Eighty-six-year-old Bud McDonald greeted guests arriving at Jason Lee Middle School with fun-sized Snickers bars. McDonald and his granddaughter Tahlia Silvey, a Jason Lee math teacher, were at the school on May 21 to celebrate the school’s 50th anniversary. McDonald was the school counselor when Jason Lee Junior High opened in 1965. In those early years, McDonald was less likely to hand out candy as he was to help students improve their fitness. He was known to lead students, via the school’s loudspeaker, in physical exercises twice per day.

McDonald spent his career making a difference in students’ lives. In addition to Jason Lee, he also counseled or taught students at Salmon Creek Elementary School, Shumway Junior High and Columbia River and Fort Vancouver high schools. To this day, Silvey says, McDonald’s former students call to check on him.

Fifty years later, teachers and staff members continue the tradition of helping Jason Lee students. “Find your greatness” was the theme of the anniversary celebration, but it’s also the mantra of the school.

“It’s about inspiring young minds to do the best they can—to find their greatness,” said Curt Scheidel, principal at the school since 2011. He began his career as a sixth-grade teacher at Jason Lee from 1993 to 1997. “Jason Lee is deep in my heart. We are doing great work here,” he said.

The work is paying off. When asked what makes Jason Lee great, eighth-grader Kaelah Moorman, who sang at the event, said, “The teachers put an effort into really caring about the students.”

Her classmate Jayla Johnson echoes the feeling with this statement about choir teacher Bob Barrett: “Our teacher is awesome. He’s supportive and caring. He always wants you to do your best.”

It’s not only the teachers who are helping students find their greatness. All Jason Lee staff members contribute. During a special presentation, eighth-grade teacher Lola Stark honored longtime secretary Jackie Hegedus.

Said Stark, “At Jason Lee, there have been many outstanding contributors to this work. The one essential question is, ‘What is best for the kids?’ Jackie has spent 28 years keeping kids first at Jason Lee.”

The many guests at the celebration included past administrators, staff members and students. They too discovered greatness at Jason Lee.

Former student Ed Golyshevskiy said, “Being a part of National Honor Society was exciting for me. I liked being with the teachers and preparing projects that benefited the school.” Golyshevskiy, an electrical engineering major, will start his junior year at Washington State University Vancouver this fall.

At the event, while guests reminisced and looked back nostalgically on the past 50 years, present-day students and staff members look forward to finding their greatness at Jason Lee Middle School.

She doesn’t lead students in exercises over the school intercom, but Silvey is continuing her grandfather’s dedication to students.

“We seek out ways to improve student mindsets, teach positive behaviors and overall promote a school culture of belonging,” she said. “Finding your greatness at Jason Lee is about working hard, persevering, staying positive and always doing your best.”