How Fairfax Co. students celebrated homecoming after 2 years of cancellations

Justice High School principal Tiffany Narcisse and her daughter, senior Dori Bob, get ready to dance on the track field during the school’s Oct. 9 Homecoming dance. (Courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools)

Goodbye dusty school gym. Hello toasty fire pit.

Schools in Fairfax County, Virginia, got creative to bring homecoming back, moving the festivities outdoors to keep students safe — and the party going.

Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) said in an Oct. 18 blog post that after two years of not being able to hold homecoming because of the pandemic, the community was “ready to party. No matter where the celebrations occurred.”

That meant football fields, parking lots and fire pits to keep students outside, where the chances of COVID-19 transmission are lower.

“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, a French teacher and student adviser at Justice High School in Falls Church. “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.”

But dresses and tuxes were allowed as students gathered for the Oct. 9 event, which was given the theme of “Across the Universe” to reflect the idea of being under the stars.

“There wasn’t much we could do as far as decorations could go with a party on a football field, but we put up fairy lights everywhere to make it as magical as we could,” said Justice High senior Fay Khateeb. “We wanted a normal, or at least semi-normal experience, and we made that happen. We are adapting to the circumstances we are in; it was a learning lesson for all of us.”

Meanwhile in Reston, South Lakes High School’s homecoming festivities included a parade ahead of the Oct. 15 football game and a dance split between the indoors and outdoors.

Inside, masked students could watch a movie or dance to a DJ in the gym, or they could head outside for fire pits, corn hole and food trucks. “The vibe has been amazing,” Director of Student Activities Leah Conte told the FCPS blog.

Students at Justice High School attend homecoming dance on the football field. (Courtesy Justice High School yearbook staff)

A school parking lot served as the venue for James Madison High’s homecoming. Students came up with a “Highway to Homecoming” theme, complete with a tent and traffic décor.

Andrew Baird, assistant director of student activities at the Vienna high school, said students decided at the end of the last school year to plan early for an outdoor event.

Being outdoors apparently didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm. The event sold out, just as it did in 2019, with about 1,000 tickets issued.

Baird said the homecoming also brought the community together.

“Homecoming signifies the return of alumni, celebrating former graduates and all of that. This was an opportunity for all of us to return to a place we enjoy being, to reconnect with friends, colleagues and teachers and have a little bit of fun in a safe way amidst a very difficult time.”

Anna Gawel

Anna Gawel joined WTOP in 2020 and works in both the radio and digital departments. Anna Gawel has spent much of her career as the managing editor of The Washington Diplomat, which has been the flagship publication of D.C.’s diplomatic community for over 25 years.

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