By Marianne Weaver
Prince William Living recognizes greatness within our community: organizations giving back and individuals
making a difference. We’d like to introduce you to 10 high school students who are well on their way to becoming extraordinary adults.
Like most military kids, Avery Engstrom has moved a lot—six homes in 10 years. But she’s done more than just adjust. She’s excelled. Since moving to Prince William County after her dad retired from the Marine Corps in 2011, she immediately became involved in volunteering for her neighborhood and in the
“Avery is a resilient kid who grew up with her father deployed to Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan, with numerous unaccompanied tours in between,” said her mother Delia Engstrom. “Instead of using her childhood of upheaval as an excuse, she tries to make the best of every situation. She loves creating and communicating through art and representing her high school and her community well.”
The Forest Park senior is part of a highly selective independent study team that supports the graphic design and printing needs of the school and community. As part of this program, she designed three murals for Forest Park, including one for the cafe used by the A-Street Bruins, the special education students. She also designed the cover of the literary magazine, Ursa Major, and a T-shirt for the Bruin/Falcon Fun Run, a joint fundraising event held between the high school and Ashland Elementary.
As a sophomore, Avery was chosen to attend the visual arts program at the summer residency Governor’s School Program. She is the president of the National Art Honor Society and vice president of the Forest Park Art club. In 2018, she received a first-place award for graphic design at the annual PWC Service Authority Water Art competition. That year, she also won several awards at the annual PWCS All-county Arts Festival and had a piece displayed at the Kelly Leadership Building. This year Avery is the recipient of two honorable mentions through Scholastic Art and Writing Awards.
Avery is a past member of both the Forest Park Swim and Dive Team and Forest Park Crew Team. For the past six summers, she has taught swim lessons five days a week.
Hylton High School senior Eliza Jamison turned her love for dogs into a volunteer position that benefits veterans, rescue dogs and other volunteers—many twice her age—who work with her.
“She is an example of strength, dedication and hard work to many of her peers,” said Jennifer Jamison. “She uses her time wisely as she goes to school, works a job, and provides continued training for future service
dogs. It is rare to find a young person who is so dedicated and loving to want to spend all their free time giving back to others.”
During the past five years, Eliza has volunteered more than 5,000 hours with Semper K9 Assistance Dogs, a veteran service organization that trains shelter dogs for disabled American veterans. As a K9 coach, she has trained two service dogs, start to finish, who lived with her until they were placed with their veteran families. During the training, she attended twice-weekly training classes, while maintaining her strong academics.
“Along with training these dogs, Eliza, through Semper K9’s community involvement, teaches the community about service dog laws, etiquette and the importance that each dog serves to its handler,” said her mother. “This includes visiting schools throughout Prince William along with Boys & Girl Scout events
and other community events.”
Eliza is also active with her church youth group and served as a youth leader at the church’s youth girls camp.
Charles J. Colgan High School senior Joshua Jurack has left a lasting impact on his fellow students, teachers and community, who have worked with him in classes, Boy Scouts and church and advocacy groups.
“I idolize Joshua’s perseverance, and his positive attitude is infectious,” said Jasen Viggiani, Joshua’s special education case manager. “He has left a tremendous impact on my life, both professionally and personally.”
For his Eagle Scout project, he designed and supervised the construction of three outdoor classrooms for the Nature Trail on the property of Colgan High School.
Joshua has been a Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Goodwill Ambassador since 2009. Drawing on his own diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a progressive deteriorating condition affecting his muscles, he has participated and presented for numerous advocacy groups for people with disabilities. Each year, he organizes and promotes the 5K Zombie Fun Run to support Joshua’s Hope Inc., the foundation his godparents founded to help families of boys with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy with medical expenses.
He is a member of the National Honor Society and the Prince William Student Health Advisory Board.
“This is only a snapshot of who Joshua Jurak is and what he is capable of,” said Viggiani. “I have no doubt in my mind he will excel at any institution of higher learning he attends.”
Community is everything for Stonewall senior Dana Klatt. She is a Girl Scout and has volunteered at Prince William Hospital, the Bethany Food Pantry and Tim Tebow’s A Night to Shine prom for people with disabilities and has taken part in too many park and stream cleanups to count. “But her favorite activity,” said her mother Marie Klatt, “is the Miss Abilities Pageant. She has been doing this for seven years. She is a ‘buddy’ to someone with a disability and helps with hair and makeup, stage rehearsal, dinner and the pageant.”
But she doesn’t do it alone.
“What makes Dana extraordinary is the number of people she recruits each year to help with her,” said her mother. “She has recruited many buddies and dozens of escorts to join her on this special day. Her enthusiasm is contagious.”
At school, Dana is ranked at the top of her class and is a member of National Honor Society, Science Honor Society, Math Honor Society, Ecology Club, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and tennis team. Dana is also co-captain of the cross-country team and captain of the dance team.
Her goal is to become a speech/language pathologist.
Wendell Fuller, who nominated Cecil D. Hylton High School senior Anisa Mohamed, said she has quietly set herself apart from the masses.
“Anisa is a shining example to her peers and to staff at Hylton,” he said. “She’s been able to garner the respect and admiration of the whole Hylton Family. Anisa is involved in every aspect of student life, all while staying behind the scenes, without fanfare. She’s been invisible, yet invaluable.”
At school, Anisa is the Student Council Association executive board treasurer, History Club president, Society of High School Scholar World Ambassador, Muslim Student Association president and National Honor Society secretary. She is a member of the yearbook staff, prom and homecoming committees, Drama Club, Academic Team and the Daughters of Harmony acapella group.
Anisa’s leadership roles don’t stop when the final bell rings. She has raised funds for Adopt a Child Foundation, served breakfast at the homeless shelter at Hilda Barg and taught math to at-risk students in Washington, DC. She is the vice president of Woodbridge Girl Up, A United Nations funded program
that helps the hardest to reach girls living in places where it is difficult to be a girl, and spearheaded activities for the Muslim Association of Virginia Youth.
“Anisa has shown herself to be an ambassador for the best of Prince William County,” said Fuller. “She has been able to build bridges and cross barriers that keep most out of the loop. She is level headed and gives all young women a great example as to how to rise above the glass ceilings still to be broken.”
Ada Reyes Ramirez
Hylton High School counselor Michaella Beatty said Ada Reyes Ramirez is the embodiment of hard work.
“She is from Honduras and has overcome barriers her entire educational career,” said Beatty. “She has the highest GPA of all the students on my caseload, and she made the determined effort to graduate a year early, with an advanced diploma. She does not complain or find excuses; rather she puts in the effort and moves forward. She is an incredible role model for new students, and she will undoubtedly make an impact on our community, and the world at large.”
Ada has already begun to make her mark. She is a member of the National Honor Society. She is also an ESOL ambassador through a program at Hylton that connects current ESOL students with incoming new students from a foreign country.
“She is vital in helping those students feel welcomed and helps their first day be less scary,” said
Ada is also president of the ESOL club, which meets after school to celebrate diversity. She is treasurer of Girl Up, an organization to provide aid to girls in developing countries so they can receive education.
Outside of school, Ada donates books and time to Inova’s Children’s Hospital and offers translation services to those in need.
“Ada is an extraordinary teen, not just because of her accomplishments, but also because of what she stands for,” said Beatty. “She is kindhearted to newcomers, and she is welcoming to all. Ada is the person you want in your organization and on your team because she will work hard and smile while doing it.”
Matilda Sullivan has led by example.
“Matilda always has a smile on her face and still finds time to maintain a 4.0 GPA and spend time with her friends,” said her father Colin Sullivan. “She leads by example and is always there for her friends and family. From the National Honor Society to the bands and Prince William Rugby, Matilda is an all-around student that represents the best of Prince William County.”
Sullivan is a member of the Forest Park NHS, and a member of four musical sections. Playing both the mellophone and oboe, she is the executive officer of the Bruin Marching Band and also performs in the wind ensemble, pep band and the symphony orchestra.
In addition to the time on-field with the marching band, Matilda also spends a considerable amount of time on the rugby field, where she shares captaining responsibilities for the Prince William Girls Rugby team. Numerous state and regional all-star teams have selected Matilda to represent their teams at games and tournaments in multiple states.
Matilda has also carried on a monthly family tradition of baking and decorating a cake for a nearby shelter, so the kids have at least one celebration a month.
Battlefield High School student Cara Trettel has used her love of dance to benefit her school and the community.
“Cara is the middle of my three children,” said her mother, Donel Trettel. “She is the artistic and creative one in the family. She continually challenges the family to ‘think out of the box.’ Since she was a young child, she has had a heart for other people and tries to make their lives better.”
Cara has been a member of the school’s varsity cancer team and currently serves as team captain, pom captain and kick captain. Each year, the dance teams organizes a “pink out” to raise money for the Breast Cancer Foundation in memory of a local school nurse who died of breast cancer. The high school dancers work with younger dancers who join them on the football field for a halftime performance.
“For the last three years, Cara worked with children from the youngest age group (3-5 years old),” said her mother. “This last year Cara volunteered to work with a young girl with both Down syndrome and autism. She made the experience very enjoyable for the girl.”
Cara also worked with special needs students enrolled in the school’s Buddy Club, teaching them dance routines that they then performed at football and basketball games and pep rallies.
In school, Cara is a member of the National Honor Society, National Math Honor Society, National English Honor Society and Key Club. This year she will be inducted into the National Dance Honor Society based on her high GPA and active role within the community through the sport.
“Cara inspires the best in others through her example of selfless compassion toward those who could benefit most from that extra support,” said her mother. “Whether it’s young children in the church nursery, being a friend to her ‘buddy’ or raising money to ‘find a cure.’ Cara consistently applies her creativity and
compassion toward helping others in our community.”
Colgan High School senior James Turner has no problem stepping up to accept responsibility. He has been the varsity swim team captain since the school opened three years ago. He’s been a lifeguard for three years, and last year he was promoted to pool manager. James is a member of the Key Club and National Honor Society and secretary of the student council. He’s also captain of the lacrosse team.
“James is incredibly well-rounded: He’s had a rigorous academic schedule of AP and honors classes, is a member of numerous varsity sports teams, and is involved in community service,” said Debi Siler, AP world history and AP human geography teacher and Key Club faculty advisor. “He’s one of my favorites of all time because of his maturity and compassion.”
James said he is proud to be regarded as a hard worker.
“My family and friends recognize the amount of time I put into myself and others,” he said. “One of the most important contributions I’ve had has been getting others involved in activities. For years, I have put on neighborhood basketball tournaments. Our most recent tournament had almost 50 boys come together and raise awareness for food allergies like my brother’s peanut allergy. It is activities like these where I unite others for a good cause that make me feel like I have a positive impact on my community.”
In the fall James was named third runner-up for the 2018 Prince William County Youth Salute award, which recognized academic achievement, formidable leadership skills and a strong commitment to service.
Zahra Wakilzada, a Stonewall Jackson High School senior, is a writer, human rights activist, young women’s advocate and public speaker. Her writings and poetry have been published in Persian, English and French to empower and advocate for women and girls across the globe. She was awarded the Presidential Service Award in appreciation of her volunteering work to impact her community and the globe.
“Zahra works every day to make a change in her community and represent Prince William County Public Schools in the best way,” said her English teacher, Lori Sterne. “Her experience, love of writing and passion for educating girls around the world have inspired her to pursue a career in law. She believes that her activism work is just the beginning toward becoming a stronger advocate for girls’ education.”
Zahra started Stonewall’s Girls Learn International Club to teach students about girls’ challenges and struggles around the world and empower students to advocate for equality. Last year she represented the chapter at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Drawing on her experiences growing up in a male-dominated society in Afghanistan, Zahra gave a powerful speech on issues relating to children forced into marriage and gun violence.
Earlier this year Zahra was among 200 teen journalists chosen to work on the “Since Parkland Project,” which featured articles about the 1,200 kids who were victims of gun violence since the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. “She is a role model, an activist for women’s rights and an
inspiration,” said Sterne. “She is an Afghan refugee and as such, has gone through unspeakable horrors. The fact that she has turned these experiences into a cause that she seems to be centering her life’s work around is a testament to who she is. Her name will be known around the world one day; I have no
Marianne E. Weaver ([email protected]) is a freelance editor and writer. She earned a BA from the University of Pittsburgh and an MJ from Temple University.