High School Students Named Recipients of 2021 Student Peace Awards
Students from 24 Fairfax County public schools have been named recipients of the 2021 Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County, designed to recognize young people who work as peacemakers. Recipients will be recognized at a virtual reception in March.
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 2021 recipients are:
Jimmy Le, Annandale High School A founder of the Annandale Equity Team—a group of students and staff who are working to reexamine procedures, create equitable opportunities for all students, and establish an anti-racist, inclusive, and transformative culture at Annandale High School. The group works on equity issues including college assistance, anti-racism, and access to advanced courses, athletics and the arts.
Active Minds Club, Centreville High School Seniors Gabrielle Martis, Anna McNulty, and Lydia Kim are officers of the Centreville High School chapter, an organization dedicated to mental health awareness and education for young adults. The club has experienced an increase in membership from students in lower grades as well as greater gender diversity. During the pandemic, the club instituted a pen pal system to enable members to build community among themselves and to safely engage with each other.
The Teen Town Hall Project, Chantilly High School Nayana Celine Xavier led a group of seven Chantilly students to establish a virtual town hall to explore the concerns of underrepresented students. The group held a Zoom call in which they fielded questions on race, culture, ethnicity, and gender issues and the program has expanded to cover issues concerning Asian-Americans, students with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ students, as well as the attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Yenee Berta, Edison High School Founder of the philanthropic organization Soles of Love, she collected and donated shoes and clothes for an Ethiopian school. She participates in the Edison Student Ambassador Club to welcome new students and serves as an Equity Team leader, helping to develop cultural activities for the school. As secretary of the Interact Club, she has helped with Salvation Army holiday collections, food drives, mask drives, and fundraising for literacy and poverty-focused nonprofits.
Darwin Otchere, Fairfax High School A member of the City of Fairfax School Board Superintendent's Advisory Team that proposed and helped implement the name change for Lanier Middle School to Katherine Johnson Middle School, Otchere is a leader on inclusion and student diversity issues. He worked with the City of Fairfax Police to positively affect the relationship between police officers and students in the Fairfax community.
Betty Solomon, Hayfield Secondary School is an active member of the youth-led One Day Seyoum Organization, whose goals are to end human rights abuses in Eritrea and support Eritrean refugees. She worked with members of her church to organize donation drives to supply disadvantaged families in Eritrea with hygiene products and clothing.
Aamirah “Molly” Malik, Herndon High School as part of a group of students, she gave gifts through Heifer International of a cow and chickens to a family in Africa in honor of their geography teacher. The animals have enabled the family to become self-sustaining entrepreneurs through the sale of milk and eggs. She is a member of When We All Vote, registering people to vote and taking an organizational role.
Equity Team, Justice High School is the first Equity Team in FCPS to include both students and teachers and is now a model for the district. The Justice team sponsored an art show featuring work representing micro-aggressions the artists had experienced, and are devoted to educating the community on antiracism, inviting speakers to honor the school’s recent name-change, supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and sharing ideas of how to advance equity and antiracism.
Shreya Papneja, Langley High School established the nonprofit CHAPS - Children’s Health Awareness Program in Schools to help enable school children to make health-conscious decisions. The organization has provided information to students and parents about health and nutrition and provided them with information on local resources and held food drives. During the COVID pandemic, the program raised over $5,000 for the charity Real Food for Kids through outreach and a GoFundMe account.
Megan Long, Lewis High School is a dancer who helps to direct Love Your Body Week at Lewis, dedicated to creating body-positive dance environments for everyone. Students learn and speak about beauty regardless of shape and size, watch videos of dancers of all ages and size, and discuss the importance of body positivity and the use of dance to achieve it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Long taught kids online how to make body-positive posters for public display. She shares social media videos of various plus-sized dancers with messages of body positivity and self-love.
Katie Monacella, Madison High School organized a regional hub of the Sunrise Movement, a youth movement to stop climate change. She coordinated a climate strike to express the importance of the climate crisis and, with the group, asked FCPS to establish a Green New Deal, outlining changes the school system could make to become more environmentally sustainable. They proposed more energy-efficient windows, solar panels, and electric school buses. She was honored by the Fairfax Board of Supervisors for her efforts.
Loredana Munteanu, Marshall High School Originally from Moldavia, Munteanu had a formative experience at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., that reinforced her commitment to improving diplomatic relations on the international level, as well as within her former country. She and her brother were invited to talk about their own experiences growing up in Moldova and the U.S., from the perspectives of insiders and outsiders to both cultures.
Brittany Peng, McLean High School is the chief executive officer of LeadPeace, a Fairfax County student organization that empowers young people to become community leaders and peacebuilders. Peng currently manages two new initiatives: Lead Talks, a series of monthly speaker events to share the stories of youth leaders, especially those who identify as people of color, female, or other minorities; and ArtPEACE, that hosts monthly art challenges and dialogues to foster discussions about social inequity and to promote unity.
Helena Berhe, Mount Vernon High School founded the Young Democrats Club at her school in response to the polarized atmosphere throughout the U.S. and after seeing how minorities were being belittled, scapegoated, and attacked. Perhaps inspired by her vision and passion, her classmates elected her to be president of the class of 2021. Berheis also passionate about the needs of refugees.
Kunming Chen, Mountain View High School spreads peace through advocacy and kung fu, sharing his deep respect for life and belief in the value of diverse ideas. In addition to his full-time studies at Mountain View, Chen works as a kung fu instructor and provides his students who are struggling with free tutoring and counseling. On the FCPS district-wide Student Council Association, he provides a voice for ESOL students in an effort to break both language and cultural barriers that impede student success.
Leah Weiss, Quander Road School is respected for her sound judgment in solving student issues. She is also an accomplished student and a community advocate. She is an active member of the Blossoming Beauties Club, a 2017 Student Peace Award recipient, founded to help girls grow into well-rounded, confident young woman and to work together on school and community projects. Weiss has led Blossoming Beauties Club discussions and offered workable solutions to difficult problems.
Diego Dominguez Liberato, Robinson Secondary School had been following racial tensions in the news and was concerned about the tragedies in black communities. He also questioned the morality of looting at some Black Lives Matter protests.
He planned a peaceful protest that the community could get involved with, working out logistics, soliciting volunteers, and coordinating with the Fairfax County Police, West Springfield District Station, who offered to block the roads. Although 300 participants were expected, more than 1,000 people appeared and safely marched down Burke Center Parkway.
Zion Nuby, South County High School As a freshman, Nuby founded the South County Debate Association as a forum for political discussions and peaceful conversation about controversial issues. Following the death of George Floyd, he collaborated with local college students to organize simultaneous demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, serving as the lead organizer of a peaceful protest at his school that drew more than 300 participants. This protest gave students, staff, and the surrounding community a way to safely participate in the nationwide movement of demonstrations and to experience a moment of togetherness, healing, and solidarity.
Diana Ho, South Lakes High School is a mental health advocate, working to get more services in FCPS. As a member of Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement (VOICE), she spoke in support of VOICE’s budget proposal to Governor Ralph Northam for funding mental health services in schools. She and other students founded the VOICE Teen Team and lobbied the Virginia General Assembly in 2019 about their proposals. Based on her own experiences, Diana offers advice to those new to mental health self-care and self-awareness through her Take Care website.
TJHSST Assistive Technology Club, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology Students in TJ’s Assistive Technology Club (ATC) use their technology skills to provide support for younger students with limited mobility, speech, or hearing abilities. Over more than 12 years, members of the ATC have designed books, enhanced instructional materials, developed games, and implemented specially designed software programs for use with the children’s specialized communication devices. Club members meet weekly with the younger children via video conferencing, sharing colorful, educational online games and other materials they created to meet specific needs of the children.
Student Equity Coalition of West Potomac, West Potomac High School Formed in June 2020, the group works to bring together students to strive for peace and justice in the community. Four students (Sinna Nick, Maeve Korengold, Kezie Osei, and Amina Iman) approached Principal Millard about their concerns about inequities, discrimination, and hate speech in the school. The SEC is now developing sub-committees so that students can be involved in the area about which they are most passionate, including student athletes, students with disabilities, and students whose first language in not English.
Sumaya Zahid, West Springfield High School is the co-founder with her older sister and current president of Spartans for War Victims (SWV) which provides aid and assistance in the form of materials and money to victims of war and raises awareness of the effects of armed conflict. During its first two years, SWV held clothing drives and fundraisers to provide winter clothing, school supplies, food, and other basic necessities to civilians living in war zones around the world. They also hosted awareness workshops where they discussed the current conflicts and their effect on the civilians in war-torn countries.
Westfield Minds Matter, Westfield High School works to change the school culture regarding mental health. Group members have organized open conversations about mental health to increase help-seeking behavior, promote connections, and increase healthy habits and coping skills. They established a teacher and administrator mental health panel in the hope that their concerns will be addressed by adults outside of their meetings. They are also working to ensure students have access to needed resources for mental health.
Johari Iraan Hemphill, Woodson High School In response to last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, Hemphill organized and led a Runathon, that raised money by obtaining pledges for each mile run. Despite the difficulties of virtual gatherings, $3,000 was raised and donated to the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The success of the Runathon encouraged Hemphill and his fellow leaders to pledge service hours to continue the effort during this school year. They are currently creating resource pages to educate and promote empathy, advocacy, and peace.