When she’s not in school, junior Maya Martin-Cubbage of Rockville spends much of her time dancing—whether she’s practicing, performing with her competitive dance team or teaching classes for preschoolers.
Maya says she enjoys a variety of styles, ranging from ballet and tap to hip-hop and contemporary. “My favorite probably is ballet and contemporary, because contemporary has more feeling and emotion, and then ballet is just the foundation of dance and I’ve done it for a very long time, so I’ve always had a joy for that one,” says Maya, 17, who dances and teaches classes at Dawn Crafton Dance Connection in Rockville, spending as many as 15 hours a week on her craft.
Maya, who was born in Guatemala and adopted by her social worker parents, says she enjoys working with her students, ages 2 and 3. She incorporates activities and even a bit of Spanish into her classes. Diagnosed with ADHD, “I learn visually and in more hands-on activities, so I try to incorporate that kind of stuff, too, so I feel they are learning best through that, actually,” she says.
Kelly Welch, the dance studio’s artistic director, has long known Maya and says she is exceptionally attentive, patient and caring while teaching her two preschool classes, including students with special needs.
“She really, truly is gifted when working with small children,” Welch says. “If she decides to pursue this teaching and mentoring and working with preschool students and those with special needs, she’ll be wonderful.”
At Welch’s urging, Maya says she has decided to major in early education with a dance minor in college.
Maya volunteers as an ambassador for Dance Hope Cure, a nonprofit that “combines the art of dance with childhood cancer awareness and advocacy,” according to its website. The organization funds research to develop less-toxic therapies for children dealing with cancer.
She also has volunteered at local food banks and area summer camps, including serving as a companion to support children with special needs in fully participating in camp activities, according to Cynthia Cubbage, one of her two mothers.
“I’m a busy person,” Maya says. “I always tell my friends that I’m either at home, school or my dance studio.”
Richard Montgomery High School
Musician. Scientist. Mathematician. Mentor. Podcaster.
Sety Tekeu, 17, a senior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, has many talents. He plans to major in physics and computer science in college, but loves music and playing alto saxophone.
“Jazz is the way I can express myself, especially through improvisation,” says Sety, who is in the school jazz ensemble, marching band and pit orchestra, and was chosen for the selective Montgomery County Public School Senior Jazz Ensemble last fall.
Peter Perry, instrumental music director at RM, says Sety always has a smile on his face, but takes his music seriously. “He has a respect for the craft and others in the group. He’s a leader who other kids look to for guidance,” Perry says.
When it comes to science, Sety helped his team place fourth last year in the Maryland Science Olympiad. In the University of Maryland High School Math Competition, Sety was among a select group of top finishers in the fall invited to advance to the second round of competition.
As a mentor, Sety has been involved in the Jaguar Scholars Leadership Program (JSLP) since he was a student at Julius West Middle School. The group is focused on closing the achievement gap for students of color. He tutors elementary and middle school students every week and serves as the program’s secretary.
Sety, whose parents are originally from Cameroon, says trips to Africa with his family have motivated him to become a more active volunteer in the community.
During the pandemic, Sety started a podcast designed for children living in French-speaking countries in Africa to improve their English. Last fall, he volunteered as a video engineer for a podcast on the modern-day effects of slavery in Brazil.
“He’s good at making cross-curricular connections to things he’s studying in other classes,” says Kerri Fry, Sety’s teacher for Advanced Placement U.S. History as a junior. “He’s reserved, but when he has something to say, everybody listens. Everybody knows when he’s talking, they should pay attention, because it’s important.”
Clarksburg High School
Fighting for gender equity is Inaya Siddiqi’s driving passion.
“I feel like girls need to rise up and really take charge, be in positions of power, for example,” says Inaya, 18, a senior who lives in Clarksburg.
As a member of the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association, Inaya joined other female students to campaign for the availability of menstrual products in restrooms in the county’s public schools. “Menstrual equity is something I’ve been really passionate about,” says Inaya, who is vice president of the SGA at her school.
Inaya also founded the Girls Who Code club while attending school remotely during her sophomore year. “I wanted to create a space for high school girls to try their hand at coding because many times girls are intimidated by computer science and STEM in general,” says Inaya, whose own interest was sparked by a computer science class she took her freshman year.
Among other activities, Inaya also serves as vice president of the Muslim Student Association. “Being Muslim is such an integral part of who I am,” she says. “Just being part of a student body that has, like, the same values and was kind of brought up on the same way I was is just so empowering.”
School counselor John Schulien notes that Inaya has consistently earned straight As while also holding leadership positions in several school organizations. “Inaya is an incredible student, she’s a leader in each activity and she even started two of these activities,” he says.
Inaya credits her ability to lead and speak effectively to her participation with the school’s Mock Trial Team. The team competes against other schools in mock trials, assuming the role of either the prosecution or the defense for a given case.
“Mock trial helps me mold my speaking skills. It helps me figure out how to defend an argument, think on the spot. It overall improved my confidence,” says Inaya, who is team captain this year.
Lana Early, the team’s faculty sponsor, says Inaya is “very good” at researching her role, finding the evidence that would support her case and delivering it with “power.”
Inaya plans to attend college, but says she hasn’t decided what she’ll study because she has so many interests.
“She is driven,” Early says. “She definitely is in charge of her own destiny.”
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School
Obse Abebe says that advocacy is about more than lobbying, testifying and writing bills. To be effective, it’s also important to listen to people who are affected by a problem or have a shared identity.
“That fundamental level of communicating and showing humanity towards one another, I feel is so overlooked,” says Obse, a 17-year-old Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School senior who leads several activities aimed at empowering people who are marginalized.
Obse brought that approach to Liberate Your Mind, an organization she founded with other teens in the area to support incarcerated youth in Washington, D.C., by writing encouraging letters and donating art supplies and books. In her involvement at B-CC with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, Girl Up and the Black Student Union, Obse says it’s energizing to connect with students in small groups to work together for change.
“Obse cares so deeply about equity, social justice and access for students of color, and it shows in everything she does,” says Neha Singhal, faculty sponsor of the Minority Scholars Program, in which Obse is a member. “She’s helped to shift our school culture to think more critically about race, sexuality and global issues.” More broadly, Obse has worked on policy campaigns through the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association and the Youth Activism Project, in which she helped train fellow teenagers on civic engagement.
At B-CC, Obse is one of three editors-in-chief of the school newspaper and oversees the online edition. Among her stories last fall: an opinion piece against reinstating school resource officers in county schools, and a news story explaining the complex dynamics of the civil war in Ethiopia, where her parents emigrated from in the early 2000s.
Obse has made students from a variety of backgrounds feel more comfortable in spaces at school, says Jennifer Solove, a B-CC English teacher and school newspaper sponsor. “Students see Obse as a leader, but also in the pieces that are being written [at the paper], the entire student body is being represented and being seen and heard,” she says.
Obse, who lives in Silver Spring, has committed to Columbia University in New York City. She plans to major in economics and political science with a minor in African American studies, and hopes to write for the student newspaper.
Gabrielle Del Rio
Walt Whitman High School
Senior Gabriella Del Rio, 17, of Bethesda says she is a people person. “I love meeting new people, talking to new people,” she says.
Her interest in others led Gabriella to get involved in school activities related to social justice, ranging from her leadership of the Black Student Union to her co-founding of the Menstrual Movement Club, which advocates for a consistent supply of menstrual products in all school bathrooms, and her involvement in Whitman’s efforts to promote diversity and increase students’ social justice awareness.
“Gabby is an excellent student who loves to give back to her school and community,” resource counselor Bill Toth wrote in her nomination letter. “She has a perfect 4.0 in a most demanding program and also finds time to get involved in a number of different activities.”
Gabriella is most proud of serving as a student facilitator for OneWhitman, a classroom discussion program that’s designed to promote diversity and inclusion. Whitman developed the program in 2019 to help broaden student perspectives at the majority-white school. She also is a member of the school’s Leadership Academy of Social Justice, a cross-curricular program that seeks to help students become leaders and advocates.
Gabriella credits her OneWhitman involvement with helping to develop her leadership skills. “I’ve had a pretty active role in being able to plan those presentations. … I learned a lot about how to have productive, constructive conversations,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about different cultures and really just diversified my perspective.”
This year, she’s co-president of the Black Student Union. Trisan Garnett, the club’s faculty co-sponsor, says Gabriella helps make sure the group provides support and a safe place for students to discuss current events and other issues that affect them.
“What Gabby gives is a very strong voice, she’s very passionate about being aware and helping the students be aware, but also addressing things as they happen with the group,” Garnett says.
In addition to co-creating the Menstrual Movement Club, she also serves as advocacy director for the Body Positive Alliance, which she says focuses on the fight against weight discrimination and being “able to live unapologetically and completely.”
She’s planning to major in political science in college and to become a civil rights lawyer.
The Academy of the Holy Cross
Preeti Kulkarni traces her political activism to seventh grade, when she helped organize a walkout to protest gun violence following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in 2018.
Preeti says it was surreal to see nearly 200 students join her in the Robert Frost Middle School courtyard after lunch.
“It really pushed me to see what I could do and what kind of contribution I could make in my community,” says Preeti, 17, who lives in Gaithersburg.
Now a senior at The Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, Preeti is co-leader of the Young Progressives Club and has given presentations to fellow students on voter registration. She’s director of the Maryland state chapter of Voters of Tomorrow, a nonprofit that works to advance voting rights and engage young people. Last summer, Preeti was selected for Democracy Summer, a six-week leadership training program on political organizing founded by U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin.
Preeti canvassed for Tom Perez in his run for Maryland governor. At first, knocking on doors was nerve-wracking, she says, but she learned to listen more and gained confidence. “I was able to be firm in my beliefs and say, ‘This is how I see this candidate. I want to hear what your thoughts are,’” says Preeti.
Since she transferred to Holy Cross as a junior, President Kathleen Prebble says Preeti has immersed herself in the school and had a positive impact on both adults and students. “Because of the way she interacts, you naturally want to listen to her,” Prebble says. “She wants to truly have a conversation.”
Preeti, whose parents emigrated from India to the United States in the 1990s, is president of the Asian American Pacific Islander Club at Holy Cross and is a member of the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Board. She says her Indian background has influenced the way she views the world. In particular, the Hindu concept of “dharma,” or duty, has affected her understanding of social justice. Preeti is also an avid poet and is working on her third book of poetry.
In college, Preeti plans to study political science with a minor in business administration.
Georgetown Preparatory School
Max Derogatis was 10 years old when he bought his first shares of stock in Coca-Cola and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs with $80 in birthday money from his grandparents.
He’s been fascinated with investing ever since. Last fall, Max started a Cryptocurrency Club at Georgetown Preparatory School in Bethesda, where he’s a senior. He recruited about 35 students from the all-boys private school and 10 girls from area schools to join the group.
Max plans to major in quantitative finance in college. The 18-year-old from Kensington wants to help developing countries use cryptocurrency to expand their financial infrastructure and create more stable economies.
Max says his Roman Catholic faith has influenced his career plans and been integral in coping with the onset of a health condition that makes it difficult for him to walk. Last spring in the middle of his lacrosse season, Max noticed numbness in his toes and feet. It quickly progressed and he began to use a wheelchair.
He was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that he describes as a break in signals between his brain and lower extremities. Although the prognosis is uncertain, Max says it was a relief to learn the condition was not life-threatening.
Going to Mass and saying the Rosary nightly was reassuring, he says. “Those kinds of rituals became the most concrete things in my life to rely on and made it a lot easier,” he says.
Although he can no longer compete, Max has made it his goal to attend every school sports match to cheer on his classmates in return for how supportive they’ve been.
Stephen Ochs, Max’s A.P. U.S. History teacher last spring, says it was dramatic to see the student go, over the course of five days, from limping, to using a cane, then crutches and finally a wheelchair—yet he remained calm and had a steely resolve. “It’s a huge lesson for the guys to see him still being able to enjoy life,” Ochs says.
Winston Churchill High School
Stuck at home during the COVID-19 quarantine, Amanda Kossoff says she spiced up her daily popcorn fix by adding Old Bay seasoning or chocolate drizzle. At the same time, she heard that nonprofit organizations were struggling to make ends meet.
Amanda combined her love of popcorn and a heart for people in need to launch her own nonprofit, Pop for a Cause. Initially filling orders for flavored popcorn in her Potomac basement, the 17-year-old senior at Winston Churchill High School recruited other students to help. The organization, now an official 501(c)(3) that operates out of a commercial kitchen, has engaged about 100 volunteers, collaborated with 40 community organizations, and donated $23,000 to more than 25 rotating charities each month that primarily promote equitable education.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” says Amanda, who co-authored a 150-page workbook for teens about how to set up an enterprise with a social impact. “The biggest thing I’ve taken away is the power of collaboration.”
One of the first recipients of Pop for a Cause proceeds was the National Girls Collaborative Project, which encourages girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Amanda became a member of the organization’s national Youth Advisory Board and was selected as co-chair in late 2021.
Amanda is committed to boosting the number of women in science and plans to major in biophysics in college with a minor in dance. A competitive hip-hop dancer, she has received numerous awards, created a dance club at Churchill and founded a nonprofit, iDream of Dance, where she teaches dance to low-income youth and collects costumes for dance studios in need.
Leigh Kleinson, a school counselor at Churchill, says Amanda is caring, sometimes dropping by the office to alert counselors if she sees someone crying in the hall.
“Amanda is really concerned about the well-being of others, and it’s not just a one-off thing—it’s something she continuously demonstrates,” Kleinson says.
During remote instruction in 2020, Amanda asked a few friends to start what would become the Churchill Philosophy and Ethics Club. She helped it expand from 13 to 130 students, including a team that competes in area Ethics Bowl tournaments.
Adds her history teacher and club sponsor Rodney Van Tassell: “So many kids have their nose in a cell phone looking at TikTok, but here’s [Amanda], at every turn starting something new and she’s all in.”
Winston Churchill High School
At the end of his junior year in Advanced Placement Statistics, Todd Zhou gave a final presentation that was on par with that of a “veteran teacher of a decade,” says Winston Churchill High School math teacher Stephen Wilson.
“He showed an extreme knack for being able to relay this difficult material to others,” says Wilson of Todd’s project on displaying confidence interval graphics using calculus. “He did it with such professionalism and poise that is kind of uncommon.”
It was clear that Todd’s summers in research programs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California, Los Angeles; and the University of Maryland had paid off, Wilson says. The 17-year-old from Potomac has co-authored several scientific papers on projects where he applies statistics, computer science and machine learning to address various challenges in society.
“The most rewarding part is finding answers to the unknown,” says Todd of projects in which he often uses technology that he’s learned on his own from online courses or YouTube.
Todd won first place in the computer science category at the Montgomery County Science Fair in 2022 for an algorithm he developed that can be used to detect cheating or bank fraud.
He also created an artificial intelligence recycling app where users can scan various items to recycle correctly; it placed second in the 2021 Congressional App Challenge. Last year, Todd produced a five-minute film about recycling and was one of five students who received the National Award of Merit in the National PTA Reflections Art Competition. “The film encourages people to cherish and protect the Earth through a montage juxtaposing the beautiful scenery we have now and our disastrous future if we don’t recycle,” Todd says.
School counselor Tiffany Kaufman says Todd is well rounded and genuinely excited about his range of activities. “Todd has his hands in everything,” Kaufman says. “He’s not too focused on science and research that he can’t do something in the visual arts and produce a video.”
Todd is undecided on a college major but says he’s interested in exploring computer science, app development, art and videography.
Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School
Come fall, senior Kaeden Koons-Perdikis of Chevy Chase will realize her dream of playing soccer for Duke University when she dons the school’s royal blue and white uniform as a recruited member of the women’s team.
“I’m so excited because I’ve been a Blue Devil pretty much my whole life,” Kaeden, 18, says. Her mother attended the North Carolina school, and her family members are “huge” fans of Duke’s powerhouse basketball team. “It was kind of like always my dream to play soccer there, so it’s so cool that it’s happening now,” she says.
A member of Visitation’s varsity team for four years, Kaeden earned Washington Post First Team All-Met honors in 2021 and 2022 and was named First Team All-State in D.C. She also was selected to play in the All-American High School Soccer Game in December in Florida.
Though soccer has been a huge part of her life, Kaeden says academics have always been her top priority. She was awarded the medal of general excellence for having the highest GPA in her class in her freshman and sophomore years.
“My mom’s a teacher, so I’ve always been focused on putting academics first,” she says.
She’s also involved in school leadership, serving as a class officer and, this year, as vice president of the student government. Since her freshman year, she’s been involved in Visitation’s Kaleidoscope club, which focuses on raising awareness about diversity and inclusion.
“I want to make a difference in the world, and I want to do whatever I can and take what I have been given in life and put that out towards others and kind of for the greater good,” Kaeden says.
In 2020, she co-led a team of 21 female students across the D.C. area to raise more than $500,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society during its annual seven-week student fundraising competition. She now co-leads a junior leadership team for student volunteer mentors.
Her accomplishments are no surprise to math teacher Kati Krueger, who has taught her for three years.
“She works really hard to develop each of her talents, but she doesn’t use them as an end to themselves or to amplify herself, but to always make others better and to do whatever is best for the group,” Krueger says. “Everybody relates to her very well because she’s a really kind friend and she’s always very socially aware.”
Many thanks to our 2023 Selection Committee members for their help and guidance with this year’s Extraordinary Teen Awards: Kaarmin Ford, senior director, communications & engagement, Leadership Montgomery; Stephen McDow, community engagement and development director, Blackrock Center for the Arts; Steve Simon, director of marketing & communications, The Universities at Shady Grove; Giankarlo Vera, Gaithersburg High School Wellness Center, Identity Inc.; Anne Tallent, executive editor, MoCo360
This story appears in the March/April issue of Bethesda Magazine.