The Next Step: Plattsmouth's ShopKo shopping spree puts 75 kids in brand new kicks

The Next Step: Plattsmouth's ShopKo shopping spree puts 75 kids in brand new kicks

By Tyler Dahlgren

Duct tape is versatile.

It can fix almost anything, just ask any self-proclaimed handyman.

But duct tape being used to hold together a pair of worn and tattered children’s shoes? Well, social workers in Plattsmouth Community Schools were seeing it too often, and that’s where this story takes its first step.

“It’s something that I think a lot of people take for granted, a pair of shoes,” said Plattsmouth Elementary third-year social worker Lindsee Fryatt.

Plattsmouth is the only Class B district to have a social worker at each school.

It was difficult for Fryatt and her colleagues to watch some of their students struggle through the day in ill-fitting or completely busted shoes.

“Some of them were flapping open,” she said. “You could see their socks.”

Lots of duct tape, said middle school social worker Sara Barada, who, like Fryatt, is in her third year.

“If kids are struggling, whether it’s from something that happened at home the night before or whether it’s because their feet hurt, they aren’t learning,” said Barada. “When we can help take care of the things that are causing those struggles, they are going to be more successful at school.”

The trips started 10 years ago, when Payless ShoeSource sent free-shoe certificates for 100 kids, who were bused to Bellevue to pick out their new kicks.

For seven years, students looked forward to the trip. The grant ran out three years ago, but the need remained. Parents started to ask about the shoe shopping trip, and Plattsmouth’s social workers decided they weren’t going to let the tradition fade off.

Fryatt, Barada and high school social worker Keryl Mines started fundraising efforts, coming up with $2,800 the first year. Three years later, thanks to community collaboration and devotion from within their own district, the total has swelled to over $5,000.

Under His Wings, a Plattsmouth Thrift Store that, Barada says, “does a ton for kids,” donated $1,100. The Plattsmouth Community Foundation provided a $1,500 grant. The Student Council kicked in over $800.

“Fundraising has been really awesome, because it is something that is embraced community-wide,” Barada said.

It hasn’t always been that way in Plattsmouth. Mines, who started in the district as a family-school liaison, has seen the relationship between school and community blossom in the last decade.

“That relationship has really grown over the years,” Mines said. “When I started here 20 years ago, there weren’t a lot of community resources. A lot of the times, when there was a family in need, I would sit in my office and think ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do to help these people?’”

Those days are gone. Now, the community jumps at the chance to help Plattsmouth students.

“It’s really cool to see,” said Fryatt.

Volunteers were in no short supply. Church groups helped on the trip, assisting kids in finding the right size of sneaker. All of the proceeds from a high school wrestling meet went towards the shopping spree. With a $5 donation, teachers were allowed to wear jeans for a week.

“We raised quite a bit through jeans week,” Fryatt said. “The staff knew their money was going to the kids, so they were eager to help.”

Fundraising was so successful that the shoe shopping trip will likely be moved from the spring to the fall next year. That way, students will be able to wear their new shoes throughout the school year.

The trio scouted out the local ShopKo before April 12 to make sure there would be enough shoes for 75 students. There was, and the shopping spree was a go.

“They were really good to work with,” Fryatt said of the Plattsmouth ShopKo employees, who played a big role in finding the right shoe and fit for the kids. “I think it is fun for them to see, too.”

The first bus, filled with elementary students, left the school parking lot in the morning. The middle and high schoolers made the trip in the afternoon. In total, 75 Plattsmouth Blue Devils received new shoes. With the extra funds, more students will be taken to ShopKo as the year winds down.

“I got really excited because I don’t have a lot of shoes,” said 7th-grader Aly Winters. “I have some, but they don’t fit well. When we go shoe shopping, I get really excited to find shoes, and I got to help my brother, who is in 5th-grade, pick out his.”

Third-grader Dezzeray Faust has put her sneakers to good use already, wearing them to school and playing in them afterwards.

“I like them because you don’t have to tie them and they are memory foam,” she said. “They are really comfortable.”

By the time the bus pulled back into the Plattsmouth Elementary parking lot, most students had laced up their shiny new shoes. They walked into school with a new kind of moxy.

One kindergartner strutted down the hallway and proclaimed “I look so handsome in my new shoes!”

“You could tell he was really proud,” Fryatt laughs, remembering one of the day’s many highlights. “When I walked some of the little ones in, other students were saying things like ‘Oh, your shoes are so cool!’”

The students were grateful, and so were their parents.

“Doing these positive things helps build a foundation, so when something more difficult to tackle comes up, we already have it in place” Fryatt said. “It helps to have that connection.”

Connecting with families is critical, as is connecting with each other.

“We share families,” said Mines.

“There are a lot of ‘I have a question to run by you, what would you do in this situation?’ calls,” Barada adds.

“And then Carol says ‘Well, I knew that parent when they were in high school’, or ‘I know that family’ because she has been here for 20 years,” Fryatt said. “She is a key insider.”

Next year, Plattsmouth will add a fourth social worker to its team, focusing on Pre-K. The rest of the Plattsmouth staff, and especially the administration, sees the importance of the role social workers play in the total education of a child.

“I think our staff sees that there is such a need and the needs of the kids are sometimes bigger than what they can give in the classroom, so they lean on us,” Fryatt said. “Our administration is super supportive of us, too.”

If a program benefits kids, the Plattsmouth administration is always on board.

“Like the shoe shopping, for example,” Mines said. “They are always like ‘Go for it!’.”

This is a feel-good story, but there are days on the job when it feels like those are tough to come by for Plattsmouth’s trio of social workers.

“We might have a feel-good moment here or there,” Barada said. “The shoe shopping is something I look forward to, just to see the kids’ excitement, and I know the others do too.”

Nebraska schools see the bigger picture, Mines said, when it comes to doing what is best for every single student in their care. The key word there is care. The culture is evolving.

“There is a lot of stress and issues with mental health and anxiety and depression,” Mines said. “As a school, we have to help kids in ways that we never used to.”

Their district makes doing just that a priority, Fryatt said. Often times, school is about so much more than education. Students are there for 40 hours a week, and a school’s responsibilities naturally extend beyond reading, writing and math.

“If your shoes are duct taped and you are worried about what the kid next to you thinks about your shoes, how can you focus on your math?” Fryatt asks. “Or if you have to walk to school in shoes that have holes in them and your socks are soaking wet and your feet are freezing, how are you supposed to focus at all?”

In Plattsmouth, it was time to ditch the duct tape.

With an entire community behind them, 75 Plattsmouth students are taking the next step towards a brighter future in brand new shoes.

“Everyone deserves that moment to be the cool kid with cool new shoes,” Fryatt said.

“They all deserve to have that.”