The Big Train

The Newsletter of the Walter Johnson PTSA - December 2014

Volume 45, Number 4

Walter Johnson PTSA

The Walter Johnson High School PTSA is a dedicated group of parents, teachers and students who work together in support of the school and community.

PTSA President's Message

Thanks to everyone who turned out on Nov. 25 to hear Dr. Aaron White from the National Institutes of Health. Dr. White outlined the changes occurring in teenage brains and the importance of delaying the consumption of alcohol and drugs until early adulthood, which will reduce the likelihood of lifelong alcohol dependence. He also said that although the number of teens drinking alcohol has dropped over the past few decades, the number of binge drinkers has increased, with hard liquor leading that disturbing trend. The alcohol concentration in hard liquor is difficult for teens to gauge, which can result in blacking out, poor decision-making, victimization and crime, and respiratory failure and death.

Also speaking were representatives from Montgomery County Police, who discussed penalties for teens caught drinking alcohol. According to the officers, Bethesda is one of the top locations in Montgomery County of parents hosting parties with alcohol for their teens and their friends. The police say that the parents report that they host these parties to "keep their teens safe and at home," but with what we learned from Dr. White, parents should now know that early drinking could set the stage for later addiction and binge drinking in college.

The PTSA asked WJ to videotape the presentation, which is available below. Mrs. Baker is also determining if Dr. White is available to speak at the Health and Wellness Summit (the new name for the Community Youth Summit) at WJ in February. Collectively, the hundreds of WJ students who took the summit survey during school noted that alcohol and drugs were one of their greatest concerns.

Our next PTSA meeting will be at 7 pm Dec. 16 in the Media Center. We hope you can attend. Please send agenda items to me at

Barbara Ferry

Dr. White's presentation on Nov. 25th at WJ

2014-15 PTSA Upcoming Meeting Schedule

Dec. 15 - WEDNESDAY -- Please note new date

Jan. 21 - WEDNESDAY -- Please note new date

Feb. 17

March 17

April 21

May 19

  • All PTSA business meetings are held on the third Tuesday of the month at 7 pm in the Media Center and are open to all parents, students and teachers.
  • Minutes and agendas will be linked to the meeting dates as they become available.
  • PTSA meetings include an update from the principal and committee chairs and a discussion of ongoing business.
  • Agenda items for meetings should be sent to the PTSA president a week prior to the meeting so that enough time can be allocated for discussion.
  • Speakers sponsored by the PTSA are held at various times during the year and are organized by the Guidance Advisory Committee or the Health and Safety Committee.


The PTSA does not fundraise; your donations and membership dues are our only means of support. By joining the PTSA, you have an important opportunity to play a valuable role in the continuing success of Walter Johnson High School. Please join online today.

News from the Principal's Office

There is a lot to be said for tradition. For many, Thanksgiving is a time for long-standing and honored family rituals. At Walter Johnson, we also have many wonderful traditions and customs. For instance, over the last 39 years, the Key Club staff and students have hosted an annual senior citizens' luncheon. I am very thankful for their dedication and organization of this wonderful tradition.

For numerous reasons, it is one of my favorite days of the school year. Watching our students honoring the community members that join us that day is truly heartwarming. There is no way to adequately describe the gratitude and enjoyment that is so obvious on the faces of the guests throughout the event. These esteemed community members relish the performances by some of our most talented music students and dive with great gusto into the delicious feast prepared by our terrific and dedicated cafeteria staff. There are lighthearted conversations with eager students and some pretty creative dancing. Smiles and laughter dominate the day. Our students and staff make us very proud during this event.

Talent abounds at WJ and I hope you had the time to enjoy our fall play, The Crucible. What a performance! Our students never cease to amaze me. Each show seems to get better and to reach for new heights. Bravo to the directors, producers, set designers, crew and actors. The show was imaginative and so very entertaining. Our community is fortunate that we consistently produce high quality shows right here at our school. One Acts will be here in January and please stay tuned. Please also join us this December for our festive and fabulous winter choral and instrumental concerts. Our students work very hard to produce professional quality music. Everyone is sure to be thoroughly entertained. Dates and times may be found at:

I would like to remind the community that this school year our principal intern, Ms. Afie Mirshah-Nayar, will be completing her practicum as the acting principal from Jan. 5 through Feb. 13. During this time period, Ms. Mirshah-Nayar will be involved in all aspects of the school that typically involve the principal. You will see her at meetings, events and in classrooms observing instruction. Additionally, she will handle all the correspondence from the principal’s office. You may be wondering what I will be doing during this time period. I am eager to gain new experience at Meadow Hall Elementary School in Rockville. This will be my first time working in an elementary school and I am very excited to join their staff temporarily. I am sure there will be a lot to learn. I will miss the Walter Johnson community during Ms. Mirshah-Nayar’s internship, but look forward to returning mid-February with stories to tell from my experiences at Meadow Hall.

December is an incredibly busy month that seems to slip by in a flash. I hope everyone makes ample time to enjoy celebrations together with family and friends. Rest, rejuvenate and relax, I wish the entire community a fabulous holiday season.

Jennifer Baker

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WJ Booster Club needs more than a few good people

Making decisions about what school clubs, sports and activities to provide financial assistance to (in addition to working to raise those funds) requires men and women with judgment, integrity and a passion for WJ.

The Booster Club has a number of openings which may fit your interest, skills and commitment level.

Open positions Include:

  • Vice President (moving into the role of president next year)
  • School Store operations (apprentice the first year to take over the following)
  • Banner sales

For those who want to be involved but prefer to start at a less active level, we have the following openings. These positions allow parents to get to know the Booster Club and hopefully assess the roles they may want to move into.

  • Liaisons to Tilden and North Bethesda middle schools
  • Three seats for at-large members

We also have a need for parents to support our existing fundraisers: mulch sale, used book sale, and staffing the concession stand.

Interested volunteers should reach out to Co-Presidents James and Jill Joseph at

We provide the dough so WJ kids can rise

Click here to join the WJ Booster Club online using Visa or Mastercard

Please attend the Booster Club's next meeting

Wednesday, Dec. 10th, 7pm

Media Center

Guidance Advisory Committee

The Guidance Advisory Committee -- comprised of parents, students, counseling services staff, and administrators -- assists the Counseling Services Department and fosters communication among parents, students, and the department. The advisory committee sponsors parents' forums that provide information on academic and social issues to help WJ students succeed.

If you have missed any of the GAC events, you can obtain handouts from those meetings here on the Walter Johnson website.



  • Wednesday, Dec 3, 7:30 pm - Colleges that Change Lives at Walt Whitman HS Auditorium

Alumni College Lunch for Seniors - Friday Dec. 19, during lunch.

This annual event, sponsored by Counseling Services, invites recent graduates to chat with current seniors about their college experiences. Alumni interested in speaking to seniors should contact Counseling Services.

Winter/Spring Meetings

  • Mon., Jan. 12 - PSAT and Mock Testing Results Interpretation, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Feb. 9 - Senior Class Parent Meeting: Graduation, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Wed., Feb. 11 – Parent Coffee: College Admissions Testing, 7:45 am - Commons
  • Mon., Feb. 23 - College Planning and Prep for Students Who Learn Differently, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Mar. 2 - Naviance/Family Connections Parent Meeting, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Wed., Mar. 11 - Naviance/Family Connections Parent Coffee, 7:45 am - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Mar. 30 - Mock ACT/SAT Results Interpretation, 7 pm - Cafeteria
  • Mon., Apr. 20 – College Admissions Panel Night, 7 pm - Cafeteria


Parent Connection is an informal meeting of parents with children in the same grade. These serve as an opportunity to share similar problems and concerns, and share solutions.

We hope to see you at these meetings. The meetings on December 8 will follow the 7 pm APEX meeting.

  • Freshman Parent Connection: Monday, 12/08, 8:15 pm, cafeteria
  • Sophomore Parent Connection: Monday, 12/08, 8 pm, Media Center
  • Junior Parent Connection: Monday, 12/08, 8 pm, Student Commons
  • Senior Parent Connection: Monday, 12/15, 7 pm, Media Center

Questions? Please contact Carol Alderson

Subscribe to the PTSA Bulletin Board

All members of the WJ community are strongly encouraged to subscribe to this valuable communication resource. Click here for instructions on how to join.


Ms. McGinty is collecting gifts for Dr. Bear’s Closet at Children’s National Medical Center. The gifts are for children of all ages—from infants to teenagers. These toys will bring some much needed smiles and playtime to patients and their siblings this holiday season and into the New Year. The easiest way to parƟcipate is to order from the online wish list which can be found here: Or you can drop your gifts off at Room G20 no later than Friday, December 19th.

Please click here to view a wish list, as well as a list of items which cannot be accepted.

If you have any questions, please contact Ms. McGinty at

School Store open for holiday shopping

The School Store will be open during these special evening events:

  • Thursday, Dec. 11, Winter Instrumental Concert
  • Friday, Dec. 12, North Bethesda MS Winter Concert at WJ
  • Thursday, Dec. 18, Winter Choral Concert

We will be open 30 minutes prior to the start of each of these events. Look for us in the hallway outside the auditorium. Check the WJ website for more information.

Visit Our Storefront Location

The School Store is located in the hallway outside the cafeteria. We are open most school days from 10:45 am to 11:30 am. Credit cards, checks and cash accepted.


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Engraved Brick Challenge Underway for the Class of 2015

The WJ Education Foundation has challenged the Class of 2015 to lay more bricks in the Wildcat Walkway than any other class. Families have begun buying bricks for their seniors and, together with bricks already purchased, the total is at least one-quarter toward the goal of at least 100. That goal can easily be attained. If the students and families of the Class of 2015 donate 100 engraved bricks, the Education Foundation will place a special brick in the walkway in honor of their achievement.

The bricks will be a permanent part of the WJ campus and a constant reminder of the greatness of the Class of 2015. We sell the engraved bricks each year and install new bricks each summer. Proceeds go to support programs at the school for students and materials. The donation of a brick is a wonderful way to thank a coach or staff member in addition to honoring students and teams. You can also purchase a mini-replica brick to keep.

To order a brick, go to the Education Foundation website at, or if you have questions, please write to

Brick purchases and donations from parents make up most of our funding for the year. Our parents, the community and alumni continue to give generously to support our programs. We thank the Kensington 8K and Kensington Parkwood Elementary School PTA for the $6,000 check we received as our share of the proceeds of the race. We have been able to fulfill a number of requests this fall that benefit students and staff: new TV studio equipment, a switcher that we collaborated with the PTSA, Booster Club and gifts from the Classes of 2013 and 2014 to purchase; support for the after-school activity bus; and a number of staff development grants.

We will send a mailing home soon that will tell you more about the foundation’s goals, including a campaign to purchase an additional Chromebook cart, at a cost of $9,154. Please consider making a tax-deductible, end-of-year donation to the Education Foundation.

You can find more information about the foundation or get the donation forms on our website at

Marney Jacobs, President

WJ Education Foundation


Start saving your books to donate to the Booster club used book sale, scheduled for March 7 and 8. We will begin collecting, sorting and storing gently used books and DVDs in January. In the meantime, if you are doing any cleaning, don't get rid of your old books and DVDs; donate them to this important fundraiser which raises money to support WJ sports and clubs.

The used book sale is the Booster Club's second-biggest fundraiser. It only works because of the dedicated parent and student volunteers who help sort the books in the weeks leading up to the sale and who help with everything during the sale itself. This year's sorting dates (all Saturdays from 9 am to noon) are Jan. 17 and 31, and Feb. 14 and 28. Setup is Friday, March 6, the day before the sale begins.

Volunteering for the sale is a great way for WJ's students involved in school clubs and teams to give back to the parent-run Booster Club, which provides much-needed funds for student activities. It is also a great way for both middle schoolers and high schoolers to get Student Service Learning hours. The coordinators of the sale will provide signed SSL forms. You do not have to limit yourself to one time slot. Separate emails will be going out to all of the student clubs and teams, but everyone is using the same Sign-Up Genius this year to coordinate volunteers. Sign up here. We will track student volunteer hours so your club or team will get the appropriate credit. If you have any questions, please contact me at We love our volunteers.

The WJ Student Directory "The Lineup" was distributed to students this week. If you haven't seen it, ask your student!

News from the Art Department

Senior AP Photo student Danya Firestone was this year's recipient of the Ida F. Haimovicz Visual Arts Award. The juried award is given to a graduating senior from Montgomery County who is planning a career in the visual arts. Danya received a scholarhip and was given a solo exhibition at the Betty Mae Kramer Gallery in Silver Spring.
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On Saturday, Oct. 18, senior Katie Spak was awarded a scholarship from the Montgomery County chapter of The Society. The Society seeks to promote young people’s involvement in the arts. Katie was recognized for her artistic and academic achievements at the luncheon, where she also showed many of her works. This was the first year The Society offered scholarships for achievement in the performing, literary and visual arts.
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Stephanie Ellis, Resource Teacher

Art, Technology, Computer Science

Science Department Visits Tangier Island

On Nov. 21, 27 students and three teachers --Ms. Chau, Ms. McGaffin and student teacher Ms. Chung -- left WJ to go on a three-day trip to Port Isobel in the Chesapeake Bay, sponsored by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Students and teachers alike learned about the 150-year-old crabbing and oyster industry by visiting nearby Tangier Island to meet and talk with local watermen. They also learned how they can conserve resources to save the bay. Below is a picture of the entire group as they triumphantly made their way through the marsh to their own island.
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Mr. Richards’ Engineering Science students are getting closer to sailing away as they are drafting a three-view engineering drawing of a cruising sailboat, which they are designing from scratch. While students are currently creating paper and pencil drawings, at the end of the year, they will be making a 12-foot skiff.

Patricia Richards, APEX Biology Teacher

Science Internship Coordinator

Science Department Chair


You can do this by linking your store loyalty card to Walter Johnson. WJ earns money every time you shop at Giant, Target, Safeway, Food Lion and Harris Teeter, as long as you designate WJ as your beneficiary school. You can also opt to support more than one school. But you can’t help if you don’t register. And many stores require you to re‐register every year. Please take a moment and follow the links below. Use the following ID numbers and sign up now to help WJ earn.

Target Red Card Visa - School ID: 58206

Harris Teeter - School ID: 7371

Safeway - WJ Group ID: 6679161

Giant - School ID: 00646

Food Lion (including the former Bloom stores) - School ID: 219715

Submit an Item for The Big Train Newsletter

The Big Train is the PTSA monthly newsletter, posted online. The upcoming submission deadlines are Jan 5, Jan. 28, Feb. 25, March 25, April 29 and May 27.

Articles, questions and comments may be submitted via email to with the article in the body of the message or as an attachment (please indicate file type). The Big Train is posted on the WJ website, so please do not include information you would not want to see online. Please supply email addresses as well as phone numbers for contact information whenever possible.

All persons associated with WJ are encouraged to submit news and information.

Please also include photos if you have them. In addition to the newsletter, we will post them on the PTSA Facebook page.

The Big Train is compiled, laid out, and edited by Linda Parker, Stephanie Brown and Jonathan Salant.