Springside School in Philadelphia, where she is a junior.
Dafilou, of Cheltenham, recently was named a Future Leader Award recipient by the Severino Center for Technological Entrepreneurship at the Lally School of Management and Technology at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y.
She was one of 28 female high school juniors from across the nation selected for academic excellence in mathematics and science, leadership and community service. In October, during a visit to the college, she was honored at a ceremony, toured the campus, and attended a symposium featuring a panel of women business leaders.
Also, Dafilou was selected as a Satell Teen Fellow. The 10-month program for high school juniors and seniors from the Philadelphia area is based at Gratz College in Melrose Park, and aims to develop effective Jewish leaders.
Dafilou is part of a team of 21 students who will complete service work in the Philadelphia region and travel to points including Washington and Israel promoting Jewish service work.
"Although I have not made an active effort in the past, social activism is very important to me," said Dafilou, 16. "I try to work on and support issues that I value as a young Jewish woman."
Mix of academics and service:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said the young women selected for the Future Business Award must: be nominated by a high school teacher or guidance counselor, have a strong academic record in math and science, and continue to search for and implement ways to help their community.
Dafilou was nominated for the honor by her sophomore chemistry teacher, Ann Fournier.
"My teacher asked me if I was interested," Dafilou said. "I said I was, and she sent in the nomination. I also had to supply a list of my activities."
From Gettysburg to Tel Aviv:
This month, the Satell Teen Fellows attended a retreat weekend near Gettysburg. Dafilou said the teenagers celebrated Shabbat, worked on diplomacy exercises, and enjoyed group discussions to get acquainted.
"The fellows are teens from all Jewish sects - some modern Orthodox and some not affiliated and many in between," she said. In June, Dafilou plans to travel to Israel for 11 days with the program. "This trip will be my fourth trip in five years," she added.
Platform of social activism:
Each Satell Fellow develops a focus on a particular project of interest - to continue an existing one, or develop a program that assists the community.
"I am hoping to create a program that instructs Hebrew school teachers on methods for teaching students with learning disabilities and behavior problems," Dafilou said.
Although Dafilou is unsure about her college choice, her career path seems certain.
"I want to go into education," she said. "I don't know what I want to teach; I just know that I want to teach. Every day in some form or other, I do feel that I'm teaching - explaining a homework question to a friend, or helping someone through a personal problem, or leading a group of peers through a project."
It runs in the family:
Dafilou said she believes she is a role model for her peers because of her academic achievements.
"Many of my classmates look to me for support in certain subjects," she said.
She helps peers in math and science. "I've always had a natural ability in both subjects," she said. Her father, Steven, is a math teacher at Springside.
Advice to others:
"If someone wants to pursue innovative programs, my suggestion would be to get involved," Dafilou said. She advises students to join a club, participate in a youth group, and play a sport. "Get involved in extracurricular activities, and if you already participate, take on a leadership position - start a new project, run for president," she added.
What a school administrator says:
"Sarah lives Springside's mission. She is curious, caring, ethical, compassionate, driven, persistent and hard-working," said Timothy M. Johnson, Springside's head of Upper School.
"Sarah has the courage and integrity to negotiate the depth of her complex future in a world in need of leadership, empathy and good judgment. She is the rare student who earns the trust and respect of both peers and teachers."
- Erica Lamberg