South Side recognizes its ‘unsung heroes’

The fifth annual Breakfast of Champions recognized more than 30 students


The Breakfast of Champions program was introduced at South Side High School five years ago to recognize “unsung heroes” in the classroom. This annual tradition has continued to grow, as more faculty members honor the students who have quietly and unassumingly exemplified what it means to be a “champion” among their peers.

“I think it’s gaining more traction,” Patrick Walsh, principal of South Side High School, said. “The staff know it better. The buildings start to recognize it when you say it. There's more of an awareness of what it is, and we hope that this encourages kids to take positive actions.”

Walsh spearheaded the program five years ago, while he was still the assistant principal at South Side, to give teachers a chance to recognize some of the students who otherwise would have fallen under the radar.

This year, more than 30 students were selected as honorees for demonstrating qualities such as responsibility, caring, fairness, respect, citizenship, and trustworthiness.

Instead of their normal second and third-period classes, students were invited to attend a special breakfast on June 5, where they were recognized and presented with gifts for their contributions to the school.

Educators took turns at the podium, praising the respective students for their efforts in the classroom.

Melissa Lamoureux, who said that this was her first year teaching wood design teacher at South Side High School, nominated Jake Bivona, a freshman who transferred into the district partway through the first semester.

“Talk about change being hard, try coming in a couple of months into the school year as a ninth-grader,” Lamoureux said. “Jake came into the school and fit right in.”

She said that since joining the class, Bivona has shown tremendous growth in character and that she chose to nominate him for the Breakfast of Champions for his work ethic, leadership qualities and the level of respect he shows towards his peers and teachers.

“I can't say enough about his character and how much I've seen him grow over the past year,” Lamoureux said. “I want to congratulate Jake on an amazing year. Job well done.”

Nicole Knorr, a social worker at the high school who helps facilitate the Sources of Strength program, said that when the program was first presented five years ago, faculty members were excited about the opportunity to honor students who might not otherwise have been recognized.

This year, she nominated two students — Jenny Lopez and Tommy Puccio — for demonstrating respect, responsibility and determination.

“When I think of the words ‘grit,’ ‘character’ and ‘commitment,’ Geny Lopez comes to mind,” Knorr said. “She has made a commitment to herself and to her future, to never give up and always try her best. Geny has proven to be a great self-advocate, always seeking opportunities and new challenges. She's a responsible and respectful young woman who is liked by peers and adults.”

Knorr said she first met Puccio, he presented himself as eager and kind but had the nervousness that is expected of a ninth grader.

“Over the course of four years, I’ve had the pleasure of watching Tommy grow as a student, a friend, an advocate, a caretaker and a leader,” she said “Tommy found his confidence through the risks that he took and the connections that he made at South Side High School. I'm so proud of the young man that he has become and look forward to hearing about his future as a nurse.”

Herbert Weiss, the science research coordinator at South Side High, nominated Madison McNeill, one of his students who said was, “for lack of a better term a social butterfly.”

“In essence, she was making the classroom better,” Weiss said. “She would go around and if people were down if people weren't feeling great about themselves, Madison's the type of person that would go around and try to pick them up … whether it’s with sports or extra help, she’s here and she makes a difference because she cares.”

In a parting message, Walsh said, “I think you can clearly see the message the faculty is sending. Academics are important here. Extracurriculars, sports, clubs, music, theater … all of those things are important, but nothing is as important as being a good person. Our job as the faculty of your high school is to help you guys become better people, and you make our job more enriching and fulfilling so keep up the great work.

The students who were acknowledged for their contributions to the school at this year included Nick Agoglia, Gabrielle Belarmino, Jake Bivona, Alessandro Bracco, Miles Erdos, Harper Falivene, Malkiel Ferrens, Christian Gonzalez, Gabby Guizzo, Harrison Johnson, Adrianna Lewis, Geny Lopez, Jimmy Loud, AJ Magaraci, Michael Maher, Nathaniel Mammo, Katori Martin, Slade May, Madison McNeill, Kayleigh Miller, Elena Mingorance, D’Andre Mullings-Newberry, Elingel Pantaleon, Alisa Petrone, Maeve Powers, Tommy Puccio, Sebastian Reyes, Leander Rogan, Franklin Russo, Conor Sheehan, Noscaela St. Louis, Connor Sullivan, Harper Taran and Kyle Weisenberger.

Faculty and staff members who submitted nominations included Walsh, social worker Nicole Knorr, Phys. ed. instructors Liz Marshall, Meaghan Healey and Kelly Figueiredo, nurse Diane DeMeo, school counselor Marcy Pedone, greenhouse instructor Frank VanZant, and teachers Nick Pernot, Katie Friel, Lamoureaux, Katie Burke, Christine Brown, Emily Flores, Bruce Hecker, Jessica Goro, Marisa McLeod, Todd Russo, Tom Hessel, Herb Weiss, Annie Ryan, Margaret Kelly, Robert Devlin and Therese Cohen.