science lab

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJHSST, TJ, Jefferson) is a public secondary school located in Northern Virginia, operated by Fairfax County Public Schools. As a publicly funded and administered high school with selective admissions, TJHSST is often compared with notable public magnet schools. Attendance at TJ is open to students in Fairfax County and other local jurisdictions based on an admissions test and prior academic achievement. The selective admissions program was initiated in 1985 through the cooperation of state and county governments, as well as corporate sponsorship from the defense and technology industries. TJ occupies the building of the previously non-selective Thomas Jefferson High School (constructed in 1965). TJHSST is one of 18 Virginia Governor's Schools, and a founding member of the National Consortium for Specialized Secondary Schools of Mathematics, Science and Technology.

On November 29, 2007, TJHSST was awarded the top ranking in the Best High Schools in the United States Rankings by U.S. News & World Report.

Admissions and enrollment


Each fall, the TJHSST Admissions Office accepts applications for freshman admission from eighth-graders who live in eligible areas in Northern Virginia. After paying a registration fee, all applicants take an admissions test, which consists of a standardized mathematics and reasoning test along with two essay questions.

Using a sliding scale, the math and reasoning test score is combined with the student's middle-school GPA to form an overall, objective ranking; the Admissions office designates the top scorers as semifinalists, a group generally about three times as large as the planned freshman class. The semifinalists submit further information, including teacher recommendations, awards, previous experience in science, mathematics, and technology, and a brief personal statement. Two selection panels review this information, along with the student essays written during the admission test, and select the next year's freshman class.


Freshman in other schools can still apply to Jefferson (they must live in the eligible areas in Northern Virginia), even if they applied unsuccessfully in the past, or if they have moved in from another county. Even though there is no admissions test for these applicants, they usually are required to take a test, primarily the PSAT.

There is no determination of semifinalists as such, so all applicants are expected to submit further information, similar to the information that the eighth-graders submit, with a few more questions on scientific situations. By the end of June, the new entrants to the Jefferson sophomore class are decided (colloquially called "froshmores" by the Jefferson community). In the end of the 2007-2008 school year, only 15 out of the 70 students who applied were accepted.


Sophomores may only apply to TJHSST if they have not already applied in the past, and must live in an eligible part of Northern Virginia. They go through an interview process to determine selection. Usually, a very small amount of entrants are accepted.

Class size

While most local high schools base entering class size on the number of rising eighth-graders, Jefferson controls its freshman enrollment through its selective admissions process. Of the approximately 2500 freshmen who apply, only about one in five are admitted. This target class size has slowly grown since the school was founded, beginning at 400 students per class for the class of 1989. The class of 2009 contained about 450 students. For classes of 2011 and 2012, enrollment has been increased to 485 students. There are 1,807 students currently enrolled for the 2007-2008 school year. As of July 31, 2007, a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 is required for students to remain enrolled at the school.

Student diversity

TJHSST has been criticized for its lack of certain minority representation, even though it has a large portion of Asian minorities, with the class of 2012 being the first to have a plurality of Asians. Certain minority groups, such as blacks and Hispanics, comprise a smaller percentage of the student body than is present in the populus of the participating localities. The school's largest racial groups are whites (at about 54.28%) and Asians (at about 35.93%).

During its formation, the admissions policies did not include stipulations to increase the representation of underrepresented minorities. However, by 1991, admissions had begun to tacitly admit a higher proportion of underrepresented minority students.

In 2004, the Fairfax County School Board commissioned a study to determine what steps, if any, should be undertaken to remedy the underrepresentation of certain racial or ethnic groups, as well as low-income students, among enrollees. Prior to the study, admissions decisions were based mainly on middle school grades and students' scores on the admission examination. In 1998, attorneys working for Fairfax County Public Schools published an interpretation of law that restricted "soft affirmative action", which led to a severe decline in enrollment among black and Hispanic students. The FCSB commission concluded that a change to the admissions policy was necessary to mitigate the underrepresentation (by taking into account other factors, such as gender, ethnicity and other socio-demographic characteristics, as "plus" factors in a holistic review of applicants). Despite efforts at increasing outreach, however, the percentage of minority students only increased moderately. During the 2004/2005 school year, the black student population of TJHSST was 1.24% and the Hispanic population was 2.42%. Students admitted in that school year were 3.84% Hispanic and 2.42% African descent, although these two ethnic groups constitute more than 25% of the student population in Fairfax County.

Participating localities

While TJHSST is part of the Fairfax County Public Schools system (which serves residents of Fairfax County and the City of Fairfax), residents of Arlington, Loudoun, Fauquier, and Prince William counties, as well as the City of Falls Church, are also eligible to apply for admission. A particular number of admission slots is allotted to each participating locality. In March 2006, the Alexandria School Board voted 7-2 in favor of allowing a maximum of two students from Alexandria to attend the school, although a subsequent vote (5-4) in September 2006 rescinded that earlier decision. Each school district shares in the cost of operating the school. The independent cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, although surrounded by a participating county, have declined to purchase spaces for their students.


TJHSST offers an extensive mathematics and science curriculum, including courses in organic chemistry, neurobiology, marine biology, DNA science, and quantum mechanics. All courses at TJHSST are taught at the Honors/GT, Advanced Placement, or post-Advanced Placement level. All students are required to complete an introductory Java computer science course. Seniors must also participate in the Senior Technology Laboratory Research program, which consists of a year-long research project or an off-campus mentorship through one of the school's research labs These labs are devoted to numerous fields, including robotics, microelectronics, chemistry, prototyping, optics, computer aided design, astronomy, biotechnology, and oceanography. There was recently some debate over the inclusion of the Video Technology Lab, responsible among other things for producing the school's video morning announcement program. It was ultimately decided that the Video Technology Lab would be closed, despite an active letter writing campaign by students to the Board of Education. However, a similar lab taught by the same teacher, the Communications Systems Lab, has been reintroduced for the 2009 school year. A new technology lab was recently approved in neuroscience.

The school also offers a strong humanities and foreign language curriculum. Japanese, Chinese, and Russian are taught in addition to the more traditional German, French, Spanish, and Latin. Every other year, Pskov State Pedagogical University students from Russia visit TJHSST. The language department celebrated the ten-year anniversary of its sister school relationship with Chiben Gakuen High School, a Japanese high school famous for its baseball program, in 2003. Each year in March, ten exchange students and one teacher come to spend a month in the US. TJ students are given the opportunity to reciprocate during the summer with the school's Chiben Summer Program.

TJ also offers its IBET (Integrated Biology, English, and Technology) program to ninth graders. Students spend nine class periods a week with the same group of peers, and the IBET teachers work together to produce an integrated curriculum. The technology aspect of the program (formally known as Principles of Engineering and Technology) stresses drafting, CAD, and basic electronics skills. Integrated Humanities courses are offered in 10th and 11th grade, with several integrated programs available for seniors. Currently, the idea to integrate Chemistry into 10th grade humanities has been proposed as the "CHUM" concept.

All students attending TJHSST must pursue a special TJ Diploma. The TJ Diploma requirements duplicate those of the Virginia Advanced Studies Diploma with additional mathematics, computer science, earth science, and engineering requirements.


The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the regional accrediting body for secondary schools in the region including Virginia, has accredited TJHSST since the magnet program was founded in 1985.

Awards and distinctions

TJHSST has fielded more National Merit Semifinalists than any other high school in America for most of the 1990s and 2000s. From 2000 to 2005, it fielded more USAMO qualifiers than any other high school in America and has a distinguished history of U.S. Physics Olympiad Team members and medal winners. In 2007, TJHSST had more Intel Science Talent Search Semifinalists (14) than any other school.

TJHSST was ranked as the top high school in the nation by PrepReview in 2004. In that year, TJHSST also had the highest average SAT score among all American high schools, both public and private. It was also ranked #1 among "America's Best High Schools" in a study by U.S. News and World Report. Each year, over a quarter of its graduating class accepts admission to the University of Virginia. Other graduates attend Ivy League schools and high-ranking public and private schools across the nation.

For schools with more than 800 students in grades 10-12, TJHSST was cited as having the highest-performing AP Calculus BC, AP Chemistry, AP French Language, AP Government and Politics: U.S., and AP U.S. History courses among all schools worldwide.

Notable visitations

President Reagan's visit in 1986 consisted of a question and answer session with a select group of students. A transcript is available.

In 1992, Valeri Kubasov, a Russian cosmonaut on the Apollo-Soyuz mission, visited the school. A student taking Russian served as his translator and guide as he dropped in on science classes giving brief, impromptu speeches and toured the school's tech labs.

Al Gore visited in 1999 to provide the keynote address to the graduating class of 1999.

In 2000, Mandy Moore performed a concert at TJHSST as a result of a radio contest sponsored by now-defunct local radio station WWZZ (Z104). The contest was conducted via online voting on the Z104 website. Students were allowed to vote for their school as many times as they wanted, for the duration of the contest. However, because the voting system had no way of verifying who was voting, several TJHSST students wrote a number of various computer scripts that generated rapid, automatic votes for TJHSST, randomly choosing a member of the student body to vote as. Lake Braddock Secondary School students followed suit and wrote their own vote-generating script to compete with TJHSST. In an attempt to crack down on these ethically questionable attempts to manipulate the contest, Z104 announced that computer-generated voting was no longer allowed, and that any high school found violating the rule would be disqualified, removing a number of votes from TJ and several other schools that had taken a similar tack. However, when it became apparent that policing such a restriction would be nearly impossible, the organizers of the contest seemed to give up, allowing the votes to count, and giving TJ the victory by a wide margin of votes.

The Prime Minister of Japan, Yoshiro Mori, visited in 2001.

On Thursday, September 27 2001, Rev. Jesse Jackson visited the school. He gave a speech to the entire student body about the recent 9/11 attacks and the need for unity among the people of the nation. His speech culminated in Jackson leading the student body in a chant of his famous line, "I am somebody."

Ian Anderson of the classic rock band Jethro Tull visited the school on October 12 2005, along with classical violinist Lucia Micarelli. He answered questions from students about his work, being on tour, and illegal file sharing. The visit was the subject of articles in the Washington Post as well as the Washington Times .

Recent developments

GMU partnership

In March 2004, TJHSST announced a partnership with nearby George Mason University. Among the proposals set forth in the partnership are the relocation of TJHSST to the George Mason University campus and instruction by university professors at the high school. This proposal was scratched in 2007 when George Mason decided to build a conference center in available space. In the 2005-2006 school year, a small group of Thomas Jefferson students piloted a program in which they took college-level courses at GMU's Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering.

Retirement of Elizabeth V. Lodal

From 2000-2006, Elizabeth V. Lodal served as the principal of Thomas Jefferson. In the spring of 2006, Lodal announced her retirement after 40 years as a public school educator and principal of four Fairfax County secondary schools. This occurred after Lodal publicly stated that Asian students committed a disproportionally high percentage of the cheating and theft incidents uncovered by the administration. After a negative response from the Asian community, Principal Lodal wrote a letter in the Parent, Teacher and Student Association Newsletter clarifying her remarks. During her tenure, Lodal advocated an increase in the diversity of the school; she pushed for new admissions procedures designed to increase acceptance of minority students, which the school board passed in 2004. She was appointed by Governor Tim Kaine to be a delegate from Virginia on The Education Commission of the States Dr. Evan M. Glazer, former director of Roanoke Valley Governor's School for Science and Technology, was chosen as her replacement.

TJ3Sat project

TJHSST Systems Engineering Course is designing and building a CubeSat which is planned to be launched in 2008 or 2009. Orbital Sciences Corporation donated the CubeSat Kit to the school on December 6 2006 and will also provide the launch for the satellite. If successful, TJ3SAT will be the first satellite launched into space that is built by high school students. The satellite will contain a 4-watt transmitter operating on amateur radio frequencies, and a text-to-speech module to allow it to broadcast ASCII-encoded messages sent to it from Jefferson.

School features and activities

The school maintains a schedule of eight class periods on Monday and block classes the rest of the week. Though no formal classes are offered during eighth period, it is a required part of a school day. Monday's eighth period is known as TA (teacher advisory), which is similar to homeroom. Wednesday and Friday's eighth period is devoted to study halls, clubs and teams, and other extracurricular activities. Since the school day ends at 3:50 (an hour and a half later than other Fairfax County high schools), eighth period enables students to explore a wide variety of interests, including science, athletics, performing arts, and the humanities, without having to stay after school. Every Thursday, the school day known as Jefferson Learning Community (JLC) begins at 9:00 rather than 8:30 to allow for teacher conferences.

Computer Systems Lab

The Computer Systems Lab (CSL, often shortened to "syslab") at TJHSST is one of very few high school computing facilities with a supercomputer. In 1988, a team from the school won an ETA-10P supercomputer in the SuperQuest competition, a national science competition for high school students. Unfortunately, the ETA-10P was damaged by a roof leak in the 1990s. Cray Inc. donated a new SV1 supercomputer to the school on December 4 2002. The supercomputers have been used in research projects by students and may be used in a course for students taking the advanced computer science class entitled Supercomputer Applications.

One of the interesting aspects of this lab is the strong encouragement of student involvement. Since the early 1990s, designated student system administrators (often referred to as "sysadmins") have maintained the lab's workstations and servers, including the upkeep of the school's E-mail, web site, and intranet, among other services. The syslab is currently running Debian GNU/Linux on the servers and Gentoo Linux on the workstations. Over the years, students in the Computer Systems Research course as well as the sysadmins have worked to improve the computer resources in the school. A system administrator understudy program is in place in order to train aspiring sysadmins. Understudies learn common tasks such as workstation maintenance and Linux installation, as well as CSL-specific administration procedures.

One notable project developed in the "syslab" is the TJHSST Intranet. This large web application was an early venture into PHP, and is known for bringing Rasmus Lerdorf, the original creator of PHP, to the school for a visit. It was made as a replacement for the aging mechanically-based Eighth Period scheduling system, but now it also provides features such as access to files on the school's intranet and the student directory. In recent years, the Intranet2 project has been developed in order to redesign and reimplement the Intranet system with object-oriented programming and modern versions of PHP in mind. It was released on May 18 2006, but will still continue to be developed indefinitely.

Sun Ray at TJ

The lab also supports a number of Sun thin clients for use by students enrolled in AP Computer Science. In 2008, TJ was awarded a grant from Sun Microsystems for $388,048 The Syslab was given 7 Sun workstations, 12 Sun servers, and 145 Sun Rays for distribution throughout the school. These will be placed in the existing AP Computer Science Lab and the science classrooms, support backend services, and allow support for kiosks placed around the school for guests, students, and faculty. The grant was student-written by William Yang (Class of 2008) and Trey Repetski (Class of 2009).

Performing arts

The drama program, directed by Vincent Pollet, performs three major plays each year. The independent Shakespeare Troupe student group additionally performs two Shakespeare plays each year. Every other year, the drama department puts on a musical, complete with singers and live pit orchestra.

The choir program, directed by Luke Frels, holds several concerts over the course of the year, the largest of which is Spring Show. Spring Show is held during second semester and involves both curricular and extracurricular singers. A Cabaret is held during the fall.

The orchestra program, conducted by Allison K. Bailey, consists of a symphonic orchestra, a concert ensemble, and a recently-developed chamber orchestra. They perform in four concerts over the course of the year, including the judge-evaluated Spring Festival. For the past several years, the orchestra program has achieved the rating of "superior" at every annual Festival. In addition, the symphonic orchestra won the title of "Best Overall High School Orchestra" at the 1991 International Quebec Music Festival.

TJ's band program, directed by Mary Ulrey, consists of three concert bands and one jazz band (Jazz I) in addition to a number of extracurricular ensembles. Each year, the bands perform in several concerts, including a Fall Preview concert in conjunction with the orchestral and choral programs and the District XI VBODA Concert Band Festival. The school's extracurricular bands include the Thomas Jefferson Marching Colonials (TJMC), the marching band, a winter drumline, a winter guard, and an extracurricular jazz ensemble (Jazz II). TJMC rehearsals begin in the early summer, and the band's season runs through early November. In addition to performing at home football games, the band participates in several competitions throughout the fall, usually concluding the season at the USSBA National Championships. The winter guard and drumline seasons begin in late November and end in early April. Jazz II rehearses during eighth period and performs with Jazz I at a spring Jazz Cabaret held in TJ's cafeteria.

International programs

In addition to the Chiben Gakuen student exchange, TJHSST also hosts the annual week long Jefferson Overseas Schools Technology Institute during the summer for American-based overseas school educators. Also, guest instructors from overseas frequently teach at TJHSST for an academic year, and have hailed from countries such as Germany and Latvia over the past decade.

Academic competitions

Academic teams at TJHSST have consistently performed well across state, national, and international levels. Teams that have maintained perennial success include those competing in debate, chess, the American Regions Math League competition, Odyssey of the Mind, and both the Regional Virginia and National Science Bowls. In certain cases, teams have held a winning streak of several years or have won multiple times. TJHSST is also known for its strong performance in the It's Academic high school quiz tournament, which is produced and broadcast in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area, as well as in national tournaments such as NAQT's High School National Championship Tournament and the PACE National Scholastics Championship. The school also has a long history of supplying qualifiers for the United States Physics Olympic Team, many of whom have gone on to win gold medals for the United States.

Model United Nations

The Model United Nations club is the largest regularly-meeting organization in the school, with roughly 150 regular participants. Its Officer Corps includes over 20 members, including the Secretariat (Secretary General, Under-Secretary General, Senator, and Arbitrator). The club has been successful in national competitions, competing for awards at conferences hosted by several universities. TJMUN is also known for its winning streak at local conferences, which has lasted since at least the 2003-2004 school year. TJMUN hosts its own conference each spring, TechMUN, named for the school's science and technology-oriented reputation.


On October 18, October 19, and October 20 2007, approximately 350 students from member schools of the National Consortium of Specialized Secondary Schools of Math, Science, and Technology (NCSSSMST) attended a three-day conference hosted by TJHSST and its university affiliate, George Mason University.

The goal was to have a conference completely student planned for the other students; a group of about 20 students planned the conference under the supervision of Milde Waterfall. The students, created and maintained a website about the conference.

The conference provided opportunities for bright, dedicated students to explore innovations in math, science, and technology. Students participated in interactive presentations by professionals, GMU professors, peers, and Jefferson alumni. Events also included a dance social function on a boat down the Potomac, a trip to the Spy Museum, and a high-profile Climate Change panel. The collaboration aimed to motivate students to use their talent to the best of their abilities to solve diverse problems, inspiring a synergy among the students which will remain with them in college and beyond.


The TJHSST mascot is the Colonials. Teams currently play in the AAA Liberty District and the Northern Region of the Virginia High School League.

Highlights of Colonial athletics

The Colonials have been recognized for their strong rowing, cross country, track and field, tennis and swim and dive teams. In addition, the school's football team went to the 2004 Division 5 Northern Region playoffs, and the boys lacrosse team consistently participates in the regional playoffs. TJ crew has been a dominating force in Virginia rowing, winning 11 of the last 12 boys eight varsity state titles. Both the girls and boys' teams have won medals at the prestigious Stotesbury Regatta and SRA regattas. The tennis team has won 13 district championships in twenty seasons and the cross country, and swim and dive teams have won multiple state championships in recent years. Other teams with notable success include the boys soccer team, who won the 2007 VHSL AAA State Championship and a current ranking among the top five high school soccer programs in the country.

A tongue-in-cheek bumper sticker associated with the school states "We came for the sports".

VHSL state championships

The Colonials have won eleven VHSL state titles in athletic activities, all in the AAA level, which are:

  • Three in AAA Girls Swimming and Diving: 2002-2004
  • Three in AAA Boys Cross Country: 2002, 2004, 2007
  • Two in AAA Boys Swimming and Diving: 1997, 2002
  • Two in AAA Girls Indoor Track: 1997, 1998
  • One in AAA Boys Soccer: 2007

The Colonials have been state runners up six times, which are:

  • Two in AAA Boys Cross Country: 2003, 2005
  • One in AAA Girls Tennis: 2008
  • One in AAA Girls Cross Country: 2002
  • One in AAA Girls Swimming and Diving: 2001
  • One in AAA Girls Softball: 1991

Notable alumni

Notable alumni of TJHSST include:

For alumni of Thomas Jefferson High School (open from 1965-1987), see Thomas Jefferson High School, Alexandria, Virginia.


External links

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