Queen Balina

2021 – WASHINGTON, D.C.

Queen Balina is a junior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Md. During her freshman year, she co-founded her school's Restorative Justice Student Coalition (RJSC) with then-sophomores Trevor Gardemal and Bailey Herman. The RJSC’s aim was to host school-wide Study Circle discussions about the effects of race and culture on students, staff members and other community stakeholders. This was in response to Churchill making national news in 2019 for students handing out n-word "passes." The school had an unfortunate history of similar incidents, ranging from a "whites only" bathroom sign to swastikas appearing on desks. Due to the RJSC's pursuit of courageous conversations, Churchill transitioned to a place where a restorative justice mindset was encouraged to promote and restore interpersonal bonds and proactively prevent future discrimination. As co-founder and co-president, Queen recruited students and staff to participate in discussions, created detailed presentations for all circles the RJSC sponsored, trained 79 student facilitators, and wrote outreach and recruitment emails. This work was completed in collaboration with her co-founders, staff sponsors Mr. Gary Carter and Ms. Ericka Mbachu, and the school administration. Queen and her team also adapted the Study Circle format into condensed Advisory Circles that took place during homeroom to make restorative justice more accessible to all students. By the time she won the Princeton Prize, Churchill's 82 student facilitators had led 107 circles involving all of the school's approximately 2,500 students. Due to her work at the school-level, Queen began interning with the student well-being and achievement team of the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Division of Restorative Justice, School Counseling and Student Leadership Services in July 2020. Working with the county, she hopes to expand these student-led discussions to other MCPS schools under her district-wide Student Voice Initiative. Queen plans to use her internship and her positions as a student representative on the MCPS Anti-Racism Audit Steering Committee and Secretary of the countywide Student Government Association to continue her student advocacy and restorative justice work throughout her senior year. She will mentor up-and-coming student leaders to continue her work after she leaves Winston Churchill High School.