Spring 2018 in Review

Spring 2018 in Review

By Tyler Dahlgren

The spring semester ends, usually, on days like today. When students spill out of their schools for the last time, they’re splashed with sun and they trot across green grass into three months of swimming, baseball games, fireworks and freedom.

Let’s not kid ourselves, good vibes flow more freely when it’s 80 degrees and there isn’t a gray cloud in sight. It’s easier to be pleasant, and that doesn’t change with age.

Summer is just exciting. For our public school students. For public school teachers. For me, for you, for everybody.

*Our semester didn’t start out balmy, but that didn’t stop Conestoga’s “Breakfast Club” from kicking the positivity into gear. This student-run group focuses on building better people, meeting once a week before the sun comes up to talk about the important things.

Things like empathy and kindness. Positive thinking, toughness and passion.

Their principal, David Friedl, who happened to bring donuts on the morning of my visit (I indulged…twice), has never seen anything like it.

“It’s changing the culture of our school,” said Friedl. “We have heard the stories before, the one about the wolf and the one about the starfish, but when these kids tell them it’s coming from an entirely different perspective.”

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*First, there was chaos, but just as vividly, RyAnne Blau remembers the silence.

“We didn’t realize how many trees we had until they were gone,” said Blau.

When a tornado tore through a small Western Nebraska town, its residents, and its school, answered the bell.

This is the story of Bayard, and how its students helped pave the road to recovery.

“I wish I could have seen them,” superintendent Travis Miller said. “I kind of get a lump in my throat just thinking about how proud I am of them. We knew they were in good hands with the emergency responders.”

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*What is a “School for Rigor?”

Not going to lie, driving to Grand Island, I had no clue. But I was about to find out.

The concept, developed by Florida-based Learning Sciences International, is molded from the popular Marzano methods of instruction, which we see practiced throughout the state. Students are empowered in the classroom, accountable to one another and for one another. Teachers, likewise, are empowered to be instructional leaders. Academic teams, group learning and discovery take the place of seclusion, PowerPoint slides and memorization.                           “With this approach, I have seen kids take care of each other more, and I have seen kids become more concerned about each other,” teacher Liz Boyle said. “If they see one of their team members struggling or falling behind, they are much more willing to lean in and help. The same is true for a kid that notices they are being outpaced. They are far more likely to ask for help from their peers. There is less of an embarrassment.”

This is the unfolding story of Grand Island’s Schools for Rigor, the first of their kind in Nebraska, and these are the classrooms of tomorrow.

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*From about mid-March on, NPSA focused on career academies, and Nebraska really has some great ones.

ESU 2’s Pathways 2 Tomorrow program is an innovative career and technical education readiness program. Partnering with Wayne State College and Northeast Community College, the relatively new program is a consortium of six schools, housed in Beemer Elementary, that gives students hands-on opportunities in fields like health, computer programming and residential construction.

“The kids are getting two hours every week at a different job, rubbing elbows with doctors and nurses and vets,” instructor Dale Mundil said. “When they leave here, they should have a pretty good idea of what interests them.”

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*You ever wonder who takes the time to put each individual piece of candy into each individual egg prior to an Easter egg hunt? Well, in the town of Battle Creek, there’s a heartwarming answer to that very question.

History teacher Teresa Christensen has been taking eighth-grade students to the local nursing home, Community Pride, about once a month for the last seven years now. Through different activities, like stuffing Easter eggs, the kids form a timeless bond with the residents.

“It is important that we give back,” the teacher said. “These are the people that established our community, and we need to give back to them and thank them for everything they’ve done for us.”

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*Grinning from ear to ear, they march down the hallway on a beeline to the gymnasium, freshly-tied blankets in tow.

Preschoolers, kindergartners, first and second graders, short in stature, but towering in pride.

In Crete, elementary school students devote MLK Day to tying blankets for the homeless and those in need. Lots and lots of blankets. The commencing assembly, during which all the blankets are spread out on the gymnasium floor, is a striking sight.

“Yes, we have little kids, but they can make a difference and they showed ownership and the same amount of pride that any other student would have,” principal Heather Wendelin said.

The partnership with nearby Doane University makes this possible, another really cool community/school collaboration. That seems to be a recurring theme throughout the state.

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*Schools are essential to the survival of small towns, and these three have done whatever it takes to keep theirs. Nebraska’s Unified District #1 consists of Orchard, Clearwater and Verdigre, and NPSA visited each school and shared discussions with their three thoughtful, caring principals and superintendent Dale Martin.

Each school has kept its own identity, that was apparent during the tour, but the amount of collaboration and teamwork that has made the last two decades possible is quite incredible.

In Clearwater, in Orchard, and in Verdigre, everybody looks out for everybody.

“The school can’t survive without the town’s support, and vice-versa,” said Clearwater Principal Mike Sanne.

Three very small schools stand tall for one another.

This way, each can stand on its own.

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*Social workers in Plattsmouth Community Schools were growing tired of seeing duct tape on the shoes of the students in their schools, 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.

With the help of community partners and through fundraising, PCS was able to put 75 kids in brand new kicks. This ShopKo shopping spree is one you’ll want to read about.

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

“They all deserve to have that.”

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*Speaking of career academies, and speaking of Plattsmouth Community Schools, NPSA was invited to sit in on their “Wall to Wall” advisory committee meeting, where students, academy instructors, PCS administration and community business leaders meet and discuss the expansive academy that really does cover it all.

“It’s very exciting, but at some point in time, we are going to have to limit our number of choices,” teacher David Davis said. “We keep adding programs, but at some point we are going to have to figure out where we want to draw the line. We’re excited to see where this goes.”

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At every school, there are stories to tell, and NPSA wants to share yours! Email story leads to news@ncsa.org!