May 23 was a special day for eighth-grader Matt Leja and a handful of other students at St. Joseph School in Auburn. That day, they were inducted into their school’s chapter of the National Junior Honor Society.
The honor society recognizes middle-school students who have achieved academic success and have demonstrated excellent character as well as outstanding service-oriented, leadership and citizenship qualities.
“To be in the National Junior Honor Society they must be in the seventh or eighth grade and must have maintained a cumulative average of 90 percent or better. They have to demonstrate involvement in community, church, school or service organizations and … they have to be willing to do service, both in school and in the community,” said Kathleen Coye, principal.
The National Junior Honor Society was founded in 1929 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, which had in 1921 established the National Honor Society for high-school students. There are National Junior Honor Society chapters in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, several United States territories and Canada, but St. Joseph is the only diocesan school in the Diocese of Rochester with a chapter, according to a listing at www.njhs.us.
The chapter has been active at St. Joseph for at least 12 or 13 years, Coye said. School officials offer students this opportunity because it encourages them to work hard and do their best, she said. When students are gathered at schoolwide awards assemblies, the younger children notice which older student are in the honor society.
“The younger kids look up to them. We’re trying to give the kids something to strive for,” Coye said, noting that more than half of this year’s eighth-grade class belongs to the honor society.
The example of an older sibling inspired Katherine Bachman to want to be invited into the honor society when she reached seventh grade. After watching her older sister’s induction, Katherine began doing volunteer work when she was in fourth or fifth grade. She undertook this work partly because she enjoys helping people, but also because she hoped to be chosen for the honor society, she said.
“I helped in my community and my church a lot with different projects. I tried my hardest to keep my grades up. I was really excited and I really wanted to make it,” said Katherine, who was inducted last year as a seventh-grader.
Katherine’s volunteerism didn’t end once she was inducted into the honor society, however. Students in the St. Joseph chapter regularly plan and perform service activities to benefit people in their own communities and even beyond state and national borders, Coye said.
Last year, the students held a bake sale at a local craft fair and raised $400 for a national charity that helped children displaced by Hurricane Katrina, she said. This year, they made cards, decorated them with prayerful messages and sent them to Matthew House, a local hospice.
“They’re doing a group project for somebody outside of their school community. They work together on a project for somebody outside of their school and it makes them aware of things that are going on outside of the school or community, and see how they can make a difference,” Coye said.
“This year we’ve been working on projects for the soldiers over in Iraq. We’ve been making cards and crosses to send them,” Katherine said. “It’s a cool way to get active in your school in a different way, and it’s a fun way to help out.”
Working on projects through the National Junior Honor Society helps students develop leadership skills, Coye said. There is a parent moderator who works with the group, but students hold leadership positions — like those of president and secretary — and plan their own events, she said.
“They run the meetings. They make decisions about their activities. They come together every couple of weeks at a lunch or a study-hall time and discuss what projects they’re working on. Sometimes they’ve hosted a speaker to come in and talk to the chapter about something they’re interested in,” Coye said.
The honor society provides a way for kids to receive a tangible reward for the hard work they’ve done, Coye said, noting that honor-society members receive a pin and a certificate when they’re inducted.
“It reinforces what they’re doing. … It’s recognizing their academic standing,” she said.
Matt’s induction to the honor society last month as an eighth-grader was especially sweet. He’d been wanting to join the honor society ever since he learned about it in fifth grade.
“When I didn’t get into it in the seventh grade, I was kind of disappointed,” Matt recalled.
Matt didn’t let that disappointment keep him from achieving his goals, however. He already had a lot of volunteer work under his belt because he’s a Boy Scout and had done charity work for the Owasco Fire Department.
“I just had to study harder to get better grades on tests,” he said.
Matt’s hard work paid off, and both he and his parents were very happy and proud when he was inducted. It’s important for kids to strive to do their best and join groups like the National Junior Honor Society, Matt said.
“When you go to apply to a good job in the future, they might want somebody who did well in school, but not somebody who flunked,” he said.