a great deal more to this nation than just the Canal as we soon discovered on our expedition. Our week-long tour was full of meaningful, educational, and thoroughly enjoyable experiences that helped us to better appreciate this isthmus nation and undoubtedly ranked as one of the best weeks ever for everyone who participated.

 Starting with a direct flight, getting there was easy and stress-free. We landed in the early afternoon and made our way through the city to check out where we would be staying.  Our hotel was located in the heart of Panama City and was surrounded by impressive skyscrapers.

The following day, led by our fantastic guide, we took a tour of Panama City and visited the city’s historic district, which dates back to 1519 when Panama Viejo, or Old Panama, was the first Spanish city founded on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. Governor Juan Perez de Guzman set the city on fire before pirate Henry Morgan could attack and loot it. Remnants are now part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Casco Viejo, which was built on the rubble in the 17th century. For us, it was history turning into Modern day all in the same skyline.  It really felt like we were time traveling.

 Some of the highlights of the days that followed included:

  • Visiting a pineapple farm where we learned about the production of pineapples, as well as the process for packing them. It was here that we tasted the sweetest pineapple ever. We had a lot of fun learning about and using an instrument which rates the sweetness of each pineapple on a scale between 1-20. Guess which number was the most common? (Answer: 18!)

  • Touring the Panama Canal where we visited the Canal Administration Building and the Miraflores locks, and got an in-depth look at one of the most influential engineering projects ever undertaken, and one of the seven manmade wonders of the modern world.

  • Going on a snorkeling adventure where we enjoyed a paradise-like beach and the warm water of the tropics.

  • Visiting the city of Portobelo and the ruins of the site of an old Spanish fort.

  • Engaging in a pre-arranged cultural exchange with the inhabitants of an indigenous Embera village. After canoeing to get there, we learned about the culture and customs of the Embera and saw their village of the banks of Lake Alajuela in Chagres National Park. One the most colorful cultures in Panama, the Embera tribe shared a delicious meal of freshly cooked fish with us, and showed us their traditional dances and music as well as their knowledge of local plants. Our students had a great time learning from these natives, and even ended up playing soccer with the villagers.

 As a group, we stepped pretty far outside of our comfort zones multiple times over the week, whether trying news foods that we were unfamiliar with, using Spanish to communicate every day, or entering the remote world of the Emberea for an afternoon. Although this felt unsettling at first, this enabled us to go beyond being mere tourists and helped us get the most out of our Panama experience.

  As the week progressed, it became clear that, while this was technically an educational tour, it afforded opportunities for learning that were much different than sitting in a classroom and listening to lectures.  This learning was hands-on and rewarding.

When we rode a cable car through the rain forest, took boat rides, visited the Biomuseo, and went snorkeling, students were able to recognize multiple concepts they had learned in biology.

 When we visited the Panama Canal and Panama Viejo, students were able to recognize multiple concepts from past history classes. It was cool to be able to connect things straight out of textbooks to real life happening right before your eyes.

 We couldn’t put a price on all of the experiences we had:  snorkeling in the Caribbean, dancing with local children, walking to a waterfall, drinking delicious fruit juices in hammocks, taking a boat ride on Gatun lake, and seeing crocodiles, sloths, and monkeys in their own habitats, every single day was spent so well. Plus, our hotel was very nice, and when we had free time the pool was really fun. Everlasting memories of people and places. So if the experience of traveling is food for the soul, in Panama we had a huge banquet!!

 Hasta pronto Panama! We hope we will be able to say again soon, as they do there, “¿íQue sopa!?”  (“What’s up!?)

 We hope you will join us on the next GWCS Spring Break adventure!

GW Community School
Spring Break Trip
Mr. Alejandro Torres, Teacher
April 22, 2019


Oedipus Gets the Jerry Springer Treatment


Here's a quick question for you: what’s your first association when hear the word “Oedipus?” A) an ancient Greek drama, B) Freudian theory, C) an epic family tragedy, or D) Jerry Springer?  Most people will likely choose options A, B, or C.  Oedipus the King is, after all, a tragic Greek drama about a man who fulfills his fate by attempting to avoid his fate. Much later, Sigmund Freud co-opted the main character (Oedipus) for one of his more ridiculous theories of psycho-social development (the Oedipus Complex – don’t get me started). So why is Jerry Springer among the list of options?  Well, what better way to bring Oedipus’s tragic story to life than to publicly humiliate him on The Jerry Springer Show?


That’s exactly what Honors World Literature students did this year after reading the play.  Students were cast in the major roles:  Oedipus, Creon, Tiresias, Jocasta, the Messenger from Corinth, the Shepherd, and...Jerry Springer, of course!  Together, the class developed questions for Jerry to ask each character so each could prepare responses based on the text of the play and answer them in character.  Additionally, “Jerry” secretly prepared a couple of plot-or-character-surprise questions to “spring” on each character that would force each to improvise an accurate response based on the play. 

World Literature students performed the Jerry Springer Show and revealed Oedipus’s (and his wife-mother’s) dirty secrets before a live audience of other students from other classes, who played their part with shouts of “Jerry!” and groans of disgust.  It was memorable performance that made Oedipus all the more memorable.

GW Community School
Honors World Literature
Oedipus the King
Dr. Steve Garon, Teacher
April 10, 2019

Spanish Tapas at Jaleo


On Saturday, January 19th a group of GWCS Spanish students met their teacher, Senor Torres, for lunch at Jaleo, a Spanish restaurant in Crystal City, VA. The trip was designed to provide the students with an opportunity to try authentic Spanish tapas (small Spanish savory dishes) and experience various elements of the Spanish culture via the food, the spoken language, the decor, and the music. They enjoyed three delicious courses of food, one of which was dessert. The most memorable and favorite tapas for some of the students were the flan and the crystal bread with tomatoes. Gabby, one of the students at GWCS who was present, has traveled to Spain many times and has a lot of knowledge of Spanish culture. Gabby shared with the group her experience of life in Spain like how dinner was often eaten at 10:00 pm. She shared a picture of her town, which was quaint and beautiful.  They learned about the origin of the word “tapa” and  how in Spain there are a lot of flies, so people have to cover their food(with “tapa”) so that it won’t be contaminated. Senor Torres and his students enjoyed talking with each other, the waiter, and even the head chef in Spanish. The chef was from Puerto Rico and he was eager to share more details about the delicious food that they sere. Overall, the students learned a lot about Spanish culture and life in Spain in addition to savoring delicious tapas —a win-win situation.

GW Community School
Spanish Tapas at Jaleo
Senor Alejandro Torres, Teacher
January 19, 2019