Tag Archives: education

A Return to
 the Classics

September 25, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Keyboarding. Computer skills. Microsoft Office. These classes were required of elementary and middle school students 15-20 years ago. Now, there’s typing in elementary school?

Those courses signify just how rapidly digital technology changes, and consequently, how much digital tech impacts the economy and the education system preparing students for careers.

Current and future professionals face some unique challenges in the workforce because of these rapid changes. A recently published PEW Research Center article revealed that 87 percent of workers believe they’ll need further training and have to learn new job skills to keep up with the dynamic demands of technology. The article indicated that some of the most important assets professionals need include creativity, curiosity, and critical thinking.

Multiple schools—at least three in the last two years—have cropped up in Omaha that are able to address these concerns in a unique way. How do they prepare students for an economic landscape that has changed drastically in the last 30 years and shows no signs of slowing down? Not by being cutting edge, but by playing the long game—employing a classical model of education that’s roughly 2,500 years old.

Sara Breetzke, formerly a high school English teacher in Elkhorn, is now the head of school at Trinity Classical Academy, a collaborative, Christian, classical school beginning its second year this fall. Classical education, she explains, is “about teaching kids to enjoy learning and to know how to learn for themselves.”

Classical schooling is made up of three distinct stages of learning that mirror the development of a child. It’s known as the “trivium.” The grammar stage (first through fourth grades), when children are considered “information sponges,” involves memorizing facts and information; the logic stage (fifth through eighth grades), when kids are consumed with “why?”, involves organizing those learned facts in logical ways; the rhetoric stage (ninth through 12th grades), when adolescents want to express themselves, involves critical thinking and persuasion.

Brandon Harvey, newly-appointed headmaster of the two-year-old Chesterton Academy, highlights the importance of the “unity between the content and the method” for learning well. “The goal,” he says, “is that [students] encounter truth, goodness, and beauty.”

Another distinction is the focus on virtue as a fundamental feature of education. A primary goal of the classical education is to create, in Harvey’s terms, “[People] of virtue [who] strive to not just know the truth but to imitate goodness.”

Trinity Classical Academy and Chesterton Academy are Christian schools, though the classical education method began in ancient Greece and Rome and need not necessarily be Christian. Through a variety of sources, classical schooling immerses students at a very early age in great works—from Aristotle to Augustine, Charlotte Bronte to Dorothy Day, Frederick Douglass to Charles Darwin.

Breetzke succinctly summarizes the philosophy behind immersion: “You can’t be creative until you’ve seen people be creative.” While rewarding, this is an extended endeavor—a pilgrimage of learning.

Whereas prevailing models of education assume content should be engaging and fun for students now, and tends toward mass production by teaching to a test, classical schooling assumes content will be engaging and fun once students are good learners, and tends towards character development. So, says Breetzke, “You’re not going to see much standardized testing.”

When it comes to tests like the SAT and ACT, Harvey explains, “Classical schools don’t really focus on standardized tests, and in doing so they actually surpass most other schools [in test scores].” Student success is due in part because the curriculum for each course intentionally integrates with others. Subjects are not treated like cities on a map, unique yet connected. The facts of science relate to the events of history, which are linked to the literature of the time. This method creates curious, critical thinkers. Therefore, Harvey points out, “Classical education is not just for the intellectual elite.”

So how does the classical model prepare students for a tech-heavy business world? By changing that very question. The goal isn’t to prepare students for a type of economy (technological or otherwise), but to create virtuous humans who know how to learn and can take responsibility for themselves and the world around them. Breetzke explains: “Career prep looks different. It’s not skills. It’s character…Skills are much more easily learned than character…We are giving kids resources and riches to draw on that can reinvigorate a tech-heavy business world.”

The wisdom instilled by the millennia-old trivium prepares students for the ever-changing digital-tech economy. Through it, students become people who can discern truth, imitate goodness, and enjoy beauty. While not the skills-based learning most people are used to, classical education instills qualities that a digital economy still needs.

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

Giving Kids 
a ‘Tech-Up’

September 22, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

It’s almost impossible these days to gain employment without some level of technical aptitude and proficiency.

Being able to apply that technical knowledge on-the-job will continue to be required of future high school graduates and subsequent workers to better compete in the 21st century.

And as the most “plugged-in” generation ever, students now and future are eager to learn and apply what they’ve learned in simulated and real-life situations every day.

“Whether they go to college or into a highly-skilled certificate program like manufacturing, transportation, or health care after high school, we want to make them as ready as possible to be successful,” says Ken Spellman, career education coordinator with Omaha Public Schools. “Technology is everywhere and involved with every job in some capacity. We want them prepared to step into any role with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful.”

Through the OPS Career Education program, Spellman, along with certified nursing assistant instructor Tiffanie Wright, engage students to think beyond the classroom into future opportunities no matter if a four-year college education is in their future.

Because skilled labor positions require as much, if not more, specialized technological expertise, training and experience do not end with high school graduation.

If anything, they are just beginning, and OPS wants to make sure its students are on the right track when they do don their caps and gowns and pick up their diplomas.

“Technology is constantly changing, and while CNA job training still tends to be heavily on the physical side (lifting, cleaning, etc.), as a prelude to a career in nursing or health care, being able to use the machines and software needed for patient care is equally, if not more, important,” Wright says.

“Six of the local colleges we work with require CNA certification as a stepping stone to get into nursing. CNAs and nurses are in incredibly high demand, so we want to make sure when our students graduate, they are prepared not only for their current roles but future opportunities.”

Similarly, the Westside School District empowers its students at all levels through its Center for Advanced Professional Studies, with its four strands funded by a Youth Career Connect Grant.

Using science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as a basis, the four strands include architecture, health science, emerging technology, and business solutions. 

Dawn Nizzi, director of Westside’s CAPS, says the program not only prepares students for future technology in the workplace, but also encourages them to think and connect beyond the actual software and devices that they have had in their lives since they were little.

“We want them to realize that technology isn’t a guy in a basement surrounded by computers and monitors; we want them to realize that technology connects people from all professions and walks of life,” she says. “We don’t silo our students. It’s important that they know how to work and communicate together.

“We want them to leave with vision, and the ability to think critically and collaboratively. Part of being a CAPS is to instill an entrepreneurial mindset—to think innovatively. It’s bigger than just the application.”

Last year, a group of Westside students went to St. Louis to experience and observe a Hackathon, where teams from various schools come together to solve technology problems.

Not only did it put their technological skills to the test, but it also stretched their leadership and critical thinking capabilities. Students decided they would like to host something similar among Omaha’s school districts in the future.

In the Millard Public Schools, students are taught technological competencies at very young ages —starting in the elementary school years—with each step building toward making them more accomplished and ready once they reach high school.

Using One-to-One deployment (in which every student gets a computer for their personal and school use) the Millard Educational Program helps students meet the college and career readiness skills of citizenship, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity to better compete in the 21st century. By using technology, teachers will transform the way students learn by augmenting, modifying, and redefining instruction.

Whatever these future students’ career paths may take as they mature and learn, they will be prepared to not only use technology as it evolves but also work together, whether locally or internationally, to advance that technology even further.

“It’s not so much about the tools as much as it is about seeing students learn through enhanced teaching so they are prepared for the future,” says Ken Kingston Ed.D., Millard School District executive director of technology “We set out on a plan more than four years ago as part of our strategic planning process to enhance teaching and learning. Part of that process is providing choices for teachers and students and making sure they think and act creatively and critically, and can work with one another.”

Bottom line for all school districts in Metro Omaha is that students are more prepared than ever for their future pursuits—no matter what career path they take.

“We’re not only preparing our students, but we’re also preparing our teachers so they can give students the best guidance and instruction,” says Curtis Case Ed.D. Millard Public Schools director of digital learning “Not all teaching is about technology. We leave it up to our teachers to use as much as they want in their instruction. But we make sure that they understand how to use technology to best prepare students to use it as well.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

(from left) Curtis Case, Ed.D, & Kent Kingston, Ed.D

Great Returns

September 18, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Annika  and Stephen   George have called many exciting places home—locales like Melbourne, London, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City—but, when it came time for them and their four children to put down roots, Omaha was the prime destination on their minds.

“Omaha has all that one needs, but without the challenges of most American cities—traffic, cost, lack of community and transient nature of culture, crime, crowds,” Stephen says.

Stephen and his wife, Annika, live at West Shores Lake in Waterloo, Nebraska, but it was the greater Omaha area that drew the Nebraska natives back when they decided to relocate their family from the San Francisco area to Omaha in 2010.   

Columbus native Stephen, and Annika, originally from Fremont, knew each other peripherally for years before being set up in summer 2007 by a family member of Stephen’s who was friends with Annika. Before long, Annika and her two daughters, Kyra, now 15, and Briley, now 12, relocated to California to join Stephen, who’d resided in the Bay Area since 1995. The couple married in 2008 and soon welcomed another child, Rafe, now 8. Annika was pregnant with their son Vail, now 6, during the family’s move back to Nebraska. The family also includes Stephen’s adult daughter, Spencer, who attends Barnard College in New York City.

A stronger support network and solid educational opportunities for the kids topped Annika’s list of reasons for wanting to return to Nebraska. 

“I’m very close with my family. My parents live in Fremont; in fact, they’re moving into a house that’s being built right over there,” Annika says, pointing at the nearby construction project through a large picture window which nicely frames a scenic view of the shimmering lake.

Annika credits her mother, Sheryl Bergstrom, for helping provide the kind of family support she so craved when the Georges lived in California. During the school year, Bergstrom comes over every morning to help get the kids up, dressed, and ready for school, and she also helps cart the kids to various after-school endeavors.    

“Kyra is involved in theater, speech, all things high school; Briley is a competitive soccer player; and the boys are involved in Cub Scouts, soccer, basketball, and tennis,” says Annika. “My mom is a saint for all the help she gives.”

As for providing solid educational opportunities for the kids, the Georges were discouraged by the state of schools in California. This was evident when they began looking into preschools for Briley.

“When we first arrived in California, Briley needed to enroll in preschool. I reached out to as many places as I could, and each one said there was no possibility she’d get in, or even get on the waitlist in some cases, because everything was so full,” Annika says.

A few months later, Briley lucked into a spot at Kirk House Preschool (part of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church), because it had one slot available for a girl. Briley jumped ahead of several boys to grab this chance.

This wasn’t the only discouraging factor. Annika and Stephen found the schools in California overcrowded and understaffed, with routine facility maintenance suffering, and arts and language programs buckling under budget cuts.

When it came time to move back, the family learned to look for schools early. Stephen, in fact, traveled to Omaha ahead of the move to scout schools. “We were looking for the best education opportunity for our children in Omaha,” Stephen says. The parents enrolled their young scholars at Brownell Talbot, where there was no waitlist, but the kids had to, and did, pass entrance exams.

Annika and Stephen agree they’ve found an optimum educational fit.

“You have to be an advocate for your kids,” says Annika, who stresses that she encountered great, well-meaning teachers in California, but they were simply overburdened and thus ill-equipped to provide a nuanced, well-rounded education for their children. “At Brownell, the teachers are also great advocates for them. They see the kids’ needs and gifts, and are there to support them.”

“We found Brownell Talbot to be on par with the best private schools in places I had lived, such as NYC, London, and San Francisco, but much more accessible for families,” Stephen says. “The school has a wonderful campus, excellent academic, artistic, and sports programs, caring and superb professionals, and a top-notch college placement program—all of which help position our children to be the best they can as they grow up and head to college.” 

With a strong support system and the kids receiving a stellar education, Annika and Stephen are quite pleased with their decision to return to Nebraska.

“Omaha is a ‘big little town’ where families can focus on their careers and be active in their kids’ lives, plus it has unending resources—sports, community, academic—to help families to thrive,” says Stephen, founder of Omaha-based private equity investment firm Panorama Point Partners.

“Nebraska is truly a hidden gem,” Annika says. “People who haven’t lived elsewhere may not realize all that they have here—especially for family life.”

This article was printed in the Fall 2017 edition of Family Guide.

(from left) Rafe, 8; Vail, 6; Kyra, 15; Briley, 12

Reach for the Stars

May 25, 2017 by

College has become increasingly expensive. A semester at the University of Nebraska at Omaha now costs more than $3,000, leaving many parents—and students—wondering how to increase their ROI on college expenditure.

One of the best ways is to go into a profession that relies on science, technology, education, or mathematical knowledge.

Young people with a bachelor’s degree and with three or fewer years of experience in their field earn less than $40,000, according to a study conducted last year by Forbes, but those in STEM occupations can earn much more. One of the highest paid STEM positions, a petroleum engineer, can earn more than $85,000 with only three years’ experience and a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, those lucrative loan-repayment-worthy STEM professions are underrepresented by minority and women employees. Stereotypes persist, discouraging possible candidates based on the misconception that STEM fields of study are “hard” or “boring” or “unwelcoming.”

Neal Grandgenett, the Dr. George and Sally Haddix Community Chair of STEM Education at UNO, says it’s not hard to break those stereotypes. Engaging students in camps or extracurricular activities can be effective in establishing an interest in these fields.

“I think it’s critical that parents give kids the ability to get into some of these fun camps,” Grandgenett says. “There’s fun things like rocketry and robotics. They’d be better off doing that than getting kids into more traditional math camps.”

Part of the problem, Grandgenett says, is that the camp titles do not reflect experiences that are seen as great resume-builders. Parents who want to accelerate their students in their studies may actually benefit from allowing their student(s) to delve deeper into a subject.

“Parents may gravitate away from something like “The Science of Zombies,” because it doesn’t sound useful, but it might have practical applications,” Grandgenett says. “They might talk about disease transmission and how to prevent it. The title of the camp may not be reflective of how applicable to the STEM fields it really is.”

Even throughout the school year, Grandgenett says, there are a lot of ways that students can become interested in these fields. One way is to attend speaking engagements that are open to the public. Omaha Performing Arts, for example, showcases “National Geographic Live,” in which noted researchers, writers, and photographers spend an evening discussing their adventures. These guest speakers can make STEM subjects sound exciting.

As well as being fun, Connie O’Brien, director of the Aim for the Stars summer math and science camps at UNO, says making sure boys and girls are given an equal chance to succeed in these areas is essential.

O’Brien says, “In the last 10-15 years, we have caught on to the fact that we need to teach in ways that catch [girls’] brains. When we give kids a rocket to build, for example, boys will pull out one item, then another, then start putting the two pieces together. Girls take out all the pieces and make a picture in their minds, then assemble the project.”

Women make up 73 percent of all employees in the social and life sciences, such as psychology and biology, but make up less than 30 percent of employees in many of the physical sciences, such as engineering.

“I was expected to get a college degree in nursing or teaching,” O’Brien says. “That didn’t work for me.”

It didn’t work for Allison Sambol, either. Sambol is an environmental scientist at Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, and a prime example of using a college degree to dive into a STEM career.

“I am a geographer. I went to college and I took all general studies, and my geography course was my favorite,” Sambol says. “When I graduated, I was looking for jobs; I looked for anything that had consulting in the title.”

Eventually, Sambol realized that her work decisions affected many aspects of people’s lives, and she began to see the benefits to sticking with environmental science.

“On a day-to-day basis, I’m researching physical settings,” Sambol explains. “What’s around it? What type of things might affect building it? Does it contain contaminated soil or groundwater? Wetlands, do they need to be mitigated? Are there permits that needs to be maintained?”

Being in a STEM-based career, however, does not mean that she researches alone all day.

“Part of my job is in development,” Sambol says. “Working with my clients, developing relationships, and determining communities’ problems, and how people can solve those problems.”

The possibilities for a student who becomes interested in STEM subjects are limitless. Those working with computers, specifically, are much needed in Omaha and nationwide.

“The number of computer science positions is far outpacing the number of graduates we will have in those careers,” Grandgenett says. “One in five positions in computer science will not be filled due to not having the people with the skills.”

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.

 

Comic Relief

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
Illustration by Tim Mayer

Forget Batman and his gadgets, or Thor and his biceps. There’s a new hero on the block—“Oldguy,” a spandex-sporting, crime-fighting senior citizen who seeks out injustice equipped with his “denture grapple.” While Oldguy may have the mighty ability to scale the First National Bank Tower, his illustrator is just another everyday citizen of Omaha. But that doesn’t mean Tim Mayer isn’t super, too.

Armed with a unique skill and the ability to seamlessly adapt different drawing styles, artist Tim Mayer’s “Batcave” is his drafting table. Whether he’s working on a comic book or the cover of a sci-fi novel, his illustrations pack a punch — all of them uniquely different in appearance, but always skillfully, thoughtfully, and imaginatively executed to meet a project’s needs.

“I’ve been drawing since I could hold a spoon,” Mayer says. “It was one of those things that just instantly clicked for me.”

But as is the case with many freelance artists, the work didn’t instantly come clicking in after he  earned his bachelor’s degree in studio art from the University of Nebraska-Omaha in 2008. While working a stint as a shoe salesman, he picked up a few smaller drawing gigs. That all changed after he began attending creative workshops at Legends Comics & Coffee (5207 Leavenworth St.). It was in the comic shop’s basement where he met Jeff Lawler, a local writer who pitched him the idea for his next big project.

Together, the two created The Anywhere Man, a comic about an ex-solider who, after a freak accident, has the power to instantly transport anywhere. Following Anywhere Man, Mayer illustrated two additional comic/short story hybrids — Oldguy and Prophetica, a digital comic that tells a fictional tale about prophecies, brutal ancient rituals, and the fate of civilization hanging on a thread.

“I struggle to see consistency in my work,” Mayer admits. “I look at one thing I illustrated compared to another and I see a completely different side of me.”

One constant for Mayer has been his involvement with the Ollie Webb Center Inc. (1941 S. 42nd St.). Mayer became a mentor there five years ago and now leads art and drawing classes at the organization, which strives to enrich the lives of individuals with developmental disabilities through support, programs, and advocacy.

“I introduce students to a variety of visual storytelling methods,” Mayer says. “Whether or not a student wants to pursue something in the creative field, I see a lot of potential in each of them.”

Mayer and his work bring new meaning to the term “self-portrait.” From whimsical sketches of a doe-eyed girl to haunting black-and-white skull designs, everything Mayer creates looks different on the surface, but always reflects the man behind the pen.

“My experiences and personality always show in my work,” Mayer says. “If I look at something I created, I remember personally what was happening to me the moment it was drawn. It’s my own public journal.”

timmayer.wordpress.com

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

A Conversation with Nancy Pridal

May 15, 2017 by

Scott Anderson: What are the biggest changes that the engineering industry will face in the future?

Nancy Pridal: Understanding the implications of tomorrow’s technology on how we do business today is a bit of an unknown. We have to resist the “success as usual” syndrome and continue exploring opportunities in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the internet of things, etc.

Scott Anderson: Can you give me an example?

Nancy Pridal: The distinction between who addresses infrastructure needs are becoming blurred. Tech firms like Amazon, Verizon, Google, and Apple are all jumping into infrastructure issues, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities. They’re actively seeking solutions. These were historically led by engineers. As an industry, we need to be at the table. Understanding and participating in these conversations at the highest level is critical now.

Scott Anderson: So, what is the impact that the engineering industry is experiencing today?

Nancy Pridal: At an educational level, engineering schools are reassessing core curriculum that hasn’t dramatically changed since the ’50s. Current pedagogy is being examined to produce the engineers we need for the future.

Another big issue for the industry is attracting diversity to STEM. While the field of engineering is continually expanding and can provide abundant opportunities for women and minorities in technical and leadership roles, these groups are still greatly underrepresented. The main reason women leave engineering is company culture, so it’s critical that we understand the impact of culture on women in the industry.

To engage youth in our community, Lamp Rynearson has taken a lead role in advocating for the ACE Mentor Program, which encourages high school students to pursue careers in architecture, engineering, and construction. It’s essential for the engineering industry to align its culture and policies so it attracts and develops a diverse group of professionals who will add the most value in this exciting future.

Scott Anderson: Are there any signs of the future impacting the present state of engineering?

Nancy Pridal: From a construction standpoint, we have seen an increase in “stringless paving” that has changed what we provide for construction administration and staking services. Drones and other new technology are already becoming go-to technologies in our field. 

Scott Anderson: So, if engineers are not involved in surveying and other traditional engineering tasks, what roles will they play?

Nancy Pridal: Lamp Rynearson is leading this discussion with peer firms now, to ensure that as a company and as an industry we are keeping pace, if not leading the way, toward future advances in our field. The key for us is to remain nimble and open-minded to anticipate the future needs of the communities we serve.

We must be continuous questioners and continuous learners to serve the continually changing needs of our communities. As engineers, it’s who we are. There’s a book called A Whole New Engineer by David Goldberg and Mark Somerville, which forecasts what it’s going to take for the engineer of the future to advance the places where we live and work.

Nancy Pridal, Lamp Rynearson & Associates senior vice president, is a civil engineer strategist with widespread project and client management, strategic planning, leadership development, and geographic expansion experience. With offices in Nebraska, Colorado, and the Kansas City area, Lamp Rynearson claims a varied and extensive list of civil engineering, landscape architecture, and survey services.

Scott Anderson is CEO of Doubledare, a coaching, consulting, and search firm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This column was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.

Vernetta Kosalka

January 20, 2017 by
Photography by Ani Luxe Photography

This sponsored content appears in the Winter 2017 edition of B2B. To view, click here: https://issuu.com/omahapublications/docs/b2b_0217_125/56

Being trusted with the most important day of a couple’s life or executing the planning of companies event or non-profit’s gala is humbling,” says event planner & designer Vernetta Kosalka, who began her first business in 2007. “In 2013, I added floral design services, the brand, Florist of Omaha, specializing in wedding and event design.

“Also in 2013, I began working with a committee to plan the Omaha Police Officer’s Ball, which ignited my passion for planning and designing full-time. We work annually to raise funds benefiting Special Olympics Nebraska.”

She turned her attention to helping nonprofit and corporate groups.

“I want to have a legacy known for being a trusted source in the management of events and design, helping nonprofits reach their goals. Additionally, I want to be known for giving back to the Omaha community by helping women realize their potential and leadership.”

She has realigned her business and services, additionally offering corporate/nonprofit event planning and design services. All services are aligned under the name, “VK Events | Floral | Planning.”

“I know couples and companies have a choice, and I am so thankful they choose me and my services to assist them,” says Kosalka. “Our clients appreciate and need professional help to guide the planning process.”

“Nearing the end of my senior year at College of Saint Mary, I landed a job at one of Omaha’s largest full-service hotels as a catering administrative assistant, assisting one of Omaha’s leading and sought-after event professionals.”

She says her company is a one-stop shop for couples and clients. “I also pride myself in taking an active role with my nonprofit and corporate clients by being active on the committee and boards. Therefore I fully understand the goals and guide the planning process internally.”

Her service and attention to detail keep referrals coming. “I take the planning off your shoulders but not out of your hands. My couples and clients know I will work hard to anticipate needs, follow through on responsibilities and protect their interests.”

She is the first in her family to graduate from college. “A quote that stands out to me most is by Catherine McAuley, ‘No work is more productive of good to society than the careful education of women.’”

Kosalka holds a Master of Science in organizational leadership from the College of Saint Mary, She received the college’s Queen of Heart Award based on values, character, and service.

And that’s not all of her bragging rights. She has received the Wedding Wire Couple’s Choice Award annually for Event Planning and Floral Design. She is the recipient of the 2016 Volunteer of the Year for the Ralston Chamber of Commerce.

“Our design work is regionally published in Nebraska Wedding Day Magazine: home of award winning services—The Wedding Planner Omaha LLC & Florist of Omaha,” she says.

“As a child, I knew I wanted to own businesses and plan events. ‘Wow’ that’s a big picture for a 7 year old,” says Kosalka. “Many of America’s greatest businesses were started in homes with a dream and faith.”

801 S. 75th St.
Omaha, NE 68114
402.510.2241
vernettakosalka.com

 

The Compass in the Landscape

October 16, 2016 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

With growing levels of philanthropic donations sloshing around Omaha, it’s important to keep in mind that underserved segments of the community remain. Sometimes these segments of the community are out of sight. Sometimes their needs are unknown, hidden to those who would otherwise
offer assistance.

Folks in charge of the Omaha Community Foundation are paying mind to the hidden needs of the metro area. In fact, Sara Boyd, CEO of the Omaha Community Foundation, unveiled a new initiative to confront the problem this fall.

“The Landscape Project is a data-driven reflection of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area,” says Boyd. “It is an online resource to integrate data in our community about how we are faring on certain issues with community priorities and lived experiences to help us gain greater insight into how we’re doing.”

The Landscape Project relies on existing data—along with direct engagement with specific segments of the population—to gauge where gaps remain in community support.

“The goal of the project is to create shared learning and understanding, for all of us, to see how we’re doing on some of these priorities,” Boyd says. “Then to potentially have a process or structure in place that allows for greater participation and prioritization on these issues; and then, from there to coordinate or align our efforts.”

While the Landscape Project is like a compass for philanthropy, Omaha Gives is the foundation’s vehicle for driving charitable donations to organizations around the metro. In 2016, the fourth annual Omaha Gives campaign amassed almost $9 million—a new record for the 24-hour funding drive—and generated more than $1 million in new donations from first-time participants. “That, for us, is very meaningful,” says Boyd. “It was not just a celebration of giving, but also to say, ‘can we grow the pie of giving in our community in some way?’”

“The Landscape Project is a data-driven reflection of the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.”

-Sara Boyd

Boyd says the foundation began developing the Landscape Project concept roughly five years ago while reviewing studies about local urban problems. Several of those studies were one-time only, others were outdated. So, the Omaha Community Foundation partnered with United Way and Iowa West Foundation to do a community assessment.

Moving forward with the Landscape Project, identification of local housing problems illustrates one way the new online resource could help inform philanthropy and public policy alike: “Throughout the country we know there is disparity in home ownership along many levels. One of those disparities is along different communities and different races. Blacks own their own homes at significantly lower rates in our community than they do elsewhere in the country.”

landscape-foundation1Home ownership, she says, is an indicator of wealth-building and asset accumulation. Boyd hopes data from the Landscape Project will help policymakers and nonprofits to cross-reference the experiences of other communities (nationwide) that have battled similar problems, analyze how the problems were alleviated, and bring relevant solutions to Omaha.

The Landscape Project will begin with six areas of focus: health, neighborhoods, safety, transportation, education, and workforce. “Really, the long-term goal is to strengthen our ability to solve problems as a community and move the needle on important issues,” Boyd says.

Visit thelandscapeomaha.org for more information.

A Lesson in Lifelong Learning

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Robert S. Runyon, posing in an austere-looking suit and tie, gazes down upon patrons from his portrait in the University of Nebraska at Omaha library. In contrast, the flesh and blood version introduces himself as “Bob” and sports a  T-shirt with the phrase “Literally Great…Figuratively the Best.” The UNO English Department shirt fits the wordsmith and lifelong learner like a glove.

“I’ve always had books on a pedestal in my mind,” says Runyon, who served as dean of the university’s library from 1978 to 2000.

Runyon laughs, “Before I retired, I thought, ‘I’ve got to prepare for retirement so I have a reason to get up in the morning.’” Chuckling, he continues, “I’m a lazy, sloppy, indolent person. And unless I have a reason—unless I have a purpose, a life purpose—I’m just going to vegetate.”     

Nowadays, Runyon doesn’t have time to vegetate. He travels with his wife (Sheila), takes classes, and writes his memoir.

Robert-Runyon2Despite Runyon’s appreciation of books, he has not always written them. Five years ago he saw a flier for a personal writing course at UNO. He asked instructor Elizabeth Mack, “Would you allow a 70-plus-year-old guy to come into your class?”

That’s exactly why UNO offers the Senior Passport Program. Founded in 2001, the program allows seniors (age 65 and older) to take two courses per semester at a cost of $25 per year. The only requirements are an available seat in the class, instructor approval, and a desire to learn.

Runyon has since taken several creative nonfiction courses with professors John Price and Lisa Knopp: autobiography, nature writing, travel writing, and spiritual writing.

“All of that was a strong experience,” says Runyon. “The encouragement I got from those people was enormous.” Knopp even marked “As” on Runyon’s essays.

Runyon says, “Senior Passport students aren’t graded, but I’m not sure I told her that because I liked getting As.”

These classes jump-started Runyon’s work on his memoir: “I think I’ve got about 10 essays cobbled together, and I’ve got probably six or eight more in the hopper in various stages of completion.”

Runyon says, “You can be creative in your later years. The brain is continuously growing and changing. To me, that is a pivotal thing to think about, in the process of aging and, especially, of learning.”    

Julie Masters, professor and chair of the Department of Gerontology at UNO, explains, “Just as we need to exercise physically, we need to exercise cognitively.”

Each year, anywhere from 60 to 100 seniors “cognitively exercise” through the Senior Passport Program. The program also impacts the instructors and other students in each class. Masters says, “The Passport Program, in a way, allows for an infusion of the benefit of experience within the classroom environment.”

Runyon connects with other students through writing, learning, and experience. “The power of words is where it all resides with me,” says Runyon. “You find something that raises your passion.”

Visit unomaha.edu/registrar/students/senior-passport.php for more information. Sixty-Plus in Omaha

The Nelson Mandela Way

January 20, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

North Omaha may be reversing five decades of capital resources leaving the community with little else but social services coming in. Emerging business, housing, and community projects are spearheading a revitalization, and a new school with promise in its name, Nelson Mandela Elementary, is part of this turnaround.

The free, private school in the former Blessed Sacrament church and school on North 30th Street blends old and new. An addition housing the library and cafeteria joins the original structures. The sanctuary is now a gym with stained glass windows. Vintage stone walls and decorative arches create Harry Potteresque features. South African flag-inspired color schemes and Nelson Mandela-themed murals abound.

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The school that started with kindergarten and first grade and will add a grade each year is the vision of Dianne Seeman Lozier. Her husband, Allan Lozier, heads the Lozier store fixture manufacturing company that operates major north Omaha facilities. The couple’s Lozier Foundation supports Omaha Public Schools’ programs.

Their support is personal. They raised two grandsons who struggled to read as children. The odyssey to find effective remedies led Dianne Lozier to new approaches, such as the Spalding Method used at Mandela.

Mandela sets itself apart, too, using Singapore math, playing jazz and classical background music, requiring students to study violin, holding recess every 90 minutes, and having parents agree to volunteer. Mandela “scholars” take College for Kids classes at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus.

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It’s all in response to the high-poverty area the school serves, where low test scores prevail and families can’t always provide the enrichment kids need.

Most Mandela students are from single-parent homes. Sharon Moore loves sending her son, Garrett, to “a new school with new ideas.” Eric and Stacy Rafferty welcome the research-based innovations their boy, William, enjoys and the opportunity to be as involved as they want at school. Moore and the Raffertys report their sons are thriving there.

“Parents are really getting into this groove of being here,” says Principal Susan Toohey. “It’s building a community here and a sense that we are all in this together.”

Community is also important to the Loziers.

“We’re just really connected here,” Dianne Lozier says. “Allan and I have really strong beliefs that the economic inequality in the country and north Omaha is a microcosm of a huge issue. It’s a fairness issue and a belief that, if we want it badly enough, we can make a difference.”

She and Toohey are banking that the school demonstrates its strategies work as core curriculum, not just intervention.

“I’m hoping by the end of the first school year here we’ll be able to compare students’ literacy against other places and show that children have developed stronger reading skills,” Lozier says. “Our longterm goal is that all kids will be grade-level proficient readers by the end of third grade.”

For Toohey, launching and leading a school in a high-needs district is appealing.

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“What an incredible opportunity,” she says. “Rarely do you get a chance to start a school from the ground up and pick everything that’s going to happen there and hire every person that’s going to work there. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but my heart has always been in urban education.”

In preparation for opening last August, she says, “I spent a year researching educational practices and curricula and developing relationships with people.” Her outreach forged partnerships with Metro, College of Saint Mary, the Omaha Conservatory of Music, The Big Garden, and others.

“We really want to be a model of what makes a school stronger, and I think having the community involved makes it stronger so it’s not working in isolation.”

Dianne Lozier, whose foundation funds the school with the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, is a frequent visitor.

NelsonMandelaSchool5“I help out with breakfast,” she explains. “I tie a lot of shoes. I get and give a lot of hugs.”

Lozier says her presence is meant to help “faculty and staff feel a little more supported—because this is hard. Every teacher and para-educator here, even the head of school, would say this is the hardest job they’ve ever had.”

Toohey says the difficulty stems from teaching a “very different curriculum” and “starting a culture from scratch. Families are getting to know us, we’re getting to know the families, and this is a really challenging population of kids. Many have not been in preschool programs that helped them moderate their behavior.”

Despite the challenges, Lozier says, “We have incredible families and kids.”

Drawing on the school’s inspirational namesake, each morning everyone recites “the Mandela mantra” of “Education is the most powerful weapon you can produce to change the world,” and “I will change the world with my hope, strength, service, unity, peace, and wisdom.”

“I hope all those things are what this community sees coming out of this school,” Toohey says, “and that our kids develop those qualities of grit and resilience so critical for success.”

Lozier adds that Mandela is a symbol of hope and opportunity.

“To accomplish the things we’re capable of,” she says, “we have to believe we can do that. It’s an opportunity to make improvements and get past impediments, to use internal strengths and be recognized for what you can bring.”

Visit nelsonmandelaelementary.org to learn more.

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