March 30 2018,  Saugus

“It’s about the kids and the parents”

Saugus Business Education Collaborative honors nine students at 14th Annual Unsung Hero Awards banquet

By Mark E. Vogler

Wheelabrator Vice President of Environmental, Health and Safety James Connolly stands with the nine 2018 Unsung Heroes of the Saugus Public School System. In addition, State Representative Donald Wong presented each student with a citation from the State House.  (Advocate photo by Al Terminiello)

Veteran educator Debbie Mallon says she has seen profound acts of kindness by many of her students during more than four decades in classrooms of the Saugus Public Schools. But few of her pupils have impressed her as much as the boy who offered to donate $45 out of his piggy bank to help buy Christmas presents for kids whose families couldn’t afford them.

“Connor is one of the most helpful and caring students that I have ever had since I began teaching 43 years,” Mallon, a long-time 5th Grade teacher at Veterans Memorial Elementary School, told the crowd in a small banquet room at Prince Pizzeria Tuesday night.

“It’s very evident to both the adults and students at our school,” she said.

When Mallon checked with Connor’s parent to see whether he had gotten permission to donate that much money, his mom reassured the teacher it was okay. “His mother told me that ‘We truly believe in acts of kindness, and we were proud of him when he asked if he could give the money to help others,’” she said.

Connor was one of nine students honored at the 14th Annual Unsung Hero Awards banquet sponsored by the Saugus Business Education Collaborative (SBEC).

Other winners selected from the town’s six public school houses included the following:

  • Lynnhurst Elementary School – Lily Ventre, 5th Grade.
  • Oaklandvale Elementary School – George Salsman, 5th Grade.
  • Veterans Memorial Elementary School – Isabella Phon, 5th Grade.
  • Waybright Elementary School – Jack Sambataro, 5th Grade.
  • Belmonte Middle School – Fiona McMennimen and Felicia Reppuci, 8th Grade.
  • Saugus High School – Aryana Carney and Nicole Orent, Senior Class.


Common qualities of the Unsung Hero

Saugus Superintendent of Schools Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. praised “hardworking teachers and principals” having a positive influence on the students who were honored. But he also noted “It’s about the kids and the parents,” those most responsible for the students’ academic achievement, overall character and other factors that made them heroes in their respective communities.

The purpose behind the Unsung Hero Awards is to recognize those unassuming students who work behind the scenes to make Saugus Public Schools a better place. Excellent students or good students with remarkable work ethic, role models and mentors to fellow students, kind, compassionate, caring, eager to help other students, a talent for making faculty and fellow students feel welcome – especially those sitting alone in a cafeteria and good citizens by example – were some of the more common qualities that teachers cited when they gave short speeches from the podium. Winners received a plaque as well as a $25 gift certificate to Barnes & Noble. SBEC had professional photographers on hand to take photos of the recipients alongside their teachers and parents.

“We’re proud of the parents, teachers and students,” state Rep. Donald Wong (R-Saugus) said. Wong described “unsung heroes” as “people who do things not always expected of them.” Wong presented each of the students with legislative citations – signed by him, state Rep. RoseLee Vincent (D-Revere) and House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo – offering congratulations on behalf of the Massachusetts House of Representatives to each of the winners.

James Connolly, vice president of environmental, health and safety for Wheelabrator Technologies, Inc., said the purpose of the Unsung Hero Awards is “to recognize students who make an outstanding contribution to their community.” Wheelabrator has sponsored the Unsung Hero Awards since its inception.


“The best of the best”

Receiving an Unsung Hero Award is based on a variety of factors, including academic effort, character, maturity, personality, standing among peers and staff, school citizenship and contributions to the entire school community, according to John Smolinsky, SBEC president and a longtime master of ceremonies for the event and numerous other community organizations. Smolinsky told the parents they should be proud of their children being singled out as an “Unsung Hero” in a school district of more than 2,000 students, noting “Your child is one of nine.”

In his closing remarks at the end of the night, Smolinsky emphasized for the parents that “your children are the best of the best.”

The award winners, their parents, teachers, school principals, School Committee members and several members of the Board of Selectmen dined on a meal of pizza, salad and pasta with chicken cutlets or meatballs.

For Mallon, a 1971 Saugus High School graduate who decided to make teaching in her hometown a professional career, her final “Unsung Hero Awards Night” was special as she looks forward to retirement this spring. “Out of the 14 years I’ve been here, I’ve had at least 10 Unsung Heroes,” Mallon said in an interview after the banquet.”

“I think there’s a lot of Unsung Heroes in every school. We had eight candidates this year. We select one boy and one girl. It’s a wonderful way to recognize great students who may not get recognized one way or another,” she said.

Mallon was excited about having taught the other fifth grader at Veterans Memorial Elementary School who won the Unsung Hero Award this year – Isabella Phon. Mallon noted that she’s “a straight A student” who has demonstrated “exemplary character.” Mallon read several comments from some of Isabella’s classmates, including one from Kendall, who wrote: “Isabella is nice, helpful and very caring. She goes to the first grade most afternoons to help students with their reading. She is very responsible.”


Leaders of the Class of 2018

Kristina Crepeau, a math teacher and lacrosse coach at Saugus High School, had a unique relationship with one of this year’s Unsung Hero Award winners. Crepeau got to have senior Aryana Carney in her classroom and also got to coach her on the lacrosse field. She noted that Aryana received the Unsung Hero Award in both lacrosse and soccer in previous seasons.

“She is a playmaker for both programs but doesn’t always get the fame and glory that comes with scoring all the goals,” Crepeau said.

“It is an honor to have received the Unsung Hero Award from both programs proving what a selfless player and person she is. Ary is one of those players that will run through pain and do whatever it takes to help her teammates,” she said.

Besides being “an awesome athlete,” Aryana is treasurer of her class and president of the National Honor Society. “Our school would be a better place if we could have hundreds of students like her walking around,” Crepeau said.

Nicole Orent – another Unsung Hero Award winner selected from the senior class at Saugus High – drew high praise from several members of the school faculty. National Honor Society Advisor Michelle Lee called Nicole “a dedicated member and Vice President of the National Honor Society.”

“She constantly steps up whenever needed to help out her chapter members. She has been an integral part of our organization this year and has made many of our service projects possible,” Lee said.

Bethany Norton, a co-advisor of the senior class, called Nicole “consistently considerate.” “She is always putting others before herself and constantly offering up her own help to make the lives of others better,” Norton said.

“Whether she is staying extra late at school to help out with a school event, or offering a ride home to a fellow peer, she is an incredibly special person.”

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