Middle school students celebrate everyday heroes

Parents and grandparents, best friends, brothers and sisters – even a senator – rose to hero status when Anoka Middle School for the Arts students identified everyday heroes during the school’s Feb. 6 Hero Celebration.

Gathered in the auditorium that cold winter’s night, family, friends and teachers’ hearts were warmed as students read their essays and described what it takes to be a hero.

After Jack Weaver tearfully told those present at Anoka Middle School for the Arts’ Feb. 6 Hero Celebration that his brother, Chaz, who has Down syndrome, “has more to deal with than all of us, but carries twice the amount of love and decency than all of us,” the brothers embraced and Jack’s hero kissed him on the forehead. Photo by Sue Austreng

After Jack Weaver tearfully told those present at Anoka Middle School for the Arts’ Feb. 6 Hero Celebration that his brother, Chaz, who has Down syndrome, “has more to deal with than all of us, but carries twice the amount of love and decency than all of us,” the brothers embraced and Jack’s hero kissed him on the forehead. Photo by Sue Austreng

Courage, kindness, optimism, selflessness, determination and honesty were key words students used to describe those heroes.

But perhaps the most heart-warming essay was read by Jack Weaver, a 14-year-old middle school student who calls his 21-year-old brother, Chaz, his hero.

“Chaz has more to deal with than all of us, but carries twice the amount of love and decency than all of us. He’s my knight in shining armor. He’s always ready to cheer you up. He hugs you and instantly makes you feel loved – his love makes everyone feel better about themselves,” Jack said about his big brother Chaz, a young man who lives with  Down syndrome.

Nearing the close of his essay, Jack tearfully said, “Chaz doesn’t see his challenge as a disability. He’s the kind of man I want to be … he’s one in a billion … I love my brother. Chaz is my hero and he always will be.”

As Jack handed his hero a carnation and a souvenir copy of his essay, Chaz embraced him with his signature hug, wrapping his arms around him and kissing him on the forehead.

“He’s the best brother ever,” Jack said.

Rachel Voissem called her grandmother a hero and after reading her Hero Celebration essay during the Feb. 6 program, Rachel presented her hero with a rose and a souvenir copy of her essay. Photo by Sue Austreng

Rachel Voissem called her grandmother a hero and after reading her Hero Celebration essay during the Feb. 6 program, Rachel presented her hero with a rose and a souvenir copy of her essay. Photo by Sue Austreng

The essays were the result of a writing assignment that combined media literacy and research skills.

“In media literacy we reflect on heroes in the media – Marvel comic book heroes, Superman, Iron Man and all the rest. Are those real heroes or not? Then students identified someone in their life who they see as a hero. They interviewed people who know that hero, incorporated direct quotes into the essay and wrote about who their hero is,” said Jodi Anderson-Wolhaupter, English and writing teacher at the school.

“The students realized it’s people in their own lives – the ones who pack their lunch, who give encouragement in daily life – those are the true heroes.”

Student representatives of Anderson-Wolhaupter and Kristin Gifford’s classes read their essays to an audience of family, friends and staff members – and the heroes themselves – and then presented their heroes with a souvenir copy of their essay and a carnation.

Most called parents or grandparents, best friends or siblings “heroes” – one even called Sen. Amy Klobuchar a hero – and all seemed genuine in their praise of their heroes and in their expression of gratitude to them.

Anderson-Wolhaupter also told heroes gathered for the event, “We marvel at your acts of courage and grace and thank you for your influence on students’ lives.”

Following the reading of the essays, students and their families and heroes enjoyed cake and refreshments in the school cafeteria.

Sue Austreng is at sue.austreng@ecm-inc.com

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