BARNEGAT, NJ - Barnegat Township Schools honored six new students as UpStanders at last night's board of education meeting.  The award recipients ranged in age from a prekindergarten youngster  to a high school senior who graduates this year.

“Barnegat is a place where we believe in a positive school climate, family togetherness, and community involvement,” shared Daniel Gundersen, the district's Director of Student Services. “It is the marriage of these three principles that defines the UpStander program.”

The district uses the letters formed from the BENGAL PRIDE acronym each month to determinate UpStander qualities demonstrated by students in each of the schools. The January honorees all exemplified the word "acceptance."

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Family acts as one of the focal point of promoting Bengal Pride. Community involvement portrays another - and the reason that district leaders choose a local restaurant to reward UPStander students. Award recipients this month received a plaque honoring their nomination, as well as a gift card to Racaniello's Pizzeria. This affords students the opportunity to treat their families to a meal and reinforce the concept of family togetherness.

Barnegat High School senior Hailey Russo received recognition for her ability to accept others openly wherever she goes. Russo demonstrates her acceptance of her peers both during the school day, and within school based organizations.

"Hailey welcomes everyone with open arms, positivity, and with a non-judgmental manner,” Gundersen read, “Since her freshman year, she has always gone the extra mile in making BHS the warm, accepting place that it is."

Gundersen further acknowledged Russo for a showing of impressive maturity and empathy that will leave a lasting impression when she graduates.

Eighth-grader Anthony Pignatelli was named the Brackman Middle School UpStander yesterday. He was unable to attend the ceremony but Gundersen still spoke on how Pignatelli demonstrated acceptance starting with schoolwork and including new students.

“Anthony show excitement coming to class and is ready to take on whatever school work is presented to him," announced Gundersen. "He always does it in such a way that his positive attitude is such a great example to other students in the nominating teacher's class."

Entry into a new school creates its share of anxiety for newcomers at any grade level, and most assuredly middle school. Pignatelli went out of his way to welcome a new Brackman student.

“Anthony looks out for the new student, includes him in group activities, and guides him with question that arise about school activities,” Gundersen shared, “He has become a friend and is a great example of the word acceptance.

Kaley Ercolino, a fifth grader, earned the distinction of this month's Horbelt School UpStander. Not only was Kaley described as fun and generous, she also uses her time as a volunteer assistant with the Horbelt Sign Language Club,

"Kaley has gone into classes to help teach our students ASL, and has also taken a leadership role during club meetings," read Gundersen. "She demonstrates acceptance by being patient and inclusive with our students, and using her gift of ASL fluency to teacher others how to communicate with the deaf/hard of hearing community,"

Fourth-grader John Evans received recognition last night as Donahue School's January UPStander. The nomination spoke to Evans' quality as a great friend who makes everyone feel included and loved.  He constantly provided evidence of putting others before himself and looking out for them. One incident gained particular spotlight.

“John deserves this award because of an incident with a substitute who misnamed a student,” Gundersen explained. "John quickly reached out to the substitute and tried to correct her without announcing it to the entire class because he did not want to embarrass the other student."

The Collins School January UPStander award receipient is MaCassanda Pizarra, a first grade student. She exemplifies the character trait of acceptance in the way she acts on a daily basis. The teacher who nominated Pizarra said she appreciates and understands everyone's differences and treats each of her classmates with respect.

"Cassey understands that everyone is unique and through word and deed, she makes everyone feel special," shared Gundersen. "She is a wonderful role model for her classmates in many ways, but especially in exhibiting to others what acceptance means."

Gundersen described UPStander Pre-kindergartner Aiden Downey from the Dunfee School as a wonderful and caring students, who will play with anyone.

“Aiden has such a big heart and wants to share his love with everyone," Gundersen read. "We are so proud of him, and he is such a meaningful part of our school community.”

All students gathered on stage and received their plaque and gift certificate from Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis, Board of Education President Sean O'Brien, and Police Chief Keith Germain,