BARNEGAT, NJ – Thanksgiving represents the time that families and friends show gratitude. In Barnegat, students receive recognition throughout the year. The UPstander initiative stands as a program that allows educators, local law enforcement authorities, and the community to express their appreciation for what are extraordinary efforts.

During the month of October, Racaniello’s Pizza donated gift certificates and sponsored the school district’s UPstander Awards.  Dolce Bagels awarded the first set of students the opportunity to dine with their families in appreciation of their dedication.

Students who earn the UPstander distinction are nominated by teachers or school administration. Their actions demonstrate a commitment to the well-being of others. In short, the children show a spirit of unselfishness that represents model behavior.

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Leah Fieger Purpuri, District Supervisor of Guidance, traditionally acknowledges students selected for the Barnegat School District UPstander awards. In her absence, Barnegat High School Vice Principal Michelle Johns provided the reasons each of six students qualified as an UPstander recipient.

Adding to the List of Barnegat’s UPstander Student Awards

In describing Barnegat’s UPstander awards, Johns spoke about the focus on family and the promotion of a positive school culture.  “Through this program, students who demonstrate kindness, community, advocacy, and positive leadership, are recognized,” shared Johns.

The awards are presented at the Board of Education and start at the high school level. Brooke Schmalz, a senior at Barnegat High School, was the first to receive a plaque and certificate. “Brooke has been a successful student and a student leader within the school on the athletic fields and the community,” Johns said.

“As president of the senior class, a leading member of the yearbook, Brooke shows her Bengal pride and her commitment to respect by planning various Bengal pride events for the students of Barnegat High School,” continued Johns, who went into greater details concerning Brooke’s athletic and community-focused activities.

Sixth-grader Jayden Dunbar received the UPstander award from Brackman Middle School.  “Jayden goes out of his way to help others in class,” Johns said. “He is first to offer his supplies and his assistance to anybody who needs it.”

According to Johns, Jayden is always kind to his fellow students and never fails to greet each student who enters the room with a smile and a hello. “Jason makes our class and our school a happier and respectful place to be,” read Johns from the nomination submitted by Brackman.

The Barnegat School District is home to three separate elementary schools. Mason Wheeler, who attends the fifth grade at the Cecil S. Collins Elementary School, received UPstander recognition.

“Mason does what he thinks is right, even if he stands alone,” Johns shared. “He is a wonderful example of an UPstander.  As a safety patrol officer, Mason goes out of his way to help younger students. He does have to be asked to jump in to assist, as he feels a personal responsibility to help others in need.”

 Johns further described Mason as a great role model who the Collins Schools was proud to name as representing them as an UPstander representative.

The recipient of the UPstander award from the Joseph T. Donahue Elementary School, was Jackson Lennox, another fifth-grader. “Jackson’s respect for hard work is demonstrated every day when he comes prepared, ready to follow instructions, and dedicated to doing his best,” said Johns.

According to Johns, Jackson focuses on working hard even when other students attempt to get his attention by acting silly. “He is always polite, courteous, and respectful to teachers, staff, and his classmates,” Johns continued. “Jackson’s respect for the school is evident when he stays behind in the classroom to tidy up and organizes materials not put away by others.”

 The youngest student to receive an UPstander award during this particular presentation was Nino Guido, a third-grader at the Lillian M. Dunfee Elementary School.  Johns gave an example of Nino’s behavior that accounted for his nomination.

“Nino stayed behind to help other students clean up their tables when they were being dismissed from lunch,” shared Johns. “One of the other students left behind money that he dropped when he was walking away.”

With no other students or staff in sight, one of the kitchen workers saw Nino do something exemplary. “Nino ran up and gave the money to the student who dropped it,” Johns said. “This was not the first time that anyone saw Nino’s respectful and responsible behavior. He often models and suggests that other students be polite and respectful when getting their lunches.”

Fourth-grader Isabella Costello received UPstander recognition on behalf of the Robert L. Horbelt Elementary School. Johns gave an example of an incident that demonstrated Isabella’s display of kindness and respect.

“Isabella noticed there was a new student at Horbelt in the other fourth-grade class that only spoke Spanish,” shared Johns. “Isabella wanted the other girl to feel welcome, so she took it upon herself to write a note in Spanish.”

According to Johns, Isabella doesn’t speak Spanish herself. She decided to use Google Translate to help her write the letter. “It was such a sweet and kind gesture,” Johns continued. “Isabella asked the other student if she would like to play with her at recess.”

When Isabella realized the new student was also on her bus, she decided to sit with her on the bus and teach her some words in English.

Barnegat Board of Education President Scott Sarno, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis and Lieutenant Jason Carroll of the Barnegat Police Department congratulated the recipients of the UPstander award and posed for photographs with them.

Stephanie A. Faughnan is a local journalist and Director of Writefully Inspired, a professional writing and resume service. Feel free to contact her at