FCPS Students Named 2022 Student Peace Award Winners

News
March 10, 2022

Students from 23 Fairfax County public schools have been named recipients of the 2022 Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County, designed to recognize young people who work as peacemakers. Recipients will be recognized at a reception on March 13.

The Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County were begun in 2006 to encourage people to think more about peace as both a means and an end, and to recognize young people who work as peacemakers. Every year, the high schools in Fairfax County are asked to select one junior or senior, or a group of students, whose work has promoted peace. The project is organized by volunteers and funded by donations from 17 secular and religious sponsoring organizations.

The 2022 recipients are:

Jewel Coulter, Annandale High School. Jewel Coulter has volunteered for the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, which organizes Korean and Asian Americans to achieve social, economic, and racial justice. She also partnered with 2021 Peace Awards recipient Jimmy Lee to create the Annandale High School Equity Team. She has served as a Student Equity Ambassador Leader for the school division, working with students across Fairfax County to increase equity in schools. The equity team that they had established at Annandale was replicated across the division. 

STAR - Students Together Assisting Refugees, Centreville High School. The Centreville High School chapter of STAR is dedicated to "helping refugees realize happy and successful lives in their newly adopted communities." The students (Saphal Joshi, Dahntay Baugh, Asier Belay, Hayden Weon, and Brandon Le Eickholt) have been raising money to purchase welcome packages for refugees coming to the greater metropolitan area. Other activities include a winter coat drive, a talent show fundraiser, and “Letters of Hope” postcards written to overseas refugees. As part of their effort to raise awareness of what it means to be a refugee, they plan to invite refugees to come and speak with students, share their experiences, and answer student questions.

Zilala Mamat, Chantilly High School. Zilala Mamat’s extended family has suffered under China’s policy of human rights abuses directed at Uyghur people.  As a freshman, Mamat organized and led an optional assembly to educate students, who were shocked to learn that in this day and age, people were being sent to concentration camps in other parts of the world. As a sophomore, Zilala founded a human rights club at Chantilly High School that promotes activism and education on human rights issues. Outside of school, Zilala founded a non-profit, United Uyghur Youth (UUY), to spread awareness about the Uyghur human rights crisis, preserving Uyghur culture and empowering Uyghur youth. She has organized several demonstrations and protests about human rights abuses and has also organized and raised more than $1,500 for UUY through a T-shirt campaign to fund future demonstrations and protests. 

Rania Ali, Edison High School. Rania Ali has raised money for and worked at the Khartoum Cheshire Home, a rehabilitation center for disabled children in Sudan. She updated and translated the Home’s website into Arabic to help members of the Sudanese community access the information. Rania is an active member of Edison’s Black Student Union and the Student Muslim Association. Last December she joined other Fairfax County Public School students at Edison High School in One Fairfax, a peaceful protest to call attention to an incident of Islamophobia at another area high school.

Alin Freitag, Fairfax High School. Alin Freitag was nominated last year to represent his school in a new county program called Student Equity Ambassador Leaders (SEALs). He believes that one of the best ways to promote peace and show respect for the gender and relationship choices of fellow students is by the day-to-day use of their self-selected inclusive pronouns – such as he, him, she, her, they and their. He designed a simple, short form for use in school that included prompts to indicate a student’s pronoun preferences. He shared the newly designed form with a handful of teachers, who adapted it to their needs and began using it in their classes. By the start of this school year, the form was successfully included in teachers’ beginning of the year forms for his school. Students report feeling encouraged to see it widely used in many of their classes. 

Maya Yona and Ryan Kiefer, Hayfield Secondary School. Maya Yonas and Ryan Kiefer responded to pandemic-related stress among students by creating a Guided Meditation Group for Hayfield. The group has continued to meet online and as of February of this year had thirty-two participants, including four faculty members. Maya and Ryan both believe that meditation helps achieve peace by promoting mindfulness and clearing the mind to allow for self-reflection and thoughts to be processed in a more positive and healthy manner. They believe those benefits don’t stop when the meditation session is over, and that by adopting a more peaceful lifestyle, people will spread that inner peace throughout their community.

Mariam Abdel Okhowa, Herndon High School. As a seventh grader, Mariam helped her older sister and three other Iraqi American girls to found the nonprofit Girls-4-Girls, an independent organization with the mission "to educate, empower and provide opportunities to disadvantaged girls around the world.” The group serves girls in Sierra Leone and in the Yezidi community of Iraq. Their most recent project, Letters of Love, provides the opportunity for American girls to write letters to girls in disadvantaged countries. A monetary donation, collected through their website and local fundraisers, is included with each letter. They raised money for supplies for a Sierra Leone orphanage and Skype with the girls in the orphanage and help them learn English. Also, in support of the Yezidi community, they promoted and participated in a candlelight vigil in front of the White House to honor Yezidi lives lost in conflict and war.

Justin Tetelman, Justice High School. Justice High School is one of six schools in Fairfax County Public Schools to implement the Restorative Justice Community Schools program. Because of Justin's advocacy, Justice is the only school in the county to launch a student-led youth pilot program. Justin serves as the lead student restorative ambassador. In this role, he facilitates student-led restorative circles within classrooms.  Justin also has advocated for gender equity, economic accessibility and increased diversity within the athletics department, mentors other students, and is an active member of the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission. 

Bethel Tessera, Lake Braddock Secondary School. Bethel Tessera took training through Dosomething.org, a non-profit that supports young people engaging in volunteer, social change, and civil action campaigns. With another student, she devised a campaign they called “It’s (Not) All In Your Head.” to encourage high school students to seek help for mental health problems and to decrease stigma around this issue. They started with the idea that students are more likely to access resources if access is easy. Her team’s work was developed into an on-line flyer that was downloaded 4,846 times by students across the nation. Bethel also co-wrote a paper detailing the challenges facing prisoners with mental illness, advocating for increased mental health awareness and intervention for those incarcerated, and sent it to her state Senator.  

Caroline Martell, Langley High School. During her freshman year, Caroline Martell took training on advocacy through Team ENOUGH, a national youth organization dedicated to ending gun violence. She has lobbied members of Congress and the state legislature as well as a presidential candidate. She started a chapter at Langley High School of March For Our Lives, the student-led group initiated after Parkland in support of gun violence prevention legislation. She collaborated with her former Civics teacher at Cooper Middle School to develop advocacy training webinars, and she is currently working on organizing a Langley High School club to educate students about activism. 

UNICEF Club, Lewis High School. The Lewis High School UNICEF Club (Mehreen Syed and Miada Abusamra) supports education, advocacy, and events centered on a broad range of issues including climate change, mental health awareness, women’s empowerment, people with disabilities, and much more. Club meetings include planned activities, video presentations, discussions, or Q&As with a different biweekly focus. In response to the stresses of online learning, they initiated a “sticky note” project, writing positive messages to teachers and to other students. They worked with the Key Club to hold a mug decorating contest and fundraiser for UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Project. The club also set up a conference with the Lewis Muslim Student Association on the oppression of Muslims in the United States and abroad. 

Junior Civitan Club, Madison High School. Madison’s Junior Civitan Club (Olivia Bell, Laura Guertin, Anika Gupta, Layla Ibrahim, Kate Laing, Bella Mack, Clare Shannon, and Kieran Warner) is associated with the national Junior Civitan International, which supports people with disabilities. In past years this has primarily entailed sending cards and gift baskets to VA hospitals and nursing homes. This year the club collected needed items for Afghan refugees. They found local businesses willing to house their donation bins and created posters to encourage all Madison students to participate. The effort was a success, and they were able to donate many necessities to Afghan refugees in the area. The club is currently working with other Madison High School clubs to participate in Project Linus, a national organization that makes blankets for ill, traumatized, and displaced children.

Maya Kanaan, Marshall High School. Maya started the Peace in the Middle East club at Marshall High School her sophomore year. Now with about 30 members of many ethnicities, the Peace in the Middle East club meets regularly to learn about a variety of Middle Eastern countries. Maya prepares informational slideshows on each country, focusing on how conflict there is affecting children’s lives. Recently, the club obtained the sponsorship of a local restaurant to help raise money for children in Lebanon. They were able to provide five teachers with remote-learning supplies, increasing access to quality education. This past fall, they raised money for Afghani children’s school supplies, distributing the money through the Save the Children Fund. The club is planning additional fundraising activities for this spring.

Olivia Zhang, McLean High School. Olivia Zhang is the founder and CEO of the non-profit organization, Cancer Kids First which has thousands of volunteers in chapters around the world sending toys, books and care packages to over 50 pediatric hospitals. Olivia heads the management team with oversight over matters such as planning, policy, and finance.   She manages their website which includes milestones of achievement, awards and a variety of events including virtual movies, speakers, volunteer team building, and fund raisers.  Olivia is also the president of McLean’s Student Government Association, where she launched the Be a Good Neighbor Initiative -- monthly service events such as  a toy drive, a blood drive, and writing letters to the elderly.  

Ava Belmont, Mount Vernon High School. As president of the Our Minds Matter Teen Advisory and of Mount Vernon High School’s Our Minds Matter Club, Ava Belmont helps raise awareness of mental health issues. She leads meetings to discuss mental wellness, organizes awareness months, creates videos to decrease stigma around mental illness, and works to create an open dialogue regarding mental health at the school. She recently receive a grant to fund a wellness room at Mount Vernon HS to create a safe space for students to relax and take a break during the day. Ava also serves as a representative with the Fairfax County Public Schools Student-Led Mental Health Working G and has advocated for greater virtual support in schools for children and adolescents seeking mental health support. 

Tariq Aldalou, Mountain View Alternative High School. The war in Syria led Tariq Aldalou to move to Lebanon, where he worked as a volunteer teacher and administrator for LOYAC, a nonprofit organization that designs and develops programs which help support underprivileged and vulnerable communities. When Tariq started working for LOYAC, he packed and delivered food boxes to people living in refugee camps. After 2 months, he started teaching math to young students. This led to additional classes teaching Arabic and English, not just to children but also to their parents, developing curricula for varying age groups.  He also worked with adults to help develop their business skills. At Mountain View, Tariq voices his concerns for human rights by publishing in the school newspaper, The Mirror. Topics he has written about include water scarcity, education for all, and terrorism around the world. 

Sara Boddie, Oakton High School. Sara Boddie founded a social justice club called “Be the Change” to create an environment for Oakton students to talk about topical issues of interest and inspire them to become community leaders and activists. The club began hosting regular meetings to discuss a variety of issues including the prison industry complex, LGBTQ rights, climate change, and racism within existing institutions such as school systems and the health care field.  They also organized a food drive and collected clothing for the needy. Sara attended a local protest in Vienna and delivered a speech to 200 people that day. She spoke about the stereotyping of young Black children and what she and her brothers experienced as African Americans, knowing that she doesn’t want these things to happen to her own children in the future.

Owen (Vivian) Fuchs-Dubuque. Quander Road School. Owen Fuchs-Dubuque is a member of Quander Road’s service club, Blossoming Beauties. She assisted with clothing and food drives, toy collections, hurricane relief, and their annual Thanksgiving outreaches. She is also the lead in the EFE (Education for Employment) Road Café.  She keeps their books, ensures that appropriate inventory is maintained, and keeps the Café clean and sanitized.  The goal of the Road Café is to teach students good work ethics and to provide them with job skills to enable them to earn internships at local businesses. As an active member of the LGBTQ+ community, she makes it a point to accept others. She is currently completing an internship at an animal hospital and has rescued many animals.

Andrea Agola, Robinson Secondary School. Andre Agola founded a club at Robinson called R.E.A.D. (Representation in English Allows for Dialogue), whose mission is “to collaborate with English teachers to increase POC (person of color) representation in the English curriculum.” The club’s intention is to cultivate awareness of the importance of diversity and inclusion in education, and to inspire new perspectives on social issues and the experiences faced by the POC community. Andrea also helped organize a Fairfax County chapter of Diversify Our Narrative, a national non-profit organization that seeks to address the imbalances of materials taught in schools, especially in the areas of racial justice and history. Andrea started sharing her creative ideas before entering high school with an ongoing blog, Our Lives, A Different Kind of Crochet. The blog discusses culture, biographical stories and the African Diaspora, and includes her award-winning poem, “Prolific.”

Niyat Asefaw, South County High School. Niyat Asefew volunteered at Amen Charitable Organization in Ethiopia, teaching math, physics, and English to grade school children at an orphanage in Ethiopia. She believes strongly in civic action to address economic, social and gender inequalities and discrimination, particularly concerning women, the elderly and refugees. She broadcasts her own sit-down talk show, “The Candid Hour,” where she addresses and tackles uncomfortable topics within the Ethiopian community and the world. She also has been actively involved in the Model UN program at South County and became Secretary-General of the club in her junior year. 

Damilola Awofisayo and Christopher Arraya, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Damilola Awofisayo and Christopher Arraya are active members of the Student Equity Coalition, a student organization whose mission is to affirm, empower and elevate the diversity of TJ’s school community. The Student Equity Coalition provides a forum for students to discuss issues, see other perspectives, and provide a voice for under-represented groups while creating a closer-knit community among students whose families come from different countries, cultures and religious backgrounds. 

Christopher is also the co-president of the Hispanic Community Club through which he created “Minority Mentors.” Through podcasts and interviews, Christopher also advocates for Hispanic equity across Virginia. 

As president of TJ’s Black Student Union, Damilola guided its members to join the Minority Mentors Program alongside Hispanic Community Club members. This fostered cooperation between the two groups because they had similar goals: for upperclassmen to provide support to younger students. Damilola also represents TJ as one of Fairfax County’s Student Equity Ambassador Leaders.

Loza Markos, West Potomac High School. Loza Markos raised money for gift packages for Ethiopian students with disabilities and volunteered last year at a hospital in Addis Ababa to assist and teach children with chronic disabilities and illnesses. She also served at a school for children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, teaching math and English and assuring their access to clean water by purchasing and delivering bottled water to the students and their families. Her homeroom teacher, Allyn Howe, noted that “Loza’s work in teaching and charity in both Ethiopia and in the Alexandria area reflect her generosity and eagerness to improve the lives of those around her.”

Vy Nguyen, Woodson High School. As a former Miss Northern Virginia Teen USA, Vy Nguyen volunteered for the One Love Foundation, an organization that empowers young people from all backgrounds with the knowledge to identify and avoid abusive relationships. Nguyen has served as a Teen Ambassador, Workshop Facilitator, and Regional Social Media Team Leader. She has spoken on many panels and served on One Love's Film Fellowship Youth Council, which selects recipients of grants to create feature films on relationship abuse for classroom use. Vy is determined to help others avoid or, if necessary, surmount relationship abuse.