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Annual breakfast honors Willmar students who make a difference

Willmar Middle School counselor Annette Tiffany, left, pays tribute Wednesday to Maria Munoz during the Breakfast of Champions program. Teachers picked one of their students to be recognized for making a positive difference at the school. Tribune photo by Ron Adams1 / 2
Willmar Middle School teachers honored their students Wednesday during Breakfast of Champions. More than 75 students, parents, teachers and administrators attended the event to pay tribute to the youth, selected from a student body of 900. Tribune photo by Ron Adams2 / 2

There's something special about the 20 students honored Wed-nesday at the Willmar Middle School's Break-fast of Champions. The students were recognized for making a positive difference at the school. The descriptions from their teachers and school staff painted a picture of students who are polite and friendly, who always come to class with a smile. They willingly help their teachers and classmates. They're nice to others.

And on top of that, there must be an intangible something extra that has made them stand out in a school of 900 students.

The breakfast held before school attracted more than 75 students, parents, teachers and administrators. Musicians from the school's music department played while breakfast was served.

Breakfast of Champions was started by Principal Mark Miley several years ago and has become a tradition at the school. "You'll see kids at the Y or the high school that will be wearing their Breakfast of Champions shirts," he said. "People kind of look forward to this."

The breakfast Wednesday honored mostly students from science and communications classes. A similar breakfast two weeks ago honored social studies and math students. All of the champions receive a red Breakfast of Champions T-shirt at the breakfast to wear for the rest of the day.

Miley told the gathering that "teachers are only able to recognize one student from everybody they know." Some of the teachers may have as many as 300 students over the course of a year, he added.

Miley also thanked the parents. "You send wonderful children to us," he said. "That helps everybody at the Middle School."

Each teacher and student came up so that the teacher could take the microphone and tell everyone why they were honoring the student.

The students had been chosen for a number of reasons. For some, it was their sunny dispositions, their willingness to help others, their attitude in the halls. For others, the recognition came because of the way they have changed their attitudes in the past year. The teachers also spoke about the students' potential going forward.

Some of the stories were humorous.

Teacher Laura Viaene described Carissa Defries as the bright, smiling face in a sea of sleepy, blank stares in her first-hour class. "When I ask for volunteers, she always has her hand up," she said.

"When I first had Chris (Turrubiates) in my study hall, we didn't see eye to eye," Lou Klaers said to chuckles from the audience, "but we talked it out."

Klaers said his attitude has turned around. He is now on the honor roll and offering to help other students.

Melissa Wallestad let Rossy Moreno tell the audience her first words to her new communications teacher: "I don't like to read." That's changed, though, and Rossy has read "as many or more books than anyone in our class."

The breakfast had a serious side, too.

Counselor Jeff Winter honored Keenan Manney, who he said helped him put life in perspective. While he wasn't specific about the challenges the boy had faced, Winter said that "Keenan got a whole bag of lemons this year." Still, he was a good big brother to his siblings and kept his grades up.

Jubilee Love was called "an all-around great student and great person," by teacher John Kuznik. Her father, David Love, said he was glad to be at the breakfast, which he hadn't known about until a letter arrived inviting them. "It was an honor for her to be chosen," he said.

After the breakfast, as he watched the champions pose for a group photograph in their new red T-shirts, he said he had enjoyed the teachers' stories. "To me that says a lot," he said. "They're doing something to set themselves apart."

The students who were honored on Wednesday, listed with their grade and the staff member who nominated them: Shelby-Lyn Schneider, 8, Mark Miley; Chris Turrubiates, 7, Lou Klaers; Carissa Defries, 8, Laura Viaene; Jessa Hanson, 6, Kim Oehrlein;

Eduardo Rios, 6, Sheryl Schwitters; Anisa Abdulahi, 6, Ben Panchyshyn; Daniel Martinez, 6, Carolyn Gripentrog; Rossy Moreno, 7, Melissa Wallestad; Andres Cabrera, 8, Beckie Simenson;

Jubilee Love, 6, John Kuznik; Isaac Vasquez, 7, Mary Benson; Alexandra Holwerda, 8, Tracey Erickson; Ryan Morales, 7, Alison Maier; Ryan Larsen, 7, Darla Reynolds;

Keenan Manney, 6, Jeff Winter; Maria Munoz, 8, Annette Tiffany; Mohamed D. Ahmed, 6, Sara Rucker; Riley Lasnetski, 7, Cathy Nilles; Jennifer Cruz, 6, Scott Thompson; and Zahra Farah, 8, Ben Olofson.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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