Swedes "Ready to Glow" in New Year: Back to school is a community-wide cause for celebration in Gothenburg

Swedes "Ready to Glow" in New Year: Back to school is a community-wide cause for celebration in Gothenburg

By Tyler Dahlgren

Class is back in session. In Gothenburg, that's a major cause for celebration.

While schools everywhere welcomed students back from summer break with open arms this week, the district in Central Nebraska called on its community to commence another great year.

It was “Back to School Night”, and judging by the school’s packed parking lots and car-lined streets, the place in town to be.

“Our mission statement references the school as the cornerstone of the community, and I think you can see that is evident here tonight,” said superintendent Dr. Allison Jonas, who perused the cafeteria while families enjoyed root beer floats and cheeseburgers. “The goal was just to bring the community indoors so that everyone can have a chance to interact. We wanted to be completely welcoming.”

Near the building’s entrance, community businesses and organizations set up booths and visited with students and their families. The district invited everyone. Nobody said no.

“Community's a pretty big deal, obviously, and we wanted to give people an opportunity to talk to our local businesses and have our businesses be involved,” said 7-12 principal Seth Ryker. “They help support this night. They donate things down in the cafeteria, hot dogs and hamburgers and chips. They helped make it happen, so we wanted to give them an opportunity to be involved in what we're doing tonight.”

Gothenburg is more of a great big family than a small town, said Jesse Kincheloe, one of the founders of The Burg, an organization separate from the school that exists to support the community’s youth. Having a presence at events like Back to School Night helps both to spread the word about what they’re doing and to foster relationships with students.

“We just love the kids,” said Kincheloe, who also works for the district and coaches football. “Anything that we can do to promote and provide opportunities for the kids, we’re going to do it.”

The theme for the night, and for the year, is “Ready to Glow”. A cosmic-colored booth where elementary students signed their “Letter of Intent” was set up in one hallway, and administrators sported neon apparel that fit the theme. And while the event was certainly a party, it was a productive one.

“We want it to be fun, and it is, but there’s also some educational pieces as well,” said elementary principal Josie Floyd. “Teachers share some things with parents, and parents have the opportunity to bring in school supplies and such. We know how important relationships are. It’s that first opportunity for kids to meet their new classroom teacher and to see the environment they’re going to be in for the rest of the year.”

It can be hard to turn the page on summer, but if the smiles and laughter flooding Gothenburg Public School’s hallways on Monday night are any indicator, the Swedes were ready to be back.

“I’ve had so much fun seeing all my friends and all the new teachers,” said fourth-grader Kallie Kincheloe, whose summer break included a trip to New York City. “I’m excited to be in Mrs. Burkink’s class, and it’s just exciting to be back.”

So who was having more fun? The students, or the teachers? For a third-party observer, it was difficult to decipher.

“Oh, it’s our favorite part of education,” said special education director and assistant elementary principal Tomye McKenna. “This is when teachers truly come alive, because we love to be with the families and the kids. It’s absolutely the best part.”

Gothenburg’s staff had been in the building for a week of professional development prior to Monday’s event, waiting eagerly to meet their new crop of students and their families.

“This has been lots of fun,” said kindergarten teacher Charity Wyatt. “Just getting to meet them for the first time, and then to carry that journey and to see their love of learning grow over the next 180 school days, there’s nothing better than that as an educator.”

Each one of Justin Dowdy’s second-graders were greeted with a big smile and a welcoming dose of enthusiasm throughout the night. He’s been teaching in the district for 18 years, but this kind of thing never gets old.

“Seeing their bright smiles, that’s what gets me pumped,” Dowdy said. “I prioritize having a good time being who they are. I want the kids in my classroom to mature and to grow into the person that they want to become, so I just try to bring that out.”

Students learn best when they’re engaged and having fun, said Ryker. The data backs it up. Gothenburg’s administrative team hopes that Monday night is a springboard for an excellent year.

“We want teachers who are enthusiastic and having a good time,” he continued. “Those are the stories that kids tell years later. Stories of teachers who were always having fun.”

Eventually, the cafeteria volunteers ran out of root beer floats and cheeseburgers, and the party wound down. The kids slept in Tuesday, their final late snooze of summer before the bells rang Wednesday morning. 

You can almost imagine the ring echoing all through town.

“Gothenburg is just a really awesome community, and we just want the school to reflect that,” said Dowdy. “We’ve got amazing support. It’s a fantastic place to be.”