Traveling Trio: Catching up with the NCSA Ambassadors

Traveling Trio: Catching up with the NCSA Ambassadors

By Tyler Dahlgren

I was somewhere in Boone County, on my way to do a two-stop story assignment in Cedar Rapids and Spalding, home of Riverside Public Schools, when I rolled on by a one-room country schoolhouse.

Say what you will about the snow and the havoc it has wreaked on the school year, but winter weather makes for wonderful scenery. I wish I would have pulled over and taken a photo. It would have looked pretty neat above this story.

Instead, I just admired the structure, much like I’ve come to admire the people who make up Nebraska’s public schools since I started this storytelling journey with NPSA in October of 2016.

I imagined a school day in the 1920s, how the students then compare to the students now. There’s probably more similarities than you’d think.

I imagined the teachers through the years, the ones who brought this little building to life. I’m sure they cared about their students then the same way teachers across the state care about their students now.

The kids have always come first. Class is no longer in session at this old schoolhouse, but not even Father Time himself can do a thing to change that.

As our Caravan carried on, and Siri piped in with another navigational update, I thought about the memories made at that schoolhouse over the years. No doubt it’s a sacred place to some, able to evoke nostalgia just like I feel every time I drive past Prairie Wind Elementary in northwest Omaha.

Then I thought about the memories I am fortunate enough to capture every week, about what a cool gig I have.

NPSA has published 100 feature stories since November, 2016. I’ve interviewed kids of all ages, teachers from all kinds of backgrounds and principals who put the kids in their building at the top of priority lists I didn’t even know existed.

I’ve stuck my hand in the side of a cannulated steer in North Bend. I’ve walked a therapy pony through the halls of a school in Laurel and spent days as a guest eating lunch in the cafeterias at Ashland-Greenwood, York and many others.

I’ve covered Special Olympic track meets and rodeos for students with special needs. I’ve had heart-wrenching conversations with administrators in the midst of awful tragedies and heartwarming talks with educators who use money out of their own pockets to help a student in need.

Working in parallel support of I Love Public Schools, we’ve had several incredible opportunities to spread the #ilovepublicschools message. The NCSA Ambassadors, who you’ll hear from below, are all over the map, meeting with school and civic groups and advocating for our public schools.

Every day, public schools in every corner of the state do something worthy of the spotlight, and, though they’re generally reluctant to step into it, it’s important that we continue to promote.

Siri directed me to Riverside High School in Cedar Rapids, a place I’d never been before, but you wouldn’t know it by the smiles that greeted me just inside its historic doors.

The story assignment was the third installment in NPSA’s The Secretary Series. I set my recorder on a desk, got comfortable in my chair and pressed play.

This time, I didn’t forget to snap a picture.


Catching Up with NCSA’s Ambassadors

Q: Through the eyes of an ambassador, how has the landscape of public education advocacy in our state evolved over your time with NCSA? Can you sense a difference being made?

Dr. Cinde Wendell: Well into our third year, we are still true to our mission, and that is travelling the state advocating for public schools and telling the great stories of public schools. They’re doing great things and giving us so many great things to talk about. I think there has been a significant difference being made in public school advocacy with the #ilovepublicschools movement.

Nebraskans have always been proud of our public schools, but often we were not telling the stories happening here. It may have been because educators were too busy, too humble, or possibly because these things are “happening every day in public schools”, they didn’t realize how special the work really was. We are now telling the stories and encouraging others to tell their stories, too.

Dr. Keith Rohwer: Public education advocacy has become more relevant to communities and schools as we have made visits and presentations as part of the NCSA Ambassador program. People see the value of advocating for schools in an effort to educate people about the progress that is being made each and every day. They realize the importance of their roles in advocating for our public schools.

Kyle McGowan: Schools in Nebraska continue to provide excellent educational opportunities. The ambassadors have crisscrossed the state to share what’s taking place every day. I believe our mission and theme has become more recognizable due to the number of requests we’re receiving.

Q: Because of the amazing work of I Love Public Schools, schools are embracing the role of storytellers. Has it been neat for you, as former superintendents, to watch that movement really take off on social media platforms?

Rohwer: The I Love Public Schools movement has pushed awareness of public schools and advocacy to a whole new level. The social media platforms have enabled many individuals and groups to share their stories. On Twitter, there are daily connections being made regarding the tremendous work of schools and the students that are served.

McGowan: Schools have always worked to communicate what’s taking place within their district. However, incorporating social media into the communication equation compared to previous methods of print and meetings is a similar to the difference between a horse and buggy and the space shuttle.

Wendell: It’s been an eye-opener for me. As we travel the state, we meet so many amazing educators, students, parents and community members. Gathering stories and seeing them on Twitter and Facebook, on the NPSA website, and from watching the I Love Public Schools films has not only been rewarding, but extremely enlightening.

There are truly amazing things happening every day in our public schools all across the state. Now is the time to tell these great stories.

Q: Do you have a memorable moment or visit from the last three years?

McGowan: One of the most unique visits/presentations I had was in Hastings, where I met with a Kiwanis group which included the superintendents from Hastings, a bordering school and a parochial school. All three work well together and support the mission to cooperate as they educate children in the region.

Wendell: There have been many memorable moments, but I have to say I am so very excited about our future teachers and educators. I love meeting with student education associations in the colleges and seeing the talent, enthusiasm and dedication of these young people who are learning to become teachers.

Rohwer: The opportunity to travel the state, to visit schools and communities, and to talk with educators has provided me with several chances to see the tremendous work being done by teachers and students. Two such opportunities that come to mind are the Conestoga Breakfast Club and Randolph’s Cardinal Cam Industries.

Q: What has you most excited for the future?

Rohwer: The continued progress and experiences of the students in our public schools. Our kids are very talented and capable of achieving greatness. Being able to see and tell about those stories greatly adds to the future of the NCSA Ambassador Program.

Wendell: The future of public education in Nebraska is very bright. It has been most rewarding to see groups outside education join with educators to support our public schools. Together, we can accomplish anything.

McGowan: As Nebraska continues to focus on economic development and how businesses and people can be attracted to our state, I look forward to the time state leaders start highlighting the quality educational opportunities available.