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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Five Justice HS students awarded scholarships from the Hispanic Learning Alliance

The Justice High School scholarship winners with school board member Sandy Evans and Justice teacher Eric Welch. From the left; Shirle Hinojosa-Ferrufino, Stefany Villanueva La Torre, Bibiana Mirones, Evans, Welch, Jennifer Giron, and Tiffany Collins.
Five seniors at Justice High School were among the 20 high-achieving, highly motivated, and inspiring Latinx students awarded college scholarships May 7 by the Hispanic Leadership Alliance.

After Fairfax County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Brabrand delivered his keynote speech in Spanish, each scholarship recipients spoke about the challenges they’ve had to face: learning English as a teenager, feeling like they didn’t fit in, juggling jobs with academically advanced courses, and the fear of deportation.

Despite all that, the scholarship winners – from Peru, Bolivia, El Salvador, Cuba, Honduras, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Venezuela – earned high GPAs, took on leadership roles in their schools and community, and participated in volunteer activities.

Many of them cried, as they thanked their parents and teachers for supporting them. Each student received $1,000, with some of the funds contributed by the Hispanic student associations at their schools and private donors.

Justice High School senior Stefany Villanueva La Torre, the first recipient of the Marshall and Carmen St. John Family Legacy Scholarship, credits her success to her father, who often said to the family, “Puedes salir adelante si te lo propones” (You can get ahead if you put your mind to it.)

Overcoming disappointment

Those words helped Stephany when she experienced a major disappointment: In seventh grade, her principal offered her a scholarship to travel to Europe, but she couldn’t go because she was undocumented.

Stefany continued to focus on her studies and school activities. At Justice, she is a member of the National Honor Society, Math Honor Society, and Science National Honor Society; co-captain of the varsity track and field team; tutors elementary school students; volunteers with the food pantry at Columbia Baptist Church; helped found the Our Minds Matter Club, which focuses on mental health issues, volunteered at George Mason Regional Library; and works part time at the Off Broadway Shoe Warehouse.

Along with all these accomplishments, Stephany maintained a 4.3 GPA and straight-As since 2015.

A big break came she was 15 and received DACA status. “A driver’s license, a work permit, and a Social Security number are things many people take for granted, but to me, obtaining these important documents were life-changing accomplishments. These documents made me feel like I finally belonged in this country,” she told the audience.

Stephany hopes to study accounting or business at George Mason University or Virginia Tech and be a role model for young Hispanic girls.

A big adjustment

Justice High School senior Tiffany Collins Escobar left Honduras three years ago, “separating me from my friends, most of my family, and the life I was used to,” she wrote on the essay she submitted to the alliance.

“I immigrated to the United States for the opportunities it presented and to escape the barriers that limited my options and dreams,” she wrote. “However, when I entered high school the real test began.”

Alliance President Jane Cruz and Tiffany Collins.
Because she couldn’t speak English, she felt like an outcast and had no confidence, she wrote. “But I wasn’t ready to let that obstacle stop me from fulfilling my dream of becoming the first person in my family to pursue a postsecondary education.”

Tiffany worked hard to learn English, spending two hours a day watching YouTube. Her hard work paid off, as she was able to accelerate through English as a Second Language classes and take honors and IB classes.

Tiffany was named to a student panel on technology and to a panel interviewing candidates to be the next principal of Justice, and as a member of the school’s Emerging Leaders Program, she won a speech competition. She mentored other students learning English, served on the student government, and was selected for the prestigious Virginia Girls State convention.

The Hispanic Leadership Alliance awarded Tiffany the Social Change and Service Scholarship. She plans to attend Emory and Henry College in southwestern Virginia and eventually become a lawyer.

A drive to succeed

Bibiana Mirones, a Justice senior with a 4.23 GPA who is pursuing an International Baccalaureate diploma, was awarded a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Scholarship.

She interned at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum; is a member of the chess club and the national, math, and Spanish honor societies; volunteers with the homeless and at a hospital; plays piano, violin, and flute; does figure skating; and works part time at a restaurant.

Bibiana told the audience, her drive to succeed is motivated by the motto, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.”

Justice senior Jennifer Giron, recipient of the Peace and Justice Scholarship, plans to take international studies at American University in D.C.

Teddi Predaris of the Alliance and Bibiana Mirones.
Jennifer is just one of 20 women in the country selected by NASA and the Department of Education to attend a STEM camp in Namibia. She was invited to speak at the Canadian Embassy, and testified before the Virginia General Assembly in support of in-state tuition for Dreamers.

She also worked with the Bailey’s Crossroads Rotary Club to build a car for kids with disabilities, plays on the Justice basketball team, and tutors young children – all while taking a full load of IB courses.

Shirle Hinojosa-Ferrufio, a senior at Justice, plans to study biology and history at the University of Virginia.

She is on the national, math, and Spanish honor societies, mentors and tutors younger learners, volunteers as a student ambassador, and works with students with disabilities. She participates with Bolivian dance groups, noting that dance helps her deal with stress, build confidence, and connects her to her heritage.

A long journey

Among the scholarship winners from other schools:

Bryan Viera Gomez, winner of the Engineering Scholarship, walked by himself for 27 days, risking danger from armed robbers and human traffickers, as he fled El Salvador. At South Lakes High School, he formed a club to help other immigrant students adjust to U.S. life.

Gomez was accepted to seven universities, but can’t afford the in-state tuition he must pay as he is undocumented.

Jennifer Hernandez, also from El Salvador, told the audience she had trouble fitting in at the elite Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, because she is the only Hispanic student in her classes.

She founded a Spanish culture club at TJ, tutors at Weyanoke Elementary School, was named an Alexander Hamilton Scholar, serves on the student union and the FCPS Minority Student Achievement Oversight Committee, and is heading to Williams College in Massachusetts.

Jennifer feels strongly about equity for disadvantaged students and would like to see schools with limited resources provide more assistance to help diverse students get into TJ. Of 490 students accepted to TJ in 2015, she said, only 3 percent were Hispanic.

Ricardo Avalos enrolled in Centreville High School after escaping the gangs in El Salvador. With hard work he was able to exit the English as a Second Language program in just two years. A gifted singer, he has wants to study operate and also launch a nonprofit for youths in El Salvador.

Ana Orantes, who graduated from the Fairfax County Adult High School at age 42 after years of working in retail, received the Scholarship for Persistence. When she came to the U.S. with her three daughters from a poor village in Guatemala, she said “my dream was to get an education.”


  1. What amazing stories of strength, determination, and a lot of smarts. Each will go far.

  2. What amazingly inspirational young people! Their smiles in these pictures are as heartwarming as their stories. We're lucky to have them as part of our community as they continue in their contributions and accomplishments.

  3. Awesome! Thanks for the story Ellie and good luck ladies!