Retracing Our Steps: Fall Semester 2017

Retracing Our Steps: Fall Semester 2017

By Tyler Dahlgren

Blink your eyes once and you’re staring directly at the Holiday break.

It certainly never seemed that way as a student, but for a guy that darts around the state from district to district telling your stories of public school success, August, September, October and November passed by in one crazy and fun blur.

We’re not quite done with 2017 yet, with a handful of visits and features lined up for December, but let’s take a quick look back at where NPSA has been this fall!


Milford: Eagle Pride: The Story of a School

The first installment in NPSA’s 2017-18 Cultivating Culture Series, Milford is a school filled with Eagle Pride. Everyone Has a Story. Make Yours Worth Telling. That’s their motto, and everyone, from the administration to the staff to the students, lives by it.

“As an administrator, you’ve got to be willing to be that voice sometimes,” secondary principal Brandon Mowinkel says. “You have to embrace that role, and you have to be ready for the other side of it, too, because you’re going to catch some heat at times, but you have to embrace it as ‘This is our story and we are going to tell it how we feel it should be told’.”

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Sumner-Eddyville-Miller: Totality Awesome: S-E-M students, staff take in historic eclipse together

Remember that total eclipse thing that happened in late August? NPSA couldn’t have picked a better spot to watch it than on S-E-M’s football field. Members of the surrounding community set up their lawn chairs and joined students for the eclipse, which didn’t disappoint. It was a memorable experience for all involved.

“This is something that their parents, and even their grandparents, haven’t seen in totality,” teacher Scott Williams said. “This is something we want the kids to experience and to enjoy, so when they are grandparents, they can tell their grandkids and kids about it.”

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Sumner-Eddyville-Miller: More Than Meets the Ears: Music unifies students at S-E-M

A two-for-one! While at S-E-M, we heard about a music program that has a 67 percent participation rate among high schoolers. For junior high students, that number balloons to 79 percent! Justin Bosak got his start in music traveling to buffalo stew cookouts with his dad. Now the music teacher at S-E-M, his energy and love for music is contagious.

“Mr. Bosak has done amazing things with that program,” said Superintendent Kevin Finkey, who at times finds himself admiring the music teacher’s interactions with students. “To go in and watch him work with the kids is really special. He has the mentality that puts him in the perfect position for it.”

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Falls City: A Student Body’s Stewardship: PALs program fosters relationships at Falls City

NPSA was invited to watch a kickball game unlike any other kickball game in Falls City. A school with a caring culture, Falls City’s PALs program (Peers Always Learning) gives Lifeskills students the chance to interact socially with their peers, who are eager to do so.

“I think this PALs program, thanks to Mrs. Gifford, is probably the strongest transitional program that I’ve been a part of in my 30 years in education,” said 11th-year principal Gale Dunkhas. “These are some of our most protected kids by all of our students, because they love them and they know them and they treat them all with respect.”

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Broken Bow: Character Works, Indeed: Broken Bow elementary students grow with added responsibilities

NPSA visited Central NE to hear about a program known at Character Works, which puts students in jobs such as janitorial assistant, communications liaison and library assistant. North Park Elementary students even go through an interview process and come up with their own references.

I have one more question for the group.

“So when you’d get home at the end of a long day, would your parents ask you ‘How was school?’, or ‘How was work?’”

The five friends answer the question in unison.


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Chadron: Where Seeds are Sown: Committee reaches out, connects with Chadron community

Chadron superintendent Dr. Caroline Winchester has taken a new approach at gathering stakeholder input. Winchester and the Chadron administration constructed a Community Outreach Committee, which actively instigates conversations with the 70 percent of the Chadron community that isn’t directly connected to the schools.

“We have gone to different little coffee groups and have had the opportunity to be affirmed that we are headed down the right road or to receive input as far as where our community feels we could go,” Board of Education Vice President Sandy Roes said. “Those conversations are very important. They plant the seed so that we can do the implementation.”

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Clarkson: Cultivating Culture: Clarkson aims to “Be the Story”

Okay, all the schools we’ve visited have been unique and awesome in their own way, but the trip to Clarkson is one of my personal favorites. I grew up in Blair, and am pretty familiar with a lot of the schools along Highway 91, but had never visited Clarkson, where the new school motto encourages staff and students to “Be the Story”. Clarkson is just an inviting place, with positive vibes ringing through every hallway.

Inevitably, it spills over to the students. During passing periods, the hallways are filled with hooting and hollering, high fives and plenty of laughs and smiles.

Some of those high fives are shared between seniors and sixth-graders. Some between juniors and fourth-graders. That’s what’s so cool about facilitating a supportive culture in a small school. With everyone in one building, the support knows no bounds.

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Columbus: A Lost Creek Dream: Inclusive Playground brings joy to all in Columbus

It started with two teachers and a dream and, thanks to the Columbus community and a supportive school administration, became something so much more than that. The Inclusive Playground at Lost Creek Elementary is a state-of-the-art playground designed to accommodate ALL students, and the grand opening was a time for the playground committee to celebrate with students and community members.

“It was incredible,” said Megan Johnson, special education teacher at Lost Creek, located just south of Columbus High School. “All along the way, we were asking ourselves ‘Is it going to match the vision we had? Are kids and their families, the ones who will be most impacted by the playground, going to be happy with it?’”

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Gibbon: Teacher Feature: The moments that matter

For Gibbon ELL teacher Stacy Quinteros, gratification comes often from something as small as a head nod. Born in Bolivia and raised in Lexington, Quinteros is responsible for 50 students in Gibbon, and her job is never the same from day to day.

“For them, that experience is very different because they all come from different places,” Quinteros said. “Even if they do come from the same country, they come from different regions where they have experienced this or never experienced that. I have students from Mexico, Central America, Cuba. They are all very unique.”

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Gering: From Panhandle to Spotlight: An electronics class, their drones and national acclaim

So just how did an electronics class from Gering, Nebraska find themselves on a full-page spread in USA Today? Well, that’s one heck of a story, and we travelled across the state to meet teacher Justin Reinmuth and some of his (very, very smart and savvy) students. One of three nationwide winners of Samsung’s Solve for Tomorrow contest, Gering’s STEM program is now equipped with some serious gadgetry.

“All in all, it was a wonderful ride,” Reinmuth said. “Our room is now fully equipped with about anything you could ask for when it comes to modern engineering.”

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Springboard to the Future: SENCAP sets students up for success

SENCAP is a career academy program that started in ESU nearly 10 years ago. The original enrollment was 45. The last five years, the program, which was picked up by Southeast Community College has served 2,500 Southeast Nebraska high school students and offers high schoolers a chance to get a leg up on their future in 10 separate fields.

“The investment Southeast Community College has made is unlike any other community college in the state,” SENCAP director Dr. Randy Nelson said. “They put a huge dollar amount into this program. They’ve made a commitment to this not only because they see the value, but they know that this is best for kids.”

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