Stephanie Murray

Stephanie gives her classmates a high five at Northeast High.

Taylor Westerlind wants people to see the positives in our world.

Tashara Martin helps an elementary school develop a love for mathematics.

And Carmen Camacho gives everyone a boost -- even her teacher.

They don't know each other, but the Broward County students have something in common. They stand out in demonstrating the district's eight character education traits and are recognized among the 24 top honorees in the second annual Sun-Sentinel Kids of Character awards. In all, 366 students were honored this year during a celebration Thursday at the Museum of Discovery and Science in Fort Lauderdale.

Good character is evident in Broward schools. From the third-grader who donated her hair to help a cancer patient, to the children who visit the elderly at nursing homes, even to the vast majority who are cited for spending time helping their fellow students, children are serving as textbook examples of good character.

"It's not complicated, but it's something that's important to learn," says Oliver Sohn of Weston, a fifth-grader at Whispering Pines Center in Miramar. "It will be valuable to have -- whatever you're doing -- the rest of your life."

Among the prime examples of children who are already showing good character -- but by far not the only ones -- are: Westerlind, a fourth-grader at Challenger Elementary in Tamarac, selected as the top honoree for the Piper High feeder pattern, also known as the innovation zone; Martin, a senior from Coconut Creek High, representing that innovation zone; and Camacho, an eighth-grader at Sawgrass Springs Middle School in Coral Springs, representing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas feeder system.

Documenting good deeds

Westerlind, the oldest of three children, and her family were motivated by a depressing dose of TV news. "We said, 'There's never anything good. All we do is focus on the negative,'" she relates.

So she created a box in the school's media center, where faculty and students can submit the name of a Challenger Elementary student who commits a good deed. The circumstances are then profiled in the Milky Way Monthly school newsletter.

So far, there have always been more good deeds to write about than there is space.

But the quality of Westerlind's character can't be conveyed in just one act.

"We call her our positive genetic defect," says her mom, Mary Westerlind, a teacher at Developmental Preschool & Kindergarten in Plantation. The family lives in the Inverrary portion of Lauderhill. "She's always been like that. At age 13 months, she’d give herself a timeout if she did something wrong."

Westerlind's teacher is another big fan.

"Here's a little girl who has a work ethic that's pretty incredible for 10 years old," Bernadette Sloan says. "She's totally disciplined and completely responsible."

Martin, of North Lauderdale, helped lead the Big Cougar-Little Cougar program this year with Coconut Creek Elementary students to improve their math performance. She and her fellow students created a math game called "Mingo," which is essentially math bingo. About 20 fourth-graders and 20 fifth-graders are involved in the program, which is part of their regular math education.

"We wanted to make math fun for kids," says Martin, a cheerleader who also is ranked No. 1 in her class for grade-point average. "I love hearing them make up stories about ‘hexagon man’ or 'triangle lady.'"

Her work in her own school is noteworthy, too, Coconut Creek Assistant Principal Washington Collado says.

"She's just one of those students that you see and say, 'Thank God I got into this profession,'" he says. "Not because she’s an A student, but because she's so willing to help everyone."