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Researchers in education find that students in schools with a strong sense of community are more likely to be motivated to learn as well as to develop a strong sense of ethics and responsibility.

Principal Tracy Kent believes in building that strong sense of community at Berlin Elementary School.

Principal Kent and the Character Education Committee see community building happening within the school and also in the examples that are set in student’s homes.

In normal school years students at BES would come together monthly in the gymnasium to talk about character traits that build a strong school community. The students discussed being supportive of one another and honoring the accomplishments successes of their fellow students through awards and recognition.

In previous years at the start of the BES community-building assemblies the students would recite the “Mountaineer Mantra,” which calls for being responsible, safe and respectful. These three traits are evident in the classrooms, hallways, cafeteria and school buses of BES.

Students encourage their fellow students to see this mantra as something they all have in common.

This school year has posed a new challenge, however, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic preventing students from regularly coming together to celebrate their community. Yet Principal Kent and the Character Education team have not let that stop them from continuing to build the essential community component at BES.

Students now gather virtually and continue cultivating their community in spite of the challenges the pandemic has presented. December’s “mindset focus,” discussed during the monthly assembly, decided to honor those who support and inspire others.

In that spirit, BES’s Community Spotlight features four nominees, nominated by the community: the Goyer family, the Sorbello family, the Berlin Fire Department and BES’s own Principal Kent.

Goyer Family

Photo courtesy of Noelle Goyer

The Goyers, mother Noelle, father Jay and children Julia, Vanessa, Angelina, Nora, Greenly, Christopher and Jason, well deserve the recognition.

Mrs. Goyer has been the Grafton Youth Director for over ten years. She organizes events for, and builds relationships with, the youth of Grafton.

Mrs. Goyer and her husband, Jay, along with daughters Julia and Angelina, are members of the Grafton Volunteer Fire Company. Julia and Angelina, along with their mother, are also members of the Grafton Auxiliary.

Mr. and Mrs. Goyer have been Rensselaer County foster parents for 13 years and have taken a very active part in the lives of many young people.

“We were both blessed with a servant’s heart and hope that it’s something we have instilled in our children,” said Mrs. Goyer. “Our community is small, so even if you put in a minimal amount of time, you’re still making a difference,”

Jay and Noelle’s inspiration comes from Jay’s parents, Dale and Jim Goyer, active members of the community.

“I have had the joy of being able to witness their dedication to the town for the last 25 years,” said Mrs. Goyer. “We recommend everyone get involved in their communities in some way.”

Mrs. Goyer added, “There are so many great groups in our small communities, and they need new members in order to continue operating.”

Sorbello Family

Photo courtesy of Jessica Sorbello

The Sorbello family includes parents Jessica and Joe and children Greyson and Henley. One of the main focuses of their commitment and energy is the Joseph’s House Shelter in Troy.

“We’re all just a choice or crisis away from needing help, and we want our kids to know that their voices matter and deserve to be heard,” said Mrs. Sorbello.

Before the COVID pandemic, the Sorbello children would volunteer monthly in the family room at Joseph’s House. Greyson and Henley would do crafts with the families staying there, sharing snacks and playing games.

“Living with gratitude and appreciation is only possible through paying kindness and compassion forward.”

Service work matters to the Sorbello family, and they believe it helps to bridge gaps that exist in society. The parents strive to teach their children to have the courage to stand up and change something that feels wrong.

The family lives this belief by getting involved with advocacy groups that offer support to victims of gun violence, including Moms Demand Action in the Capital District, Urban Grief and NYS SNUG Outreach, which seek to prevent and offer support to victims of inner city gun violence.

When asked who inspires her family, Mrs. Sorbello said, “I’m not sure there is one person or group that inspires us.

“There are certainly the big names and groups like Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis and The Ronald McDonald House.”

She added that day-to-day inspiration comes from the volunteers and activists her family connects with, and this “adds to our village of support.”

Berlin Volunteer Fire Department

Photo courtesy of Stanley Pettibone II

Stanley Pettibone II, of the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department spoke on behalf of BES’s third nominee, the Berlin Fire Department.

“The Berlin Fire Department is honored to be nominated,” said Mr. Pettibone. “We try our hardest, even with the dwindling number of people willing to volunteer their time.”

The Fire Department is made up of dedicated members who make a difference in their community. Many of the volunteers have over 25 years of service. When asked what inspires him, Mr. Pettibone said, “It’s the satisfaction of knowing that I helped someone in their time of need.”

For the members of the fire department, he continued, “there is nothing greater than helping someone and hearing later how appreciative they are.”Mr. Pettibone recommended that if people want to get involved in their community, they can start by doing one thing.

“Imagine if everyone did just one thing to make things better,” he said.

“Whether it be volunteering with your local fire department or EMS or even cleaning up the side of the road – do something to make a difference.”

Principal Tracy Kent

Photo courtesy of Tracy Kent

In November of 2019, BES’s fourth spotlight nominee, Principal Tracy Kent, donated her kidney to save a dear friend. Mrs. Kent was part of a chain of events that helped not only her friend, but also a total stranger.

Mrs. Kent’s kidney was not a match for her friend, but its donation helped secure the kidney her friend needed. In turn, Mrs. Kent’s kidney was given to save the life of another person.

This story was recently featured in an article by New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, available at https://healthmatters.nyp.org/the-gift-donating-a-kidney-to-a-stranger/.

Mrs. Kent’s parents have been a lifelong source of inspiration to her: “They always encouraged and supported my goals of becoming an educator.”

As a leader of the Berlin Central School District community Mrs. Kent likes to focus her time and attention on anything that will benefit the students.

“I think it is essential to teach and model the importance of giving back to your school and community,” said Mrs. Kent.

“Over the years, Berlin Elementary has participated in Read for Ronald McDonald House, collecting donations for the Mohawk Hudson Humane Society, and in food drives for families right here in our own district.”

She added, “Seeing the excitement and smiles of the students taking part makes it all worth it.”

Mrs. Kent is inspired daily by the teachers of the Berlin Central School District and is always amazed at how much they give of themselves for their students.

“They truly model what it means to put others first.”

When asked how others can get involved in supporting the community, Mrs. Kent echoed a sentiment shared by all the BES Community Spotlight nominees.

“I suggest choosing something that you are passionate about. There are always community groups and organizations that need support.”