2018 Fairfax County Student Peace Awards

2018 Fairfax County Student Peace Awards

Students from 23 Fairfax County schools recognized for promoting peace and conflict resolution.

A group photo of the recipients of the 2018 Student Peace Awards from 23 Fairfax County schools.

A group photo of the recipients of the 2018 Student Peace Awards from 23 Fairfax County schools. Photo by Steve Hibbard.

Annandale High School

In the summer of 2017, Nahom Dagnachew, Alvin Kim, and Victor Nguyen attended the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC) retreat. They learned about the roles and responsibilities of being a citizen and how to become active leaders. Later, joined by Kaa-Lok Yap, they began to attend local NAKASEC youth meetings where they learned more about current events.

When the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was threatened, the four decided to take action. They went to the White House where they held signs and chanted to keep DACA in place. They collected names on petitions in support of DACA and the Dream Act. They took the petitions to the offices of U.S. Congressional Representatives Barbara Comstock, Don Beyer, and Gerald Connolly, also bringing 120 handmade origami iris flowers to represent faith and hope for immigrants. In a letter to the representatives they wrote, “In America, all people — including immigrants — should have the opportunity to be with their families, to pursue happiness, and to follow their dreams.”

The four continue to devote their time to achieving their goals. During the 2017 election they canvassed and worked at a phone bank to get out the Asian-American vote. They attend NAKASEC youth meetings and joined an MLK Action Day. They also participated in DACA rallies in Washington DC, a protest in Chicago, and a sit-in at the offices of Virginia’s U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner.

Cedar Lane School

Khalil Anderson and Arnaz Carter-Newman are the student leaders of the Cedar Lane Positivity Project. A growing nationwide movement, the Positivity Project helps students build strong relationships by seeing the good in themselves and others, thus creating citizens and leaders by internalizing the belief that “Other People Matter.”

This is the first year that Cedar Lane School has participated in this project, and Khalil and Arnaz agreed to lead the committee. They have been working throughout the school year to inspire strong relationships (student-to-student and student-to-teacher) and to cultivate a school-wide #OtherPeopleMatter mindset. They also planned and coordinated activities for Positivity Week, held in January. This special week included writing positive messages, working through scenarios, and receiving a visit from dogs supplied by the organization, People. Animals. Love.

In support of the Positivity Project, Arnaz said, “Sometimes just talking to someone you don’t normally talk to can make a big difference. Maybe the person is having a bad day, feeling disliked and taking it out on others. But now somebody has been nice, and so the person says ‘hi’ to someone else.” Khalil agreed, adding, “Now the two people are both in a better mood, and maybe they pass it on. That spreads more positive energy. You don’t have any idea how far it will go.”

Centreville High School

Ricardo Avalos came to the U.S. only two years ago. He quickly realized that his future, and that of other immigrant students, depended on the ability to communicate effectively with their English-speaking schoolmates.

Ricardo decided not to simply blend in with other immigrants. Instead, he became the first president of his school’s United International Students’ Association and worked to inspire students in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) to resist becoming isolated. He worked closely with students of different races and cultures and, during their bi-weekly meetings, he encouraged them to relate to others outside their own group. Noticing that many students feared talking to American-born students, he developed special exercises to break down those barriers. He also invited other students to join the club to help make the foreign-born students feel more included.

Ricardo feels that his efforts have borne fruit at Centreville High School. He says that racial harmony has increased and that members of the club feel more included, make friends more easily, and are more comfortable expressing their opinions. He added, “They learned that having different points of view need not hurt friendships, so long as people respect one another.”

Ricardo is also an active member of the LearnServe Fellows program, which brings together high school students from the Washington D.C. area to learn how to create sustainable social change in their communities. He is developing a venture to help immigrant students and minorities continue with their education. He also helped to establish a series of workshops called Restoring Our Ancestral Knowledge to Live Our Indigenous Identities Across Borders.

Ricardo said, “We need leaders passionate about bringing people together and helping one another to make the world a better place to live.”

Chantilly High School

Kimberly Schmaus is a member of the Fairfax County Student Human Rights Commission (SHRC), an organization dedicated to promoting appreciation for diversity throughout the county. The group hosted a Fair Housing poster contest to highlight the concepts of diversity and equality embodied in the 50-year-old Fair Housing Act.

Members of SHRC also worked on the "Humans Of" project, creating a video to express what diversity means to them. They plan to expand this project next year to include other students in a video to be broadcast in all Fairfax County schools. In addition, SHRC created a book for elementary students about diversity and equality which they read at local schools. Kim said, "Promoting awareness of diversity increases peace and resolves conflict because it makes others more aware of the differences we all have.”

Kim is also the treasurer and a board member of her school’s Girl Up, a club that raises awareness of the oppression and struggles that girls face in Third World countries. She has written letters to members of Congress and has involved students in discussions about the need for change.

In addition, Kim is the historian/editor of her school’s International Awareness Club, an organization that helps spread awareness of diversity, cultural differences, and international issues. She ensured that a book the club wrote for ESOL students (English for Speakers of Other Languages) was grammatically correct and included elements they would need to learn English. "Not only did the book help ESOL students understand English, but it also promoted peace because it showed them that others view them kindly," Kim said.

Fairfax High School

Four years ago, as ISIS forces invaded northern Iraq, Stran Kurdi felt compelled to act. Responding to the deep concerns of her parents, who were in communication with their extended family in Baghdad, she helped to mobilize family and friends to found Kurdish AID (KAID), a registered 501(c)(3) non-governmental organization devoted to supporting Iraqi Kurds displaced by war. She said, “We all came together to help those who didn’t have a voice. We fundraised and we created community-wide events to educate others about the refugee crisis in the Middle East.”

So far, KAID has raised approximately $10,000 for Kurdish refugees. According to Stran, all money raised has been spent on items such as food and school supplies to help students return to their studies after their towns were ravaged by war.

Stran formed a KAID club at Fairfax High School to motivate people to volunteer and to share insights about Kurdistan, refugees, and other pressing international affairs. She also leads Fairfax High School’s Model United Nations.

Stran has had two healthcare internships and has volunteered with the grassroots organization, Americans for Prosperity. She hopes to study medicine in college and pursue a career as a doctor or nurse, possibly working for an international service organization. She says she wants to share the benefits of the opportunities she has received growing up in Northern Virginia.

Hayfield Secondary School

Carmen Mazyck is a founding member and past communications chair of the Hayfield Black Student Union (HBSU). She also established and designed the organization’s logo and motto: Educate, Serve, and Inspire.

As its current president, Carmen has arranged for guest speakers at monthly meetings, including civil rights activist and Freedom Rider, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. Carmen also led the club’s efforts to provide gifts for 40 “angels” on the Salvation Army Christmas Tree. Additionally, she coordinated other service projects including Project Giveback (a food drive) at Thanksgiving, a day of service at Hayfield Secondary School on MLK Day, and educational trips to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Carmen organized her school’s first student minority panel, comprised of members of different races, religions, and cultures. Muslim students on the panel spoke about the emphasis on education in their homes. Another student shared his experiences of living in an interracial family while others emphasized how colorism caused division in marriages and relationships. Most of the 50 students who attended found the conversation valuable and said they felt comfortable discussing these often-difficult topics not generally presented in the classroom.

Carmen summarizes her efforts by saying, “There cannot be peace until we learn how to embrace and celebrate our unique differences and blended cultures. Only then can we better serve our communities and inspire others to do the same.”

Herndon High School

Joyce Lee draws her commitment to service from the inspiration she finds in the diversity of Herndon High School and the Herndon-Reston area which together she calls a "very supportive community." Joyce said, "I'm inspired by everyone around me. It's important to use your passion to help others."

Students from 23 Fairfax County Public Schools were named recipients of the 2018 Student Peace Awards of Fairfax County, which were handed out in a reception held Sunday, March 11, at the Sherwood Community Center in Fairfax.

Since 2006, the awards have recognized youth who introduce programs in their schools on many different issues that promote peace and conflict resolution throughout the county. In the 2017-2018 school year, the recipients each received $200, plus another $100 to be given to any nonprofit organization of his or her choice.

“It’s an honor to be here to help recognize you today for your outstanding work to promote peace throughout Fairfax County and beyond. Your areas of focus cover a wide range of topics and methods, but all unite in one common goal, and that is to encourage and to strengthen peace and unity among all of us,” said Sharon Bulova, Board of Supervisors chairman. “In Fairfax County, we consider our diversity to be our greatest asset. It is what makes us special.”

Special guests included Bulova; U.S. Rep Gerry Connolly (D-11); state Del. Ken Plum (D-36); School Board Member Ilryong Moon; School Board Chair Jane Strauss; School Board Member Ryan McElveen; and Guest Speaker Janessa Gans Wilder, founder and CEO of the Euphrates Institute, who flew in from California for the event. The host and organizer was Margaret Fisher.

Carmen Mazyck, 18, of Alexandria, who attends Hayfield Secondary, was honored for her role in the Hayfield Black Student Union. “With the Hayfield Black Student Union, our motto was to educate, serve, and inspire the community to embrace African-American culture and other cultures to bring people together of all races,” she said.

Bryce Liquerman, 16, of McLean, a Junior at McLean High School, worked with Special Olympic athletes by coaching softball and soccer teams. “I help spread the word in the community that people shouldn’t be awkward around them and people should be very accepting of people who are different mentally and physically,” he said. “We’re all people; it doesn’t really matter, we’re all the same .… I’ve led a lot of activities like doing tournaments and team events with many different Special Olympic athletes who have partnered a lot with other kids in our community.”

Sarah Osman, 18, of Lorton, a senior at King Abdullah Academy, worked with “RefAmerica,” which welcomed high school Syrian refugees who recently moved here. “As American high school students, we got to interact with each other and understand one another’s cultures,” she said. “We actually got to go to Congress and speak to congressional leaders on the matter of welcoming Syrian refugees into our country. I spoke about the plight of the history and how welcoming them into this country keeps the Pilgrim’s legacy alive because the Pilgrims of 1620 came into this country in hopes of starting a brand new land where there would be freedom of speech and religion.”

Arnaz Carter-Newman, 17, of Reston, who attends Cedar Lane High School, worked with a Positivity Project. “We just hope to pass on the message that no one should be having a bad day. Everyone should be having a better day; everyone should be in a better mood,” he said. “When you produce negative energy, then other people around you want to produce negative energy. When you produce positive energy, you start spreading positive energy and then everyone around you gets more happy.”

Breshna Haider, 17, of Centreville, who attends Westfield High School, works with the school’s Muslim Student Association. “We work really hard to partner with other organizations like the Adams Center of Sterling, and we want to promote more positive energy; we want people to be aware of what we do and get rid of the bad connotations from being a Muslim,” she said.

Kimberly Schmaus, 18, of Chantilly, who attends Chantilly High School, helped to promote peace in the community. “I raised awareness about diversity in the community to try and promote peace. I urged others in the community to do the same because it’s like a ripple effect; if one person starts it, it will have an effect on everyone else,” she said.

Alvin Kim, 17, of Annandale, who attends Annandale High School, worked with NAKASEC – The National Korean and American Service and Education Consortium. “I lobbied and worked towards immigrant rights and immigrant opportunities and also helping to improve the community around Annandale,” he said. “I did stuff like protesting for DACA, which was an Executive Order by President Obama back in 2012, and I also went to our U.S. senators such as Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to ask for their help in our cause .… We went around our school and our neighborhoods asking for petition signatures so that our representatives, both senators and House members, that they know that we care and that it is important to us that these needs are met.”

Janan Iranbomy, 17, of Falls Church, who attends Marshall High School, served on the Fairfax County Student Human Rights Commission and was president of Marshall’s Amnesty International group. “I started a Fairfax County campaign called the ‘Embrace Diversity Campaign’ where we involved all students from Marshall and other Fairfax County high schools to have a campaign to unite the diverse community that we have in Fairfax County and just celebrate the unity in the community,” she said.

Ricardo Avalos, 20, of Centreville, a Centreville High Junior, was the first president of the United International Students Association. “I helped immigrant students explore their dreams and make them feel less isolated in the school community, and helped them make more social relationships with students in the school so they don’t feel that isolated with the students surrounding them,” he said. “I personally experienced this because I came to the United States almost three years ago and I felt very isolated.”

Katie Oliveira, 18, of Vienna, who attends James Madison High School, is one of the presidents of Madison’s Amnesty International group along with Allison Janowski. “We worked really hard this year to do a ‘Write for Rights Campaign’ at our school, which is one of Amnesty International campaigns to get prisoners of conscience released from prison internationally,” she said. “And we also led some debate days which we tried to promote healthy discussion within our school from many different groups of people in the school to create a healthy debate and a safe space for people to speak their mind.”

Kameron Clarke, 17, of Alexandria, who attends West Potomac High School, initiated a Police Relations Seminar at the school. “Me and my Combatting Intolerance Class are planning it. We’re hoping to get two police officers from the Fairfax County Police Department and a defense lawyer to come and talk to students about how to interact with the police safely to prevent police brutality and just better relationships between students, the community and the police officers,” she said.

Bryan Brito, 21, of Centreville, who attends Mountain View High School, does volunteer work relating to immigration and Latin culture. “I’ve been pretty involved in it because I myself was an immigrant and undocumented in many different aspects. I had the same situation that many of the people that I’m helping now. I’m on the board of directors of the CIF — Centreville Immigration Forum. I am like the voice of them — I acknowledge the needs of my community and things that we can do and projects that we can accomplish,” he said.

Nahom Dagnachew, 16, of Springfield, who attends Annandale High School, works with NAKASEC to promote immigrant rights. “When DACA was repealed, we did a lot of actions and sit-ins in Congress in order to promote DACA. In the last Virginia election, we also did a lot of voting promotion. We’re trying to get the voter turnout high. We managed to increase Asian turnout by 195 percent for the 2017 Virginia election. Right now, we’re working on getting a clean Dream Act approved,” he said.

Annandale High School: Nahom Dagnachew, Dongun Kim, Victor Nguyen, and Kaa-lok Yap were honored for their work in defense of DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Cedar Lane School: Khalil Anderson and Arnaz Carter-Newman were honored for their leadership of their school’s Positivity Project.

Centreville High School: Ricardo Avalos was honored for helping foreign-born students who are learning English feel less socially isolated.

Chantilly High School: Kimberly Schmaus was honored for her work with the Fairfax County Student Human Rights Commission, International Awareness Club, and Girl Up.

Fairfax High School: Stran Kurdi was honored for her work with Kurdish AID (KAID) and for founding a KAID Club at school.

Hayfield Secondary School: Carmen Mazyck was honored for arranging guest speakers for the school’s Black Student Union group and organizing a minority student panel.

Herndon High School: Joyce Lee was honored for her volunteer work with Jill’s House and her participation in Young Musicians Inspiring Change.

Lake Braddock Secondary School: Zahra Alisa was honored for her work with the Fairfax County Student Human Rights Commission’s fair housing committee and mental health project.

Langley High School: Katherine Mansourova and Junnah Mozaffar were honored for establishing a chapter of Amnesty International at school and encouraging activism among members.

Lee High School: Eyerusalem Desta was honored for her work with her school’s chapter of Amnesty International and working to help at-risk families in the community.

Madison High School: Allison Janowski and Katherine Oliveira were honored for their work with Madison’s Amnesty International group and for establishing a debate day where safe and respectful conversations can take place.

Marshall High School: Janan Iranbomy was honored for her work to co-found Humans of Marshall Educate, a website that highlights the diversity at her school, and the Embrace Diversity Campaign.

McLean High School: Bryce Liquerman was honored for his work as a Special Olympics coach, and with the school’s Sources of Strength group that helps students deal with pressure and anxiety related to school and home.

Mount Vernon High School: Scarlett Elizabeth Reyes was honored for her work with Christian Relief Services that helps families in the U.S. and around the world find safe havens from violence and attain clean water, housing, medical assistance, and education.

Mountain View High School: Brayan Geronimo Perez Brito was honored for his leadership at the Centreville Immigration Forum and working to create an economy of inclusion, including dignity of workers, a living wage, and fighting racism.

Oakton High School: Kinda Callas was honored for her work with Oakton’s Best Buddies Club to create a video to “Spread the Word to End the Word” and her work to help the homeless in the community.

Quander Road School: Gina Scapellato was honored for instituting a peace project that encourages classmates to be more aware of how their actions and communication affect others, and for her work to help the homeless.

Robinson Secondary School: Faraz Zia was honored for establishing Project NNZIA, a business venture in which 20 percent of all profits from clothing sales go towards the Edhi Foundation in Pakistan that helps the needy.

South Lakes High School: Zhiyi Wang was honored for sharing the story of her father, a Chinese dissident, and working with media and conference attendees to explain how to help fight for human rights and democracy in China.

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology: The TJ Gay Straight Alliance, Ash Rossi, and other officers were honored for raising awareness of gender and orientation issues at the school, and campaigning against homophobia and transphobia.

West Potomac High School: Kameron Clarke was honored for opening the conversation between students, local police, and community leaders to foster learning, communication, and understanding and foster safer interactions between students and the police.

Westfield High School: the Muslim Student Association was honored for supporting Muslim students, breaking down negative stereotypes, providing education, and holding service projects to raise funds for clean water projects and mental health education. The Muslim Student Association members are Parishay Johri, Duaa Al-Harazi, Aisha Qureshi, Sumaya Ahmed, Brehna Haider, Rayyan Osman, and Aaraf Adam.

Woodson High School: Yousof Omeish was honored for founding his school’s Muslim Student Association that has fostered increased tolerance and understanding while presenting facts on Islam and dispelling misinformation. He is the third member of his family to receive a Student Peace Award.