Wilson staff honored for going ‘above and beyond’

When the new Above & Beyond Award to recognize staff was announced, the award committee received a compelling nomination request from Amy Smolak, the mother of Nic Ballweber, a first-grade student at Wilson Elementary School, Anoka.

Wilson Elementary School staff were honored May 1 for going “Above & Beyond” for Nic Ballweber, a first-grade student, and his family. Pictured with Ballweber’s mother, Amy Smolak (second from left) are Juanita Pabone, child nutrition assistant; Diane Henning, principal; Sandi Cotter, kindergarten teacher; Cecilia Clark, first-grade teacher; Denise Whitaker, media specialist; Ken Ujifusa, social worker; and Kathy Kruger, health para-educator. Photo submitted

Wilson Elementary School staff were honored May 1 for going “Above & Beyond” for Nic Ballweber, a first-grade student, and his family. Pictured with Ballweber’s mother, Amy Smolak (second from left) are Juanita Pabone, child nutrition assistant; Diane Henning, principal; Sandi Cotter, kindergarten teacher; Cecilia Clark, first-grade teacher; Denise Whitaker, media specialist; Ken Ujifusa, social worker; and Kathy Kruger, health para-educator. Photo submitted

Prior to the start of the school year, her son, Ballweber, was diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an inoperable tumor located on the brain stem. Because the Wilson staff has been amazing through her son’s illness, Smolak wanted to nominated the entire school for an award.

“It would be impossible to pick just one person to nominate because all of them have done an amazing job of working together to get done whatever they felt needed to be done,” said Smolak of the staff who worked hard to help him start first grade and to remain part of the school community even during his absences during hospitalizations and treatments. “They are very genuine people; they are doing what they are doing because they want to, not because they have to. They have very big hearts.”

While nominating an entire school did not fit the Above & Beyond Award criteria as advertised, Smolak’s request was so moving that the committee decided to be flexible and an exception was made.

In making a special presentation at the Above & Beyond Award ceremony April 25, Mary Olson, director of the communication and public relations department and co-presenter at the ceremony, shared Ballweber’s story.

While he started school in September, his mother was told in October he had a short time to live and she made the decision to keep him at home. In January, Ballweber and his family received hope after he underwent a surgery and was able to return to school in February. This spring, Ballweber was again hospitalized and now attends school on a limited basis.

In addition to being recognized at the Above & Beyond Award ceremony, a short presentation, along with cake and punch, was held at Wilson May 1. While Ballweber was not able to attend, his mother spoke and shared with everyone how they have touched her family members’ lives.

“I don’t think I can find the perfect works to express how your actions have impacted my life,” Smolak said. “I’ve never known a school like this before.”

Dr. Mary Wolverton, associate superintendent of elementary schools, also spoke to the Wilson staff. She said hearing Ballweber’s story at the Above & Beyond Award ceremony touched her on a level that is hard to explain.

“Every single one of you work hard for the school’s children day in and day out,” Wolverton said. “You really get to the core of what we do and understand how we matter to the children and families who come into our lives. We can only imagine the impact we’ve had on Nic and his mom.

“At the ceremony every single school administrator and teacher I talked with was amazed at what you have done to support Nic and Amy. They were equally amazed that Amy brought this story forward to share with us. Thank you.”

Principal Diane Henning also shared her gratitude with the staff.

“There are hundreds of little ways you each did something that has been part of Nic and Amy’s journey,” she said. “I am so grateful and so proud of this staff because of who you are and what you do for kids.”

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