Joliet Township High School campaign stressing seven positive character traits
By Tony Graf firstname.lastname@example.org October 19, 2012 5:48PM
Joliet West freshman Mikey Vallejo, 14, (below) displays one of the ribbons he made for members of the Joliet West Tiger soccer team for a cancer support effort for a teammate's mother as seen at Joliet West High School Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, in Joliet. It's an example of participation in Character Month in the school district. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 22, 2012 6:20AM
JOLIET — Mikey Vallejo felt empathy as his friend and soccer teammate suffered a loss in his family earlier this month.
Vallejo, a freshman at Joliet West High School, turned that empathy into action. He got two soccer teams to support the family of Ivan Haro after the death of Haro’s mother, Rosa.
Rosa Haro-Urbano, 46, died Oct. 2 after a battle with cancer. Her death came near the end of her son’s season on the highly successful freshman boys soccer team at West. Haro played forward and midfield, and Vallejo played forward.
Vallejo, 14, made ribbons for team players to wear in memory of Haro-Urbano. He bought the ribbon, and then he and his mother, Maria Aguirre, cut the ribbon into small memorials that could be worn on team uniforms,the elegant black ribbons adorned with small white circles, reminiscent of stars in the sky.
“They just represent that we’re there for him, that there’s someone close to the team who died,” Vallejo said.
The entire freshman team wore the ribbons, both on uniforms at games and on plain clothes during the school day. The show of compassion then spread to the junior varsity team.
This month, Joliet Township High School is emphasizing seven positive character attributes: compassion, confidence, respect, responsibility, tolerance, integrity and perseverance.
Friday is Character in Community Day. A school promotion will make the seven concepts highly visible across the city on T-shirts and signs.
Vallejo’s effort is an example of one character attribute — compassion — that the school wants people to know about. Vallejo thought of the idea and put it into action, with help from his mother. The fact that his effort occurred during this particular time, when character is being emphasized, is a coincidence, albeit a very appropriate one.
T-shirts bearing the names of the seven character attributes are an important part of the school’s campaign. When students and other community members wear the shirts, they send a message about how West Tigers and Central Steelmen are being prepared for lives as good citizens, officials said.
The school is selling and raffling off the shirts. School spokeswoman Kristine Schlismann presented Vallejo a “compassion” T-shirt last week as the young man was honored in an English class at West.
Anthony Romanelli, coach of Vallejo’s team at West, was amazed at his work and got the word to Schlismann right away.
“I was extremely proud of what Mikey did. It’s just very rare, at 14 years old, to be that compassionate and show that much care for other people,” Romanelli said.
The freshman team finished the year with a memorable 17-1 record. “It was a remarkable season,” Romanelli said.
And it was a season crowned with compassion. Maybe the finest result of Vallejo’s work was seen at Haro-Urbano’s wake. Vallejo named a long list of soccer players who attended, including older kids from JV. Some of them knew Haro-Urbano, but some did not. Vallejo’s kindness had brought people together.
Romanelli thanked the referees and competing schools who allowed the West team to wear the ribbons in the last four or five games.
Joliet Township High School is hoping to make a big splash on Friday to encourage people toward the same compassion that Vallejo showed.
Character in Community Day encourages local businesses, organizations and individuals to send a visible message by wearing character T-shirts and displaying signs regarding the important attributes.
In 2011, the school began promoting the term “7 Words Make a Difference.” The attributes were selected by a group of parents, students, staff, community members, business representatives and school board members as part of the school district’s strategic plan.
“These words were carefully selected and are unique to our community,” said Jeff Pierson, president of the school board.
Packages containing eight shirts and signs can be bought online at www.jthscharacter.com.