BARNEGAT, NJ -  Last year, the Barnegat School District introduced the UPstander initiative. Although classes just started back in session weeks ago, the tradition continues. At the September Board of Education meeting, a student from each of Barnegat’s six schools received special recognition.

Barnegat Schools rewards UPstander recognition to students who are considered altruistic. Those unfamiliar with the term may understand how an upstander contrasts from a bystander. A bystander sits by and lets things happen, which could include bullying or intolerance. An upstander does his or her best to make a difference.

During the school year, selected students are honored at the monthly Board of Education meeting. Their contributions are not only acknowledged by the Board of Education and Superintendent of Schools. The Barnegat Police Department also participates in making the special presentations.

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“In Barnegat, we believe in family and in students becoming the best versions of themselves,” shared Leah Fieger Purpuri, District Supervisor of Guidance.  “Respect is the theme of the UPstander initiative this month.”

 Students presented with UPstander recognition receive gift cards to a local eatery to enjoy a meal with their families. Dolce Bagel donated the awards to students acknowledged in September.

“We’re bringing back the idea of family togetherness at a family meal,” explained Purpuri.

Six Barnegat Students Received UPstander Recognition

Purpuri introduced the six Barnegat students who received UPstander recognition. In addition to the restaurant gift certificates, the recipients all received plaques. Board of Education President Scott Sarno, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis, and Barnegat Police Lieutenant Jason Carroll personally congratulated each of the award winners and posed for a photograph with them.

A senior at Barnegat High School, Madelyn Russomanno was the first to receive the 2019-2020 UPstander award. Russomanno also acts as the student liaison to the Board of Education. She was elected to the position last year by her peers.

“Madelyn is an accomplished, kind and hard-working student and young woman,” shared Purpuri. “As student government president, Madelyn has already started the school year with Bengals pride and showing her commitment to respect. This includes passing on positive messages in leading assemblies and morning announcements.”

Kaitlyn Lutcza received UPstander recognition as a seventh-grader from the Russell O. Brackman Middle School. “Kaitlyn was chosen for the award because of her willingness to go out of her way to make others feel included and special,” Purpuri said. “She’s the type of student who doesn’t let others sit alone for lunch or feel left out. Kaitlyn never fails to lend a hand, a smile or kind word.”

Fifth-grader Ricardo Villanueva, who attends the Cecil S. Collins Elementary School was honored next. “Rico has grown to a responsible and strong young man,” shared Purpuri. “He helps smaller children in need without being asked.”

Purpuri then proceeded to give an example of the Collins student’s action. “Recently, Rico was seen helping kindergarten students put on their seatbelts without being prompted.”

The Joseph T. Donahue Elementary School chose third-grader Kaitlyn Truzack as their September UPstander award recipient.  According to the notes shared by Purpuri, “Kaitlyn is an all-around respectful student who comes to school with a positive and excited to learn attitude every single day.”

“By example, Kaitlyn encourages others to follow school rules and routines,” continued Purpuri. “Kaitlyn is polite and respectful and always ready to help others.”

Second-grader Kelsey Gil received UPstander recognition on behalf of the Lillian M. Dunfee Elementary School. Kelsey is new to the school and speaks both English and Spanish.

“Kelsey is an amazing young girl,” Purpuri shared. “She has been selflessly helping her teacher translate for two Spanish-speaking students. The two girls are soft-spoken, and Kelsey’s demeanor helps them feel more comfortable in class.”

The Robert L. Horbelt Elementary School selected fifth-grader Brandon Turi as its nominee for the UPstander award. According to Purpuri, “Brandon is a very caring young man and is always willing to help when needed.”

“He is a hard worker and perseveres at difficult tasks,” Purpuri continued. “Brandon is kind and enjoys being involved in school activities.”

The conclusion of the presentation left meeting attendees with a positive message. The Barnegat School District has a number of upstanding students. As the year progresses, it will be interesting to learn about more young people intent on making a difference.


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