Twenty-three years ago, the eighth-grade teaching staff at Nevada Middle School was looking for a service project for the students.
This month, the teaching staff and eighth-grade students — not just present eighth-graders, but all the eighth-graders since 1992 — are being honored for their commitment to the Special Olympics Iowa program.
On May 22, at the annual Most Valuable Partner reception at Hilton Coliseum, an event that recognizes outstanding youth volunteers with the 2014 Special Olympics Iowa Distinguished Service Award, Nevada Middle School will be among those who are front and center.
“The contributions made by you and the students of Nevada Middle School to our Summer Games have had a significant impact on the quality of the Special Olympics program…,” stated Shane Kiesner, vice president of Sports Operations and Programs for Special Olympics Iowa in an email to Nevada Middle School teacher Sara Markley.
Markley said that one of her former fellow teachers, Karen Ross, had a friend in the Gilbert School District who suggested the idea back in 1992, noting that having students volunteer as a group to help with the Special Olympics might be a great service project.
Over the years, Markley said, Nevada’s eighth-graders have worked mainly in the track and field venues, including the 50 and 100 meter dashes, high jump, both the running and standing long jumps, shot put, softball throw and the mini-javelin throw. “In these areas, they have served as congratulators, escorts, measurers, rakers, retrievers, awards presenters and line-up assistants,” Markley said.
Nevada students have also worked in the Olympic Festival, where they’ve run activity booths that they’ve created for the special athletes.
Overall, Markey adds, “the students’ most important job is to interact with and cheer on the special athletes.”
The entire eighth-grade staff is involved in taking the students to this event around the end of each school year, and “Team Eight” (as the teachers are known) plans to continue its commitment to having its students volunteer for these games in coming years.
“This experience is invaluable for students,” said Markley, noting that she often has high school kids who come back to the middle school and ask to volunteer again. “For that afternoon (when they volunteer), students have to put others before themselves. They also learn to see beyond the differences in others, and look at the world from a different perspective.”
Markley plans to attend the awards presentation May 22, along with a current eighth-grade student and possibly one former eighth-grade student from Nevada High School. The Nevada representatives will be honored with a certificate during the ceremony.