Tag Archives: teachers

Laura Kirschenbaum

January 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Laura Kirshenbaum is a straight-A student, but it is not good grades that her mother talks about first when describing her daughter’s scholarly accomplishments.

“It’s comments that teachers make. It’s wonderful hearing about how she treats others and how she is respectful to teachers. They say that she’s an active listener in class, that she’s kind and courteous. That’s what I’m proud about,” Jennifer Tompkins Kirshenbaum says. “You may have it in your DNA that these things are easier than for other people, or you learn at a faster pace. That may be a gift with you, but what do you do with it? Some people may have an ego with it, but Laura doesn’t. She’s grateful for what she has and is highly motivated.”

Kirshenbaum, an eighth-grader at Alice Buffett Magnet Middle School in the Omaha Public School District, admits to being a fast learner but says her excellent grades in her honors classes don’t come effortlessly. “I work hard for that,” she says.

And she definitely prefers some subjects over others. “My top subject would definitely be math,” she says. “But I love science, too: chemistry, physics, and astronomy.”

Kirshenbaum has no shortcuts to academic success to share, she says. Being a good student means being diligent: finishing the assignments, completing the reading, following directions. It also helps to have good organizational skills that ensure she’s always prepared. “I turn homework in on time and I try to stay on top of things,” she explains. “I’m proud of that.”

She even enjoys learning outside of the classroom, watching informational YouTube channels in her spare time, and competing in multiple academic events like Quiz Bowl, Science Bowl, Math Counts, Academic Pentathlon, and Book Blasters. She has an artistic side, too, that brings some balance to student life—Kirshenbaum is active in dance (ballet, modern, and jazz) and plays the violin, even performing in the orchestra pit for Omaha Public Schools’ summer musical Peter Pan in 2016.

“I also do a lot of acting,” she adds. “I’ve been in a lot of the school plays, and I’ve done some community theater as well.”

She’s even managed to make time for volleyball and local volunteering at a food bank and a homeless shelter. Two summers ago, she was a classroom helper at Jackson Elementary School. Because she’s an honors student, she is also eligible to tutor fellow students. “I like being able to help others,” she says.

Kirshenbaum says her future plans absolutely include college, which her mother and father (Matt Kirshenbaum) like to hear. It may be a little early to start choosing a particular institution, but judging by the scholarly aptitude she’s demonstrated so far, it’s clear that she’s going to be able to take her pick of schools—and programs of study—upon graduation four years from now.

“I see myself becoming a chemist,” she says. “Or a college professor in math or science.”

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

Breaking Down the Language Barrier

July 9, 2014 by

Learning a second language is a hobby that many—okay, some—people enjoy. For Susan Mayberger with Omaha Public Schools, learning Spanish as a second language has been integral to a fascinating life and career journey.

“After teaching for three years I had an opportunity to take a year off and learn Spanish as a second language,” Mayberger says. “I did this in Spain after having taken two years of high school Spanish. I thought I was oh so smart. I go there and I couldn’t even ask, ‘Where is the bathroom?’”
That experience may have turned off some on the idea of learning another language. It only fueled Susan’s fire.  “In the situation of being college educated but feeling like I wasn’t very successful, I think that’s what started my empathy for people who are coming to the United States and learning English as their second language,” Mayberger says.

After graduating, the Omaha native moved to New York in 1980 and earned her Masters in ESL. After spending about 12 years in New York in both the private and public sectors, Mayberger and her husband moved back to Nebraska in 1996. In 1998, she secured her current position with OPS as the Coordinator of the ESL Migrant and Refugee Program. “Originally we were just working with ESL students, and then more of our students qualified for the migrant and refugee program,” she relates.

In the Omaha Public School system, 109 different languages are spoken. When Mayberger first returned to OPS in 1996, there were only 29 different languages being spoken.  Students are not divided into various classes based upon their primary language. “As we teach in English, we learn special strategies to teach. We use a lot of pictures. Acting out or role-playing and video clips are all methods we use to help our students understand what we’re teaching them as they learn English,” Mayberger tells.

In addition to her position with OPS, Mayberger is the representative for the Nebraska Migrant Education Program’s Bi-national Program.  The program exists as an agreement between Mexico and the state of Nebraska, working towards the education of students that cross the border and come into OPS schools.

“We have an opportunity in the summer to bring up teachers from Mexico,” Mayberger says. “We invite teachers to come work in our state with our students for the summer. As a school district we are so challenged in finding enough teachers to teach in our dual language program. It’s my hope that this partnership will help us in filling the need that we have for excellent bi-lingual teachers.”
The children, however, are not the only students that Mayberger is invested in teaching. “I support a lot of work with parents,” she says. “In order for our students to be successful and cultured
well into the United States, you have to help to bring the parents along.”

A program offered through OPS at the Yates Community Center off of 32nd and Davenport offers learning programs for adults. “Every day, Monday through Friday, we have about 180 to 200 parents taking classes and learning English,” Mayberger says. “They also learn about being parents in the United States. We teach them about our educational system. Sometimes it can help parents get jobs or improve their jobs, which gives them the ability to help their families.”

Anger

January 11, 2014 by

Anger and frustration are emotions everyone experiences. The ways we manage those feelings are what is important. Teenagers are not experts at managing their anger and frustration in comparison to adults. Every day is a learning experience, especially for teenagers who are involved in many activities.

School is what most teenagers, I find, get angry about. Whether it is because of their heavy homework load or being up early on a Monday morning, there is always someone complaining about school. It makes sense—school takes up the majority of our time. We spend seven to eight hours at school a day, not counting the clubs or sports that follow after the final bell rings. To the average teenager, school is like a second home.

I also get frustrated with the stresses of school and grades, but I understand how to manage it. My friends and family are always there for me, patiently listening to me vent when I have a bad day. They have my back and will sympathize and help me rationalize my anger. It is a healthy way to unleash my anger and frustration without taking it out on someone else or letting it overly affect me.

Teachers and counselors are also resources that can be used for teenagers who are angry or upset. If it is about a specific reason involving school, they are the perfect people to express concerns to. It is their job to be considerate and be understanding of the problems a student may have. It is also a healthy way to release that bottled up anger or frustration.

Being a teenager can be challenging and frustrating, but there are many ways to manage those negative emotions. Every day we learn and grow, and soon we will learn not to sweat the small stuff and find other healthy ways to deal with our anger.

Halston Belcastro is a student at Millard West High School.

For My Teacher!


December 4, 2013 by

During my time as a teacher, it always felt great when a family thought of me during the busy holiday season. It brought me joy every time one of my students handed me their little present with a big smile on their face, no matter what was inside. Now that I’m a parent, however, I’m in a unique position because I’ve got the inside scoop on the gifts teachers can really use in their own classroom. If you’re looking for a good gift for your child’s teacher, consider one of these:

  • Classroom educational games. As teachers, we’re always looking for fun ways for children to learn and reinforce skills. Teachers will always be happy to receive math, word, and strategy games. Even some of the classics—Boggle, Scrabble, Mastermind, Yahtzee—are great to have in a classroom.
  • Supplies. Having an endless array of stickers, stamps, colored index cards, cutouts, and colored pens always made me happy as a teacher! Many of these supplies are usually purchased out of the teacher’s personal funds, so saving us a few bucks by gifting these types of things is extremely appreciated.
  • Gift cards. Some of the best places to purchase gift cards for teachers are Barnes and Noble, Half Price Books, Lakeshore Learning Materials, Learning HQ, and Oriental Trading Company. All of these suggestions are places that teachers tend to frequent when we’re in need of something for our students.
  • Fund a project. I once had a parent offer to purchase supplies for one of my classroom projects, and that was awesome! Not only did it save me money, but it also saved me the time it took to shop for the materials. That was a gift I always remembered and appreciated, and the children benefited from it greatly!

Homes for Heroes

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When mortgage loan officer Michael Petrovich with The Private Mortgage Group in Omaha was offered the chance to work with the national Homes for Heroes program, he says it seemed like a perfect opportunity to show his thanks to those we depend on.

The program—which uses the tagline ‘Service Deserves Its Rewards’—offers discounts on real estate-related services to active and retired military, police officers, firefighters, teachers, and other civil servants that serve our communities and our country.

“My dad was a fireman for years with the Omaha Fire Department, and a good friend of mine’s dad is a retired Omaha police officer,” Petrovich says. “I also have a lot of friends in the military. [The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference…saving them some money when buying a home.”

Petrovich says as a Homes for Heroes affiliate member, he offers “hero” homebuyers free home appraisals, which are often required for home purchases and refinances handled by his firm. Waiving the fee saves the homebuyer $400. Fellow Private Mortgage Group employees Pete Coen and Jeremy Wilhelm are also affiliate members.

“[The program] sounded like an opportunity to help out a lot of friends and family, and this was an area I felt I could really make a difference.” – Michael Petrovich, The Private Mortgage Group

“We can offer the discounts to any qualifying client in the Omaha/Fremont territory we cover. All they need to do is sign up on the Homes for Heroes website, and it directs them to all the affiliates in the area,” Petrovich explains.

Real estate agents make up a large number of HFH affliliate members nationally. Locally, Prudential Ambassador Real Estate agents Michelle Gustafson, Gary Gernhart, Mamie Jackson, and Matt Anderson are affiliates. “We know the agents [at Prudential], and we’ve worked together to offer clients the HFH discounts. It’s been a team effort,” Petrovich adds.

The Homes for Heroes program was first created in 2002 by a group of lenders and Realtors in Minneapolis in response to the tragic events of 9/11. Petrovich was among the first Homes for Heroes affiliate members in Nebraska, joining in November 2012 when the program first launched in Omaha. The 501(c)(3) nonprofit, comprised of Realtors, lenders, and other real estate-related service providers, now has approximately 750 affiliates nationwide serving homeowners in 44 states.

Steve Minino, a Realtor with NP Dodge Real Estate, is another Homes for Heroes affliate in Omaha. Along with Realtors Deb and Mark Hopkins (all part of the Hopkins Home Team), Minino got involved when he learned about the program on the local news.

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us,” he says. “It was definitely a win-win situation.

“My family also has a long tradition of members serving in the Marine Corps. We liked the idea of helping out family and friends who serve and who could really benefit.”

“We saw the advantages right away and jumped on board…being able to help our local heroes while getting some great exposure for us. It was definitely a win-win situation.” – Steve Minino, NP Dodge Real Estate

As an affiliate, Minino says he offers 25 percent of his sales commission back toward the purchase process for Homes for Heroes clients. “This money is typically applied toward the closing costs being paid by the homebuyer,” he says. “If the buyer is not responsible for closing costs, then the money is donated to a charity of their choice.”

Minino also donates another five percent of his commission directly back to the Homes for Heroes organization, which they use to fund other projects, including the rehabing of homes to accommodate injured veterans.

“We’re currently working with several Heroes clients, and we hope to grow that number in the next six months or so.”

Millard Public Schools teacher Stephanie Poltack and her fiancé, Aaron Mackel, recently purchased a home together in West Omaha and took advantage of discounts offered by several local Homes for Heroes affliliates. “My Realtor, Judy Kramer with Prudential, told me about [Homes for Heroes] and referred me,” Poltack says. “Through the program, we received closing-cost assistance and got a discounted home inspection, and The Private Mortgage Group gave us a free home appraisal. I believe we saved $1,325 in all.

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to us,” Poltack adds. “We were able to use the money saved to go out and buy a washer and dryer. It’s a great program, and I think if more people were aware of it, more would take advantage of it.”

“Being a first-year teacher and a first-time homeowner, I’m very appreciative of all the help we received…It meant everything to [my fiancé and me].” – Stephanie Poltack, teacher

Nationally, several media outlets and Hollywood celebrities have helped publicize the good works being done by Homes for Heroes’ affiliates nationwide, including Sean Hannity with Fox News, actor Gary Sinise, and the Orlando Magic basketball franchise. However, the nonprofit has grown primarily through word of mouth via the internet and news media.

Petrovich says one of the goals of the Omaha-area affiliates is to raise awareness of the Homes for Heroes program in Nebraska and encourage participation by our local heroes.

“We’re getting together to discuss ways to advertise,” he said. “We’ve placed ads in the Fremont paper, hung posters in firehouses and around town…We want our civil servants and military to know we support them and say thank you for serving our country and our community.”