Meet four extraordinary high school seniors, all honored by the Union County School Boards Association with its “Unsung Heroes” award.

A week before his senior year, Christian Ferrao of the Arthur Johnson High School in Clark, Union County, was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkins lymphoma, but he continued with his studies – including AP chemistry and calculus – even while undergoing exhausting chemotherapy treatments. In addition to home and online instruction, Christian used a VGo robot supplied by the district to attend class and see, hear, talk and interact with his teacher. As he recovers, he plans to pursue a career in engineering.

Brittney Kennedy, of Union High School, was first diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was nine. At 14, her challenges expanded to include psoriatic arthritis, which increased her level of daily pain. Despite these difficulties, Brittney worked her way up to the highest levels of the Peer Ambassadors Leadership Program, and she also serves as co-leader of the Awareness Club, which works on social justice issues. Brittney was chosen to represent Union High School at the Girl’s Institute at Rider University last year.

After Axel Moreno’s parents died when he was eight years old, his 20-year-old aunt raised him. Last year, his brother was incarcerated and died in prison. Axel stayed positive, however, and in his sophomore year, discovered a love for architecture. He led Roselle Park High School’s Technology Student Association Architectural team into national competitions for the last two years. Axel was recently accepted to Kean University’s architectural program, where his future looks bright.

Brian McAuliffe was diagnosed at birth with Down Syndrome which caused partial hearing loss. Throughout his time at Cranford High School, Brian has persevered. He was part of the Cranford Cougars swim team. He participated in the Special Olympics in multiple sports. In earlier years, Brian succeeded in internship programs with Modell’s Sporting Goods, the Summit Medical Group’s Classic Café, and Panera Bread. He maintains a busy schedule. When he is not working one day per week at Vinny’s Pizza in downtown Cranford, Brian takes to the stage as a regular dancer and singer in the Shining Stars Network’s annual variety show.

The Union County School Boards Association is one of five county associations that, this year, recognized students who triumphed over “significant personal obstacles.” The “Unsung Heroes” concept was originated by the Middlesex County School Boards Association. In addition to Union County, the Essex, Hudson and Somerset associations now conduct the recognition program.

Although the four videos posted here highlight deserving “Unsung Heroes,” the NJSBA and the county associations recognized hundreds of students this year. It is likely that an “Unsung Hero” can be found in every school in New Jersey. We plan to honor more students, in other counties, next year.

Take a minute and enjoy the videos of the students featured in School Board Notes today.

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