By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

In the swirl of emotion that comes with the last day of school, a first-year principal honored two high-achieving fifth-graders with an inaugural award that pays tribute to a beloved and departed community leader.

Maxdale Elementary School principal Ronald Knight awarded the Arthur Trujillo Award for Excellence June 2 to fifth-graders Hannah Johnson and Wesley Coombs.

Knight shared the stage with Minerva Trujillo, a Killeen Independent School District Board of Trustee member, wife of the late Arthur Trujillo and a retired KISD educator who was the first principal at Maxdale Elementary School.

The emotional ties didn't end there.

Trujillo, her son, Air Force Lt. Col. Paul Trujillo, and her granddaughter, Jordan Jenks, congratulated Johnson and Coombs for winning the school's new award for excellence.

Playing off the theme for the fifth-graders, Own It, Paul Trujillo told the students now headed to middle school, "You have to own your hopes and desires. You have to own your future."

"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't be president, a professional wrestler or a soldier," said the Air Force officer, referencing a slideshow in which the students revealed their career aspirations.

Speaking with the passion of a former principal, Minerva Trujillo charged the fifth-graders to continue to work diligently. She told them that middle school would bring fresh opportunities like athletics and more rigorous courses.

"Apply what your teachers and parents tell you and there's nothing you can't do," said Trujillo, who was principal at Maxdale from 2001 to 2004, when she became the first principal at Audie Murphy Middle School at Fort Hood.

Coombs and Johnson have their names etched on plates affixed to a plaque that will hang in the school, with two names of top fifth-graders to be added annually.

They each won a large trophy, as well as Round Rock Express game tickets for their families, movie passes, pizza coupons and $25 in cash.

The first-year award was open to all fifth-graders. The rigorous criteria employed a point system that factored in academic, service, leadership, character and citizenship qualities.

Applicants completed essays and submitted to interviews with the principal, counselor, teachers and student council representatives.

At the surprise announcement June 2, Coombs leaped in the air and hoisted the trophy in the air. He thanked his mother for her support.

Johnson was less demonstrative. She said later she was grateful for her friends, who assured her that they believed in her and thought she deserved the honor regardless of the outcome.

Among boys, Knight named finalists Kenneth Rodriguez and Akim Barry. Among girls, he named finalists Dashyra Starling and Sarah Hervert.

Fifth-grade teacher Dalia Lopez-Wintz was among those caught up in the emotional last-day-of-school festivities. Coombs, the excellence award male winner was her student, and Trujillo was the principal who hired her at Maxdale Elementary School.

About Coombs, she said, he has a "never give up attitude, he's optimistic, supportive and encouraging."

In the midst of signing yearbooks for students, the teacher said Trujillo hired her as a first-year teacher the year Maxdale opened. "She believed in her teachers. I remember her faith in us and her love for children."

Knight became principal at Maxdale after serving as assistant principal at Hay Branch and before that at Iduma Elementary School. He said Iduma honored two top fifth-grade students and he wanted to add the tradition at Maxdale.

In an early committee meeting, members realized they all had been touched personally by Arthur Trujillo, the retired Army officer who died in February 2010 and served three terms on the KISD Board of Trustees.

While a soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Knight enrolled at Central Texas College and in his first college class, government, the instructor was Arthur Trujillo.

"I was a soldier, not even thinking about being a teacher," Knight said. "Now, I'm at this school and we're giving an Arthur Trujillo Excellence Award."

"You could not have honored the memory of a great man in a better way," Minerva Trujillo said to Knight of the award that bears her husband's name. "He saw the children on the playground and on the buses and he blessed them as they went."

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