Bat Caves, Medieval Times and a Boogie Down: A Friday in October at Meadowlark Elementary

Bat Caves, Medieval Times and a Boogie Down: A Friday in October at Meadowlark Elementary

By Tyler Dahlgren

Donuts with Grown-Ups was winding down at Park Elementary last Friday.

I was making my way to the parking lot, ready to ride those good vibes all the way back to Lincoln, when I ran into Kearney Public Schools Director of PK-5 Education Sara Paider near the school's front doors.

"This is awesome," I said.

It definitely was, we agreed. (Check out our latest feature to see for yourself!)

"Are you in a hurry to get back?" Paider asked.

I wasn't.

"You have to go check out what they have going on at Meadowlark, if you have time."

I did.

It was October 27th, and we were in need of some Halloween content. Curiosity got the best of the black cat and I trekked across town and walked into Meadowlark, where I got a guided tour from principal Mark Stute, hopping from grade to grade and party to party for a solid half half an hour.

I'm not sure I've ever seen that many kids having that much fun before 9am on a school day. To be honest, I didn't think it was possible. But here they were.

First, Stute led me to the third-grade wing, where the classrooms had been transformed into bat caves. The kids have been learning about bat senses, but learning in the dark? Talk about an innovation in curriculum delivery.

Fourth-graders at Meadowlark have been studying medieval times the last couple of weeks. So, naturally, their teachers transformed their wing into a stone-cladded castle fortress, where later that day they'd hold a medieval-themed party.

In the gymnasium, students danced the day away (in 35-minute increments), as part of the Monster Mash Dance-a-Thon that raised a whopping $27,000!

Every two years, Meadowlark adopts a theme. This year and next, they have a "farm" theme, indicated by the decorations that greet visitors as they enter the charming school tucked in the northeast corner of town.

"The teachers, parents and kids make this a special place, without a doubt," said Stute. "For example, a grandma who doesn't have any kids here anymore, she makes all the characters and decorations you saw on you're way in. She's been doing that since her grandkids left. She's already texted me about what our next theme is going to be."

Stute's proud of this place, and though I didn't really know what I was walking into, it's pretty obvious that he should be. The energy is infectious. It rubs off on you.

"This teacher right here, she's probably one of the best in the state," he says as we invite ourselves into Robin Bennett's first-grade classroom, where we're welcomed right away without anybody missing a beat. "We have an amazing staff, and we look for those qualities in the hiring process. We have to, or this wouldn't all work."

Stute shows a hallway that pays tribute to the themes of school years past. He tells me about the Watchdog Dads, who volunteer in the building a half-day at a time.

"We have a waiting list for that," he says with a chuckle. "We're booked out until the end of the year."

Stute, who's been at Meadowlark for 18 years, said this particular Friday was a perfect encapsulation of the school's culture.

"We want it to be memorable for our kids," said Stute. "When they look back at their time here, these are the memories that are going to make them smile."