Tag Archives: school

Whispering Roots Takes Root

July 10, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Highlander Village on North 30th Street between Lake and Cuming is a dramatic new development meant to revitalize the depressed neighborhood surrounding it. The center of this community (planned by 75 North Revitalization Corp.) is the Accelerator. The 65,000 square foot, Z-shaped building serves as a Creighton University and Metropolitan Community College-led health-education hub. An event venue and a ground floor coffee shop will be joined by established eateries and entrepreneurial startups. 

But what most grabs the eye is the Accelerator’s futuristic-looking urban agriculture facility for nonprofit tenant Whispering Roots. A see-through greenhouse sits majestically atop floors dedicated to education and production—all centered on aquaculture, aquaponics, and hydroponic growing. As Whispering Roots founder and executive director Greg Fripp explains, nearly everything at the $4.2 million, 18,000-square-foot green site is designed for the next generation. Like the rest of Highlander, he says the custom design and construction, plus elevated location, are meant to raise people’s expectations in a high-poverty environment.

Slated to open by late summer, the facility is built on years of seeds sown by Fripp and company in inner-city public schools and neighborhoods. Whispering Roots teaches students how to build and maintain aquaculture systems that grow fish—tilapia or steelhead trout—for consumption. Fish waste is used to fertilize crops grown in the same system. The closed system’s water is naturally cleaned and recirculated. Floating raft crop, drip irrigation, and raised bed techniques are taught. 

The new digs will allow Whispering Roots to expand learning opportunities for youth and adults around organic agriculture, healthy cooking, and nutrition. It will refer participants in need of human and social services to on-site partners.

“We focus on growing, feeding, and educating,” Fripp says. “We’re touching different aspects of the community to address where the gaps are. By working with different folks and actually being out in the community and listening to the feedback—what’s working, what’s not working—it allowed us to design a facility that meets the needs of the community.”

Fripp says residents of the community have said they need more locally produced food, hands-on experiential learning, and STEM education, “and that’s what we do.”

To help address the community’s lack of access to fresh, local healthy food, Whispering Roots will sell the fish and vegetable crops it harvests on-site at farmers markets and select stores and to neighboring Accelerator food purveyors. 

Fripp sees this as just the start.

“The model is what matters—the techniques and how we build them and improve them in underserved communities—and then taking that model and replicating it at whatever scale makes sense for a community,” he says. “Where a lot of people make mistakes is they try to force a model and scale in a community that’s not ready to deal with it. The community’s overwhelmed.”

Fripp’s interest in urban ag and aquaculture goes back 20-plus years, to high school. After a U.S. Navy logistics career, he worked in the corporate world. He left an executive human resources position at TD Ameritrade in Omaha to follow his real passion full time.

He founded Whispering Roots in his home garage and basement lab with his own savings, and in less than a decade it’s now supported by major philanthropic players such as the Sherwood, Weitz Family, and Suzanne and Walter Scott foundations.

Funders bought into his vision, allowing it to ramp-up from micro to mega level. In learning to build and operate aquaculture systems, grow, harvest, package, market, and sell food, students will acquire portable skills.

Whispering Roots already has a presence as far away as Haiti and Madagascar and as near as Iowa and Missouri. It’s currently building a facility in Macy, Nebraska.

On the planning table is a full-scale commercial production facility that would supply food in quantity and create jobs.

“We not only want to replicate what we’re doing here but also to do economic development by developing this pipeline of kids and adults from the community who can then work in or run those facilities,” Fripp says.

Fripp and his team are much in demand as consultants.

“We’ve become subject matter experts for other communities that would like to do the same around the country. We have people calling from Kansas City, Minneapolis, wondering how we’re pulling this off in Omaha,” he says, adding that the model is what’s interesting to them. It challenges the way people view urban agriculture, hands-on experiential learning, and STEM in underserved and impoverished communities.

“We’ve been able to navigate government and policies and work on the community side, in schools, and to figure out how all these pieces work together,” he says.

From concept to completion, he says, “One of the biggest challenges is helping people understand the vision because it’s so new. When I started my organization in 2011 and said we’re going to put fish and plants in classrooms to teach kids about science, people thought that was crazy. They said, ‘It’s never going to work, kids aren’t going to be interested.’ Now our problem is we don’t have enough bandwidth to handle all the requests we get from the schools. But when I started, no one believed this was even possible.” 

Even after capturing the attention of kids—who started winning science fairs—and making converts of educators, he says, “In talking about where we were going to build our new facility, we had people questioning why we wanted to go into the inner city and offering us free land to build in rural areas. But the goal was to do it in an underserved community to prove it’s possible to go into the toughest areas, build this thing, and show it can work. That’s not easy because you run into a lot of roadblocks. There’s a lot of preconceived notions about what education looks like in an underserved community, what people will tolerate, what will work. What we’re trying to do is change that view.”

On a recent tour of the new Omaha facility, a woman who resides nearby told Fripp, “I’m glad that you are here. This is close to my heart. It needed to be here. This is such a beautiful and good thing that the community will protect you.”

“That feedback,” he says, “tells me we’re on the right path. The key is that you are a part of the community so that people feel like they have ownership—this is their resource. That’s what we want. We want that community base. If it’s just a community place and there’s no connect, people don’t care. They’re like, ‘That’s not ours anyway.’ But if it’s community-based, then, ‘It’s ours.’”

Part of that buy-in, he says, is “trying to build our own pathway and network of students who then become the experts who teach and train.” The goal is creating self-sufficiency so that communities can feed themselves. 

Having an African-American at the head of it all is a powerful symbol.

“When intersecting with the African-American community, students need to see people who look like them doing this work,” Fripp says. “Then they can internalize it by saying, ‘Me, too.’ They need to know this is a goal that is achievable.”


Visit whisperingroots.org for more information

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Greg Fripp teaches aquaculture, aquaponics, and hydroponic skills to the next generation.

Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo

November 11, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Like it is in any home with small children, the kitchen can be a flurry of activity when it comes to mealtime at the home of Brian Wetjen and Jill Rizzo. Brian makes PB&J while daughter Elke (4), uses the cap of a marker to transform a slice of American into its Swiss cousin. Meanwhile son Calder (7), attempts to bring a science play-set to the dining table.

“Calder, not now,” Brian says. “We’ll do science in a little while.”

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It’s a Sunday scene that mimics their weekday lives—Brian stays home with the kids while wife Jill goes to work at Hayneedle, where she is the creative director. Brian works from home as a website designer, but took this past summer off while the kids were out of school.

Hectic though it may seem, the family’s lives have simplified over the past three years. That’s when Brian ran his own company and Jill worked as the design director at Bozell. They each toiled more than 40 hours a week, leaving little family time.

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“We hated having to use the term ‘who has to pick up the kids’,’” Jill says, “because we both wanted to pick up the kids.”

“Once Calder got into kindergarten,” Brian adds, “we realized we wanted him to be able to come home after school. That’s really what kids want—they want to be at home.”

The lifestyle transition initially caused worry for Jill, who wondered about the “what ifs,” as in what if I lose my job?

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Brian took the opposite road.

“Instead of sabotaging it in your brain,” he says “why don’t we think ‘wow—look at all the positives.’”

Also easing Jill’s worry is how the couple thinks about materialism, not just from a monetary standpoint, but as a philosophy that forms their values.

“I recognized I was spending money on just stuff,” Jill says. “Like stuff for the house. I’d buy new pillows and placemats, but we didn’t need them, it was just more stuff.”

“It was retail therapy,” Brian adds.

“And I’m in retail!” Jill quips with a laugh.

One area of “stuff” the couple have carefully cultivated is their kids’ belongings. Markers, paper, and play-dough clutter the kid-sized crafting table at the end of the galley kitchen’s counters, while a play kitchen sits next to the dining table, ready to prepare any manner of made-up meals.

“A lot of the toy choices we make for them are either a) things we loved, or b) art supplies,” Brian says. “We also built a really big sand box in the backyard so they can dig and build things.”

The kids’ creative spirits rub off on their parents. Jill is a noted artist and the kids like to spend time painting with their mom.

“We work on art projects at night,” she says. “I have an easel set up for them in my studio, and they will come down and paint with me…or vice versa. Calder, specifically, will come up and ask me, ‘Mom, why aren’t you painting?’”

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Changes in school curricula over the years have influenced how this couple organizes family life.

“There’s less art, less music, less movement in school,” Jill adds, “all so they can get better test scores. Freedom of thought allows them to be creative problem-solvers.”

“Unstructured time is just as important as structured time,” Brian says.

Calder has drifted into another room by himself to work with his iPad, while Elke bounces on the small trampoline in the TV-less family room, holding onto a small attached railing while she bounces and bounces, joyfully crying “look at me!”

Aforementioned, structured time is just as important as unstructured time.

“We have a routine,” Brian says. “I make breakfast, Jill goes to work. I walk Calder to school then take Elke to preschool.”

Calder is in second grade at Swanson Elementary.  Brian comes home and has a couple of hours to work before picking up Elke, then they have a couple of hours in the afternoon before picking up Calder.

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Once school lets out, the kids get time to do what they want—playing outside or inside.  Brian and the kids make sure the house is picked up on Fridays so the family can participate in things they want to do on the weekends. Their seemingly carefree situation is the envy of their friends.

“Most of our friends are pretty laid back,” Brian says. “Most of them have said, ‘boy, I wish I could do this.’ ”

A big focus for both Brian and Jill is travel. They have taken the kids to see Jill’s extended family in upstate New York along with trips to Colorado and North Carolina. The couple hope to travel more as the kids age.

“We want to incorporate as many new experiences as possible,” Jill says.

The less is more philosophy has worked well for the family, and they encourage others not necessarily to do things their way, but in whatever way works best.

“Not everyone can work from home,” Brian admits, “but if you think about it, you can design your life the way you want.”

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Playing it Safe

June 10, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in June 2015 Her Family.

If you come from early Omaha stock, it’s likely your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and maybe even your great-great-grandparents grew up frolicking on the City of Omaha’s playground equipment.

“The movement for playgrounds really came about in the late 1890s,” says Tracy Stratman, recreation manager for the City of Omaha Parks & Recreation Department. “It all started in the inner cities to create locations for kids to actually get out and have constructive play. That way they could deter negative activities and youth crime.”

Gone, though, are many of the early playground standards. You won’t see the sheet-metal slides that sizzled in the sunshine and featured steep, narrow steps. It’s nearly impossible to find tall teeter-totters (Anyone else remember crashing to the ground when the child on the other end suddenly scooted off?) or high, slick, monkey bars positioned over a shallow layer of sand on hard ground. Oh yes—don’t forget those flat merry-go-rounds that sent children skidding off the perimeter.

As children, we wanted playground toys that were faster, higher, and more intense, but from an adult perspective, it’s safety first. Or as Stratman puts it, “Your perception of what you see on a playground drastically changes when you become a parent.”

Contemporary playgrounds still deliver the thrill, but rein in the risk for kids of all ages and abilities, says owner of Crouch Recreation Eric Crouch. As a Heisman Trophy winner for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, he knows about the unpleasantness of hitting the ground hard.

The company’s installations can be seen all over the metro area in public locations such as Benson Park, Vogel Park, and Stinson Park, as well as other sites such as SIDs, commercial daycares, and schools throughout Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.

“Accessibility is huge and safety is one of the top factors. Quality of equipment, and sometimes design, factors into it as well,” Crouch says. “We want things to be safe, to look nice, and to stand the test of time.”

Industry standards are guided by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, Crouch says. But manufacturers have found ways to keep the old standbys (“You really miss the mark if you don’t include slides or swings”) only with safer—and sometimes more fun—options from saucer seats and wide platform slide entrances to spring supports for see saws and pliable surfacing.

“We are so safety-conscious today and we’re making improvements, but we’re seeing the throwback to what we did as kids,” Stratman says.

Larger playground structures are typically modular so clients can create one-of-a-kind arrangements with more features than ever available, Crouch says.

“Now kids will get to a park and they see something that will interest them: How do I use this? It takes a little bit of their mind and their body strength to look at a piece of equipment and interact with it,” Crouch says. “New designs stimulate creative thinking.”

Other innovative elements seen on today’s playgrounds include the use of environmentally-friendly materials, custom designs that integrate into the surroundings, shade structures, seating for parents or caregivers, stroller- and wheelchair-accessible paths, and even sports and fitness features to make parks appealing to all ages.

But one thing never changes, Stratman says. “The confidence building as well as the social skills you learn on the playground are limitless.”

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Boys Town’s Learning Academy

November 5, 2014 by

At this point in the year, after students have returned from summer break and have readjusted to the routine of school, some students may continue to struggle to keep up academically with their peers. Despite extra practice at home and individualized attention at school, some students require more time and attention before their abilities catch up with their potential.
The Boys Town Learning Academy, run by Boys Town’s Center for Behavioral Health,
uses research-supported strategies to help students catch up and realize their full potential.

The Learning Academy has two components: academic skills training (AST) and content area tutoring (CAT). Skills training is for students who need to improve foundational skills such as reading and math facts, and tutoring focuses on helping students in more advanced and specific subject areas.

Academic Skills Training

AST can help students develop skills in:

  • Reading: knowing letter sounds, recognizing letters, reading with few errors, and understanding what is read.
  • Writing: getting ideas on paper and using proper capitalization, punctuation, and grammar.
  • Math: identifying numbers, counting, and understanding math facts.
  • Spelling: spelling common words and memorizing word lists for tests.

Often when students struggle with basic skills, the curriculum keeps moving while they fall further behind, causing confusion and frustration for families. To catch students up, clients who visit the Learning Academy are assigned a trained interventionist who is supervised by a licensed psychologist with a doctorate in School Psychology.

Licensed psychologists develop an individualized plan that is monitored to promote student progress. In addition, the skills training program includes:

  • One-hour, individual sessions (frequency of sessions is determined based on the student’s needs).
  • Frequent parent meetings to share progress.
  • Training of parents, tutors, and teachers to carry out treatment and maintain progress over time.

Content Area Tutoring

The second component of the Learning Academy, tutoring, focuses on older students with subject-specific challenges in English, math, science, and social studies.

Before students begin attending tutoring sessions, they meet with a licensed psychologist who evaluates their strengths and needs to develop an individualized plan. Then each student is assigned a high school or college student who tutors them for one hour twice a week.

Sending your child to tutoring at the Learning Academy isn’t just going to improve grades for one class. Students will also receive training in specific skills to improve organization, note-taking, and prioritizing work and assignments for long-term projects. Learning Academy psychologists and tutors want students to walk away with an increased understanding of the subject they once struggled with, and the skills needed to be successful with challenging courses in the future.

Is the Learning Academy for You?

One of the unique things about the Learning Academy is that it is developed and supervised by licensed psychologists. As psychologists, they apply their training in research-supported academic and behavioral interventions to improve specific skills and to teach parents effective ways to support student learning and motivation. Both the Academic Skills Training and the Content Area Tutoring programs are goal-oriented, meaning Boys Town’s psychologists supervise and evaluate student progress on a regular basis. The Learning Academy provides an avenue for licensed psychologist to share some of the strategies that they know about with families in-need.

The Learning Academy is a service open to all students in Omaha and the surrounding areas. If you think your student would benefit from individualized academic attention, check out the
Learning Academy page on the Boys Town Pediatrics website, under the Counseling Services tab.

 

Kristin E. Bieber, Ph.D.

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Riding Off

October 27, 2014 by and

As I write this, my little girl is deciding what she’s going to wear her first day of high school.
My Baby Girl.  In High School.

I’ve written a column or two before about how fast the parenting years fly by. There was the “I can’t believe they are starting kindergarten,” to the “I can’t believe they’ve finished elementary school,” and the shock of my oldest starting middle school, then high school….

And now, my youngest—who is, by the way, far taller than me now—is excited and a little nervous to be starting her high school career.

She’s excited. I’m stunned.

She will do very well. She’s organized, smart and very conscientious. She has great and loyal friends. She has a devoted family, plus great confidence and self-esteem. So good, so far.

But the other part of this whole equation is how I am no longer counting the years that my oldest will be home. I’m down to months. Twenty-three to be exact. He’s starting his junior year, so about 23 months from today, I will be waving goodbye to him at his college dorm. I’m actually starting to pin ideas for graduation parties and think about how to put his scrapbooks together.

I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly far away that all once seemed.

Over the years, we have attended many graduation parties for the children of friends, but my kids were the ones playing on the swings or chasing each other around the yard. Thinking of them as one day being the honoree being asked, “So, have you decided what you want to study?” or “Where are you going to college?” or “Do you know what you want to do for a career?” seemed like a far, far distant eventuality. I mean, these were my little kids, after all.

But there it is—time has moved on. I am now the parent of two amazing high school kids. We will spend this school year talking about ACT scores, college visits, and dreams for the future. We will have crazy schedules, as many meals together as we can, and important conversations about working hard and being kind. I will continue to hold my breath until my 16-year-old driver makes it home safely every night.

A couple of years ago I begged young mothers to listen when someone older reminded them how short their time was with their children.

One day, far sooner than she wants or expects, her babies will no longer throw fits in the grocery store, have meltdowns during church, or poop all over her clean floor.

One day, far sooner than she wants or expects, she and her husband will yet again be able to have a date without having to worry about a babysitter.

One day, far sooner than she wants or expects, there will no longer be sticky fingers on her sofa, a washing machine filled with the evidence of two children sick at 3 a.m., and no more frantic calls to the doctor when the fever spikes at 102.

As these things begin to disappear, so will the other things. That sweet baby smell when they first come out of the bath. The toddler who crawls into your lap for kisses. The preschooler so excited to show you how he can write his name. Or ride a bike. In all of the busyness that is our lives, during days that sometimes seem like they will never end, things begin to slip away. And you barely notice it until it’s too late.

And then, when you do realize it, sometimes you cry.

Because unless someone reminds you, you forget that you are in a season of your life. A very, very important season—where you have the privilege of being the parent of young children. And although the days can be long, difficult, and challenging, the time is so very, very short.

So, I guess as I head into this last phase of parenting my kids at home, I wanted to revisit my encouragement to parents of younger children. Keep it all in perspective. Be mindful of what stuff matters and what really doesn’t. Most stuff doesn’t.
Your kids do.

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The Five W’s

September 18, 2014 by

Good study habits are just that…habits. Using a structured approach to homework builds strong study habits, ones that set the stage for your child’s academic success. Let’s look at The Five W’s of homework—the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of how to have your kids start the school year with a solid plan for learning.

Who

  • Good homework strategies start in the classroom. Know your children’s teachers and their expectations.
  • Having your child study with a friend runs the risk of turning book time into social time, but quizzing each other in a “study buddy” environment can be particularly effective in the days leading up to tests.

What

  • Help your kids understand how to sort homework tasks by level of difficulty and have them tackle tougher assignments first.
  • If fatigue becomes an issue later in a study session, the remaining, easier work will seem like a breeze by comparison.  

When

  • Establish a set time for homework. This is perhaps the single most important benchmark of good study habits.
  • Don’t expect kids to be able to do homework the minute they walk in the door after school. This is a time of day when they need to decompress, and there is nothing like a little much-needed physical activity at this time of day to recharge young minds.

Where

  • Set up a designated study area other than your child’s bedroom that has good lighting and comfortable furniture.
  • Make sure the study area is stocked with whatever materials are required for the task at hand…pencils, paper, laptop, scissors, etc.

Why

  • When parents take a supportive, active role in homework, kids are more successful in their academic efforts.

Read the point above three more times. Then clip it and tape it on your vanity mirror. After that, visit a tattoo parlor and have those same words executed in ink on your…oh, never mind. You get the idea…   

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Fighting Asthma

September 14, 2014 by

Over the past five years, the Nebraska school system has taken an active role in helping families, students, and schools in the treatment of life-threatening asthma and allergic reactions. A protocol for the treatment of life-threatening emergencies requires that three individuals in every school building be trained to respond to the treatment of symptoms of a child with life-threatening asthma or allergic reactions. Taking care of children with asthma/allergies at school has become a priority since children spend the majority of their day with peers and staff.

Boys Town Allergy, Asthma & Pediatric Pulmonology offers some helpful reminders for both parents and schools.

Parents

  • See your child’s doctor annually 
  • to review his/her medications 
  • and treatment plan.
  • Notify the school of your child’s 
  • asthma or allergy.
  • Submit any medical history, health status and treatment plans.
  • Include a list of asthma triggers.
  • Send a list of emergency contacts, including names to contact if you are not available.
  • Talk with your school nurse/principal about how to respond in an emergency attack.
  • Leave a set of medications at your child’s school with detailed instructions on how to administer medicine if an attack should occur.
  • Talk with your child about the use of his/her medications at school.

Schools

  • Review the written emergency plan with the child’s parents at least once a year to make sure there have not been changes or updates.
  • Know exactly where the child’s medicine is stored and how to administer medicine if necessary.
  • Understand the trigger signs for an asthma attack.

Review the school’s protocol for emergency situations. Remember that asthma and allergy attacks can strike at any time, that’s why Nebraska requires that children have access to lifesaving medications. Children are able to carry their own inhalers and other medications needed for asthma or allergy attacks and schools have Epinephrine (EpiPen®) on hand for emergencies.

The EpiPen® is easy to administer and store, and is available in two strengths to support weight-based dosing. An injection of epinephrine can be given within minutes after a serious reaction begins and can be lifesaving for the child, allowing time to get to the emergency room for further treatment, and it gives the child relief of airway constriction.

All Nebraska schools are prepared to respond to life-threatening asthma and allergic emergencies. Families, physicians, and schools working together can make a difference in a child’s asthma and allergy condition. Parents can rest a little easier knowing that schools in Nebraska are ready to take care of children with asthma or allergic reactions.

Kevin R. Murphy, M.D.
Boys Town National
Research Hospital

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PTO on the Go

September 10, 2014 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

How many of us don’t end the week wondering where the time has gone?  Between work, keeping up the house, kids’ activities, and just plain old family time, it can feel nearly impossible to fit in just one more thing. Like many working parents, Valarie Taylor says that, although she would like to be more involved in her children’s school, it’s just difficult to find the time.

“I try to help out with the classroom parties and volunteer for field trips,” Taylor says. “My work is pretty good about flextime.” She says she is also a member of the PTO, but she still feels that she could be doing more. “Sometimes it would be nice to be more involved on a day to day basis; to see the dynamics of the classroom and how the teacher interacts with the children.”

“It’s tough,” says Sue Rice, Principal of College View Elementary School in Council Bluffs, who describes Taylor as one of her “super-volunteers.”

“It’s really hard for parents to have a fulltime job and also participate in their child’s education.” Rice and her staff identified the growing need to move from the traditional school groups and toward a more innovative and inclusive way of doing things.

“What I’ve found out, as the years have gone by, is that it is really hard for people to attend meetings and be on committees and do all the things they need to do while holding down a fulltime job,” Rice says. “So we’ve kind of come into the 21st century and looked at what can we do to help parents feel involved and get them interested in their children’s education.”

While Rice says that the school still has the traditional PTO meetings that occur every other month for those who can attend, more and more parents are becoming involved by participating in the committees online. “PTO is run different,” she says. “People are able to sign up for things electronically.”

Another way that many parents are able to engage in their child’s classroom activities is by joining their classrooms’ Facebook pages.  “Parents can see, during the day, what is going on in the classroom.” Rice explains that teachers and students alike take turns posting about what the children are learning as well as about daily events. Short video clips can also be added. “It’s just another way of becoming involved and it provides a glimpse into what’s happening in the classroom if the parents can’t be there.”

Rice adds that even though parents are very busy, the school has had a great response for volunteers. The increased access to committees and groups online has not seemed to hinder or decrease onsite parent involvement. “Parents have a lot of opportunities to be involved. We still have parent volunteers that come in for classroom parties and activities.”

College View, which opened four years ago and has been recognized as an International Baccalaureate World School, has added several clubs for students, including a running club, Spanish club, and art club, all of which have been sponsored by parents.

By embracing technology and thinking outside the box, the faculty at College View has been able to reach and accommodate more parents than ever before. “We’ve tried to spread it out so there are a variety of opportunities for everyone, rather than having just a select few doing everything.”

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More than the ABCs

August 19, 2014 by and

Little 5-year-old Emma already knows her ABCs. Well, most of them.  And she can count to five.  Sometimes all the way to seven.

But is she really ready for kindergarten?

Academic ability is only one indicator of whether a child is ready to make the transition from preschool into a kindergarten classroom.

“Research shows that academic learning does not happen in the absence of social and emotional development,” says Megan Jones, Mental Health Therapist.  “A child’s brain simply doesn’t take in information without the ability to cope with the environment and handle the stressors that are involved in everyday life.”

In other words, if by the age of five, a child has not learned to sit quietly without running all over a room, or know how to handle another child hurting their feelings without completely melting down and losing control—he or she will struggle.  To absorb spelling and math lessons, he needs to be able to calmly move from one task to another or even from naptime to lunchtime without stress.

Behavior problems in young children can be addressed, and it’s crucial that parents act as soon as possible.  In fact, the younger the child, the more easily and quickly the issues can be corrected. Experts have found that, depending on the child’s history, something as simple as changing a bedtime routine or redirecting playtime activities can provide insight and solutions to a child’s behavioral needs. Children who have witnessed or experienced trauma, however, may require more extensive therapy.

Fortunately, our little Emma has developed the social and emotional tools she will need—friendship skills, coping skills, problem solving, and how to recognize and label emotions: “I’m angry.” “I’m sad today.” “I’m having a happy day.”  These powerful tools will allow her to face her kindergarten classroom calmly, with confidence, and destined for success.

If you think your child may need early childhood behavioral therapy, please contact Lutheran Family Services (LFS) at 402-661-7100.  If childhood sexual abuse is of concern, LFS also shares building space and is a partner agency with Project Harmony.  This allows the best integration of services for area children.

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Party of Six

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

You might think that Shauntel and Delon Tobin of Northwest Omaha live for Tuesday nights. It is the only night of the week that their dance card is not full with their children’s practices or games. But the family actually enjoys the barely-controlled chaos, according to their daughter McKenzie, a fourth grader at Picotte Elementary.

“I don’t like staying at home. I’m just one of those people that likes to go about and travel a lot, “ says the 9-year-old.  McKenzie is a dancer. And her talent, and many evenings away at practice, has made her quite the star.

McKenzie and her 10-year-old sister Gabriella’s dance team recently won the Rainbow Dance Competition. Their prize? A once-in-a-lifetime “meet and greet” with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes in New York City in July. The sisters attend Next Step Dancing with Maren and practice multiple times a week.

McKenzie, who is nicknamed “Macaroni,” appreciates the support she gets from her parents taking her to lessons. “I feel encouraged when they do that. I’m happy,” she says.

Besides the two sisters, there is also 9-year-old New York Yankee fan Jaiden, who is Gabriella’s fraternal twin. He plays baseball and also loves playing games on his PlayStation. Finally, there’s little 3-year-old Madison, also a dancer and a “Doc McStuffins” fan.

“We are a close-knit family and I love it,” says their mother Shauntel, who works full-time as an insurance representative with Traveler’s Insurance.

Each day begins with Shauntel rising alone in the darkness at 4:30 a.m. so she can take her time getting ready. “I also make sure everybody’s stuff is lined up for the day,” she says.

The organized mom’s preparation involves laying the kids’ clothes out and making sure their backpacks are filled with the proper homework, any papers that need to be signed and their homework folders.

Next, she wakes up husband Delon, who works as a pharmacy technician at Alegent Creighton Lakeside Hospital. After he is ready to go, the couple wakes up all four kids at 6:30 a.m. They shower and get dressed, then head for breakfast. “While I’m cleaning, he’ll be doing breakfast for the kids. They love waffles and pancakes from scratch.”

Then, presto, it’s off they go for their day in their Diamond white Toyota Sienna, the minivan they consider a home-away from home. “We live in our car sometimes. We’re always running here or there,” Shauntel says.  Each kid has their own ipad and regularly plays educational games on the popular learning app Agnitus.

After Delon finishes his shift at 3:30 p.m., he picks up the kids from daycare and returns home for snacks and homework time. Then, bing-bang-boom, they are out the door again after Shauntel arrives home from work an hour later.

It is a 20-minute drive from their home in Northwest Omaha to Jaiden’s baseball practice across town at John G. Neihardt Elementary School.

Navigating the busy Omaha streets at rush hour requires patience and often, a deft turn of the radio dial. As a stress-breaker, the family all joins in on a country musical sing-along. “We just let everything go and everybody sings in the car.” The girls love Taylor Swift, while Shauntel prefers Jason Aldean and Rascal Flatts.

“Some nights you catch every red light and it’s like ‘ugh.’ Or you get stuck behind an accident. Then you have those nights where the traffic is perfect and you’ve caught almost every green light and you’re there in a little bit,” she says.

On nights that Jaiden has baseball practice, they first drop him off and then drop the girls off at dance. Next, begins a series of ping-pong-ish driving moves for daddy.  “Then Delon will leave and go pick up Jaiden and come back and watch the rest of the girls at dance,” Tobin says.

The day finally wraps up around 9 p.m. “There’s just no way we would get it all done if it wasn’t a team effort. So we come together and we pull it off, and it comes off every day,” she says.

The two met while they were employees of the Cracker Barrel in Chicago and were married in 2006. After visiting Shauntel’s family in Omaha, Delon knew he wanted to make Nebraska their home.

“The thing I will remember to this day is the first time at night when I saw all the stars. It was like a crystal, clear night. The air quality to me was superb. I looked at her and I said, ‘we’re going to have to move here.’”

Having lived on the edge of Chicago, an area prevalent with steel mills, the Tobins prefer the cleaner air available to them in Omaha, especially since their children also have asthma.  Given the opportunity to transfer with his job, they jumped at the chance.

As a dad, Delon loves being part of his kids’ myriad activities and seeing them progress by overcoming shyness. “To see them come out of their shell and just grow personally, that is amazing,” he says.

They also have a lot of support from Shauntel’s mother, Kim Konig and her husband Jeff, who attend all of Jaiden’s games. “They are very busy with four kids. I don’t know how they do it. It would drive me nuts,” Konig says.

For Shauntel and Delon, all the effort is time well spent. “We just want to make sure the kids have the best possible experience growing up. We don’t force them to do any of their activities. We just take them and support them,” Tobin says.

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