Saluting Academic Achievement

Saluting Academic Achievement

CPMSAC celebrates 28 years of excellence.

From left: Leidy Bernal, Westfield High; Camille May, Oakton; Kristopher Perry, Westfield; Chaz Coffin, Westfield; and William Morgan-Palmer, Chantilly, received Cameron Guy Dudley Book Scholarships.

From left: Leidy Bernal, Westfield High; Camille May, Oakton; Kristopher Perry, Westfield; Chaz Coffin, Westfield; and William Morgan-Palmer, Chantilly, received Cameron Guy Dudley Book Scholarships. Photo by Bonnie Hobbs.

— Filing into Chantilly High’s gym, Saturday afternoon, the students made their way to their seats while Kool & the Gang’s classic anthem of rejoicing, “Celebration,” played in the background. They came for the Chantilly Pyramid Minority Student Achievement Committee’s (CPMSAC) 27th annual awards ceremony.


From left: Westfield High’s Valeria Sierraha and Oakton High’s Ashleigh Wilson received the Shirley O. Nelson Memorial Scholarships.

Middle- and high-school students were honored June 2 for their academic achievement. Elementary-school students received their awards on Sunday, June 3, at Willow Springs Elementary. And enjoying both ceremonies were parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, school-system officials and Fairfax County School Board members.

“We’re excited to be here 28 years for the community,” said CPMSAC board member and master of ceremonies Chuck Coffin on Saturday. “It takes an awful lot of volunteer spirit and hard work to put on a program like this. And students, we appreciate what you’ve done this past year and we’re happy to be celebrating your achievements.”

Throughout the year, CPMSAC offers tutoring and enrichment programs to help close the educational gap between high-achieving students and those needing additional help. The organization’s mission is “partnering with schools to increase parental involvement and student participation to enhance the social and emotional growth and academic achievement of minority students.”


After receiving her award, Chantilly High senior Natalia Rodriguez is escorted from the stage by CPMSAC co-founder Johnny Nelson.

THE GROUP RECEIVED several congratulatory letters, including ones from Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) and Sully District School Board representative Kathy Smith. In his message to the students, Frey wrote, “Your dedication, perseverance and hard work toward maintaining excellence in all areas of academics is a wonderful accomplishment and serves as a role model for all students. Each of you should be very proud of your achievements.”

Smith told the students, “You deserve special recognition because you made the choice to do what it takes to be successful at school. At a time when educators and policy makers across the country are discussing and debating how to close the achievement gap, you are already doing it.”

At Saturday’s ceremony, Chantilly High Assistant Principal Shawn Frank encouraged the students to become lifelong learners and said he’s working on his own doctorate at Virginia Tech. “Have a passion to always push yourselves to do better,” he told them. “You’ve already taken the first step by being here today.”

Also speaking was FCPS Deputy Superintendent Richard Moniuszko. “I commend you for all your hard work,” he said. “This program shows that you students are supported — and no one gets through school, or life, without the support of others. Congratulations on your work thus far and best wishes for your future success.”


CPMSAC’s Chuck Coffin (at podium) calls another student to the stage while the first award-recipients line up in front.

“What a gem CPMSAC is,” said At-Large School Board member Ted Velkoff. “Students, you’re all here because you value the importance of academic achievement. Your moms and dads are so proud of you and love you very much; and after this program, you should tell them you love them, too. We know what a journey it’s been for you to get here and, on behalf of the Fairfax County School Board, I thank all the parents and congratulate all the students.”

Coffin told parents to always be the advocate for their children in school. “It does make a difference, and then the schools and teachers will know how much you care about your child’s education,” he said. “And it’s so important that you provide a home environment that’s conducive to academic learning and success.”

Celeste Peterson, mother of Westfield grad and Virginia Tech victim Erin Peterson, was the keynote speaker. She and her husband established the Erin Peterson Fund in memory of their daughter and, since 2007, it’s awarded $85,000 in scholarships and grants. Peterson also co-founded Westfield High’s Boys Leadership Group for at-risk male students, helping them change their lives for the better.

“I was really good at being a mother,” she said. “Erin was a really good kid and I was so proud of her and of the legacy she left behind. She was a gift given to me by God, and I was thankful to be her mother. She lived every day and appreciated everything.”

Encouraging the students to think about what they want to do with their lives, Peterson shared with them some advice she’d originally given to her daughter. “It’s important that you’re not just a good student in school, but a good student at life,” she said. “And it’s your responsibility to learn. Once you get a good education, no one can take it away from you.”

“Take care of your body and stay active,” she continued. “Teamwork is important: You’re not in this world by yourself and you’ll always have to be accountable to someone. Recognize how blessed you are; you have gifts and talents that make you uniquely you, and they should be shared with others through volunteering. Sometimes, just the gift of your time can be so valuable to others.”

Peterson further urged the students to take the time to renew their spirit. “Doing so keeps me humble, appreciative and strong,” she said. “And think about your legacy – how do you want to be remembered? What did you do to enhance someone else’s life that no one else knows about? All these things will help you to be the best that you can be.”