Mercersburg Academy and Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to engage Mercersburg Academy as an official program partner of Special Olympics Maryland.
The purpose of the collaboration is to enlist both groups to identify mission-focused opportunities that stimulate active engagement on- and off-campus. By integrating SOMD’s mission into the campus culture, SOMD will have a greater impact to reach both SOMD’s athletes and the Mercersburg Academy community.
This exciting partnership began five years ago when 30 Mercersburg Academy students volunteered for the first time at SOMD’s Winter Games through the leadership of faculty member and Director of Community Engagement Katherine Dyson. The partnership has grown and become more innovative, especially in the last two years, creating opportunities for Mercersburg Academy students to engage beyond the Winter Games.
“Student reception to SOMD events from the first time we brought students to Whitetail Ski Resort for Winter Games was overwhelmingly positive,” Dyson says. “Based on the initial interest and responsiveness, seeking opportunities to more creatively engage with SOMD made sense. Luckily, we fell into partnership with an organization that values the experience they provide their athletes as much as they value developing and supporting volunteers.”
The MOU commits the two organizations to a mutually beneficial partnership that brings SOMD on board as a partner in education and dedicates Mercersburg Academy as a catalyst for SOMD program growth. Both parties look forward to a more integrated and dynamic relationship and are excited to explore new opportunities—specifically, to create genuine relationships with individuals with intellectual disabilities who are often isolated from mainstream society.
“To see students engaged in leadership at different sporting events is a really cool thing,” says Jim Schmutz, president and CEO of Special Olympics Maryland. “That’s where the momentum can be sustained as they get involved as ninth- and 10th-graders and keep passing that legacy on.
For us, that’s how we create a world where opportunities are not limited by disability.”
Head of School Katie Titus is also excited by the curriculum innovation that the partnership will provide for Mercersburg Academy students. SOMD will become a learning lab and provide opportunities for service-learning, curriculum design, and engagement with people with intellectual disabilities.
“In the next couple of years we will see a broadening of what we think of in terms of curriculum,” Titus says. “Imagine a concept in which our students are more off-campus in an internship-like setting, participating in real-life experiences as part of their education. I can see this partnership with Special Olympics Maryland being a big part of that.”
The signing took place at the Prentiss Alumni and Parent Center at Mercersburg Academy. In addition to Titus, Schmutz, and Dyson, others in attendance were Jeff Abel, vice president of local program development for Special Olympics Maryland; Luke Weierbach, senior director of volunteer management for Special Olympics Maryland; and Tricia Crocker, incoming director of community engagement for Mercersburg Academy.
For more information on Special Olympics Maryland, visit www.somd.org.