Children write their own profiles in courage

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

Community leaders have high hopes for more than 40 sixth-graders in the Boston Public Schools who wrote award-winning essays on courage as part of a unique language arts program in residence at Northeastern University.

Speaking at the 20th annual awards luncheon for the Max Warburg Courage Curriculum in the Curry Student Center last Friday, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino told the students, “With the right attitude, you can do anything you want to do. Stay focused, and make the right choices, and you will have a bright future.”

The innovative program honors the life and legacy of Max Warburg, a courageous 11-year-old who lost his battle with leukemia in 1991. Over the last 20 years, the program has reached more than 100,000 students, from Boston to Thailand, who read award-winning books that emphasize the importance of courage in children and young adults. The students then write essays that examine courage in their own lives and in their communities by spotlighting important issues such as violence, homelessness and drug addiction.

Some 2,500 students from 32 schools submitted essays this year. The winners are featured in the 20th edition of “The Courage of Boston’s Children,” a bound book that is distributed to local libraries.

“This is a chance for the community to celebrate all of the great things that Boston school children are doing,” said Elizabeth Evans, the program’s executive director. “The courage these students have showed, which they illustrated so well in their essays, makes for a really proud moment for the community.”

For Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville, all of the students who submitted essays are heroes. “We’re celebrating a lot of heroic acts of courage today,” he said. “Think about all of those moments in which you chose to stand up [for what is right].”

He praised the teachers who helped their star pupils craft such heartfelt stories. “There’s a teacher behind every student who’s being honored,” Reville said. “The power of the public education system begins and ends with our teachers.”

Max’s younger brother, Fred, was only 9 years old when his big brother passed away. He echoed Reville, noting, “The teachers showed students the value of hard work and the courage it takes to succeed.”

Mayor Menino, he said, has supported the program from its beginnings. “He has a special place in his heart for children and teachers,” he said.

Max’s mother, Stephanie, awarded the students medals for their courageous achievements.