Correction: An earlier post mistakenly ran solely the full text from the promotional material from the Student Peace Awards instead of the article written by our student reporter. We regret the error.
The Student Equity Coalition of West Potomac (SEC) is one out of 25 recipients of this year’s 2021 Student Peace Award of Fairfax County. The Awards were started in 2006 to recognize students who spread and encourage peace throughout their community.
In the past, other clubs and electives in our school community have received this Peace Award. In 2017, West Potomac’s Combating Intolerance elective was a recipient, with the goal of the group being to spread positivity and awareness on current issues throughout the school. In 2019, Diana Argueta was selected to receive the award as well. She founded the Hispanic Leadership Club and served as president when she was in high school.
The SEC was formed in June of 2020 to bring together students of diverse backgrounds to work together. The goal of the group is to create and keep a peaceful environment and address various injustices within the school.
Four students, Sinna Nick, Maeve Korengold, Kezie Osei, and Amina Iman, reached out to Principal Tanganyika Millard to bring to light the inequities, discrimination, and hate speech in West Potomac. They now each hold leadership roles within the coalition.
Nick is also a member of the FCPS Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee. She revealed that as a Black elementary student she experienced slights and microaggressions.
“I feel like ever since I stepped foot into West Potomac my freshmen year, there were outcries of students wanting to change the culture of sexism, racism and homophobia that dominated our school environment, a lot of which I experienced first-hand being a Black female student at the school,” Nick said.
Korengold is a student ambassador with Safe Space of Northern Virginia, an organization dedicated to providing a safe environment for the LGBTQ+ youth. She was invited to write an article for The Washington Blade, and spoke to teachers and students about how the exclusion of queer people in the history curriculum has a negative effect on LGBTQ+ students.
Osei, a child of a Ghanaian immigrant, is very involved in the school community. Along with holding a leadership spot in the SEC, she is a member of West Potomac’s GEMS club, Girl Up, and the Black Student Union.
Iman’s parents are Pakistani Muslim immigrants and after being removed from the Advanced Academics Programs based on test scores, she felt she had to fit in with white students to be accepted. In her efforts to meet the standards, she began to realize that she was neglecting her own culture and religion. She is continuing to pressure both students and staff to equally distribute information about advanced classes for everyone.
“I was asked to join the coalition and immediately fell in love with it,” Iman said. “I wanted to make a difference at our school because I have heard numerous accounts of students and staff members getting disrespected and mistreated.”
The coalition is still in the process of educating members and the public on equity and the problematic systems within the school. They have used their social media platforms (@wphsequity) to spread messages as well, one activity being the “ABC’s of Anti Racism,” to explain and describe words such as equity and equality. They also encouraged students, teachers, and parents to participate in a 30 Day Equity Challenge.
“Since starting the coalition, we have created committees focusing on different areas such as advanced academics, ESOL access, access for students with disabilities, and more, so that we can have these specialized groups focusing on addressing these topics simultaneously,” Nick said.
They have trained numerous students and staff to continue to talk about equity both in and outside of West Potomac.
“These four young women are devoted to the idea that we can all live and work in a peaceful environment once education and awareness happens,” Ms. Jacqueline Fleming, Faculty Advisor at West Potomac said. “Their activism and strong belief that they can make our school a better place makes them the best kind of citizen we all strive to be.”