Saugerties High School last month inducted 47 students into the National Honor Society (NHS), an annual rite of passage for students who combine academic excellence with community service. “If a group of people can come together, it can represent the entire community in a positive light,” said SHS senior and National Honor Society president Tanesia White. “That’s what the National Honor Society is all about.”
The National Honor Society was founded in 1921 by the National Association of Secondary School Principals as a means of encouraging civic engagement in students.
To be eligible for consideration into the community service-based national organization, students in the eleventh or twelfth grade must maintain a grade point average of at least 90 percent. Those students list activities in and out of school and add an advisor recommendation. While academics are graded between two and four points, everything else is ranked on a scale of zero to four. An average of all categories must be at least 2.25 points before a student is inducted.
SHS calculus and pre-calculus teacher Debra Cacchillo has been faculty advisor to the school’s National Honor Society for 34 years. While some of the group’s goals may change from year to year, others have seemingly been a staple of the community organization for years. “I let some of the students lead me,” said Cacchillo. “Julie Raleigh, she and her mom helped us collect for the women’s shelter, hats, gloves, scarves and socks. And we again collected for the Saugerties Food Pantry.”
The school’s NHS adopts at least one family during Christmas. This past December it raised funds so that a family with six children could have winter clothing and something special like a toy for the kids.
“Christmas is a really important time, and it’s unfortunate that some people don’t get to celebrate it like other people might based on their level of wages,” said Tanesia White. “That was my proudest moment, helping a family celebrate Christmas. It was nice to give back to the community that way.”
Families in need are identified and can be contacted by the school nurse’s office. “They make the initial contact with the family and make sure it’s something they’re open to, and they get the kids sizes and something they wanted,” said Cacchillo. The initiative is not just for the holiday season. “Any time anybody needs something, the nurse’s office knows they can come to us.”
The Saugerties chapter of the NHS holds two fundraisers each year, selling citrus fruit in the fall and discount cards in the spring. Similar in design to credit cards, said Cacchillo, the discount cards give the bearer discounts at local shops like Love Bites, Slices, Inquiring Minds Bookstore, and Main Street Restaurant. “Local businesses have been very generous,” said Cacchillo.
The 2018 induction ceremony held this year on April 19 included a ceremonial candle-lighting and the election of officers. In addition to White, this year’s officers include vice-president Nicholas Hummer, secretary Zuzanna Mlynarczyk and treasurer Michael Averill.
Only 47 students were inducted this year, down from 67 in 2016-17. Cacchillo said the numbers rise and fall for a variety of reasons, including years where the number of upperclassmen are fewer.
Cacchillo said their work is part of a larger commitment on the part of the students to bettering the community in which they live. “These are very well-rounded students,” said Cacchillo. Well-rounded, but also too busy for formal NHS meetings.
“These are kids that are involved in everything, so to get them all in one spot is next to impossible,” said Cacchillo. Most of the students in the NHS come through her classroom on a given day and can discuss the group’s work then.
Saugerties High National Honor Society take community service and their work as an organization very seriously, White said. “It means a lot to me,” she said. “Community service plays a huge role in our school, and I feel it’s good that we have members that are willing to participate in community service events. It helps the community, and as students and teenagers it’s good to do stuff for our community.”