FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. — It's been roughly 19 months since schools shuttered at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then many high school traditions have had to be reinvented. In Fairfax County, school students and staff used creativity to bring back homecoming in 2021, with some adjustments to keep everyone safe.
Now that students are back in the classroom five days a week at Fairfax County Public Schools, the homecoming celebrations were on. But instead of a traditional school gymnasium, the venues were football fields and parking lots.
“The idea of being in the gym with 700 kids stuck together like glue on the dance floor was a little bit scary,” said Elizabeth Buffenbarger, Justice High’s student government and leadership advisor and French language teacher. “So we asked the athletic director, who is very protective of that football field, if it would be ok to use it for the event this year. He said yes, as long as there were no heels allowed.”
Students embraced the change, even working in the change of venue into the theme for the dances.
At James Madison High in Vienna, students turned to the school parking lot as the venue for their gathering, with a “Highway to Homecoming” theme and traffic-oriented decor.
“We committed early to the idea of doing this outside, we knew what we needed to do to make this event a success and booked tents and all the things we needed months ahead,” said Madison’s Assistant Director of Student Activities Andrew Baird. The event sold out, just as it last had in 2019, with about 1,000 tickets being issued.
Even with the changes that had to be put in place, students and organizers said it was worth it to feel like a "normal" high schooler, and a life lesson in adapting.
“We wanted a normal, or at least semi-normal experience, and we made that happen, said Fay Khateeb, a Justice High senior and executive president of the school’s Student Government Association. "We are adapting to the circumstances we are in; it was a learning lesson for all of us.”