The school has experienced several changes over the last five decades, including to its layout. (Photo by FCPS)
The school has experienced several changes over the last five decades, including to its layout.

Photo by FCPS

Classroom chronicles: CHS reflects on 50 years of operation, transformation

October 27, 2022

Walking in the hallways, students and staff can see posters celebrating the school’s 50-year anniversary. Since opening its doors in 1973, the school has withstood a variety of change. 

Originally created as a secondary school covering grades seven through 10, students here learned within a new building management system that denounced classroom walls, and instead encouraged an open layout plan. Now, it is a standard high school with four grades and almost 3000 students, an attached Governor’s Academy in STEM and a traditional classroom setup. 

Throughout the past 50 years, students have won several Virginia High School League (VHSL) titles and participated in a slew of clubs, all while the administration has implemented measures aimed at supporting student interests and wellbeing.

Ever-changing student population spurs building changes

Walking down the halls, painted murals and club fliers decorate the walls separating each classroom. Although the white walls may seem intentional, they were never planned to be there in the first place.

According to Education Next, the open classroom concept was introduced and popularized throughout the 1970s as a more beneficial way to have students interact with one another. Instead of the walls students see in the building today, hallways were blocked off by the subschool offices and large partitions. Desks fit the students into their “classrooms.”

“It was all partitioned off and we could move them around as we wanted classrooms to change,” cosmetology teacher Lisa Climo said. “As long as teachers were just talking at a regular pace, you could know people were there, but that didn’t really bother you because the partitions had material that absorbed sound; the minute anyone in class started cheering, it went all the way around.”

As a graduate of CHS class of ‘78, Climo has seen the school from its very beginnings to now. According to Climo, the lack of walls allowed more space for multiple lecture halls where teachers took to strategies of engaging students by doing different visualization exercises.

When the school opened in 1973, subschools one, two, three and four were divided by grade instead of last name and known as blue, red, orange and yellow. Subschool Five was introduced later and started out as a comprehensive student service office before expanding to include special education services.

CHS “hallways” in 1979 before full walls were installed were sectioned off by adjustable partitions. (Photo from the 1979 edition of Odyssey)

“It was the same staircases coming up and down and the subschool offices,” Climo said. “They had lecture halls upstairs and I remember they had steps for seating. The steps were wide, and you could lay down on them and listen to your lecture while hanging out.”

According to English Teacher Michael Murphy, who graduated from CHS in 1988 and started teaching in ‘92, changes in the building began in the ’80s. Per the November 1979 issue of The Purple Tide, the school began the process of constructing walls after students’ complaints of distractions from other classrooms.

One of the newer and most noticeable changes to the school building is the addition of the trailers or modulars. According to Fairfax County Public Schools, CHS has a student population of over 2,900 with about 700 individual students in each grade level. In order to accommodate the growing number of students in the school, trailers and modulars—shortened to mods by students and staff—were built outside.

“My graduating class was the biggest class up till that point, like we had 660,” Murphy said. “I know the recent classes are a little over 700, so not much difference really. So [the school] has been this big that long. I had health in a trailer out there. I know kids complain that they have to go all the way to the mod but at least they get to go outside for a minute and get a breath of fresh air and walk around someplace.”

Academic programs advance students’ interests, wellbeing

Over the course of its 50 years, CHS has witnessed a number of changes to its academic structure. However, since its start, the school has recognized the connections between students’ wellness and academic performance. 

When the school opened its doors, it had 50 teachers, a stark contrast from the 230 teachers that operate the school now. 

“All the teachers were very young because they really went out trying to get people with an open mind,” Climo said. 

To further create this open environment, the school started a teacher-advisor program back in ‘73. All teachers and administrators served as advisors, and met with a group of 20 to 25 students each morning for 15 minutes, with Wednesday’s session extending to 40 minutes. Suggested conversation ideas included smoking lots, traffic patterns and the new media center (which served as a library, dark room and recreation center). 

The teacher-advisor program eventually evolved into the Charger Mentoring Program (ChaMP) in ‘99, which was formed in response to student anxieties after the Columbine shooting. ChaMP formed student groups that met for ten minutes each day, in classrooms, hallways and extra spaces, to focus on tolerance, conflict resolution and peaceful and healthy living. 

“I really liked ChaMP, it was designed to be like a homeroom class, with time used to do the logistical things, like the impact aid forms,” history teacher Angie Rollet, who started at CHS in 1996, said. “ChaMP didn’t have lessons like Advisory. I loved Advisory, too, but there’s also something really nice about ‘today we’re just going to play some games and have unstructured time’.”

These initiatives were met with mixed student opinions, with some denoting the program as a chance to open up to new people and focus on student wellbeing, and others saying the program could have been used for another purpose, according to the October 1999 issue of The Purple Tide. 

These varied receptions draw a parallel to more recent initiatives, like Advisory, which ran from 2020 to 2022, alongside the current program aimed at connecting students to teachers, Charger Connect. 

Another large aspect of the academic scene is the Chantilly Academy. Originally called the Vocational and Technical Education School, it initially had a more primary focus on technical classes aimed at providing students alternatives to college, as opposed to the current, more diverse spread of courses that incorporate careers directly after high school.

Student Eddie Shideler answers attendance in government class. (Photo from the May 1977 edition of The Purple Tide)

The vocational center turned Governor’s Academy for STEM still provides career-based classes for students. In addition, current offerings have expanded to encompass careers requiring formal education, like cloud computing, criminal justice and Korean, as well as original classes like auto collision and cosmetology.

“[Right now] the Chantilly Academy works with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to look at workforce trends in our area,” Chantilly Academy administrator Scott Settar said. “That’s where we start when we look at our classes. We offer students industry certification so they can go directly into the workforce if they want to.”

According to the school’s beliefs, the administration strives  to provide a comprehensive program that stimulates academic excellence in the arts and sciences, business, technology, and vocational studies. In line with this belief, the school currently offers an array of foreign language and electives classes to complement core classes.

“[When I was a student,] Chantilly told everyone they were going to try and cater educational needs for the students,” Climo said. “My sister was super brainy, and the math department challenged her. We all found our niche, and Chantilly really helped us cater to that.”

Traditions, extracurriculars shape cultural identity

The school’s cultural scene has been anything but static over decades of structural and academic change. After some deliberation, representatives of the original incoming classes decided that the school’s colors would be orange, white and brown and that the sports teams would be known as the Crusaders.

It was not until just before the academic year started that backlash from the rest of the students prompted a special vote by the Fairfax County School Board and the school accordingly adopted its current colors and mascot. Since then, students have showcased their school pride by organizing dances, staging “Celebrate Chantilly” weeks and introducing customs like senior privileges.

I think that tradition of Chantilly being an open environment where everyone is helping each other is crucial for the student body.”

— senior Imran Rahimzai

“This year, I’ve gotten the privilege of getting to leave class on Fridays five minutes early,” Rahimzai said. “That has been really cool. I [also] see a lot of people helping underclassmen with work, and I think that tradition of Chantilly being an open environment where everyone is helping each other is crucial for the student body.”

Some school traditions center around athletics, which have been a facet of student life from the start. Boys and girls basketball, soccer and track teams, among others, were formed within a year of the school opening. The teams would go on to win several VHSL championships starting in 1975, with the baseball, girls gymnastics and girls indoor track teams achieving victories on the district and regional levels. Athletes would often participate in events like banquets and Signing Days to celebrate a successful season or declare their intent to play for a certain college—practices that continue today. Somewhere down the line, engaging in game-day festivities like donning themed spiritwear became customary not only for players but for the overall student body, particularly when it came to football.

“Our sports teams were really big, and we had good teams,” Climo said. “My brother [played football], and I remember my whole family saying, ‘Lisa, you’re never watching the games, you’re always out talking.’ I was like, ‘the reason why I go is to see the cute boys.’ It was really big. All of Greenbriar would go, not just the kids.”

The school has also offered other extracurricular opportunities over the years, over 100 of which are running today. While The Purple Tide and Odyssey were printing months into the ‘73-’74 school year, honor societies, academic organizations and fine arts programs were established in the years that followed. These clubs have allowed students to participate in scholastic competitions, embark on educational field trips and more.

“I took Journalism 1 as a sophomore, and then I was also in it junior and senior year,” Murphy said. “The Purple Tide was just winning every single award you could think of for years. One year, The Washington Post was awarding money going to go to college for journalism. I was the only one doing that, so I got the money.”

Some clubs have even affected school activities directly: the first members of CHS’s Student Government Association (SGA) penned the Constitution that guided class leadership through the ‘80s in its original state, and National Art Honor Society seniors paint murals above the downstairs locker commons every year.

A homecoming float makes its way through the parade for the senior class of 1979. (Photo from the 1979 edition of Odyssey)

“Since Chantilly offers such a wide variety of clubs, from cooking to STEM to service to medicine, students are able to find out what interests them,” SGA member sophomore Anya Agrawal said. “I personally love being able to participate in them because some clubs really give you the opportunity to learn life skills, make connections and gain new experiences.”

The cultural makeup of the student body itself has experienced a significant shift over time. While FCPS is and has been predominantly white, CHS arrived at an Asian majority in the last five years, with roughly 5% and 16% of students being Black and Hispanic/Latino, respectively. However, the school has sanctioned events like International Night and sponsored ethnicity-based clubs since 2000 to better accommodate its increasingly diverse population.

“Whichever corner you go to, you’ll find someone from somewhere that you can relate to or that is unlike you and you can connect with,” Rahimzai said. “A couple of words to describe [the school] are ‘vast’ and ‘very diverse,’ and if you can find your group of people in this vastness, that’s the best way to navigate your four years.”

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Cassie Clark-Barnes, Editor-in-Chief

Cassie is a senior and one of the Editors-in-Chief for The Purple Tide. In school she looks forward to any class where she can read or write, and outside...

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Katelyn Chu, Editor-in-Chief

Katelyn Chu is a senior and an editor-in-chief of The Purple Tide. Outside of school, she explores her passion for writing as a board member at the Chantilly...

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Mahika Sharma, Editor-in-Chief

Mahika is a senior in her third year with The Purple Tide. Constantly looking to further her passion for rhetoric, she is heavily involved in Model UN,...

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