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Even Families Debate Name for New Fairfax School

By Maria Glod
Sunday, February 20, 2005; Page C04

Fourteen-year-old Andrew Ofsonka and his brother, Matthew, 11, agree on many things. Both are diehard Philadelphia Eagles fans. And if you offered them a choice of cookies, each would pick chocolate chip.

But when it comes to choosing the name of a new secondary school near their Fairfax County neighborhood, the brothers disagree.

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Andrew wants the school -- scheduled to open in September on the site of the former D.C. prison in Lorton -- to be christened South County Secondary School, keeping the informal name that school officials used even before construction began. But Matthew thinks Lewis and Clark Secondary School, named after the legendary explorers, is a much better choice.

Several days ago, the boys took the debate out of their Newington Forest home and into the public eye, presenting their cases to the Fairfax County School Board. The board is considering 37 names -- whittled down from 55 -- that were recommended by families during a community meeting this month, and is scheduled to pick one Thursday.

The discussion over the school's name hasn't been nearly as emotional as the months-long debate over which children would attend the school, but that doesn't mean some people don't have strong opinions about the name. During the community meeting, each family selected three choices, with its top choice awarded three points, the second choice getting two points and the third choice one point.

South County topped the list with 345 points, and Lewis and Clark was second with 145. Some people thought the school should become Lt. Cmdr. Otis Vincent Tolbert Secondary School, named for a husband and father from Fairfax who was killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

Charles Robert Darwin Secondary School, Susan B. Anthony Secondary School and Alice Paul Secondary School also made the list. Other families preferred geographical names, such as Laurel Hill Secondary School and Lorton Secondary School.

Andrew, a Hayfield Secondary School freshman who will attend the new school in the fall, said he thinks there's no reason to mess with a perfectly good name. "South County is what everybody has been calling it for as long as it has been built, and nobody has had a problem with it until a few weeks ago," he said.

And with a name like South County, Andrew said, the school would have its choice of nicknames. He's partial to the South County Silverbacks, with a gorilla as a mascot.

Matthew, a sixth-grader at Newington Forest Elementary School, said South County is "okay" but he's not crazy about it. "My mom keeps yelling that it's just where it's located," he added.

Matthew figures Lewis and Clark has a good shot at winning. After all, he said, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were born in Virginia and they were "brave, strong" explorers who traveled from Missouri to the Pacific Coast and back. The school's teams and clubs could be known as the Trailblazers or the Bears.

"They counted animals on their journey," Matthew said. "They were exploring the West, and they saw lots of animals."

Matthew thinks a school named for Alice Paul, a leading suffragette, would be a bad choice. He worries that kids from other schools would shorten the name to Mrs. Paul and call its students "Mrs. Paul's fish sticks."

Marianne Ofsonka, the boys' mother, said she favors Lewis and Clark. But she's proud that her sons have their own opinions and that they made them known to the School Board.

"I wanted them to be part of the process and see how democracy works," she said. "Like I said to the kids, 'Either way, you had a say.' If you don't like what the School Board does, we can vote them out next time."

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