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Nellie students are stars at annual pep rallyCoach Akins

Nellie F. Bennett Elementary School’s is off to a positive start thanks, in part, to the annual Star Rally recently held at the school. Customarily held a couple weeks after the start of school, the high-energy event has become a Nellie F. Bennett tradition that serves to welcome students to the new school year while providing a platform to introduce the Star Program, Nellie’s character education program.

Coordinated by the Star Committee, the Star Program helps foster a positive school climate by promoting school spirit and by recognizing and rewarding students for engaging in good behavior and for modeling exemplary character. Framed around the Six Pillars of Character, the program encourages students to strive to embody the Pillar characteristics of trustworthiness, respectfulness, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship while learning the importance of demonstrating good sportsmanship and school pride. The yearlong program officially got underway with the Sept. 23 rally.

Principal James Karaba opened the assembly with some words of welcome and praise to the audience, which, in addition to students and teachers in grades one through five, included some special guests from Central Administration and the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization. After a quick congratulations and an expression of gratitude for both students and staff on a successful start of the school year as well as some special applause for an outstanding Back to School Night the night before, Principal Karaba passed the microphone to Star Rally host, Nellie Bennett Physical Education teacher Greg Akins, who assumed center stage to kickoff the rally that celebrates the unique activities and experiences that comprise the Nellie F. Bennett educational experience.

With his signature rallying call, ‘Hoo-Rah’ echoing through the gymnasium, Coach Akins calmed the crowd to announce this year’s Star Program theme – celebrating differences.

“We selected celebrating differences as this year’s Star Program theme in an effort to redefine how students view diversity,” he explained. “Our differences are what make us unique, they are what make us special and should, therefore, be celebrated. By celebrating diversity, our students will become more accepting and our school culture more inclusivStar Rally Panthere.”

Coach Akins then summoned this year’s mystery Panther mascot, who after a series of hints was revealed to be resource room teacher Miss Erin Daly. Officially unmasked, Miss Daly jogged the perimeter of the gym, doling out high fives to the eager audience, before returning to her ‘den’ conveniently located in the locker room.

After a quick ‘hoo-rah’ and double clap, the audience’s attentions were back on Mr. Akins as he began a brief recitation of the Six Pillars of Character, with each grade level repeating one pillar and it’s definition before turning it over to Nellie Bennett School Psychologist Cheryl Schneider, who serves as the school’s Anti-Bullying Coordinator and member of the School Safety Team. Ms. Schneider spoke of the importance of making good choices and of the crucial role of bystanders in keeping schools safe.

Nellie F. Bennett Librarian Heather Walker was up next to honor the participants of the Point Pleasant Borough School District’s Ninth Annual Summer Reading Program, each of whom was bestowed a special star award printed with their name along with a round of applause. The 11 students that were selected as the program’s winners earned an additional round of applause as well as a panther medal. The winners included, from grade one, Patrick Kennedy and Amelia Kajewski; from grade two, Eric Kinzel and Logan Scully; in grade three, Marin Tansey and Madeline Ferrara-Preece; from grade four, Makaila Scully and Cleat Oakes; and in grade five, Joselyn Roller and Ava Candelmo, and grand prizewinner from Nellie Bennett, fifth grader Dylan Munyan. Star Readers

“I would like to congratulate all the summer reading program participants, you are all stars,” she said, before asking all program participants to waive around their stars, which she had distributed prior to the rally.

“We will be collecting these stars and hanging them on a bulletin board in the library, for the entire school to see,” added Mrs. Walker.

Coach Akins briefly returned to center stage before quickly turning over the microphone to Nellie music teacher Andrew Ferrie who was joined by fellow music teacher Kelly McCann and Elementary Band Director Megan Meier. The trio led the students in a sing-a-long of the original composition “Panther Rock.” The song, which has become a Star Rally staple since its introduction two years ago, espouses Panther Pride to the tune of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem.”

After recognizing the Star Committee, a group comprised of teachers from each grade level whom help make the program possible, Coach Akins recapped the program for students explaining how they could earn the coveted title Star Student.

“Every week one student from each grade will be named Star of the Week,” said the Coach. “Everyone has the chance to become a school Star of the Week simply by doing the right thing and demonstrating outstanding character at all times.”

He explained that throughout the week, faculty members may award Star slips to students they observe engaged in positive behaviors.

Star Rally crowd“When you receive a Star slip, it goes to the main office to be put in your grade’s Star box,” he said. “At the end of the week, one slip is chosen from each box and that student is named Star of the Week.”

Coach Akins said each Star Student’s name, along with the reason they received their Star slip is announced over the loudspeaker and added to the Star Bulletin Board, located across from the main office. The student also receives a gift certificate to the school store, donated by the Nellie F. Bennett PTO, and a very special Nellie Bennett Elementary School Star medal.

Then, as is STAR Rally tradition, Coach Akins announced the school year’s first STAR Student.

The coach then recounted to the audience the story of fourth grader Emily Marinelli who was observed on the first day of school befriending a new student.

“On the first day of school Emily was sitting in the gymnasium waiting for the start of the school day when she looked over and saw a new student sitting all alone,” Coach Akins said. “Emily, who was alreadEmily Marinelli, Star of the Weeky sitting with friends, got up – without anyone’s encouragement - and approached the new student, taking a seat and introducing herself. A few minutes later, Emily’s friends joined her to sit with this student. When she did this, Emily was modeling the Six Pillars of Character, meaning she was making the right choices and committing to doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”

Nellie technology teacher Stephanie Smith shared with the students another example of the Six Pillars in action with a video featuring Olympic runners Nikki Hamblin and Abbey D’Agostino, who despite being competitors helped each other cross a finish line.

“For athletes, the Olympics represent the biggest stage on earth,” said Mrs. Smith. “Athletes train their entire lives for the chance to compete in the Olympic games. These two runners – Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino from the United States, did just that – they trained for their entire lives and they made it! These two runners were competing against each other, when Nikki Hamblin tripped and fell knocking over Abbey D’Agostino but rather than sprinting off, she stopped and helped Nikki Hamblin to her feet.”

The video showed that as the pair continued the race, D’Agostino realized she was injured and she fell again, but this time, Hamblin stayed by her side, foregoing her chances of winning a medal. The two runners eventually crossed the finish line, supported by one another.

“Though neither woman medaled in the race, they were awarded the International Fair Play Committee Award for embodying the Olympic spirit and for epitomizing the Olympic values of fair play and sportsmanship,” said Mrs. Smith. “They’ve showed us there is so much more to winning and losing and their example is one we should all strive to live by.”

Assistant Principal Derek Hulse concluded the rally with words of thanks to the administration, teachers, staff, PTO and above all, the students.

First grade stars“I encourage you to continue to work hard to be a star,” Mr. Hulse said. “Remember to practice the Six Pillars in everything you do and you’ll continue to shine. Thank you and have a great year!”

“For over 20 years, the Star Rally has been cultivating our students’ Panther Pride by celebrating the activities and experiences unique to our school and our district,” said Principal Karaba. “School spirit is key to achieving a positive school climate, it’s what brings students together and encourages a sense of unity.”

Mr. Karaba also commended the Star Program as an effective tool for promoting character education.

“By emphasizing and rewarding our students’ Star qualities, the Star Program motivates our students to be their best,” he said.  “Simply recognizing and rewarding our students for engaging in good behavior reinforces positive character development throughout their youth. Our faculty and staff do an outstanding job administering the Star Program, which has a positive impact on our entire student body and ultimately, our school.”