Norwich - The 11 students who crossed the stage at the Kelly Middle School auditorium last Tuesday rarely get called to their principal's office and their parents aren't used to getting written notes from the principal either.
Except last week, when they all learned they would be recipients of the school system's top student awards.
"This is exciting," Superintendent Abby Dolliver said at the start of Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. "Our board meetings can't usually get that description, 'exciting,' but this one does."
At the November board meeting each year, Dolliver issues the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents awards to one student from each of the city's 11 schools.
Winners vary greatly in their backgrounds, interests, reasons for getting the awards, but as Dolliver put it, all share the common theme that teamwork of parents, siblings, friends, teachers and other supporters have helped them along over the years.
Wequonnoc School fifth-grader Olivia Markham brought her support team to the stage in a parade that started with her foster mother, Daisy Lopez, and included several foster siblings.
"I'm proud to be Daisy's foster daughter," Markham said. Lopez couldn't hold back the tears.
Markham has been living with Lopez, a Norwich public schools para-educator, for nearly a year, and during that time, Markham has "blossomed," her principal, Scott Fain, said.
Fain said there was a word in the congratulatory letter that Markham didn't understand. He explained "resiliency" to the fifth-grader and asked her on stage to repeat the definition.
"I bounce back up," Markham said.
Uncas School recipient Litzianna Ruiz knows about resiliency too. Her fifth-grade teacher, William Young, said support from her mother, Auriana Diaz, and her younger sister, Autumm, 4, is what brought them all to the stage last week. Diaz is a single mother taking care of the two girls.
"We've been through a lot," Diaz said. "She understands what it means to be in need."
Young said the fifth-grader brings that understanding to school every day. She is dedicated to her schoolwork, boasting that she read 56 books over the summer. And when fellow students need help, Ruiz is first to offer a hand.
"She always brings the students who feel left out into her fold," Young said.
Kelly Middle School Principal William Peckrul admitted he doesn't see his school's recipient, Marc Carboni, too often, and he relied on comments from his teachers describe him as hard-working and polite, having the respect of teachers and students and enjoying diverse interests including hunting and karate.
At the Samuel Huntington School, recipient Joshua Huber "ROCKS" which stands for "Respect, Opportunity, Cooperation, Kindness and Safety," Principal Marianne Nardone explained to parents and audience members last week.
"Joshua is respectful to teachers and staff as well as his peers in school, on the lacrosse field, or while volunteering his time at his church," she said. "Joshua makes the most out of the opportunities he is given. He uses his time wisely, puts forth his best efforts on assignments, and enjoys learning. His cooperative attitude and great sense of humor makes him popular and respected by his peers and a teacher's joy to work with. Joshua is kindhearted and is always willing to help others."
As for the "safety" part, Huber volunteers to help guide Huntington's kindergarten students to their proper buses at the end of each day.
"If you have ever been in a room full of enthusiastic and energetic 5-year-olds, you know this is no small feat," Nardone said.