Speech and secondary English students at the Alta School District have long been aware of the teaching abilities of veteran educator Brad Nesbitt.
Two weeks ago, Freemasons across the state of Iowa recognized Nesbitt's efforts as well.
Nesbitt, in his 25th year as a speech and secondary English teacher at Alta High School, was honored as the Iowa Masonic Teacher of the Year for his work with the school community at the annual meeting of the Masons of Iowa in Dubuque on Sept. 21.
Forty-three applications for the award were sent in to the Grand Mason Lodge of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, and Grand Secretary William R. Crawford said Nesbitt's credentials were too impressive for the judging committee to pass up.
"There was a public school support committee which looked over the applications and made their decision, and they said it was extremely close," Crawford said. "There were quite a number of great candidates, and Brad just surfaced to the top out of all those excellent candidates."
Nominated for the award by Pomegranate Lodge No. 408 in Alta, which had never before selected anyone for the contest, Nesbitt said he considered himself extremely fortunate to receive the honor.
"I was shocked and surprised I received the award, because it's just a great honor," Nesbitt said. "Sometimes it seems like things up here in northwest Iowa just aren't noticed because there are a lot of small cities around here, and this was nice to see that our efforts are being noticed out here."
After the local lodge sent in a letter of application and resume for Nesbitt, the judging committee then called colleagues and references of Nesbitt in an effort to see how much each candidates were involved in their schools and towns.
Crawford said Nesbitt received high marks from everyone the Masons contacted.
"The committee looked at the teacher's career and the impact he or she had in the community and the school," Crawford said. "The committee also looked at the letters of recommendation sent in by the applicant's peers, and Brad received nothing but outstanding comments. Everyone was extremely complimentary toward what he has done in the Alta school system."
Notified of his selection in August, Nesbitt appeared before over 1,000 Masons last month in Dubuque, and he said the appearance was not only exciting for him but for the members of the Alta lodge as well.
"The people at the lodge were thrilled with it," Nesbitt said. "I'm not a Mason, so I'm not as knowledgeable about this as the people in the lodge, but I talked to people over there who were very excited. They said this was a once in a lifetime event for someone from a smaller town like this to receive this award."
Nesbitt said he was proud to see how the speech program has been able to grow over the 25 years he has been at Alta.
"There are probably 60 to 80 kids in the program this year, and that is about one-third of the students in the high school right now," Nesbitt said. "The interest in the program is very high, and we have set high standards. We raise the bar pretty high, and I'm proud to say the students have been up to the task every year I've been here."
One of Nesbitt's most popular courses is a Speech II program designed to allow students to speak to segments of the community which they might not be familiar with, including visits to the elementary school and nursing homes.
"I've really tried to get the students involved in the community," Nesbitt said. "I've wanted to get the kids to present to different audiences, so they are required to speak to elementary students, a civic organization and senior citizens.
"After they speak to the senior citizens, they are then asked to partner up with one and interview them," Nesbitt continued. "That interview always seems to be a source of excitement for them, because they've been able to learn a lot from talking to those people."
A member of the executive committee of the Iowa High School Speech Association, Nesbitt serves as the coach at large for the organization, and has also made his mark in the theatrical community, as he helped revive the Buena Vista Community Theater over a decade ago.
The organization, which had slowly dried up after years in Storm Lake, was moved by Nesbitt and others to the restored Roxy Theater in downtown Alta, and he helped the playhouse get off its feet by directing the first several productions the reborn theater troupe put on by area citizens.
Due to the number of school and citywide activities his children are involved in, Nesbitt has reduced his role in the theater, but is not ready to cut back on helping his students succeed in the classroom and community.
"I love the job I'm doing right now," Nesbitt said. "It really is rewarding to help kids grow."