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Cracking the high school code

First slide

At the start of his freshman year at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Christopher “Critter” Johnson was a little apprehensive about getting involved. But his hesitancy to jump into all different kinds of extracurriculars didn’t last long. “When I got to (Ireton), I didn’t want people to see me go into Coding Club,” he said. “Over the course of four years, I went from being too nervous to have people see me walk into the computer science room to saying on the loudspeaker, ‘Come to (the annual hackathon) Hack BI,’ ” said Johnson, who goes by his childhood nickname of Critter.

Johnson’s love of tinkering with technology led him to the many computer science activities at Ireton, not to mention working part time for a nearby software company. He’s taken computer science classes, including two independent studies where he learned the programming languages Java and C++. Through Coding Club, he helped plan Hack BI, a daylong hackathon competition for high and middle schoolers held virtually this year.

As president of the Robotics Club, he’s enjoyed using the school’s new robotics lab. “It’s awesome. There’s a workshop and if the teacher’s with you, you can saw metal, which is just a fun thing to do in school — take a bandsaw and cut a piece of metal in half,” he said.

When he wasn’t behind a computer screen, Johnson ran track and field and cross-country. With the National Honor Society, this year he helped put on a livestreamed coffeehouse where he played the guitar. Last year, he went on the student-led Kairos retreat and this year he’s helping to plan it. The retreats and proximity to the school chaplain have propelled his faith life forward. “Our campus ministry office is right there when you walk in, so anytime I have anything on my mind at all, I’m going to walk past Father Noah (Morey) so I might as well pop in his office and say hi and ask him a question,” said Johnson, who attends the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria. “It’s made my faith really personal.”

As the senior class president, Johnson enjoyed the challenges of planning school events during the pandemic. “For me, it’s been really fun. In student council, a lot of things you quote-unquote ‘plan’ — you’re just emailing the same deejay you emailed last year,” he said. “But this year we’re completely rethinking everything. It allows us to be really creative with school events. Would I have still preferred a regular senior homecoming? Maybe. But I’ve really enjoyed it for what it is.”

In the fall, Johnson is planning to be part of the U.S. Navy ROTC at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, unless he gets off the waitlist at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Either way, he’s excited to serve in the Navy. “I really want to contribute to something greater than myself,” he said.

It's something he’s been able to accomplish through his leadership and volunteering at Ireton. “I love being involved,” he said. “(The community is) small enough that I feel like I have a really good opportunity to be involved and feel like I matter there,” he said. He encouraged others to attend school activities, too. Or at least one of them. “Go to Hack BI,” he said. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@ZoeyMaraistACH