ELIZABETH–Benedictine Academy (BA), the all-female Catholic college prep high school in Elizabeth, has been selected by Jefferson Awards as the number one “Ambassador Gold Medal High School in the Nation” for Public Service Leadership in 2013, school officials have announced. The school focuses on many service initiatives, however, the Ambassador Award singled out and lauded the work of students at the Academy to fight modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking.
This is the third year that Benedictine Academy has earned the Jefferson Awards Gold Medal. The Academy won “Best New Jefferson Awards Students in Action High School in the Nation” and “Gold Regional Students in Action Competition” in 2011; the prestigious Gold Medal Banner for the “Jefferson Award” Regional Competition for the state of New Jersey, and, the top Jefferson Awards “Students in Action High School in the Nation” in 2012; and the number one “Jefferson Awards Ambassador High School in the Nation” in 2013. “Jefferson Awards for Public Service”, created in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard, are considered the “Nobel Prize” for public and community service in America.
“I am so proud of the outstanding honor of Benedictine Academy receiving for the third year in a row, the distinction of the Jefferson Awards Gold Service banner – this year as an Ambassador School,” Benedictine Academy Principal Kenneth Jennings noted in announcing the award. “The work of Mrs. Michalski, moderator of the Students in Action program, and the new members of her team, has been extraordinary this year. It is remarkable that many of the SIA team members are new and they have continued our school’s tradition of service, especially on behalf of those who have been imprisoned by human trafficking. The work of this team represents the very best of the noble history of Benedictine Academy in service to those in need.”
Karen Hatcher, Jefferson Awards Regional Students in Action Director, traveled to the Academy in late April to present the Ambassador Award. Hatcher stated, “Benedictine Academy was named Top Ambassador High School, the top of the top of all elite high schools in the Jefferson Awards Students in Action program. They continue to make New Jersey proud.”
Since Benedictine Academy was tapped as the highest ranking Ambassador Gold Medal High School in the USA this year, BA students, representative of the top high school in the nation, will travel in June to Washington, DC to the Jefferson Awards National Ceremony. There, Jefferson Awards for Outstanding Public Service will be bestowed upon unsung heroes, high-profile individuals, professional athletes, organizations, a Students in Action school, and the National Ambassador Gold Medal High School (Benedictine Academy). Past honorees include Hon. Sandra Day O’Connor, Colin Powell, Barbara Bush, and Peyton Manning.
There are only six high schools in the nation who qualify and compete on the “Ambassador” level. An Ambassador High School promotes service within an entire community on behalf of the Jefferson Awards and serves as a model for other Students in Action high schools. Benedictine Academy earned the privilege of being invited to compete on the Ambassador Level this year based on their prior Gold Medal and National winnings two years in a row.
An additional honor given to Benedictine Academy this year was the naming of Linda Michalski, BA’s Jefferson Award Moderator, as recipient of the 2013 Teacher Hero Award sponsored by State Farm Insurance. Her name proudly stands among outstanding educators in the National Liberty Museum Teachers As Heroes Exhibit in Philadelphia for her work with her students to abolish Modern Day Slavery/ Human Trafficking. The National Liberty Museum’s Teacher Heroes Program honors exceptional teachers for their impact both in the field of education and in the community. Each of the recognized teachers must have demonstrated creativity, overcome challenges, and worked to defuse violence in our society.
“Each year, our school has proudly earned a higher level of achievement in National Service Leadership,” Michalski stated. “Inspired by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Jenn Lim, the CEO of Delivering Happiness, we have designed an educational curriculum to form students as leaders to be civil advocates and the ‘do-gooders’ of our society,” Michalski said. “At Benedictine Academy, we believe we have a shared responsibility to build a more just and peaceful world,” she added.
“Jefferson Award Ambassador judging is extremely rigorous,” Michalski noted. It is based upon the highest standards for leadership and meaningful impact on serving the community. The criteria is based on: completing all seven Student in Action goals and providing measurable outcomes for each goal; demonstrating innovation, creativity and visible impact to the community through both written essay and a 5-7 minute visual presentation; helping judge at the Regional Competition; and developing one peer session at Leadership Training or developing one module/toolkit, for training purposes, to be used regionally or nationally.
“At Benedictine Academy it is our mission to listen to the needs of humanity and form our students to become true leaders in the community,” Michalski said. “21st Century Learning actively engages students beyond the four walls of a classroom,” she added. “Faith in Action reflects our heart commitment to Jesus, the first teacher in every classroom of our school.”
The Ambassador Level is the highest level of Mentor Service Leadership. “The value of being an Ambassador Service Leadership School, is in what students gain,” both Michalski and Hatcher believe. That includes: a deeper understanding of themselves and empathy and respect for others; opportunities to explore skills and interests and to network for career readiness; 21st century skills in the form of critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, decision-making, collaboration and communication; energy and creativity of youth in addressing community needs; opportunities to build positive relationships between community members and schools; and to become a new generation of caring and experienced citizens, activists, and volunteers.”
Selected in 2010 as an official “Jefferson Awards Service Leadership School”, Benedictine Academy was the first of any New Jersey school to join Students in Action. There are now over 325 “Jefferson Awards Service Leadership Schools” serving as role models for other schools across the nation to emulate. Each school’s faculty leadership and student volunteers are helping pass the tradition of voluntary service to future generations, while promoting a culture of volunteerism, youth ethics and leadership.
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