FCPS Students Named 2024 Student Peace Award Recipients

By Office of Communications
March 11, 2024

Students from 26 Fairfax County public schools have been named recipients of the 2024 Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County, designed to recognize young people who work as peacemakers. 

The Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County began in 2006 as a way 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 2024 recipients are:

Husna Basiri, Annandale High School. Husna Basiri volunteers as a Dari interpreter when students meet with their counselors. She created gatherings and later a formal club, Dunya, which helps students navigate the school system, organizes field trips and college visits, and advocates for the needs of refugees with local media stations. 

She also advocated for and secured a space for Muslim students to hold Friday prayers and has helped establish a prayer and meditation room within the school which is open to students of all religions. As co-president of Student Equity Ambassador Leader, she established a Mental Health Committee within the organization.

Level the Field, Centreville High School. Level the Field empowers underserved students with encouragement, tutoring, and mentoring by peers and older students. Level the Field has made contacts in Iraq, Canada, and Mexico. Through the organization’s Better Together Mentorship program, Level the Field matches middle and high school youth to college students to talk about challenges with schoolwork, stresses in relationships, or self-esteem.  

Level the Field’s Reach for the Stars program is a free tutoring program targeted toward low-income elementary school students who want to explore their interests in English, computer science or math. Taken together, these programs help students overcome psychological and socioeconomic obstacles that hurt their academic success and their life chances.

Ria Jakhete, Chantilly High School. As president of Chantilly High School’s Outlook Club, Ria Jakhete has been able to spread the word about the importance of animal welfare and adopting animals from local animal shelters, as well as raising money for the Fairfax County Animal Shelter. As president of the Outlook Club, Ria has organized bi-weekly discussions after school. She also organized a joint meeting with the Vegan Club to talk about sustainable living and how our choices affect the animals around us.

Outlook Club’s bake sale offered animal-themed baked goods and donated the proceeds to the Animal Shelter. Ria says, “I think it’s important to inspire others and raise awareness of how we can live in harmony with the natural world around us.”

Edison Minds Matter, Edison High School. Edison Minds Matter (EMM) is a student organization that encourages open conversations about mental health, destigmatizes discussions about well-being among peers, and strives to unite the Edison High School community through mental health advocacy. The group promotes mental wellness by inspiring students to adopt simple, positive coping mechanisms, such as getting enough sleep, practicing meditation, embracing words of affirmation, and tapping into the power of play. 

EMM also spearheaded the first school-wide suicide prevention campaign resulting in numerous student organizations wearing the yellow ribbons for suicide awareness across campus. The aim was to remind students that they’re not alone and that resources are available to help them thrive.

Tranh Dinh, Fairfax High School. Tranh Dinh organized Mind Matters Fairfax, a student-led school club devoted to reducing the stigma of mental health, improving mental health awareness, and promoting positive mental health practices. Following a classmate’s tragic overdose death, Tranh collaborated with school counselors and social workers to revitalize her school’s Wellness Week by growing the program into Fun Fridays, as well as adding regular self-care and art-based activities throughout the year. 

This year, Tranh wrote a proposal to the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Service Board for their Youth-Led Anti-Stigma Mini-Grant that resulted in a $1,000 award to buy educational materials and organize events in local elementary and middle schools to promote good mental health practices. Tranh also is active in mental health advocacy. Last August, she visited Capitol Hill and briefed a staff member of Rep. Gerry Connally’s office about Mind Matters. They discussed what it would take to extend mental health education to elementary and middle school grades.

Hlena Hailemariam, Falls Church High School. Hlena serves as a FCPS Student Equity Ambassador Leader. Along with other student committee members, Hlena met with Fairfax County School Board members in support of policy changes to promote equity and cultural diversity, with the result that the Board passed the Fairfax County Public School Equity Policy.  She founded the Falls Church Student Equity Coalition, bringing students together to seek justice and equity. 

She is also a member of the Black Student Union, and this year she established a new school club, the East African Association, which raises funds for East African countries and has hosted a heritage night and has plans for a winter formal.  In addition, she is on the Teen Advisory Board and established a Youth Mentoring project at Fairfax County libraries, worked on a project to enable an exchange of used clothing, and worked on another to provide free tutoring.

Ajanae Massenburg, Hayfield Secondary School. Ajanae Massenburg participated in many service projects while living in Brazil and has continued her work to help others and to defend minority groups since enrolling at Hayfield Secondary School a year ago. She has participated here in a variety of community service events such as packing bags of non-perishable items for the underserved communities in Alexandria and serving at a luncheon for senior citizens.  

She is a member of Hayfield’s chapter of Minds Matter, a national program which works to empower young people from diverse backgrounds to achieve mental wellbeing and healthy coping skills. She was selected to be the Service Coordinator to represent the Gender Sexuality Club.  She was also selected to be a Diversity and Inclusion Representative, and she worked with other students to speak up for the underrepresented students in her school and to make all students feel welcome and at home.   

Susy Reyes, Herndon High School. Susy Reyes is recognized for her leadership in reducing small-scale conflicts among her peers as one step towards creating a more peaceful world. She juggles school and three jobs as an IT intern at the Smithsonian Institute, as a barista at Starbucks and assisting on her family’s farm. 

Her tenacity, acceptance of responsibility and willingness to work hard contribute to making her a student leader. Other students have reported how she is able to diffuse contentious situations with ease and aplomb. Susy has also provided informal mentoring and encouragement to younger students.

Dalya Paka, Justice High School. Dalya Paka and her classmate Wehbe created the Student Council at Justice High School, which serves as a forum for students to express opinions, concerns, and suggestions to the school administration. Dalya is also a member of SEALS (Student Equity Ambassador Leaders). which provides student input at School Board meetings. 

As a class representative, Dalya also serves the students at Justice High School as a class representative to forward feedback from students to the Student Government Association. She says, “Peace isn’t about sitting on the sideline.  It is about getting involved and spreading joy.”

Mackenzie Craig, Lake Braddock Secondary School, Mackenzie works with special needs students through a Peer Helping class. Class projects have included working together on crafts and practicing tasks that may be needed for job placement, such as folding napkins over silverware. She also serves as a peer coach to facilitate participation in basketball. Mackenzie’s suggestion of calling the basketball games “Shoot for Inclusion” was voted by her classmates as the best motivational slogan for this year’s games.

This slogan was printed on T-shirts given to team members and sold to other students to fund a game day banner that the team will break through as they enter the basketball court and for other expenses to fund the Peer Helping program. In addition, Mackenzie reorganized the “Swim for Diabetes” fundraiser at her pool, resulting in donations increasing from $2,000 to $9,000 a year.

Lina Liakakos, Langley High School. In her sophomore year at Langley, Lina raised 400 dollars to purchase socks and underwear for the homeless shelter. That successful project inspired Lina to found “Delivering Hope,” a service club at Langley High School devoted to serving the community by helping those less fortunate within the Northern Virginia area. Most of the club’s work to date has been focused on service projects with homeless shelters, clothing centers, and clothing drives for those in need.

Last year, students in the club helped prepare and serve a pre-Thanksgiving meal for 45 clients of the shelter. In November, they volunteered at Luckett’s Community Closet, a resource providing free clothes for people in need. In a year and a half, the club has grown to include more than 80 members.

Daniel Gonzales, Lewis High School. Daniel Gonzales organized a school-wide walk out at his high school mourning those killed in Uvalde and calling for gun safety legislation. After discussions with classmates, Daniel met with teachers and administrators at his high school to help them design a walk-out to help educate others on the seriousness of gun violence and possible solutions. 

Daniel was pleased that the walk out succeeded in raising awareness of gun violence and the constructive actions students can take to achieve greater gun safety. Vice President Kamala Harris recognized Daniel’s work when she gave a speech at Lewis High School. Said Daniel, “This walkout showed me that I have a voice, and I can choose to use it throughout my life to bring about change.” 

Sophie Massoudi, Madison High School. After seeing news programs about the war in Ukraine and its devastating effects on the residents, Sophie Massoudi and her sister made 850 bracelets with letters spelling out PEACE and raised $6,500, which she donated to the US-Ukraine Foundation, a non-profit organization which provides humanitarian and economic aid, including emergency medical equipment, to Ukraine.  

In addition to her bracelet project, Sophie started a Help the Homeless Club at Madison High School, which collects food and clothing and assembles care packages which they deliver to the Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston.

Aymar Ahmed, Marshall High School. As a volunteer teacher, Aymar Ahmed has made a difference in the lives of young children who live in the Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. These children had been uprooted from their homes in Myanmar and had fled to the camp. Aymar set up an improvised classroom to teach them basic English and math. 

He served food to the children, some of whom took the food back to their families. He also helped with flu shots by explaining what the shot was for. His goal was to establish a secure and supportive learning atmosphere where students could develop both intellectually and emotionally.

Kaiya Amani Williams, McLean High School. As a sophomore, Kaiya was actively involved with other students in the formation of the Black Student Union at McLean High School. Now, as a senior, Kaiya is the President of the BSU, a leadership position which demands a significant commitment of time and energy. In late October, immediately following the outbreak of hostilities in the Middle East, the BSU decided to join in a peaceful walk-out in solidarity with the Muslim Student Association. 

Led by Kaiya, the BSU felt that participation in this walk-out would help to ease possible tensions at McLean High School through a tangible commitment to peaceful, non-violent resolution of disagreements and potential conflict around a divisive issue. Under her leadership, student membership in the BSU has increased, with increasing participation and support of the faculty and school administration. The BSU also maintains contacts with similar groups at other schools in Fairfax County.

Phillip Ha, Mount Vernon High School. Phillip Ha grew up in a non-English speaking Vietnamese household. As the primary English language learner, he became the household interpreter. In middle school, he served as translator for a set of Vietnamese twins, newly arrived in the United States. These experiences gave Phillip the satisfaction of helping others through building connections and set him on the path of studying foreign languages to bridge gaps and foster empathy. 

As the current president of both Mount Vernon High School’s Asian, Pacific Islander, American Club (APIA Club) and German Club (MVGC), Phillip Ha works for peace through his combined understanding of the transformative power of shared language and his desire to build respectful connections.

Mountain View Mirror, school newspaper, Mountain View High School. The Mountain View Mirror is the school online newspaper.  In ten years, it has published nearly 3000 articles. The paper’s moto is, “Real People, Real Stories, Real Life.”  Articles cover a wide range of topics including immigration, teen parenting, mental health, and community gardening.  Through the Global Classroom Project, Mountain View students have partnered with students in Vienna, Austria, exchanging ideas on education as a human right, water resources, social justice issues and migration policy amid extreme inequality. 

Teacher Michael Hardy says The Mountain View Mirror gives students opportunities to grow not just in knowledge but in confidence, collaboration and consensus building. “This unique platform builds peace because it builds justice advocacy through the power of dialogue-based learning while maintaining authenticity in student voices and global audiences.”

Jason Saenz-Hernandez, Quander Road School. Jason was selected for the Quander Road Student Council because of his skills in preventing small disagreements from escalating into physical altercations.  He says he works to comfort unhappy or argumentative students and encourages them to cool down. Jason also seeks to provide a friendly presence when he volunteers to serve as a cashier in the student-run cafe, a space where students can eat and relax. 

Bilingual in English and Spanish, Jason assists as a tutor in algebra and geometry. He also assists Spanish-speaking students who are struggling in their English courses.  According to Dr. George Deneault, one of his high school teachers. “He is level-headed, and he is particularly effective in working with his classmates because he is a well-liked peer who is respected and trusted by the other students.”

Samantha Katz, Robinson Secondary School. Last summer, Samantha Katz visited the West Bank and Israel to study life and culture in the region as part of a program sponsored by an international youth group. On her return to the U.S., she resolved to study and work on the issues and founded a Jewish Student Union at Robinson. She has written about the spread of media propaganda around the world and how it has heightened Islamophobia and antisemitism on many levels due to harmful content being reposted out of context. 

She has witnessed this in her own school community where racism, hateful speech, loaded comments and even nazi symbols have sprung up recently. She is acutely aware that the spreading of hate does not lead to better understanding. She believes that serious discussions and education surrounding the contentious issues will help to bring more peace, understanding and inclusion at Robinson.

Eden Aklog, South County High School. Eden is an ambassador to the New Hope Rehabilitation and Healing Center, which works to reduce the rapidly growing epidemic of substance abuse and related deaths among youth. Eden helped raise funds for the Center through local car washes, bake sales, and an auction at the Ethiopian Embassy which raised approximately five thousand dollars. Eden also serves as co-president of the Pathways to Progress Club, which works to interest more minority and underrepresented students in STEM related programs. 

She is also a member of South County’s International Club, whose goal is to celebrate and spread diversity. The Club hosts an international night which promotes dancing, food, and fashion from all over the world. Eden is also the Social Media Manager for the Ethiopian-Eritrean Association – an organization that welcomes and supports the many Ethiopian students at South County High School.

Virginia Banton, South Lakes High School. Virginia Banton is the president of the South Lakes Best Buddies Club, which is dedicated to supporting the needs of students with intellectual and developmental challenges. Participating students are paired with volunteers to socialize and to work on projects together. 

As president, Virginia has worked to foster supportive relationships for students to thrive and learn together, and to eliminate the bullying that often confronts this community. Virginia feels that the existence and visibility of the Best Buddies Club help the general student population be more open, and possibly even friendlier.

Namaste, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Every year, TJ’s Namaste Club sponsors and organizes International Night or iNite, a large multi-cultural show, one of the largest events of the school year that involves anywhere from 500 to 700 students. Each of the 20 acts represents the various school culture clubs, giving each group the opportunity to display the music, dance, and other traditions from their culture. Besides being a major bonding and morale-boosting event for the students and community, ticket sales raise money for an international charity. 

For each of the past four years, Namaste has donated $4,000-5,000 from the iNite ticket sales to charities such as Action Aid, International Rescue Committee, and other global peace and justice-promoting non-profits. Practicing the spirit of “namaste,” iNite is a unifying show that bring together students, teachers, staff, and families into one inclusive community. 

Eli Kopp, West Potomac High School. Eli is a founding member and current president of the Jewish American Club (JAC) at West Potomac. When antisemitic graffiti marred West Potomac’s 2023 graduation ceremony, he vowed to make every effort to bring peace to the school through cross-cultural contact and education. A goal of the Club is to involve students who do not know about Jewish people and help them to learn about their culture and customs. Eli is also a student-to-student ambassador with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, whose goal is to counter bigotry and stereotypes by providing personal contacts and descriptions of life as a Jew.  

Eli has also participated in the L’Taken Social Justice Seminar, a program in which students discuss issues such as reproductive choices, LGBTQ rights, climate change, and health care, and he spoke to his representatives on Capitol Hill, advocating for laws to end gun violence.

Roeen Zahid, West Springfield High School. Roeen is President of the West Springfield HS Spartans for War Victims, which was established by his older sisters, who also received the Student Peace Award. The group is dedicated to humanitarian and advocacy efforts that aim to protect human rights and alleviate the suffering of civilians living in war zones around the world. 

Under his leadership this year, SWV has organized a winter clothing and blanket drive for the numerous groups caught in the middle of armed conflict in Ethiopia and refugees displaced by the war in Syria. The club has also expanded its awareness and advocacy efforts, including awareness meetings and advocacy campaigns. Roeen has also personally helped assist several Afghan refugee families as they resettled in the U.S. following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. 

Westfield Student Ambassadors, Westfield High School. The Westfield Student Ambassador Program provides avenues for peace and friendship among a diverse population who might otherwise find it difficult to connect and feel included.  Their efforts have been effective helping new students, often immigrants, integrate into the school community. Ambassadors meet and escort new students to their classes, give them tours of the building and include them in the Westfield community. 

They also participate in school-wide events including Freshman Boot Camp, New Student Touch Base, Curriculum Night and Bulldog BBQ. Many ambassadors were new immigrants not long ago, which provides them with an authenticity in helping with cultural transitions.  They are role models and school leaders who encourage a safe space for all voices to be heard, treat others with openness and respect, and facilitate connections between different groups. 

National Art Honor Society, Woodson High School. Woodson’s National Art Honor Society promotes peace through art-based projects, such as designing a coloring book that will be delivered to patients at an addiction-treatment facility. Another activity was creating Christmas tree ornaments that were given to a residential facility for senior citizens. The club participates in the Memory Project, which works at “connecting youth around the world through art to help build cultural understanding and international kindness.” 

High school students create portraits of children in another part of the world, based on pictures they are given of the students. This year, Woodson’s NAHS members made more than 20 portraits of children in the country of Colombia, using whichever medium they preferred. The portraits were then sent to Colombia as gifts to the children. In the spring, they plan to use their artistic skills and passion to create a large mural in one of the hallways in the school. The club also plans to sponsor an art show where local artists can display their creations.

More information about the Student Peace Awards is available online