Let the Good News Roll! Celebrating eight years of storytelling with NPSA

Let the Good News Roll! Celebrating eight years of storytelling with NPSA

By Tyler Dahlgren

He’s principal at Adams Central Junior/Senior High now, but back in the fall of 2016, Scott Harrington was teaching government to upperclassmen at Norris. Each year, he’d take his students over to the Capitol for an up-close look at the Unicameral.

On my second day at NCSA, executive director Dr. Mike Dulaney spoke to Harrington’s class there on legislation, lobbying, and the importance of having a voice as a stakeholder. He then handed me the mic and asked if I’d go for five minutes on the communications field and the work I’d been hired to do. I had nothing planned, and, for the sake of transparency, wasn’t yet the biggest fan of public speaking.

I was just a writer, I still am, but I made it through my five minutes, wiped the sweat off my forehead, and hoped it’d be a while before I had to do that again.

The following week, I visited Harrington’s classroom and interviewed him about his yearly ritual of taking government students to the Capitol. That was my first story for Nebraska Public School Advantage, and I remember everything coming into focus the moment I pressed “Publish.” 

I’d only really written about sports in the past but was confident in my ability to spin a feature out of anything. My new subject matter, “the transformational power of public schools,” wasn’t something I was well-versed in. But after that first feature story in October of 2016, it just clicked. I’ve said it before, and I’ll probably say it again, but Nebraska’s public schools are a goldmine for a storyteller.

With the amazing NCSA Ambassadors by my side, we were off to the races. Momentum only wanes if you let it, and when it comes to advocating for public schools across the state of Nebraska, you’d almost have to go out of your way to do that.

We just wrapped up our eighth school year, and with 32 features published between August and May, it was our busiest yet. And why wouldn’t it be? Nebraska’s schools fortify our mission every day. In the fall, NPSA will eclipse 400 stories. That’s thousands of interviews and, between the ambassadors and I, hundreds of thousands of miles logged all over our beautiful state.

It’s fun to reflect. I always get a kick out of surfing the archives, but I know the summer will pass by in the blink of an eye, and then the school bell will ring, and it’ll be time to put pen to paper again. Honestly, there’s part of me that can’t wait.

We’re going to keep the momentum going. We know our schools are going to make that easy. Let the good news roll!

On with our rewind.

The 2023-24 school year started with a pool party in Broken Bow, a principal’s plunge at Park Elementary in Kearney, and a “Ready to Glow” party with the Swedes in Gothenburg. It was a fast and furious start, a harbinger of things to come.

We spent a day in Plainview, where a violent thunderstorm ripped the roof right off the elementary school and set the district and the community on a race to accommodate students for the first day of school. Guess what? They won that race. In mid-September, we made a return to ESU 16’s Partner-Up Rodeo in North Platte. If you live in the area and haven’t been, you need to check it out. It’s one of the neatest events you’ll ever see.

I got the scoop on what really happens at a teacher in-service day with Kearney Public Schools and made an in-home visit to the Dundy County Stratton High School construction class’s dream house in Benkelman. Mental Health Awareness Week at Fairbury was a great opportunity to link up with the world-class ESU 5 mental health team and Teammates CEO DeMoine Adams, who kicked off the week by sharing a powerful message with the student body.

The Kearney Police Department talked about the importance of their presence at Park Elementary’s “Donuts with Grownups” in late October, and then we skipped across town to Meadowlark Elementary, where the school put on a Halloween-themed celebration for the ages. In early November, we caught a unified volleyball game at Ashland-Greenwood that warmed the heart and then sat down with the Ford brothers, one of Nebraska’s rare pairs of superintendent siblings.

Freeman was the place to be for World Kindness Day on November 13th, as students were sent off on a “Goosechase for Good Deeds,” then we shared the incredible and inspiring story of Crete Middle School principal Perla Jaimes. The holiday season came and went with holiday baskets at DC West and Kimball superintendent Trevor Anderson donning his school’s Longhorn mascot.

The second semester kicked off in Friend, where their “Bulldog Buddies” program gave students and staff a monthly 30-minute blast of fun. We then featured an elementary music class that has a knack for sharing its gift with the Kearney community before profiling sixth-grade singing sensation Ava Bonifas from Adams Central. We rolled through February by launching the “To Tell You the Truth with Nebraska Educators” series and spending a day immersed in artificial intelligence with the fine folks at ESU 15.

March ended in a flurry with Fort Calhoun Community Schools’ inaugural Community Mental Health and Safety Conference, Lexington’s celebration for National Distinguished Principal from Nebraska Nikki Edeal (who received her final round of chemotherapy for cancer treatment earlier that morning), and Commissioner of Education Dr. Brian Maher’s Logan View homecoming.

For the second time in eight years, we took in a solar eclipse, this time from the football field at Elm Creek. We rode through Wymore on Southern Public Schools’ electric school bus and then kicked it with York Middle School at their famous career fair, which brought in more than 30 companies from a variety of industries. Our final feature of the school year was on Scottsbluff’s Peer Para Interns.

We crossed the finish line, both literally and figuratively, on Saturday, May 25, at Cody Park in North Platte, the site of the Tyler Vanderheiden Memorial Run. I participated in the 5-mile race as a follow-up to a feature I did on the race that was set up to honor McPherson County superintendent Tim Vanderheiden’s son Tyler.

It was the perfect grand finale of a school year full of grand moments.

As always, the storyboard for next year is filling up. If you’re reading this, we know you have awesome things happening in your districts and service units. Shoot me an email at Tyler@ncsa.org and have me out. Let’s keep the momentum going.