Fall in Review: Rodeos, Marathons, Farms, and some Crazy, Cool Classrooms

Fall in Review: Rodeos, Marathons, Farms, and some Crazy, Cool Classrooms

By Tyler Dahlgren

Mrs. Everett’s Surf Shack set for Grand Opening! Click Here!

The sun was setting on summer when we stopped by Meadowlark Elementary in Kearney to check out Julie Everett’s classroom, an island-themed paradise for learning that we coined “The Surf Shack”. While the beloved summer vacation was ending for students, another was just about to begin.

They Said It: “I want them to feel comfortable in their learning environment,” Everett said. “I want this to feel like home. I am flexible with how they work. If they want to take a bucket and go somewhere, even out in the hallway, I allow them to do that.”

Jaclyn Nielsen’s Language Arts Lounge Click Here!

Bean bags, wobble chairs, yoga balls and stand-up desks, that’s what you’ll find in Jaclyn Nielsen’s Beveridge Middle School eighth-grade language arts classroom. The students enjoy flexible seating in a lounge-setting reminiscent of a Starbucks, and their teacher hardly stands still. For Nielsen, student engagement has never been better.

They Said it: “For some of my students, this is the place in their lives that is most comfortable,” Nielsen said. “They are coming from all sorts of environments. Some of them are absolutely wonderful, and some of them don't provide a lot of structure. I want to give them structure while also having it be a comfortable and fun environment.”

A Cozy Den, a Spacious Studio, and Comfort in the Space Between Click Here!

Emily Garrick’s art classroom at Adams Middle School in North Platte does the one thing every art teacher aspires to do; it sparks creativity. From the cozy den in the front of the room, which reminded us of Red Foreman’s basement, to the spacious studio near the back of the classroom, where the imaginations of her students come to life in various projects, Garrick’s vision has made a huge impact on her students.

They Said It: “I want it to feel like home to my students,” Garrick said. “I want it to be a place where they can come and take risks and ask for help when they need it.”

Custer Capable: Where Coming Home Counts Click Here!

Six school districts from the heart of the heartland, Custer County, came together a handful of years ago to form Custer Capable, a career readiness program with focus areas in manufacturing, health care, agriculture and construction, and business entrepreneurship. Intended to provide plenty of paths for students, Custer Capable is an incredible example of community and school partnership. Hopefully, said executive director Jenny Fox, some of those paths will lead students back home.

They Said It: “The future of our county exists in the youth here,” said Fox. “The only way that we are going to feed our workforce is if we instill that feeling in our kids that we want them back.”

“Run Like the Gingerbread Man!”: Logan View Students are the Pulse of the Raider Run Click Here!

In March, I had the brilliant idea to run a half marathon. Without doing much research, a buddy and I signed up for the Logan View Raider Run, and, in August we made the drive to Hooper, where the hills between Logan View High School and neighboring Uehling gave us all we could handle, and more. I may not have finished had it not been for the Logan View students, the pulse of the Raider Run, who handed out water and oranges at checkmarks and shouted words of encouragement every mile or so. The experience, and the students, were so awesome that I knew I had to write a story about it.

They Said It: “Handing out waters and having them say thanks, it makes us feel good,” said fourth-grader Anthony Oberg. “We came up with encouraging things to help keep them going. It was a lot of fun.”


Moving Mental Health to the Forefront: Westside Community Schools Prioritizes Social and Emotional Well-Being Click Here!

In September, we sat down with a high school dean, a middle school psychologist and an elementary counselor for a roundtable discussion regarding mental health and emotional well-being. In Westside Schools, mental health is a priority, and, listening to these three discuss the day-to-day efforts being made to care for their students in every way possible was eye-opening. On January 18th, Nebraska Loves Public Schools will be releasing the first installment of “The Mind Inside”, a courageous and sincere docuseries on mental health.

They Said It: “If a kid is not available for learning, if they are not in the correct head space or behavior space, you can be the best educator in the entire world and you aren’t going to get anywhere. We can’t even begin to teach academics until we can get them regulated. The two are linked and are both immensely important.”-Amber Biegler, School Psychologist at Westside Middle School

Student Spotlight: Syracuse-Dunbar-Avoca Junior Danni Schutz Click Here!

Danni Schutz’s eyesight began to fade when she was six years old, and, when she was in third grade, doctors delivered the news that her central vision was failing. Her life, in the classroom and outside of it, changed drastically. When she reached junior high, Danni made the decision to live her life without limits. And has she ever. A cheerleader and golfer for the Rockets, Schutz marches in the band, is a member of FFA and NHS, carries a 4.0 and volunteers for students of service. The accolades are awesome, sure, but they don’t even begin to tell Danni’s story. For teachers like Jacqueline Mohr, watching how that story plays out will be a treat.

They Said It: “It is amazing what she does,” Mohr said. “No excuses, that’s her mentality. There are kids who use lesser hindrances to hold them back, but she is bound and determined to be as successful as anyone else.”

Painting Hitchcock County Blue: Through Unification, Consolidation and Everything in Between, Falcons Soar Click Here!

*Broken into five chapters, this is the story of a small, consolidated school in south central Nebraska that could have folded, but refused to be anything less than extraordinary. In the last seven years, Hitchcock County has received recognition at an unprecedented rate, starting with the high school’s Blue Ribbon Award in 2011, just three years after consolidation, and in 2014, when the elementary was recognized as a National Title 1 Distinguished School. The elementary was a recipient of the Blue Ribbon Award this year, too, a nice parting gift for retiring principal John Kershaw, who offered a piece of advice for incoming principal and friend Mike Tines.

They Said It: “Just remember to always put the students first,” Kershaw said. “There are times when you may not be very popular, but if you are doing the right thing, that is what is important.”

ESU 15’s Process Day Creates Big-Time Collaboration Opportunities for SW NE Teachers Click Here!

*There are nine school districts within ESU 15’s coverage area, and, one by one, their teachers filed into McCook’s Evangelical Free Church on a mid-September morning for “Process”, a unique day of collaborative professional development intended to benefit students. After a morning keynote speaker, we sat down with three of those teachers and talked about the program.

They Said It: “As a first-year teacher, being thrown into PLC Process and being exposed to this type of collaboration, I really learned from other social studies teachers. We came together in core groups, and everybody brought different ideas. It really exposed me to some veteran teachers that have been doing this for 20 years and some other young teachers that came with fresh and unique ideas. You tweak them a little bit to how you think your class is going to run. I have brought probably a dozen different activities or lessons to use in the classroom back from here.”-McCook’s Richard Smock

Partner Up Rodeo: A Special Day in Western NE Click Here!

*One of the more memorable experiences we’ve had happened on a 95-degree fall day in North Platte, home to Partner Up Rodeo. ESU 16 has been putting this special day on for eight years now, a rodeo that drew over 180 cowboys and cowgirls with special needs and more than 300 volunteers to the Lincoln County Fairgrounds. With horse rides, petting zoos, bean bag races and plenty of smiles, the Partner Up Rodeo is a heartwarming reflection of the power of public education, and Lou Cox-Fornander, ESU 16’s Inclusion/Transition Consultant, can hardly wait for next year’s event.

They Said It: "The friendships that the kids build," Cox-Fornander answered when asked about her favorite part of the rodeo. "We have been doing it for long enough that student volunteers who have worked with a partner, they look forward to seeing each other. They say 'Do I get to see my cowboy? Is my friend going to be here this year?' They look for each other, and those things go far beyond just this day."

A Day on Gifford Farm: ESU 3’s Outdoor Learning Adventure! Click Here!

*The 2011 Missouri River flood left ESU 3’s Gifford Farm totally under water, but it couldn’t break the spirit of a place that hosts 30,000 students every year for a truly unique and memorable outdoor learning experience. In fact, after a three-year rebuild, the farm came back stronger than ever, with new buildings, festivals, events and programs, which include agriculture, history, science, astronomy (the farm has a planetarium), history and nature. We visited the farm with 57 kindergarten students from Ralston’s Mockingbird Elementary and captured some of the day’s highlights! Nancy Williams, the farm’s director, is always looking for ways to evolve while at the same time holding on to the farm’s rich history.

They Said It: “It’s quite the balancing act,” Williams said. “A perfect example of how we try and do that is the Living History of the Plains program. It’s new, only a couple years old, but it celebrates what Gifford Farm is all about. It’s about homesteading and pioneering the way that people lived back then.”

For Scribner-Snyder’s Inaugural eSports Team, It’s Game On! Click Here!

*Scribner-Snyder is the smallest school in Nebraska to offer an eSports team, and we spent a morning with these gamers in mid-October. Linda Schafer, the school’s K-12 coding, keyboarding and programming teacher, oversaw a game night last year and couldn’t help but to notice the way students who were otherwise quiet and reserved were collaborating and connecting through a game of Fortnight. Not a gamer herself, Schafer looked into eSports, and her supportive administration was all on board when she pitched the idea.

They Said It: “I saw more good things in their gaming than I was seeing bad things,” said Schafer. “I kept watching and listening in on the conversations they were having and the collaboration that was taking place.”

Connecting Through a Lost Art, Black Elk Elementary Reunites WW2 Vet with War Medals Click Here!

*Richard Slovek is a 91-year-old World War II veteran who shares a special relationship with students at Millard’s Black Elk Elementary. On October 29, Slovek visited Black Elk for what he thought was a classroom visit with some of his pen pals. Instead, he entered a patriotically-decorated gymnasium, where hundreds of students, teachers, administrators, friends and family awaited. Slovek was reunited with two medals that had been lost seven decades ago and was presented with a Quilt of Valor. The ceremony was concluded with a rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag”, and then fourth-grader Charlie Fish, who had pinned the once-lost ribbon and medal on his friend, joined Slovek to answer questions from media in attendance.

They Said It: “Charlie, you will have to come see me now,” Slovek said. “I’ve got a tackle box, and you can go in it and pick out what you want.”

Industrial Shop is a World of Possibilities for CardinalCAM Industries Click Here!

*It’s amazing, really, the journey a few hundred dollars and an entrepreneurial spirit can jump-start, and Randolph High School student enterprise CardinalCAM Industries find themselves on one heck of a ride. Known for their carefully crafted signage, CardinalCAM teaches Randolph students invaluable lessons in time management, finance, budgeting, sales and interpersonal communication. Sometimes, says senior Cindy Haselhorst, 55 minute periods aren’t enough. This is a business, and these kids have plenty of work to do.

They Said It: “Talking to business people, and having to carry on conversations with people outside of the circle I am comfortable with, that has been really valuable,” Haselhorst said. “I have really been marketing and corresponding between our business and the customers we have, letting them know when their signs are ready or answering their questions. I’m kind of the liaison.”