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Nellie Bennett Stars shine at annual pep rallyStar Rally

Although the first day of school takes place weeks prior, the consensus at Nellie F. Bennett Elementary School is that the school year doesn’t really begin until after the annual STAR Rally. Typically 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 – comprised of one teacher from each grade level plus a selection of related arts teachers - 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. 22 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 brief congratulatory message 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 a few nights before, Principal Karaba passed the microphone to Star Rally host, Nellie Bennett Physical Education teacher Greg Akins, who assumed center stage to kick off the rally that celebrates the unique activities and experiences that comprise the Nellie F. Bennett educational experience.

Star Rally - Star SlipsWith his signature rallying call, ‘Hoo-Rah’ echoing through the gymnasium, Coach Akins announced the year’s Star Program slogan – We are incredible – an image of which was depicted on a poster alongside an image of the Incredible Hulk.

Coach Akins explained that in alignment with the new theme, this year’s program would focus on recognizing students’ super powers, meaning their demonstrations positive behaviors and character traits.

“You are all incredible so this year’s Star Program focuses on recognizing our own inner strength and what makes us super,” Coach Akins explained. “Just like a superhero discovers their own powers, we want you to discover what makes you super.

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 its definition before summoning 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 Tenth Annual Summer Star Rally Star ReadersReading 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, Molly Boehning and Lucy Connelly; from grade two Matthew Henn and Thomas Vuono; Haily Murawski and Tezra Kawczynski in grade three; Jack Scalabrini and Aidan Hooper in grade four; and Abigail Henry and Nate Anderson from grade five.

“The participants of this year’s Summer Reading Program read an incredible 2,710 books, said Mrs. Walker.

“I would like to congratulate all of our summer readers, 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.

Abby Gurzo, Star Student“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 fifth grader Abby Gurzo, who according to Coach Akins, defines the Six Pillars.

“Abby is always smiling, she’s always happy and she’s the first student to lend a helping hand whether or not she’s asked to do so,” Coach Akins said. “She consistently models the Six Pillars of Character, meaning she makes the right choices and is committed to doing the right thing, even when no one is watching and that’s why Abby’s is this year’s first Star Student.”

The final guest speaker, Nellie technology teacher Stephanie Smith introduced a new program at the school entitled “Start with hello.”Star Students

“Have you ever felt alone or invisible,” Mrs. Smith asked the audience. “If you’re like me, you have, and you know it doesn’t feel good. But no one has to feel that way. We can all do our part by simply starting a conversation with someone if we see them sitting alone. It’s simple and all you have to do is start with the word hello.”

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

“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.”

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