FAIRMONT - As the school year comes to a close, students are being recognized for academic achievement, teachers are getting kudos for a job well done and parents are gathering their energy to have kids home over summer break.
But there is one other group involved with students that deserves recognition, and that is exactly what they got this week.
Education Minnesota Fairmont presented Nancy Driano and Matt Nielsen with Friends of Education awards this week.
Nancy Driano and Matt Nielsen have been awarded the Friends of Education honor for 2011 through Education Minnesota Fairmont.
Fourth-grade teacher Joice Forster nominated Driano for the award, which honors one or two volunteers to the district who epitomize what is valued in a helper.
Forster first met Driano through the soccer association, in which Driano is heavily involved. But it wasn't until a few years later, when Forster taught one of Driano's daughters, that she realized what a jewel she had.
"Nancy was a parent volunteer weekly," Forster said. "She was always there with a positive attitude."
In addition to being dependable and helpful in the classroom, Forster said Driano went quietly about restocking things that needed restocking, chaperoned trips, and was involved with the school's parent advisory board and Junior Achievement.
She and her husband have continued to volunteer districtwide, including back in Forster's classroom when a second daughter had her for a teacher.
The family donated a car to the high school to be auctioned off for the benefit of the robotics program, and they have given money to help underprivileged students pay for activity fees.
Driano's dedication comes in part from her feelings about education in general.
"I really think education is important," she said. "My dad used to say to get the best education you can, because no one can take that away from you."
Nielsen was nominated by Rebecca Fink, who said he is a favorite of her students when he comes to their class as a Junior Achievement volunteer.
She said his ability to make the students feel comfortable is a skill not to be underestimated.
"He treated each student with respect," she wrote in a letter to Education Minnesota Fairmont commending Nielsen. "He made each student feel important."
Nielsen met Fink when she was an assistant junior varsity girls soccer coach, for which Nielsen is head coach.
When he started volunteering with Junior Achievement in its first year, her classroom was a natural place to start. With his own children in high school now, Nielsen has focused more of his volunteering energy to the upper grades, helping in a Theory of Knowledge class, in addition to his coaching duties.
"I am unable to come up with the words to describe what he does for these (students)," Fink wrote in her description of why Nielsen is a Friend of Education.
Nielsen was lighthearted in accepting the award, noting his mother was last year's Friend of Education.
"I was wondering if next year my wife would win," he joked before praising the school district and community.
"I grew up in the Twin Cities," he said. "I can't imagine if we still lived there we would have the opportunities to be so involved in the kids' schools."
The local Friends of Education were honored Wednesday at the Great Southwest United Recognition Banquet at which Education Minnesota recognizes them along with Friends of Education, local teachers of the year and retirees from around the region.