NIAGARA FALLS – The Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area have recognized six local students for character traits and an essay contest.
Four students at Niagara Catholic – Mary Jo Rotella, Courtney Santasero, Bella Gandy and Dinke Moir – were nominated by guidance counselor Natalie Beilein for the character awards.
According to the National Heritage Area, Mary Jo was recognized for exemplifying commitment, similar to that of Homan Walsh – the boy who won a kite-flying contest in 1848 that helped kick off the construction of the first suspension bridge in Niagara Falls.
Mary Jo is similar in that she pushes herself and never gives up in her participation on sports teams and in school plays, the organization said.
Courtney received acknowledgment for her innovation, the character trait of Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor. She developed the “Peace Is Possible” program to alleviate bullying in schools across the Niagara region, using her own experiences with bullying.
“Her insight into this difficult situation provided Courtney the innovation to create a program focusing on breaking through the social structures of oppression,” Beilein said.
Bella, who also was honored for her essay, was nominated for her perseverance, in relation to Betsy Doyle, a heroine in the War of 1812. She was praised for making “all the right choices” and for “being a leader amongst leaders.”
Dinke was nominated for the Harriet Tubman trait of courage. Originally from Ethiopia, Dinke was adopted by a local family after the deaths of her parents. It took courage for her to leave her twin sister and overcome language barriers to further her education. She will graduate in June and pursue a degree in humanities at Niagara County Community College.
Nyru Horton and Joey Watrioba, sixth-graders at Maple Avenue Elementary, were honored for essays written about Doyle in the Niagara’s Journey to Greatness contest.
Nyru and Joey read their winning essays before the City Council on March 31.
Each student received a copy of “The Kite That Bridged Two Nations,” the story of Homan Walsh, written by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Terry Widener.