South Lakes High School is kind of like the secretly cool uncle that nobody talks about of Fairfax County, VA
's public school system
. This is not to say that it does not have a few things going for it. It's just very... different.
Located in Reston, VA, South Lakes is a large dark colored building that at some point shortly after it was built in the mid-70s, began distinctly to lurk. Driving past and taking in its ominous exterior is a rather unsettling experience. In appearance, South Lakes closely resembles a federal penetentiary, but fails utterly in that capacity in a practical sense. South Lakes has a "open campus", which roughly translates to "a campus where students may come and go as they please and the administration doesn't give enough of a damn to stop complaining and get up and do something about it". Students are known to carpool while skipping for lunch (at least we're ecologically minded). It is surrounded on all sides by trees (the easier for students to escape into) and resides on the same plot of ground as Langston Hughes Middle School and Terraset Elementary School. (Langston Hughes gained some regional fame as being the only middle school in the nation with a prostitution ring. ) South Lakes also boasts a pair of small and hard-to-access parking lots whose faulty design causes more traffic jams than the Washington Capital Beltway.
South Lakes was originally founded as a "communal learning" school. This meant that the school would be completely different in design and function from most schools being made at the time. Students would learn in one of four large communal classrooms the size of two basketball courts side by side. Once the administration realized that this was deeply and abidingly stupid, they attempted to salvage the school with a minimum of expense. Each subschool, as the communal classrooms are now called, contains 15 classrooms separated by the flimsiest of cardboard walls. Students have, on a few memorable occasions, gone crashing through these walls as they leaned against them, leaving behind gaping and rather symbolic holes and revealing that the walls are filled with decades-old Chinese newspapers. Needless to say, the walls do no better a job of preventing the passage of noise than they do the passage of the student body (Sorry, couldn't resist... :-D).
The classrooms at South Lakes don't sport all the creature comforts of your average Mongol yurt. Most notably lacking are doors and windows. For a time, teachers were given walls-on-wheels to place in front of their doors, but these were scrapped when the county decided they were fire hazards. The latest trend is for teachers to place shower curtains across their entryways. The scarcity of windows at South Lakes has lead to rumors that the school's designer specialized in drafting plans for prisons. Students at South Lakes have grown accustomed to living in environments with low quantities of natural light. It's a wonder that more students do not suffer from Rickets.
South Lakes has recently adopted the IB program. This has met with mixed results from students and parents alike. Many regret the loss of the popular AP program. There is an almost militant group of conservative mothers who are very concerned about the books being read in IB English and an equal number of people who want the whole program gone. IB classes, while intense, are very comprehensive and can be quite interesting. South Lakes' many dedicated teachers make the classes the best they can hope to be.
The saving grace of South Lakes High School is its students. Most schools in Fairfax County are unforgiveably preppy and pretentious. The monoethnic student body at other area schools like Langley and McLean are rather haughty and obnoxious. South Lakes is very culturally diverse and most students are very down to earth. The different cliques tend to mingle and get along well. There are equal numbers of jocks and geeks and South Lakes features a wide spread of talented students, despite having many taken away by area magnet schools. South Lakes has long had a teriffic art program headed by Ms. Monroe and a successful theater department run by Mrs. Harris. The band, chorus and orchestra are regularly impressive and the It's Academic team has enjoyed modest success in recent years. These programs, the gifted students who participate, and the committed teachers who guide them have helped many a student realize their great potential. The most famous graduates of South Lakes include basketball superstar Grant Hill, blind 5-time Jeopardy champion Eddie Timanus and track star Alan Webb (holder of the high school mile run record).
South Lakes may not be the ideal learning environment, but the many great people I have met in my years here only goes to show that in adverse environments, heck...especially in adverse environments, the human element will keep right on truckin'. There is more to South Lakes than just the cardboard walls or the upside-down sound shells in the Little Theater or the unappealing exterior (thankfully!). Somehow the school's motto, insipid as sounds, works: "Every dream a reality. Every student a success."