Whether it is in the classroom or on the field, one School of the Osage Teacher and a group of dedicated and hardworking students are making a difference.

Whether it is in the classroom or on the field, one School of the Osage Teacher and a group of dedicated and hardworking students are making a difference.

Gwen DeVaul and a crew of School of the Osage students will be in costume and anxiously waiting their plunge call when the annual Polar Bear Plunge gets underway on Saturday.

The School of the Osage crew has spent the last several weeks not only raising money for the plunge but practicing for the upcoming Special Olympics track and field season, helping athletes with special needs experience the adrenaline of victory and the satisfaction of being part of a team.

Gwen DeVaul, a special education teacher, first became in Special Olympics in 2009 when she started teaching special education at the high school.

 One of the previous coaches, Kandy Moriearty, was a para-professional in her classroom.  She mentioned it to DeVaul and passed her the binder full of information.  The students at School of the Osage have a long history of participation and after some persuasion she decided it was her job to carry on that torch. 

"It has been so much fun coaching my students in Track and Field and participating in the Polar Bear Plunge. 

Being a little bit competitive, I try to win best costume each year in the plunge, DeVaul said. "In track and field Special Olympics, it is such an accomplishment to watch the athletes train for a little over a month, work with other students in the district, and then compete.  The smiles on their faces and the bonds they make with other highschool students through the process is worth a million dollars." 

De Vaul said it is the amazing students at School of the Osage who make it possible. The first year there was not as much awareness throughout the school as there has been the previous two years.  The second year two seniors, Karlee Friend and Renee Cisar, decided to take charge and worked with DeVaul.  They spread awareness through the high school and 60-plus student volunteers turned out to help the day of the track meet. 

"They had some wonderful fund-raisers to get the community, faculty, and students involved.  We raised over $1,500 for the plunge and over $4,000 for our school team," DeVaul said. 

With the school team money, they were able to buy uniforms, shoes, team bags, shirts for the many volunteers, equipment, and put a good portion aside for the coming years. 

This year two other seniors, Destiny McMurray and Dylan McNerney, have taken charge and are spearheading the efforts for Special Olympics. By this weekend, they hope to have more than $600 for the Polar Bear Plunge.  
For McMurray, her work with Special Olympics began when she was a sophomore. She started with the Plunge. She thought it was a good cause so she signed up but the next year, she got to actually spend time in the classroom and work with some of the students.

"That's when I got the passion to get involved," she said. "That year, I also decided to be a volunteer for the Special Olympics Track and Field. This year will be my third year plunging and my second year as a volunteer for Special Olympics Track. I am very excited and really hope to see a lot of people participating this year and for it to keep growing as the years come."

McNerney is gearing up for his first plunge this weekend. Although this is his second year as a volunteer for  Special Olympics, he has yet to take bone-chilling, leap into Lake of the Ozarks.

 "It is a great experience to see the joy that the games bring to the kids and the things they learn from them.  Things such as sportsmanship and respect, along with being competitive.  Also rooting the Osage athletes is a blast," he said. "I am extremely excited to take the 'Plunge' for the first year and also excited to return to the Special Olympics Games."