Step Up Competitors Keep Stepping

While registration is now open for this year’s Step Up Loudoun Youth Competition, last year’s competitors are still keeping their good work going.

“Bridges” was made up of a group of seniors from Park View High School in Sterling who have now graduated and are all attending college in Virginia, some at George Mason University. But the program continues its mission under new leadership this school year.

About 64 percent of Park View’s student population is made up of English Language Learners, and the Bridges founders saw a need at their school to bring together the non-English-speaking and English-speaking students. Students noticed that newcomers and non-English speakers tended to sit by themselves and not interact with the English speakers and bilingual students.

Their goal was to break down barriers and get those students more involved with a three-pronged approach.

A peer advocacy group comprised of 4 bilingual students who volunteered to join clubs or sports teams with 4 non-English speakers for one-on-one interaction to help with communication. It was a huge success, and there are plans to double to eight students this year and eventually become a class at school.

The group also organized two events last school year: a tailgate before a soccer game and a free outside movie night on the football stadium for students and their families. Both were well attended.

Third, the group considered developing an app to help with communication in different languages for the parents. It has been decided that they will not pursue this further due to expense.

The group’s adult advisor is Andrew Johnson, a social science teacher at Park View.

Two students from Rock Ridge High School in Ashburn, Manali Gantaram and Umika Tunuguntla, developed the group “PASTA,” or Peers and Students Taking Action. It is a tutoring a mentoring program for elementary students, both for academics and for confidence. Manali and Umika are seniors this year

Both groups were in the top 10 finalists for Loudoun Youth, Inc’s Step Up Loudoun Youth Competition.

Registration for the next competition is open at and ends on Friday, Dec. 21.

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