Elizabeth Education Foundation award banquet honors influential students
Proud parents, beaming teachers and administrators filled the Elizabeth High School auditorium the night of April 14 to honor the Elizabeth C-1 district’s most influential students.
Founded in 1998, the annual Students Taking Responsibility and Accountability Seriously award, or STARS as it’s known, is an exclusive gala and recognition dinner organized by the Elizabeth Education Foundation.
Complete with balloons, a three-piece jazz ensemble, personal interviews and a plated dinner served on freshly pressed table linens, the program honors up to 50 teacher-nominated students in grades 5-12, from across the district for exemplary personal character, model behavior and student citizenship.
“Tonight is a time to pause and reflect,” said Douglas Bissonette, Elizabeth School District superintendent, in his opening remarks. “We are here to turn off the clock, slow down and enjoy the company of others, and give recognition to the work of the heart and soul — to things done out of caring, compassion and service.”
Given only once in the student’s academic career, STARS award recipients are nominated in secret, and receive a personalized certificate and medal the night of the banquet.
Each student winner is also invited on stage to hear his or her nomination read aloud.
“It’s one of the most special events we have in the district,” added Bissonette. “They (EEF) are a source of inspiration and support to our students, to our teachers and to our community. We are so fortunate to have so many dedicated people volunteering their time and talents to improve opportunities for young people.”
Master of ceremonies Jace Glick also conducted a short, live interview with each student, fielding a variety of zingers and student responses punctuated with humor, candor and gratitude.
“I’d have to say it’s slightly overwhelming to be up there,” said 13-year-old Tyler Feist, a student at Elizabeth Middle School and 2011 STARS recipient. “But it’s also great to be honored in front of everyone for what you’ve done in the past year.”
Mary Smith, EEF board member and STARS event co-organizer, said the STARS award program strives to recognize the whole student, unlike traditional academic and athletic award programs.
“There are a lot of goods kids out there that don’t always get noticed for the great things they do,” said Smith. “And awards like this really help then affirm not only to others, but to themselves as well, that they’re important.”
Teachers offer praise for the program, too.
Melanie Darter, a family and consumer services teacher at Elizabeth High School said she feels the program is also an important opportunity to help the student reinforce a sense of self.
“A lot students — particularly those in high school — are at a point where they are questioning who they are, and how they fit in,” she said. “These kids are often in the middle, they do amazing things, but yet have no idea that what they’re doing innately is making such a positive impact on others. STARS definitely reinforces the value of those good character traits we look for as teachers.”
And what do parents think?
“I’d never heard of it (STARS),” admitted Lori Austgen, mother a former STARS recipient and now a co-organizer of the event. “They day I got the letter saying my child had been nominated, I was so happy I stood in the kitchen and cried.”
Senior and pre-med hopeful Ellen Hughes, also a former STARS recipient, said for her, the program is definitely something she recommends.
“Strive to be noticed,” she said, offering her personal insight to future award winners. “Work closely with your peers, interact often with your peers and remember that teamwork is good.”
Bissonette reminded students to always remember they’ve made a difference in the lives of others.
“If 10 years from now you forget the reason why you were here tonight,” he said “At least remember that others saw something in you, something out of the ordinary…something extraordinary.”