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Sitting in a darkened gymnasium Friday morning, Philomath Middle School students watched counselor Mike Panico and assistant principal Chad Matthews put on an enthusiastic program that featured a 2-liter soda bottle rocket and fun with pingpong balls. A trio of their classmates even came down on the floor to try their luck at hitting a target with lighted-up rubber band rockets.

It all tied in with the school district’s movement they call Inspired, a special day that this year carried the theme “Ignite.” The early morning assembly at the middle school was just one example of all of the activities that went on at every campus.

“We just want to encourage kids and adults in our district, in our community, to just live better lives to be better versions of themselves,” Matthews said when asked about the message behind the special day. “Inspired is sort of a chance for all of us to take the challenge, reflect on our lives and sort of imagine what we could become.”

Inspired grew out of an activity that more than a decade ago had been established for seventh and eighth graders.

“We would do it when the sixth graders had Outdoor School and it was a special thing,” Matthews said. “We used to keep it very secret and just surprise them on the day. When the other schools began to see what was happening, they wanted to get on board and so we began to collaborate.”

Today, Inspired is a districtwide activity that involves all students and educators along with some folks from the community, including participating sponsors. Some might say Inspired is a welcomed activity in a world that sees challenges when it comes to being kind to one another.

“We’ve fought for 10 years to make this just about being better humans and lifting each other up and encouraging each other and spurring each other on,” Matthews said. “Regardless of anything else with all of the craziness in the world, it’s about just being good to your neighbor and being good to your community and being good to yourself.”

Teachers and students participate in coming up with the theme and activities each year.

“We have an Inspired team that’s made up of adults from around the district,” Matthews said. “There are some key students that help as well so each year we really start from ground zero again with no ideas and then we choose a theme and try to find things that fit that theme in the budget.”

The budget is an important component of the annual event because it’s not paid for by the school district. Inspired is completely privately funded, Matthews said, with a list of significant sponsors that includes Lilly’s Grant for Guidance, Ticor Title and Guild Mortgage.

“We’ve been really fortunate. There’s been some folks sponsoring us more, which has been huge for us to be able to access some better resources, including the speakers that come,” Matthews said. “It’s a labor of love for the district committee. Mike Panico is a huge part of this effort. Elaine Hall, Krystal Rutledge are key players in this thing, and Beth Edgemon at the high school and Geoff Lake. The committee chooses a speaker.”

Brandon Lee White, a youth motivational speaker, did programs throughout the day, including professional development with district staff after the students went home.

“It’s hard to find somebody who can speak to kindergarten students and seniors, so there’s a pretty limited pool of these folks who can do it all for us,” Matthews said.

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