Yes, the freshmen and sophomores get to go camping.  Yes, the seniors get to sleep in cabins on the writing retreat.  But nobody lives higher-on-the-hog than the juniors during the Gettysburg Trip.

Every fall, theGWCS junior class heads north to Gettysburg.  It is not truly analogous to Lee’s march on Gettysburg in 1863, but we mention it.  Of course we ride on highways through rolling hills and arrive in good condition and good spirits in less than three hours, and Lee’s troops arrived after a forty day March, but still, the similarities are undeniable.  

The Battle of Gettysburg is a seminal moment in the history of the Unite States.  Some argue that there might not even be a United States today had the outcome of this battle gone differently.  Many soldiers from many states arrived and participated in the three day battle.  From a safe distance (like the twenty-first century) it is a spectacle to behold.  From Culps Hill to the North to Little Round Top in the south, the Union and Confederate sides fought in the largest, bloodiest battle on North American soil.

Together we spent the first day visiting the Memorial Graveyard, where Abraham Lincoln deliver the Gettysburg Address.  Then we spent several hours investigating the battlefield museum followed by the awe-inspiring Cyclorama of the Battle of Gettysburg painted by Paul Phillipoteaux.  In the evening we gathered together at conference room of the luxury hotel (Motel 6) and watched the movie, “Gettysburg,” which lasted about four and a half hours.  With the basics covered, we were ready for day two.

Although the soldiers at the battle of Gettysburg fought on July 1-3 in hundred degree heat, we went out to the battlefield at dawn, with frost on the ground.  We started at McPherson’s Ridge, went to the Eternal Flame, walked along Seminary Ridge, Pickett’s Charge, The Wheat Field, Little Round Top, and more.  We stood where they stood.  We looked out where they looked out, and we charged where they charged (albeit without guns, backpacks, heavy jackets, ammunition, and in the absence of hostile fire continuously raining-down on us) and wondered what it must have been like to have been there.

Morality?  Philosophy?  Loyalty?  Duty?  There are so many ways to consider a soldier’s life, and a soldier’s role in the grand scheme of things.  More than 50,000 men (and one woman) were killed, wounded, or captured during this battle.  The Tide of the war was turned in the favor of the union, once and for all.  As Lincoln so aptly said, “The world…can never forget what they did here,” the results of their efforts so permanently ingrained in the DNA of the country that stands today.    

Hiking Sky Meadows

Friday, October 7th

Although the clouds were low, spirits were high as nine students, three teachers, three parents, one faculty spouse, and a loyal canine completed a just-challenging-enough 5 mile hike in Sky Meadows State Park on October 7th.  All who went enjoyed the outing and returned safely.  This was the inaugural outing of the newly formed GWCS Hiking Club. Don't worry if you missed this hike; there will be more opportunities.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Special thanks to our amazing Student Government Association (SGA) for organizing the annual Pirate event at GWCS!  To set the mood... the SGA decorated the school in an attractive pirate motif and piped pirate music into the cafe. Many students and staff came to school dressed as pirates but, for those who forgot, the SGA had pirate hats, eye patches and jewels available.  There was even a pirate costume contest:  First place went to Delia , second place went to Noah, and third place went to Sabrina.  There was a special pirate drink on sale at the School Store, and the day ended with the viewing of Pirates of the Caribbean.  (Click image to enlarge.)

Coyotes Camp!

Freshmen, Sophomore & SGA Camping Trip

Friday, September 16, 2016 marked the annual Freshmen - Sophomore - SGA Camping Trip at Burke Lake Park, and it was one of the best ever!  Coyotes quickly bonded over tent assembly and campsite coordination and then it was off to the big field for some ridiculous team-building games.  Everyone took part and the hilarity was high.  (Do you know what noise a jellyfish makes?  What about the mountain chicken?)  Two hours in Coyotes were transformed, and it felt as if we had known even the newest of our community members for years.  Thanks to the SGA for a phenomenal first event!

(click on images below to enlarge)

Tent Setup

Animal Sounds

Train Wreck





NIGHT Lake Walk

Campfire & S'mores



Robot Reveal

Saturday, September 9, 2016

The 2016-2017 Robotic season is officially underway!  With Mr. Lindner bravely leading another team of eager, robot builders into robot battle, the first party was a huge success!

F.I.R.S.T., the robotics competition organizing body keeps the new season a secret until noon on the first Saturday of the school year!  This year eighteen students and an impressive collection of parents all convened in the LGIR (movie room) at GWCS to watch the “reveal” together in real time.  This year the robots that are created in Dr. Linderstein’s laboratory will have to possess a great number of skills.  They will have to move objects, lift objects, push buttons, place objects in goals, and (for extra points) throw a giant rubber ball onto a platform six feet over their ‘heads!’

It promises to be a challenging and exciting season!  If you missed the reveal party, it is not too late to join robotics.  See Mr. Lindner for details.  We’ll see everybody else at the upcoming tournaments!

Chincoteague Bay Field Station Adventure


The GW Community School Chincoteague Bay Field Station Adventure.

We may have been off for the summer but science does not take a vacation!  On August 12, 2016, 12 students agreed to a three-hour van ride to attend a specialized Environmental Science program on the beautiful Chesapeake Bay.  

The Chincoteague Field Station features several labs, classrooms, dorm facilities, a cafeteria, and recreation areas. Once getting situated in our spacious dorm facilities, the students (and adults) prepared for the upcoming day with a lesson on boat safety. Here, the students were able to volunteer for specific roles on the boat, including dragging in the trawling nets full of the bay’s creatures.  Afterwards, the center graciously packed up a cooler of burgers, dogs, salads, and all the fixins’ and we were off to barbecue on Asateague Island. Here, we were treated to beautiful sunsets, s’mores, and a pristine beach. Students buried each other in the sand, played ball, and generally had a relaxing time with fellow classmates they had not seen all summer. The evening was capped off with a trip to the iconic island ice cream hangout, Mr. Whippy’s for frozen treats. It was the perfect start to our three-day get away on the Island.
Day two found us all up bright and early and ready for boating! A Chincoteague local took us out on the Mollusk, for trawling up and down the channels of the bay.  Students pulled up trawling nets filled with blue crabs, shrimp, clams, small fish, snails, and other creatures. Some were collected in special containers to bring back to the lab for further investigation. The latter half of the day involved us putting on our best “game faces” as we squared off against the intense heat and battled horseflies in the intertidal zone. Despite these obstacles, students still had a great time learning how to sample using quadrants and kick nets in the different zones present on the coast line. Once back to the lab, the students used dichotomous keys, field guides, and illustrations to figure out the scientific classification of all the creatures we had caught earlier in the day. Quite a full day of science! Ice cream was again on the menu after all that hard work. 

The following day was equally jammed-packed with a morning spent on Wallops Island, home of NASA. We obtained special permits to be allowed access to the vacant beach where we participated in a dune building exercise followed by more beach time. The beach was full of horseshoe crabs, vegetation, and crustaceans and we all took advantage by doing some shelling. After enjoying the cool ocean water and beautiful morning sun, it was time to head home.  

The trip not only provided a way to get in some valuable science experiences but also a great opportunity for everyone to get to hang out after a long summer apart. Plans are already being made for another trip in 2017, this time with the ability to earn a quarter credit of science. Be on the lookout for updates!

Special thanks to our parent chaperones:  Steve Ginsberg, Linda Campbell and Julia O'Grady!

~Ms. Newton

Academic Reflections

We had a great year at GWCS - a year filled with incredible trips, exciting events, and awesome outside the box enrichment activities.  But, as we wound up the year, teachers took a moment to reflect on their teaching experiences that took place inside the classroom.  Below are snippets of our teacher's academic reflections from the 2015-2016 school year...


Mr. Andrews Bashan

English Teacher and Music Club Teacher

I know a project has landed with the students when students start approaching me outside of class with questions and ideas about the project. There were several that met that criteria this year: the Writing on the Walls project, reading Frankenstein, our Modernism unit, creating Historical Comic Books. But perhaps the highlight for me was our "Weakest Argument" contest. We discussed elements of weak arguments, then students scoured the web for articles they thought were weakly argued. We then compiled the arguments into a survey, voted on which was weakest, then discussed common features of those articles that won the most votes. 


History Teacher, Yearbook Teacher and Basketball Coach

In Government and AP Government we take a deep look into the American political system and culture. Not only do we study the Constitution and branches of Government, but we dive into topics like Political Socialization and the effects our system has on the very politicians that run for office. An outside the box project we complete every year is the Propaganda Project. Students identify and analyze all of the different forms of propaganda and then create a commercial or political speech of their own to deliver to the class. We look at how propaganda is used not only in politics but also in mainstream advertising making our students more critical and educated citizens and consumers.   Example Video

Dr. Cox

Astrophysics, Honors Physics and Environmental Science Teacher

One of the organizing principles of my Astronomy & Astrophysics class is using observations to distinguish between competing models of the universe.   The killer observation for distinguishing between the geocentric and heliocentric views of the solar system is observing the phases of Venus.   To help them understand this, we use a white Styrofoam ball to represent Venus and a single bright light source to represent the Sun.  We turn off all the other light sources and physically model the appearance of Venus in both views of the solar system.  We follow this with an activity that uses the planetarium software Stellarium, which allows students to step through time while viewing both the heliocentric solar system from the top down, and Venus as seen from Earth viewed first as a naked eye object and then zoomed in as if using a telescope.  Then they draw the appearance of Venus as seen from Earth with a telescope at different points in its orbit.  This allows them to integrate their knowledge and create a consistent model in their minds.   They can see why the invention of the telescope was essential for determining the structure of the solar system.

Mr. Fedinatz

History Teacher, Personal Fitness, Softball and Flag Football Coach

One of my philosophies of teaching history is students should read primary documents from varying viewpoints to gain a deeper understanding of the time period and specific events in history. This allows students to identify with individual perspectives and use critical thinking skills identifying biases, contextualizing the time period and corroborating documents on their validity of the individual’s position.
One activity I use for U.S. History is a round-table discussion on the issues of the day in 1850. The setting is an ASA (Anti-Slavery Association) meeting. Each student created a back story of why they became members of this organization. A few examples were, an escaped slave, a child of a slave owner, and member of a Quaker family who had a proud tradition of being abolitionists. Each of these back stories gave the round-table an air of authenticity and a point of reference the student could refer back to.  The topics discussed were should the ASA support the American Colonization Society? What was our stance on women’s rights including suffrage, and the most hotly contested topic, should we arm and participate with John Brown?  Activities such as these allow students to become part of history not just memorize dates and events.

Mr. Lindner

Math Teacher and Robotics Coach

Today as we began the study of limits in Calculus Loea got really excited about a very challenging discussion concept.  She asked questions that were exactly the next question to be addressed in the lecture.  She was disappointed when the period ended because she still had questions and wanted to learn more.  She was relieved when I reminded her that she could reread about it and re-watch the videos at home and even read ahead if she wanted to. 

GWCS/Coyote Robotics Team 3749 "Even More Coyotes" went undefeated in Qualification rounds of the FTC Southwest Virginia Qualifying Tournament to finish ranked #1.  Leading the Top Seed Alliance they selected the next best team and then their other Coyote Robotics Team 965 "More Coyotes" for the Elimination Rounds.  They won two straight in both the Semi-Finals and then in the Finals to Win the Tournament!  Way to go Coyote Robotics!


Science Teacher & Reptile Caretaker

Science in Real Life: Limiting Reagents in Baking.
Chemistry is by no means an easy class. For most students, the content covered is not comparable to much of what they learned earlier in Middle School and freshman year of high school. For the first time, the science subject matter is not simply building on itself year to year and students are forced to enhance their skills in interpreting and implementing new material. Probably the bane of everyone’s existence in a general chemistry course is Stoichiometry (seriously, have you ever met anyone who claims to love it? Didn’t think so.  Applying math and science to real life scenarios (because let’s be honest-those long winded word problems are not the real world for a teenager) makes things much more digestible. It also helps when what you have to digest happens to be a whole pan of brownies.
When I polled my class at the end of the year, hands down their favorite lab was the Brownie Lab, which was surprising given the amount of math involved AND the fact students had to work together outside of school to complete the project. Teams were given a recipe for brownies where some of the ingredients were more limiting than others. In any given recipe, it doesn’t matter how many sacks of flour you have, once your run out of eggs, you can’t make any more decent brownies -- and that is essentially what a limiting reagent is in a chemical reaction- a needed “ingredient” that is required to make a product. After baking at home, the groups brought in their brownies and everyone had an opportunity to try other groups. Let’s just say part of the fun was seeing how awful some of them turned out when lacking the needed components! This experiment got the kids doing math and science outside of school, it is what made me interested in teaching Food Chemistry as an elective next year. Apparently, the way to get teenagers to learn science is through their stomachs. 


English Teacher and Personal Fitness Coach

After a long year of grammar, reading comprehension, and public speaking, what's an English class to do? Kick back and enjoy some good tunes. In my High School English class, students wrote papers that analyzed their favorite songs from both a lyrical and musical perspective. Then, they took those papers and turned them into multimedia presentations so they could share their knowledge, and their musical passions -- from Beyoncé and Taylor Swift to MF Doom and Minecraft-inspired chiptunes -- with the whole class. 


French Teacher, Math Teacher, Girls Basketball and Softball Coach

French comes in handy in my everyday life, in the way I communicate with parts of my world, but this isn’t always relevant for students of French. Many students have not yet discovered the doors a second language can open for them. This is why I strive to find authentic communication experiences in French usage. Our trip to Bistrot du Coin in December is on of the most genuine and talked about experiences our students can have in the DC area. Bistrot du Coin could be located in the center of Paris. The waiters will speak French if asked, so of course, I do! French students may order what they would like (but they have to ask for it, en français!)
Because France loves its gastronomie, and the culture is so closely tied to food, we explore a lot of food related activities. French 1 receives a shopping list in French 2 teams compete to find their groceries first. French 2 follows a recipe recipe to make crèpes in the classroom. French 3 & 4 come to my personal kitchen and cook more complex dishes: ratatouille and coq au vin. But the class favorite is when all of the classes get together at Bistrot du Coin to enjoy a traditional French meal in a traditional French bistro.

Senor Torres

Spanish Teacher and Soccer Coach

I use different tools to teach Spanish vocabulary. One of the tools I use are games. Bachillerato is the name of one of these—it is a game about words. The students have to write a word starting with a specific letter as soon as possible. It’s fun, it’s competitive, and the students are very engaged. We came up with an “expanded version 2.0”for this year, because I wanted to try to enrich the whole experience and help the students learn more new vocabulary.
 There are three main methods of teaching Spanish vocabulary: visual, interactive and creative. We use all of them in this activity (for that reason I called it “2.0”). Visually, students learn more when they use their senses. Being able to observe the Spanish words in addition to hearing them adds layers to their acquisition skills.  Pronouncing the new word and showing an image to go with it helps even more. Another way to successfully acquire Spanish vocabulary, is to allow students to socialize and interact with the new words. I ask them during the game to use the words in many different situations. New Spanish vocabulary sticks in their memory when students have a chance to make it their own. Building on personal discovery and meaning allows kids to be creative with the words. When students use their personal ideas and expressions to make sense of new Spanish vocabulary, they make a new place in the brain for the words to be stored. Way better that just translation! For that reason, I think this activity is a keeper.

See you next year!

OBX - Out of the Box
Experiential Education

Every Friday during fourth quarter, all GWCS freshmen and sophomores participate in an experiential learning program we call OBX.  While the juniors and seniors are off-campus for their internships, freshmen and sophomores are off-campus for collaborative and experiential learning activities.  Below are brief summaries and photos of  the 2015-2016 OBX events.

#1 Paper Roller Coaster Contest

FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2016

In our first OBX of the year, we stayed inside and geeked out with a roller coaster contest! Students worked in teams to build the best marble run from card stock, using templates from   Teams worked hard all day creating and constructing, and presented their work at the end of the day.  Prizes were awarded in the form of gift cards to Peets.  ~ Dr. Cox

#2 Coyote Day

FRIDAY, MAY 6, 2016

Coyote Day 2016 challenged our community to stop for a moment and consider what it feels like to be chosen.  Our coyotes are smart, adaptable, kind and good and they evinced those qualities as they chose and created totems, noshed on a catered lunch from Cafe Rio, and performed team challenges.  It was a wonderful day of celebrating our Coyote Pride!  ~ Ms. Warden

#3 Team Building at Hemlock Regional Park

Friday, May 13, 2016

A day of team building at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park: The day started out damp but our spirits were high and we were not disappointed. Our two instructors broke the students up into two groups and we jumped right in. The students were tasked with forming a map of the world based on a place they would or have visited, with the caveat the students couldn’t talk. This was a great intro to the day and was followed up with a rope challenge, swinging across a mud pit. From there we negotiated a tight rope and zip line challenge in which the students had a fun time encouraging each other and a great sense of pride completing the zip line. The day ended with both groups coming together, sharing what they have learned before the final challenge was introduced, the wall challenge. This final challenge incorporated all the skills the students had encountered that day and was a fantastic end to a tough but rewarding day.  ~Mr. Fedinatz

#4A Sci-Tech: Wildlife Forensics DNA

FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2016

Part A... We traveled to the Inner Harbor of Baltimore to partake in an exciting, state of the art lab run by Towson University Center for STEM Excellence. Illegal harvesting of fins from sharks is an ongoing practice that threatens several species each year. Hundreds of sharks wind up in our country illegally as the demand for delicacies like shark fin soup continuously rise. Individuals who choose to smuggle in endangered species, such as the Great White Shark (think “Jaws”) face serious consequences. So how do we know for sure if a species is endangered when all shark fins look the same? Students got to answer that very question by using high tech DNA extraction techniques and running samples of real shark fin samples against a Great White Shark sample. Through gel electrophoresis, the group was able to see first-hand that their shark fin was, indeed, was endangered. After all that scientific excitement, we had just enough time to enjoy a breezy stroll around the inner harbor and enjoy ice cream as a reward for all that crime fighting.  ~ Ms. Newton

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FRIDAY, MAY 20, 2016

Part B:  We also had an amazingly experiential day at the Maryland Science Center. This museum has the most interactive and engaging displays in the area. Not only do the students learn about science but they get to be part of it. With exhibits ranging from interactive black-holes to the noises of food digestion, there is something for everyone. This was my second time at the Maryland Science Center and I would gladly go back for thirds. ~ Mr. Connelly

#5 Pound Per Pound: Understanding the Nutrition Needs of Exotic Animals at the Reston Zoo

FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016

Roer’s Zoofari in Reston, Virginia features both exotic and domestic animals in a suburban setting. Students were able to get up close and personal (perhaps a little too up close and personal for some) with African Cattle, Bison, Zebras, goats, rabbits, and budgies. While hanging out with the animals, the group learned how important animals were to the civil war (moving cannons, etc), how to calculate the cost of feed, evaluate the enclosures, create their own habitat, and, of course, feed the animals! The trip provided a unique look into how a small scale zoo is managed and what it takes to care for a variety of species. The catered lunch from Chick-fil-a didn’t hurt, either. ~ Ms. Newton

#6 Fountainhead Canoe Trip and Naturalist Tour

FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 2016

GWCS students had a true team building experience as they synchronized their kayak efforts in such a way as not to go round and round in circles on the Occoquan Reservoir at Fountainhead Regional Park.  We were accompanied by a Naturalist who paddled around with us to educate our group on all of the natural wonders of the area.  After a picnic lunch we decided that the weather was not ideal for the hike we had planned so, we spontaneously took a detour to The Workhouse Art Center located at the old Lorton prison where we were able to view the local artists' studios and creations as well as learn a little history about the old prison.  

#7 Campus Tour at University of Mary Washington

FRIDAY, JUNE 10, 2016

On a beautiful sunny spring day, GWCS drove down to Fredericksburg to visit the University of Mary Washington, one of Virginia's premier public universities, to attend an informational session and take a tour. Highlights included a tour of the dorms, classrooms, and multimedia Convergence Center, plus lunch at the cafeteria and a photographic scavenger hunt.