Recognize. Celebrate. Reinforce. Motivate. Perpetuate.

It’s called ‘positive reinforcement.’ It’s shining light on positive achievements and accomplishments. It’s way better than that other kind of reinforcement. And if education is important, so is being proactive in the pursuit of its desired results.

The student of the month program celebrates all that is good and right and pure in our local public school systems. It’s also right in the wheelhouse of what local rotary clubs are trying to do in our community.

Read More: Lebanon HS names October Rotary students of the month

“The Rotary believes firmly in education, and in the idea that growth and knowledge and learning will lead to a better world,” said Patrick Freer, a past president and current member of the Lebanon Rotary. “We try to make the world a better place. It’s kind of a hands-on approach to let students know what the Rotary provides, to help broaden their horizons.”

“By recognizing students, it encourages them to continue to excel and expand on the knowledge they’re gaining now,” Freer added. “We try to show them what’s out there, so we can help them pursue their educational goals.”

Pictured (left to right) are Cedar Crest High School’s January 2021 students of the month Caroline Kreider, CCHS principal Chris Groff, and Isaac Traina. (Photo provided by the Cornwall-Lebanon School District)

The Lebanon Rotary has been sponsoring the student of the month program for more than 35 years. Currently, the Lebanon Rotary honors high school students monthly – mainly seniors – in the Cornwall-Lebanon, Lebanon and Annville-Cleona school districts, as well as at Lebanon County Career and Technology Center.

One female student and one male student each month – from September to May – are feted for their accomplishments in and out of the classroom.

Similar student of the month programs have also been conducted in the Palmyra, Northern Lebanon and Elco school districts.

“The Rotary’s motto is ‘service above self’,” said Freer. “These students tend to fit that motto. We think recognizing these students will help them to help the community further, and to help develop leaders. In my opinion, education leads to bigger and better things. The knowledge you gain can help you in the future.”

“The student of the month highlights students in high school who stand out academically, and in the community,” continued Freer. “It recognizes their hard work. I think the schools value the partnership. The students being recognized may not have a chance to be recognized in other outlets.”

For the most part, students of the month are chosen by high school guidance counselors for their grades, their involvement in extracurricular activities like sports, band and drama, and their work in the community. Some of the deserving students are honored with certificates presented to them in informal ceremonies at school board meetings, some are treated with preferred parking spaces outside of their schools, and the Lebanon Rotary treats them and their parents to lunch.

But what’s most important is that the students are recognized for their efforts and hard work. Although the awards may not be motivation per se, studies have shown that positively reinforced students tend to achieve more than students who aren’t.

“The students are very diverse in their educational direction and their involvements outside of school,” said Freer. “They work hard and they care about their community. It shows up in their grades and what they do outside of school. They tend to be ambitious in their career goals.”

“In addition to the student of the month program, the Rotary offers scholarships that students can apply for,” continued Freer. “We also do things like a student exchange. Student of the month is just a small piece of what we do with kids.”

After graduation, many students of the month matriculate to college, go on to other levels of higher education or enter the military. Students of the month also tend to exhibit leadership skills, so an investment in them is an investment in the community’s future.

Cedar Crest High School student of the month from 2019 Amanda Laucks displays her certificate with the Rotary Club flag.
(Photo provided by the Lebanon Rotary)

“I believe the student of the month program helps kids who are already involved in competitive career pursuits,” said Freer. “It’s a piece of the puzzle. We’re helping them advance educationally. Getting recognition can go a long way in helping them stand out. In general, it’s a by-product of the hard work they’re doing. For us, it’s a great way to single them out, like, ‘You’re doing fantastic. Keep up the good work.’”

“There’s no doubt that the Rotary has a positive influence on schools and the community we live in,” added Freer. “The idea that we’re reinforcing good behavior tends to lead to positive things. Positive news is sometimes hard to find. I think most people enjoy reading about and hearing what kids are up to.”

Good news travels fast.

The Lebanon Rotary has been sponsoring the student of the month program for as long as anyone can remember, at least as far back as the mid 1980s. When one considers the sheer number of Lebanon County students who local rotaries have impacted – well into the hundreds – it really brings the positive scope of the program into perspective.

“I was a student of the month in 1996,” said Freer. “I’ll never forget wearing a tie and giving a speech in front of the membership. I remember being nervous. Now, it’s great to be on the other side and see how happy the students are and how proud they are – and their parents are even prouder.”

“Having lived through it and knowing the experience I had, it appears no different today, as far as the selection process goes and the joy parents experience watching their kids give speeches,” Freer added. “That certainly hasn’t changed at all. I think the consistency of the program is one of its strengths.”

That consistency certainly bodes well for the future of the student of the month program and the local rotaries’ future commitment to education in the Lebanon community. Because as long as kids are doing the right things and paying attention to details, they should be celebrated.

“The Rotary is committed to improving education and recognizing students who are excelling,” said Freer. “We hope by recognizing students it will lead to bigger and better things. Kids are our future. As an organization, we enjoy doing it.”

“The Rotary has been around a long time,” concluded Freer. “The challenges we face isn’t changing the rotary’s partnerships, it’s continuing the membership’s commitment to societal service. As long as there’s a rotary club in Lebanon, students and education will be at the forefront of what we do. Hopefully, the student of the month program will be around for a long time.”

Certainly, our community could benefit from more programs like student of the month.

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of, sports director at WLBR...