Absecon's Emma C. Attales Middle School may have only about 400 students in fifth through eighth grade, but it has a surplus of excellence.

On June 13, the school honored standout students at its annual awards assembly, which recognizes student achievement in all areas. Principal Andrew Weber, who directed the assembly, said he always looks forward to taking part.

"I love it. This is probably one of my favorite days of the year," Weber said. "You get to see, just, the excitement on the kids' faces when they hear their name called."

Students and parents of honorees packed the gym for the ceremony, which lasted about an hour and a half. Awards were given out in areas such as music, language, athletics, volunteerism and general academic achievement. Students were honored both for sustained excellence in these areas and for making significant improvements.

Students are not told prior to the assembly that they will receive awards, said secretary Janice Clarke, who organizes the event. Parents are invited if their child is to receive an award, but they are not told what award they will be given. The surprise, Clarke said, is part of the fun.

"What is nice is that they really are a surprise to the student," Clarke said. "Nobody knows, really, about what they're getting - especially when it comes down to individual awards like Spanish."

The event coincided with a series of powerful thunderstorms striking the region, and power went out during the presentation of silver academic medallions, which go to eighth-graders who have achieved all As and Bs during all four years at Attales.

Fortunately, this set of awards was the second to last set given out. Teacher Kim Saparito, who received a Glass Apple award as Teacher of the Year, was the last to receive an award. While she was proud to receive this honor, she said she believes many of her colleagues were equally deserving.

"I felt honored, (but) I felt like I didn't want to be singled out, because everybody here does a great job," Saparito said. "But I did feel honored."

While the school didn't calculate the exact number, Weber believes between 150 and 200 students received awards as part of the ceremony. Likewise, Weber didn't know how long the school had held the ceremony, but estimated it at more than 20 years.

Many of the awards given out were in areas for which students are typically recognized, such as physical fitness achievements and spelling bee victories. Other awards, like perfect attendance and stage crew leadership, are less often recognized. But any chance the school has to honor a student for their achievements, whether traditional or not, is one Attales always wants to take.

"Sometimes we take for granted the things they do," Weber said. "The kids put in a lot of hard work every single day, and whenever we get a chance to recognize them, we want to be able to do that."

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