January 26, 2018
By Carolyn Schultz
Freedoms Foundation Teacher Alumni
When my co-teacher, Lynda Shanahan, and I attended the Freedoms Foundations at Valley Forge for a week-long summer training seminar called “Heroes and Heroines: Transforming Character Through Biographies,” we were, of course, deeply affected by stories of Medal of Honor recipients. We understood that their heroism was driven by moral character as well as military excellence, and came home inspired to develop a program to recognize and encourage instances of heroism on the battlefield of everyday life by our students at Pennsauken School District.
Lynda and I thought, “What better way to acknowledge and encourage the positive attributes of our students than by using the six core values from the Medal of Honor Character Development Program?” As a former president of my local branch of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA), I knew there were grants available that could help fund such a project.
We started this school year. Each month teachers from all of the schools in the Pennsauken district select an exceptional student to be recognized at our monthly Board of Education meetings. This individual will have demonstrated any of the Medal of Honor core values: commitment, courage, integrity, patriotism, citizenship or sacrifice. Educators submit a brief explanation as to why a student was chosen and how specifically the student’s actions have benefited their peers and the school community as a whole.
When I nominated Jesus Salazar, who is new to our school, for an award in November, I mentioned that he “is one of the hardest working individuals we have seen in a very long time. He always gives 100 percent … [and] displays an exceptional amount of citizenship because he is always thinking of others first …”
In her October nomination of Zoe Quezada, Carson Elementary teacher Michele Ransone said, “I often witness Zoe’s sense of leadership and friendship as she works with a student who may be struggling, especially in her free time. Zoe wants all students to succeed, not just herself.”
Truly Pasamihalis of Longfellow Elementary was honored in December for her courage. Teacher Terri Laverty wrote, “Truly is brave because she will take chances when answering questions, sharing her opinion, or gently reminding me of something I forgot. When Truly takes a position, she has the strength to defend her opinion.”
Here are the students we’ve honored so far:
In October, Eva Lovett, Longfellow School; Zoe Quezada, Carson Elementary; Giang Nguyen, Roosevelt Elementary; Cole Addison, Franklin Elementary; Mikaela Whye, Burling Elementary; Niljah Ramon, Delair Elementary; Justin Moreno Chavarria, Fine Elementary; Nicole Garcia, Howard Phifer Middle School; Mayline Rodriguez, Pennsauken Intermediate; and Justin Palmieri, Pennsauken High.
In November, Anh Vo, Longfellow; Alexander Bonilla, Carson; Alina Thai, Roosevelt; Brendan Garcia Gonzalez and Jayden Garcia Gonzalez, Franklin; Ceasar Nguyen, Burling; Leah Casteneda, Delair; Colin Rowan, Fine; Jasmine Camacho, Phifer Middle; Madia Garcia Gonzalez, Pennsauken Intermediate; and Jesus Salazar, Pennsauken High.
In December, Truly Pasamihalis, Longfellow; Julianna Bush, Carson; Jaylee Reyes, Roosevelt; Emely Botello Morales, Franklin; Gerardo Flores Alonso, Burling; Lauren Nguyen, Delair; Jaelyn Blacknal, Fine; Isamarie Garay, Phifer Middle School; Cassidy Mengle, Pennsauken Intermediate; and Kendal Davidson Mosely, Pennsauken High.
The teachers who nominate their students are asked to read the citations before the assembled parents, board members, and others – there were 60 people in attendance for the first ceremony in October. These presentations have been incredibly moving. One little girl cried as her teacher described her many positive attributes. Students are also presented with a symbolic “superhero pen” and their parents or guardians receive a bouquet of flowers. Our honorees are featured on our district website and Facebook page, and also photographed for our township newspaper, “All Around Pennsauken.”
We know from our training at Freedoms Foundation the impact that character education can have on our students and we know too that recognizing positive role models in our community can be a light that shines throughout our social world, inspiring others to act. I get chills every time I talk about what we’re doing. We look forward to expanding this program to include others in our community — the people who also exhibit the core values in their daily lives by doing the right thing when no one is looking.
Carolyn Schultz teaches at Pennsauken High School. The class she co-teaches with Lynda Shanahan is scheduled to receive the Freedoms Foundation’s National Award on Feb. 17.