Tag Archives: Family Guide

A Return to
 the Classics

August 10, 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 to the Dogs

August 4, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Ella Alberts has loved dogs since she could remember. That’s how the 5’4” girl ended up standing next to the 6’4” swimmer who has won more Olympic medals than any athlete.

Ella’s helpless at the sight of round puppy eyes, floppy ears, and wiggly tails. Squeal! The pitter-patter of tiny puppy paws wins her over—every time. In fact, they are the inspiration of her volunteer work.

The 12-year-old Westside Middle School student has dedicated the better part of her young life to raise money to help animals at local shelters.

Ella’s big heart for small animals became evident when she was a tot, and the thought of a homeless animal tugs at Ella’s heartstrings.

“She’s not allowed to go into the Humane Society alone because she leaves crying,” Mary says.

Ella, an only child, has three dachshund siblings at home: George, Dodge, and Dolly. Quite active little pups. Mary and husband Ron Alberts say there’s never a dull moment in the family’s home.

The Alberts have fostered animals on-again, off-again throughout the years, but exclusively began serving as a foster family for dogs in 2013. That’s when the Alberts visited a local animal shelter where Ella found a small, aging dachshund named Paris with no eyes, no teeth, and a tumor.

“I just have to take her home to love her,” Ella told her mother, who explained that the animal may not live long.

Caring for terminally ill dogs is not about wishing the pets back to better health, but more about finding a place for them to comfortably live out the last days of their lives.

Then, it happened. One of the foster pets didn’t make it. Ella was heartbroken.

“She was in the room as it drifted off,” Mom recalls. “Ella was very comforting and calm. You don’t want them to pass in the shelter after many of them have lived neglected lives. This dog in particular was in a puppy mill her whole life and then went to the shelter…poor thing.”

The experience moved Ella to help others. She was 8 when she came up with the idea to host a lemonade stand. Sales increased once word got out that she was raising funds to help homeless animals. Ella’s one-day lemonade stand is a now-annual fundraiser for Hearts United for Animals.

The first year, Ella raised $600. Now, four years later, she’s since raised more than $1,300 and given countless shelter supplies such as dog food, beds, laundry detergent, and other puppy goods. Ella is pleased that the money raised pays for surgeries for needy dogs.

Ella’s love for dogs, and unwavering dedication to service earned her a special recognition. She was named the Nebraska recipient of the 2017 Prudential Spirit of Community Award.

The national award program recognizes exemplary middle and high school students. Two students from each state and Washington, D.C., are chosen based on volunteer efforts.
The honorees received $1,000 and an engraved silver medal, which was presented by Olympic gold-medalist Michael Phelps.

Needless to say, the trip was life-changing for Ella. While in D.C. the Alberts visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which touched Ella deeply. She has since read several books about those who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War.

Ella kept busy with dance lessons and track this summer, along with her continued effort in promoting her lemonade stand, collecting donations, and fostering dogs.

“Isn’t that wonderful,” says Carol Wheeler, founder of Hearts United for Animals shelter. “Ella has done the lemonade stand for several years. It’s simply charming.”

The 65-acre no-kill shelter just an hour outside of Omaha is grateful to see such a young, dedicated person believe in its mission of rehabilitating animals medically and socially.

“I think she is exceptional for having done this for many years,” Wheeler said. “We do see young people who have their birthday parties and they have guests bring gifts for the dogs instead of them.”

Ella’s dedication is striking, says Wheeler.

“She’s exceptional because she’s dedicated herself…not just one year or one event, but continues to give. It’s very touching to receive her gifts.”

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

The Goal 
Smasher

July 27, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

Jose Soria’s summer vacation was not about sleeping in late and hanging out aimlessly. To the contrary, Soria spent the long, hot days of June, July, and August taking summer classes—not because he had to—but because he wanted to.

His preference for learning over spending his days at the beach began when he found out after his freshman year that his school offers students the opportunity to take college courses alongside their regular coursework. “I looked into the general education class requirements to get into the nursing program and started taking those,” he said. “I’d rather take them now instead of waiting to take them when I get to college.”

As a result, he’ll begin college with some of his required classes already completed, decreasing the overall time, and money, he’ll spend in college before he can begin his career.

He enjoys the opportunity to take these classes now while still in high school. He says this program is different from taking AP classes. “They’re similar to AP classes, but in AP classes you have to take an exam to see if you’re eligible for the college credit. What I’m doing now is [joint enrollment] with Iowa Western Community College.”

According to educateiowa.gov, the concurrent (or joint) enrollment program provides opportunities for high school students to enroll part-time in courses at or through community colleges. Per “Senior Year Plus,” concurrent enrollment courses are offered through contractual agreements between community colleges and school districts within their service area.

That means because Soria is a high-achieving high school student, he has taken courses ranging from college-level composition to intro to health care occupations, and the Council Bluffs School District paid the fees for those courses taken during the school year.

Soria hopes to go into the medicine field as a nurse, or working in surgery in some capacity. He’s drawn to the field because he wants the opportunity to “help a person out and make their day better.” His favorite classes are chemistry and health science, not surprisingly. He enjoys chemistry in particular because he is able to create something out of other things. Soria recently applied to volunteer at a local hospital and hopes to gain valuable experience in the medical field through volunteering.

When not studying or volunteering, Soria can be found exercising daily. “I walk or run every day,” he said, further demonstrating his ability to set a goal and work toward it.

His parents are from Mexico and were not able to finish high school. “They came to the U.S. to give us a better future,” he said. “This pushed me to become more independent and strive to get as much education as I can before I graduate.” Though he was born in Mexico, he has not yet visited there. Now an American citizen, his summers away from high school are full of “school, homework, and making sure I’m on track.” 

Soria has advice for anyone else who wants to accomplish their goals. “It doesn’t matter what your past is,” Soria says. “Always think ahead, and just because you’ve had a certain situation, it doesn’t mean you can’t succeed. Do it for yourself.”

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

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.

 

Nettles, and Ivy, and Ticks—Oh My!

April 28, 2017 by

Christine Jacobsen likes to see parents taking their kids outside. “There’s more of a risk to keeping them inside,” she says, citing obesity and other problems. Jacobsen, the education specialist for the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District, often heads summer camp programs and outdoor field trips for students. Jacobsen says she took her own children outside frequently “from the get-go.” When her children were infants, her husband and she would take them on hikes in carriers. Her children now appreciate the outdoors. Jacobsen says that the more parents can get their kids outdoors and learning about their natural world, the better.

Many parents fear what dangers may lurk outside. Jacobsen says, “Here in Nebraska, especially in eastern Nebraska, there’s really not a lot to be worried about,” noting that any venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, are restricted to western Nebraska. However, one should learn to identify and avoid minor perils such as nettles, poison ivy, ticks, and mosquitoes.

Nettles

Jacobsen advises that nettles are a common plant hazard. She describes nettles as a woodland underbrush, about 2-3 feet tall, with green “sawtooth leaves.” She says they are invasive and often establish in disturbed places such as areas that have been mowed or tilled over. “They move in and take over an area,” she says. The bottoms of the leaves contain irritating hairs that cause redness and itching, she says. Jacobsen’s nettles remedy in a pinch: “put mud on it.” She also advises wearing long pants when in the woods.

Poison Ivy

Like nettles, poison ivy irritates the skin. Look for “mitten shaped” “leaves of three,” says Jacobsen. She also says poison ivy is typically seen in the woodlands, where it grows as a short, understory plant and as vines. “It’s the first vine to turn red in the fall,” says Jacobsen.

Reactions to poison ivy can include blisters, inflammation, and swelling. Jacobsen says the oil in the leaves is the cause of these reactions, and that the oil can be transmitted. Jacobsen’s remedy: washing the site to lift the oil. She advises seeking medical advice for severe reactions.

Ticks

Ticks are another nuisance. Jacobsen says that although the incidence of tick-spread lyme disease (typically by deer ticks) is low in Nebraska, hikers should be mindful of ticks. These arachnids are tear-drop shaped and have small heads. Dog ticks are generally larger and light brown with an “hourglass shape” on the back. “Deer ticks,” she says, “are like pepper—they’re tiny.” Use insect spray as a precaution. She acknowledges that many parents don’t want to put DEET on their children, but Jacobsen recommends it, noting that after being outdoors children should take a shower to wash it off and to look for ticks that may have attached.

Mosquitoes

Nobody likes mosquitoes, but they can be avoided. Jacobson advises using DEET to avoid them as well. She says mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn.Mosquito bites can be irritating. “Don’t scratch,” she says, noting that breaking them open can introduce infections. Jacobsen recommends cold packs and calamine lotion for bad bites.

Even with these minor hazards lurking outdoors, it is worthwhile to let children explore nature. They will form happy memories of hiking in the woods, playing in the mud, or catching their first fish, and develop an appreciation for active living.

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

10 Cheap Things to do in Omaha This Summer

April 27, 2017 by

This is going to be no ordinary summer in Omaha, and the best part is, you won’t have to budget much to enjoy it with your family. There are inexpensive and free activities throughout the metro, from a pool with a pirate ship to a trail that leads to a waterfall. There are indoor and outdoor film series for families, as well as free festivals. Here are 10 ideas for cheap fun in Omaha.

1. Spraygrounds

For free water fun, head to one of the city parks with a sprayground: Benson Park, Fontenelle Park, Kountze Park, Orchard Park, Seymour Smith Park, Upland, Morton, Westwood Heights, and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza. These spraygrounds are great because they’re also near playgrounds. You can find additional outdoor fountains and spraygrounds that cost no admission to play in at Omaha Children’s Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Shadow Lake Towne Center, and the First National Bank Tower.

2. Festivals
Free summer festivals in Omaha have kid-friendly aspects to them, while introducing new things to see, hear, and taste. Dance at a music series like Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing and Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. The Omaha Summer Arts Festival has an entire area dedicated to children’s activities.  Shakespeare on the Green has a tent of costumes for children to try on. Taste of Omaha is free, but you’ll want to buy tickets for food and rides.

3. Hikes

For the price of park admission, an adventure awaits on a nearby trail. One kid favorite is an easy trail that leads to a waterfall at Platte River State Park just outside of Omaha. Head to Hummel Park to search for the staircase that always baffles its climbers—no one can settle on how many steps there are. For a gem hidden in the middle of the city, visit Heron Haven Nature Center just northeast of 120th and Maple streets.

4. Unique Pools

Swimming is fun no matter where you go, but some local pools offer some fun extras worth checking out. The popular city pool at Lake Zorinsky has waterslides and a fun splash. Cross over the Missouri River to Council Bluffs to visit the city pool, Pirates Cove Pool, where kids can play around a pirate ship and use two waterslides. Head indoors to the Salvation Army Kroc Center and check out the newly renovated pool and waterslide.

5.   Explore the Old Market

The Old Market has so many things for kids to see, hear, and taste. On Saturday mornings, stroll the bustling farmers market. Visit any day of the week and you’ll likely encounter musicians playing music and charming horse-drawn carriages. Kids love the Old Market Candy Shop and Hollywood Candy. Head to The Passageway for toy store Le Wonderment, and then go on a hunt for the Zodiac Garden hidden behind an art gallery there.

6.  Downtown Fun

There’s more fun just beyond the Old Market. Slide down the big slides at Gene Leahy Mall. At Heartland of America Park, you may catch a gondolier offering inexpensive rides around the lake. Cross the “The Bob” pedestrian bridge to take that iconic picture standing on the state line. The building at the base of the bridge is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters, which has a visitor’s center with free kid-friendly activities.

7. Bowl or Skate for Free

There are two national programs for children to sign up for that get them free rentals at local venues. Kids Bowl Free allows kids to have two free games each day all summer long. Shoe rental may not be included. Kids Skate Free is a similar program. SkateDaze participates in this program that allows children 12 and younger to skate for free once a day all summer long. The skate rental fee isn’t included.

8. Family Movies Series

Ruth Sokolof Theater at Film Streams has a great series for families, and children’s tickets are only $2.50. They show a mix of classics and first runs. Large chain theaters often have film series during the summer featuring slightly older movies at a discounted price. Check your closest Marcus Theatre and AMC Theatre to see if they’re participating. Check the calendar of events for Midtown Crossing and Sumtur Amphitheater to see when they show free outdoor movies.

9. Fan Fest

Feel like you’re a part of the NCAA Men’s College World Series experience for free at Fan Fest right outside the stadium. You can get into the spirit by playing interactive games, taking a photo with the trophy, meeting players, and soaking up the atmosphere. Fan Fest is open through the run of the series. Go to Open Day Celebration to catch batting practices and autograph sessions, concluding with the opening ceremony and fireworks. That’s all free, too.

10. Fort Atkinson

On the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, May through October, head to Fort Atkinson to see interactive historic recreations depicting life 200 years ago. Children can complete a scavenger hunt, earning a little treat at the General Store for finishing it. Actors shoot off a cannon during the re-enactment, which is cool for some kids and too loud for others. A state park permit is needed to get into the park to see the re-enactments. 

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

 

Third Time’s A Charm

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There will be a time in Larry Mercier III’s life when he won’t be lacing his ice skates and pulling a hockey sweater over his head. Until that time comes, the Papillion-LaVista South High School senior is determined to enjoy—and give back to—the sport he has played since second grade.

It was not readily apparent on an unusually warm and sunny day this past January, but the clock was already ticking down on Mercier (pronounced Muhr-SEE-err) and his time as a competitive high school hockey player for the Omaha Jr. Lancers. At 5-foot-8 and 155 pounds, he is a bit undersized by hockey standards. But talk with any of his teammates and coaches and you will find out the forward-playing right wing more than makes up for his diminutive stature with a give-it-everything-all-the-time attitude on and off the ice.

Even with the best work ethic, the numbers are not in his favor. Only 10 percent of the nearly 36,000 boys playing high school hockey will make it to the collegiate level, according to 2015 figures as provided by scholarshipstats.com. So Mercier is trying to make the most of his hockey experience by lending a hand to others who are pursuing that dream.

During a winter practice at Ralston Arena, Mercier was easy to spot in a forest green practice jersey that stands out amongst a midst of powder blue, black, and neon-green-colored jerseys worn by the other two dozen players on the ice. He led a drill that had each player sprint the length of the ice while guiding the puck, then taking his best shot to fire it past one of the team’s waiting goalies. Occasionally throughout the hour-long practice, a whistle sounded.

It is a signal to every player to sprint and skate several times around the center logo on the ice. It is one way to stay in top-flight condition built from a foundation of off-season training.

Offseason hockey camps are just as important as regular season practice or the approximately 40 games that the Omaha Jr. Lancers will play between October and March. Camp is a time to become a better skater, to improve on puck handling, or to work on shooting, passing, and individual skills. An hour on the ice in the summer and another hour of “dry land training” can often be the difference between making the roster of a team at the next level or ending up as a player who does not make the cut.

For the past two seasons, Mercier has been passing knowledge from his own regimented training routine to youngsters on the Jr. Lancers bantam program, a team made up of seventh and eighth graders who aspire to play high school hockey. His younger brother, Logan, took that path to Jr. Lancers’ junior varsity team.

“I liked to help out with their practices, whenever we don’t have games on the weekend and they did,” Larry says.”

Sometimes it was just fetching water bottles or pucks after drills. Other times, I would be in the locker room before games and give them a little pep talk or tell them what I was seeing between periods.”

While helping youngsters at camps is a possible career option after college, more realistic is Mercier’s path of progress in academics, not athletics. The past four semesters, the honor roll student has juggled a full load of advanced placement courses for college—government, history, honors calculus, statistics, and physics. His diligence off the ice is preparation for a career in engineering or aerospace engineering … possibly even an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

“Maybe I can become a test pilot of some sort,” he says with a tinge of enthusiasm. “I have always liked math. It not only has come easy to me, but I also enjoy it. That’s why I am thinking engineering.”

One of Mercier’s instructors at Papillion-LaVista South, Dustin “Bubba” Penas, noticed his potential in the classroom immediately.

“Larry is an outstanding student who always came prepared for class,” Penas says. “His positivity and smile were great to have and he was very engaged and active every day. He is a go-getter who will be outstanding in anything he goes into. He is able to take on any project and will always see it through to the end.”

And that end, as far as hockey is concerned, is likely right around the corner.

“I have always loved hockey ever since I started playing it,” Mercier says. “But there is a point for every athlete that they have to pick what they really want to do with their life. I have gotten to the point where hockey has been my passion. But I don’t think I want to play anything that is too huge as far as a time commitment. In the end, my education is going to be what gets me far in life. So I am hoping to focus on that.”

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

 

The Johnsons

Photography by Sarah Lemke

Distant from the city lights and engulfed by nature, one might feel overwhelmed by the unidentified bustle in the bushes, the sticky humidity, and the irritating mosquitoes. For the Johnson family, it means they’re all together, and it’s their home away from home.

Ransom and Julie Johnson have taken countless camping trips with their kids.

The couple upgraded their tent size as they welcomed their children over the years. The Johnson clan—which includes Grace, 9; Ella, 11; Nate, 19; and Merci, 27—camps together several times each summer.

Ransom and Julie agree that the family time spent outdoors together gives their curious children a much-needed chance to disconnect and explore.

“It’s good to see them get out and open up their minds. Instead of saying, ‘Oh entertain me,’ it’s ‘What am I going to find to do?’ And they always find something,” Ransom says.

“They might be knee-deep in mud and their clothes are all wet, but it doesn’t matter,” Julie adds.

The family spent several days last year on a camping trip to Yankton, South Dakota. More often, however, the family spends long summer weekends at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo, Nebraska. Although it is only a 30-minute drive, the couple says it is the perfect distance from home.

“One thing that always amazes the kids is how much they can see once they get out of the lights of town. How much more brilliant the stars are,” Ransom says.

When everyone feels cooped up in the house, and the kids are bickering with one another, the short escape does a lot of good for their family.

“You get them out to the campsite for two-three days and they don’t have anything to fight about anymore,” Ransom says. “They have to rely on each other. They get along with each other.”

Ransom has been camping for as long as he can remember.

He introduced Julie to the leisure activity when they were dating. While they started out with a two-person tent, they’ve accumulated quite the camping haul.

Over the years, they’ve built up a supply of two 10-person tents, a couple of smaller tents, a canoe, and many pieces of cooking equipment. Their supplies range from coffee pots, to coolers, to Dutch ovens.

Most of the time, their camping meals consist of burgers, sandwiches, or hot dogs. Other times the family eats fruit, or chips and other junk food.

“It kind of just depends on how much planning and preparation is involved,” Julie says. “Sometimes we just grab what’s in the cupboard and go.”

The spontaneity, Julie says, is what makes the trips so memorable.

“The kids can be sitting, reading, and then they see something,” Ransom adds. “And all of the sudden they’re off to investigate whatever leaf blew by, or whatever it may be.”

Much of the children’s love for nature can be attributed to their respective involvement in Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.

The couple started their son young by not only signing him up for Cub Scouts while he was in the first grade, but serving as the group leaders for a few years. Their son, now 19, participated in Boy Scouts, working his way through the ranks to earn the title of Eagle Scout.

The two younger girls, ages 9 and 11, have been involved with Girl Scouts from a young age. Julie helps out as a co-leader with both troupes.

“It’s important,” Ransom says. “It lets kids explore so many different things … in scouting you can touch on everything from cooking and sewing to rock climbing, robotics, and 50-mile hikes.”

Ransom himself was a Boy Scout. From the parents’ perspective, their kids’ involvement in the programs has been a crucial part of their growing up.

“It teaches them responsibility to the community and to the family,” Ransom says.

The Boy Scouts troop the Johnsons’ son attended camped 11 times per year—sometimes more. Beginning in the fifth grade, they took an annual week-long camping trip to Camp Geiger near St. Joseph, Missouri. There, the boys would stay in tents and earn merit badges.

The Girl Scouts also have the opportunity for an annual overnight wilderness experience where they stay overnight, hike, shoot archery, and take in the nature.

“It’s really about slowing down,” Julie says. “When we’re hustling and we’re talking, we miss seeing the deer or the wild turkey. I try and encourage the girls to just be observers of nature.”

It is plain to see where the love for outdoors stems from in the Johnson family. All the family members appreciate the little moments in the camping, hiking, and memories made on their highly anticipated summer adventures.

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

l-r: Ella, 11, and Grace, 9, spend quality time in their family tent.

Dario’s Nutella Waffle S’mores

Photography by Di Tendenza

This new twist on s’mores is not just for the kids at the campsite—grownups will love them, too. Add some fresh fruit to give a healthful boost to this gooey, delicious campfire dessert.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces of packaged frozen waffles (10)
  • 1 cup marshmallows
  • 1 cup Nutella hazelnut spread
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips
  • Sliced bananas and strawberries
  • Pecans (optional)

Equipment:

  • 5 aluminum pie tins
  • aluminum foil

Preparation

  1. Use a spatula to spread 1-2 tablespoons of Nutella spread on a waffle.
  2. Place a second waffle on top of the Nutella.
  3. Spread another 1-2 tablespoons Nutella spread on the second waffle.
  4. Add about 1/4 cup marshmallows and 1 tablespoon chocolate chips to top.
  5. Place stacked waffles in 8″ pie tin.
  6. Create a tent with the foil, set on top of the pie tin, and seal.
  7. Place tin over hot coals for 8-9 minutes, or until the marshmallows have started to melt and the bottom of the waffle has started to brown.
  8. Remove from pie tin and top with sliced bananas and strawberries.
  9. These are rich, you may want to cut in half to share.
  10. …or maybe not.

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

Out-of-State Camps

The time is swiftly approaching when parents will have to sit down and have “the talk” with their children. This heart-to-heart shouldn’t be taken lightly as the child’s response could have a serious impact on their future.

The subject matter? What summer camp should they attend? This is a right of passage and tradition for some; for others, it is an introduction to what will become a career or lifelong passion. While campfires, canoes, and “Kumbaya” are associated with traditional summer camp programs, other organizations across the country have transformed the annual break into something truly extraordinary.

When choosing an experience as unique as your child, consider a camp catered to their imagination. Whether they dream of becoming an astronaut, fashion designer, marine biologist, or musician, there is a platform available to them. While groups of boys and girls are roasting marshmallows and crafting in commons areas, the youngsters at these one-of-a-kind camps are fostering special skills, pursuing their passions, and opening their minds to a world where life is lived outside the box.

1. Pali  Adventures—Near Los Angeles, California
($2,000-plus for one week*)

Kids who love to play cops and robbers, or dream of being the next Carmen Sandiego, find plenty of options at Secret Agent Camp (SAC) run by Pali Adventures. Other unique camps include Hollywood stunts, flying trapeze, and LARP (live action role playing). This is a true imagination station for kids 8-16 years old.

2. Global Expeditions Group—Multiple locations
($5,800-plus for three weeks)

Send students around the world. Global Expeditions Group runs Action Quest and GoBeyond Student Travel. Action Quest involves living on, and helping to sail, a boat for three weeks while learning diving, sailing, marine biology, and more. GoBeyond takes students to places from Peru to the Galapagos to Asia and farther while participating in service learning.

3. ThrillCoasters Tour—Multiple locations
($2,000-plus for one week)

Although the word “camp” is not in the name, this adventure is for the kid who lives for amusement parks. One trip includes two days at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, which boasts 16 roller coasters, another includes two days at Six Flags Magic Mountain, which has 19 roller coasters, more than any other amusement park in the U.S.

4. Camp Winnarainbow—Berkley, California

($1,845 for two weeks)

Camp Winnarainbow, created by 1960s activist/icon Hugh Romney, better known as Wavy Gravy, focuses on circus and performing arts, from clowning to juggling to trapeze. Parents needing a week away can attend the adults-only version. Ben & Jerry’s now-retired ice cream bearing Romney’s nom de circus helped fund the camp from sales of their brazil-nut caramel confection.

5. Long Lake Camp for the Arts—Dobbs Ferry, New York
($5,950 for two weeks)

Long Lake allows youngsters to focus on their individual artistic specialties, as it offers a self-choice schedule. This schedule allows kids to combine activities in an unlimited number of ways. The biggest lessons they will learn here are commitment, confidence, and dedication, all while pursing their passion.

6. Fashion Camp NYC—New York, New York
($1,200 for one week)

This is not a sleep-away camp, but kids who are serious about joining the fashion industry will benefit from this experience. Three successive programs are offered that teach kids everything from what careers are available in the fashion industry to gaining internships. Along the way, they complete individual and team projects and meet with top executives from the industry.

7. Space Camp—Huntsville, Alabama
($1,000 for one week)

Founded more than 30 years ago by rocket scientist Dr. Wernher von Braun, this camp is the stuff of legends, or at least TV show mentions. Campers will gain hands-on training, experience high-fidelity simulations, and develop impactful skills for a future among the stars. Alumni of Space Camp have gone on to become astronauts and engineers for NASA and ESA.

8. Camp Jam—Multiple locations ($1,500-plus for one week)

Camp Jam is available in 10 cities across the United States (Chicago and St. Louis are the closest to Omaha), offering a vast curriculum for campers including music business, stage performance, songwriting, and recording. One highlight of this camp is the master classes, which are taught by noted artists such as Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones or Matchbox 20 keyboardist Joey Huffman.

9. Camp Woodward, Pennsylvania; Truckee, California; Tehachapi, California; Copper Mountain, Colorado
($1,800-plus for one week)

Camp Woodward has pruned and produced some of the world’s best skateboarders, snowboarders, BMX-ers, and more. The camp is specifically designed for professional-level training, and has some of the best facilities in the world. No prior experience is needed, and kids will have the opportunity to practice in one-of-a-kind parks, take freestyle and private lessons, and participate in a variety of classes. 

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

*Editor’s note: The article originally incorrectly listed Pali Adventures as $2000 for three weeks.