From a math whiz to an award-winning playwright, these 14 students make their marks in and out of the classroom. Meet the winners of our 11th annual Extraordinary Teen Awards.
Senior, Thomas S. Wootton High School
Alexis Bentz’s childhood was filled with crafting sessions with her grandmother and making home-cooked meals with her grandfather. As Alexis grew older, she realized that many of her peers viewed older adults as “grumpy, lazy or slow,” while some older adults viewed young people as “obnoxious, entitled and always on their phones.”
“Both generations have so much advice and wisdom to offer,” says Alexis, 18, who lives in Rockville. “Giving these generations a chance to connect became very important to me.”
When she was 12, after some brainstorming with her grandparents, Alexis pitched a column called “Generations Together” to the Greater Washington edition of The Beacon, a general-interest newspaper based in Kensington for adults over 50 in the Washington, D.C., region. Beacon Publisher Stuart Rosenthal asked her to send a sample of what she had in mind.
“It was an excellent column—really well written, thoughtful and articulate,” says Rosenthal, who agreed to publish six of Alexis’ columns each year. “It was better than some of the freelance stuff we get.” Alexis has since written more than 40 columns and served as a summer intern at The Beacon in 2017. That year and in 2018 she was a first place winner in the “Senior Issues” category of the North American Mature Publishers Association (NAMPA) Awards, competing against adults.
Alexis also founded Robert Frost Middle School’s Generations Together Club—students there visit The Village at Rockville, a retirement and assisted-living community, each month—and later created the same club at Wootton. This year, she is organizing a prom for Wootton students and residents of The Village at Rockville.
Her first book, Think Smart! Ideas for Problem-Solving By a Kid Like You, was published in 2012. She is currently writing Harmony, a young-adult novel about a middle-school girl struggling with bullying, and says she is working with a New York City literary agent for future publication. She is editor-in-chief of Pulp, Wootton’s literary magazine, and took a master class with author Amy Tan last year after being selected as a Fitzgerald Scholar by the English Department at Wootton.
Alexis will attend Washington University in St. Louis, and plans to major in English.
Senior, Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School
As a kid, Russell Lubin used to fill an entire room with his Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train track designs. Then he moved on to K’Nex, making a 6-foot-wide-by-6-foot-tall roller coaster out of the plastic construction toys.
Russell’s fascination with tinkering continued into middle school, where he pulled some friends together to enter an international Rube Goldberg building competition.
“The point of [a Rube Goldberg] machine is to create something that is a very unnecessarily convoluted way to do a simple task—like turning on a light bulb,” says Russell, 18, who lives in Bethesda. “The basis of absurdity of the whole thing gives it an air of levity that makes it fun for everyone.”
As a freshman at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Russell started an engineering club that has since grown from three to 30 members. He recruited students who were interested in science, technology, engineering and math, but also in art—helping make the projects more elegant, says Ginger Thornton, the director of instructional technology at the school. He expanded the club to include rocketry, underwater robotics, and sustainable gardening projects, and mentored other team leaders.
“Russell makes everyone around him better. He’s able to get people to do things that they didn’t know they could do,” Thornton says.
Last summer, Russell, who is co-editor-in-chief of the school’s science journal, landed a three-week internship in Haifa, Israel, where he was part of a research team using 3D printing to create prosthetic ears. He is also an avid guitar player and rock climbing enthusiast, and is active in J-Teen Leadership, a Jewish youth philanthropy group. Russell is interested in a career in aerospace engineering and says he enjoys an ongoing project in his garage: the construction of a jet engine.
“It’s a feeling somewhere between happiness and awe to be able to build something that works, that’s substantial and real,” Russell says.
Senior, Richard Montgomery High School
Most Thursdays after school, about 20 students from Rockville’s Richard Montgomery High School take a Ride On bus or drive to nearby Twinbrook Elementary School. The teens help fourth and fifth graders with homework and a science activity.
After making towers out of marshmallows and toothpicks, or creating rockets with film canisters, water and Alka-Seltzer, the students discuss their designs.
“In the beginning of the year, it’s awkward for the kids to talk with high school students. But after a few weeks they start to relate to one another and form bonds,” says Rose Lee, 17, of Rockville, who started the tutoring program as a sophomore and has continued to lead it through her senior year.
The hope is that the program can help close the confidence gap that keeps some minority students from studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math), says Rose, who was named an EngineerGirl Ambassador in a competition sponsored by the National Academy of Engineering and traveled to the Society of Women Engineers Conference in Minneapolis in 2018.
Twinbrook Principal Matthew Devan says Rose’s work paved the way for two more high school mentoring programs at the elementary school. “She is so organized and has a clear vision for a high school student,” Devan says.
Rose says she was quiet and reserved as a freshman but learned to express herself after joining her school’s Forensics Club. As a senior, she is president of the competitive public speaking club and enjoys giving informative and persuasive speeches. She is also co-president of her school’s chapter of the National Honor Society.
Rose says she’s interested in pursuing science or health care policy and hopes her experiences in high school can help her be a force for change in the policy sector.