Tag Archives: teaching

Comic Relief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

timmayer.wordpress.com

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

Southwest Escape

April 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We’re creatures of habit. We live and breathe routine, and for the most part, we are comfortable in our ways. We’re busy. We think ahead. We worry. We wonder. We drive to work and run errands. Once in a while, however, we stop for a moment and realize that we need a break.

What happens when we decide to escape from routine? If only for two weeks? The possibilities are infinite. Omaha Magazine’s creative director, Bill Sitzmann, and his family of four know this firsthand. Sitzmann, his wife, and their two kids (ages 5 and 9) packed up their Subaru Outback in early June 2016 and hit the road with no specific destination in mind, rather a region: the Great American Southwest.

“We knew when we needed to leave and we knew when we needed to be back,” Sitzmann says. “My dad lives in Tucson, so we knew we wanted to go there and see him. But other than that, we just picked the general areas we wanted to hit.”

The Sitzmann family rolled out of Omaha, looking forward to the two-week camping adventure ahead. Sitzmann says that the trip was exciting from a parental standpoint because, while he was accustomed to teaching his kids things that he already knew, they were headed into uncharted territory for the whole family.

“For all four of us to experience it for the first time, all at the same time, was pretty cool,” Sitzmann says, recalling their two weeks of close quarters on the road.

Driving from Omaha, their stops ranged from Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

They discovered beautiful, lightly populated trails and campsites by venturing off the beaten path. The family decided to stop by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, chosen by Sitzmann on a whim, based solely on pictures that he’d seen of the place.

Surrounded by trees with no spectacular view in sight, the drive into the park had them questioning their sanity. But the side trip turned out to be one of the more rewarding outdoor destinations for the family when they walked along a trail at sunset and stumbled upon a massive canyon nearly 100 yards away from their campsite. As they looked around, they realized that they had the hidden gem all to themselves. Sitzmann made a point to wake up at sunrise the next morning for coffee with a view.

They hit a total of 10 national parks over the course of their 3,200-mile journey across the rugged Southwest of the United States. The region is home to countless national parks, along with myriad monuments and historic sites, offering unlimited variations to the ultimate family road trip.

In the Southwest, several National Parks are located in close enough proximity that more than one could be visited in a single day. The natural formations of the land might be close in location, but tend to differ greatly when it comes to their visual appeal.

In Utah, the impressive forest of tall, narrow eroded rock at Bryce Canyon National Park is less than 90 minutes from Zion National Park—where massive cliffs, gaping canyons, sparkling streams, and waterfalls can be seen. Those two parks alone could make a day of adventure (or a week of discovery) for visitors.

 “I think it’s important to have that long-term period with your family,” Sitzmann says. “Most of us, we talk about providing for our family—and that’s what we think our main job is. You teach [your kids] that you can provide and work hard, but there are other things in life that we miss and that we kind of lose touch with over the years.”

The family was able to disconnect from social media, spend the evenings under the stars, and chase the sunrise each morning.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Not every moment was saturated with unexpected beauty. One night, they couldn’t find an open campground, so they camped directly under a fluorescent light in an RV park. But that was a learning experience, in its own way.

Sitzmann’s son turned 9 on the road and received a pocketknife from his father as a right of passage into the world of responsibility.

Road trips to the Southwest have occupied a pivotal point in the lives of many. For my own family, the Southwest was the basis for two unforgettable road trips. The first journey, my parents took in their 20s before having kids. The second, they undertook with seven children in tow (four years ago).

Unlike the Sitzmanns, the Smith crew rolled out of Omaha in 15-passenger rental van. Our approach to the itinerary was more regimented and less laissez faire. We hit the road with all lodging booked. While the Sitzmanns cooked on campfires all along the way, we munched on endless amounts of processed snacks packed into the van.

My dad drove, my mom blogged, and the seven of us kids—ages 5 to 19—bonded in the backseats singing songs, playing games, and marveling at the changing colors and landscapes that we had never seen before.

Over the course of the 3,259 miles that we drove, we spent 10 days in five different states. We grew closer as we conquered new territories. We mastered packing and unpacking the car in a matter of minutes; white-water rafted in Colorado; played cards by the campfire at night in Utah; and came up with silly inside jokes that we remember today.

While there are countless ways to make a road trip through the Southwest, the adventure is unlike any other. Experiencing the purity and the simplicity of the landscape, joined by the people you love, is an indescribable experience. It is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.

My parents had wanted to go on family road trip to the Southwest ever since their own trip some 20 years prior. It was a right of passage for our family as a unit, because my eldest sister had just graduated high school and the youngest was about to start kindergarten.

As we begin graduating from college, these sorts of road trips will become increasingly difficult to coordinate. So, to seize the moment, we are now in the midst of planning another massive family road trip.

The Smith Family’s Southwest Itinerary (10 days):

From Omaha, we drove through Colorado and landed in Utah where we visited: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. We then continued to head south where we hit Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon National Park and Lake Powell. We headed back up north where we made an impulsive stop at the Four Corners, then carried onto Mesa Verde National Park and the city of Durango in Colorado. Then, we returned to Omaha.

The Sitzmann Family’s Southwest Itinerary (14 days): 

From Omaha, they headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. From there, they went to New Mexico where they visited Carson National Forest and White Sands National Monument. They continued onward to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and then went back up to Utah to hit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The family made their way back through Colorado, where they visited the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park before they returned to Omaha.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

At the Heart of St. Matthew

November 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“When I see a student no longer having to struggle to read or do a math problem—that is why I teach. They take so much pride in them-selves when they become independent in their thinking.”

-Lisa Benson

As a young Girl Scout in Texas, a lightbulb went off when Lisa Benson’s troop adopted a special needs class during her middle school years. She knew exactly what she wanted to be when she grew up. That connection to those students made her realize that her future place in life was in a classroom. She held on to that joy of helping others when she attended Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, and majored in elementary education. She dedicated her education further by continuing on for her master’s degree in literacy from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Now, at 58 years old and with over 20 years of teaching experience, Lisa Benson was recently honored as one of the Educators of the Year in the elementary category by the Archdiocese of Omaha at the Archbishop’s Dinner for Education on Sept. 29, 2016.

Nominated by the principal, staff, and community of St. Matthew Catholic School, where she has taught first grade for the past 14 years, Benson was just as shocked as she was thrilled to receive the award: “I was so surprised. I feel I have always given my best to St. Matthew School, my students, and their families. It is such an honor to be recognized for hard work and dedication. I truly appreciate all the support from the archdiocese, my fellow teachers, and the families at St. Matthew.”

It’s that heart and dedication that is exactly why she was nominated, according to school principal Jim Daro, who has worked with her during the four years he’s been at St. Matthew.

“Mrs. Benson is an outstanding teacher,” Daro says. “She cares deeply for her students and their progress in and out of her classroom. She maintains a classroom environment where students are cared for and comfortable; they know they are there to learn. They respect her just as much as she respects them.”

As a mother of three grown children, Benson loves cultivating independence in not only her own children but those she teaches every day in the first grade classroom. “At this age, they love learning,” she says. “So all I have to do is present it to them, and they soak it up. When I see a student no longer having to struggle to read or do a math problem—that is why I teach. They take so much pride in themselves when they become independent in their thinking.”

But teaching hasn’t always come easy to Benson. She didn’t start her teaching career until after raising her children. At the start of working at St. Matthew, she felt behind in the field of education. “Things had changed since I graduated from college. This struggle has made me aware of how my students, or even a new staff member, may feel when a concept isn’t clear to them.”

That empathy is what led her to become like a support system to many other teachers at the school. Daro raves about Benson’s ability to help others, “She is a mentor and a leader with the rest of the faculty. She is highly involved in our school and community beyond the classroom. Mrs. Benson is involved with our school board, our development team, and our school improvement team.”

As for what Benson will do with the $5,000 award prize from her prestigious Educator of the Year recognition: “My husband and I are still figuring that out. Maybe a trip!”

And with all the hard work, time, and heart Benson puts into each day of teaching, a trip is definitely a great way to celebrate her dedication to the St. Matthew students and educational community.

Visit stmatthewbellevuene.net for more information.

This article was printed in the Winter 2016 edition of Family Guide, an Omaha Publications magazine.

Andrew Easton

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Andrew Easton taught students how to create projects from wood. His son, Andrew W. Easton, taught students how to properly create a balance sheet and how to use their left pinkie fingers to type the letter “q.”

Andrew D. Easton, the third teacher in line to carry the family name, had no problem choosing a career.

“My dad and grandfather were inspirations to me,” he says. “Just seeing them being willing to serve other people, and being there for students and to help them with their pursuits.”

The current pedagogue answering to the name Mr. Easton educates young minds in ways vastly different from his forefathers.

While teaching English at Gardner Edgerton High School in Gardner, Kansas, he realized his pupils needed stimulation and motivation. He began teaching from the school library, where they processed essays on computers or read books from the comfort of couches. Easton walked around the room and answered questions.

AndrewEaston3

“About three weeks in, some kids were done,” Easton says. “I asked those kids to get together and discuss the book (Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes). We had a competition in front of the principal. It made for a better use of their time.”

Those students who had not finished reading the book continued reading.

“That type of learning is called a flex model,” Easton says. “I didn’t know it at the time. I appreciated that we could get a lot of personal attention and one-on-one feedback.”

AndrewEaston1Four years ago, Easton and his wife moved to Omaha. Andrew found a job with Westside High School and expanded on his flex model. He arranged the classroom furniture to assemble different areas for group study or individual study, and created a goal sheet for his students. Then he experimented with videos to give students another choice of instruction.

Easton became like a high school student again, in order to create better videos.

“Matt Rasgorshek (a fellow Westside teacher) said he’d be happy to have me in his intro to video class,” Easton says. In order to learn, he forsook lunch for lectures, sitting alongside some of his English students.

“He wanted to know everything about video production,” says Rasgorshek, Westside’s former broadcast adviser now teaching at Creighton Prep. “Whenever he had an open period he would come in, take notes, ask questions. He’d come into my office and bounce ideas off of me.”

Easton had discovered a new passion, and by the end of the year, he made 40 videos to work into his teachings.

Some students desire a traditional learning format, however. When a student asked if he would lecture to her, Easton began lecturing to a small group while the others worked individually.

“The kids, he instantly hooked them,” says Rasgorshek. “All of them were engaged all the time. It was pretty cool to watch. Even in my classroom, the kids took to him.” FamilyGuide

Strike Zone and MVP4Life

March 14, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Learning life skills through baseball.” This is the tagline for MVP4Life, a new nonprofit organization aimed at keeping Omaha’s youth in school and helping them succeed in life. MVP4Life has joined forces with Strike Zone Omaha to form school programs, camps and clinics, coaches’ clinics, and the Upper Deck League.

The goal of MVP4Life is to instill a sense of work ethic and teach kids about the importance of contributing to the community. It’s not just about baseball. It’s about producing a rewarding program that encourages kids to work together.

Joe Siwa and Teri Cissell, partners at Strike Zone Omaha, realized the need for after-school programs in the community. It was Cissell who thought up the idea behind MVP4Life. As the nonprofit’s director, she has been working hard on the program for about a year and a half and says it’s almost ready to launch. “We have it where we want it to be and now want to hit the ground running,” Cissell says.

Over eight weeks, the school program will teach life skills to fifth through eighth graders. The goal is for students to graduate from MVP4Life with a set of essential life skills. “This is a full-circle program,” Siwa says. “Everything is connected with helping these kids become more productive citizens in life. We are giving them that foundation to live upon.”

“We’ve put a lot of thought into this and have really built a strong program,” says Cissell. Cissell and Siwa have created a complete curriculum based on the HOMERUNS life skills: Handle diversity, Overcome challenges, Make good decisions, Encouragement and leadership, Responsibility and respect, Understand and accept situations, Nurture self-esteem and confidence, and Stay focused on personal goals.

“Research shows that if kids are kept in organized school activities, they do much better in school and in life,” Cissell says. “Douglas County Sheriff’s department did research that determined if we could keep just 10 percent of male students from dropping out of high school, we could save Nebraska taxpayers $65 million per year.”

The nonprofit also includes the Upper Deck League, a competitive league for college players in their offseason. These players mentor youth on how to be successful college athletes, as well as attend a leadership conference in exchange for playing in the Upper Deck League. Siwa stresses the importance of giving back to the community and hopes that these 120 college baseball players are passing on a strong work ethic to the kids.

“Our job is to get these kids involved and teach them how to listen to instruction, take criticism, and gain a work ethic. We want to put a desire into these kids…great things happen when you work hard,” Siwa says.

The program will begin in the Omaha Public Schools and filter out to the rest of
the community.

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Resolution: 
Create Myelin with Music

January 23, 2014 by
Photography by Omaha Conservatory of Music

Martin Fischer, a famous physician, said, “I find four great classes of students: The dumb who stay dumb. The dumb who become wise. The wise who go dumb. The wise who remain wise.”

As each new year begins, it’s always a time of self-examination. We are more willing to ask that difficult question, “Which class of student am I?” We often resolve to start that “new” activity, either for ourselves or with our children. Understanding the learning process and its impact on neural connections can be just the spark we need to really begin that new adventure.

Repetition enforces knowledge

Myelin, a brain connection insulator, directly affects our ability to develop any new skill.

Imagine a cloudburst shape representing a neuron. When you learn something, a dendrite grows out of this cloudburst, creating a new pathway to other neurons. As you repeat a new activity, myelin begins to wrap that connection. Each correct repetition creates another layer of covering. Just like a well-insulated electrical cord, this myelin coating provides better speed and implementation to whatever skill is deeply practiced.

Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, a well-known Japanese violin pedagogue, defined skill with the following equation: Skill = knowledge + 10,000 times. In other words, having skill (doing something well) occurs when you have the knowledge (that’s the learning part!) and then repeat it many times. Once the knowledge is taught, a student can begin the 10,000 repetitions required to achieve high levels of ability and create strong myelin coverings. During the initial spread of Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy, the world was shocked to see a child in diapers playing a very complicated violin piece. How was this possible? Knowledge wrapped with heavy myelin.

It’s a great plan to learn something new and then repeat it enough times to form a skill, but we need the motivation to do it!

Well, here’s some motivation for potential learners (which includes everyone!):

  • Up to the age of 30, naturally occurring waves of oligodendrocytes (or oligos, for short) create myelin.
  • From 30-50, we can still create strong myelin, but we no longer have naturally occurring waves of oligos.
  • After 50, our existing myelin begins to deteriorate, but at least 5 percent of our oligos stay immature and ready for use throughout life. As the old myelin is deteriorating, you can create new myelin, which keeps your brain alive and well.
  • Incidentally, when Einstein’s brain was examined, they found no greater number of neurons or bigger network of dendrites than any other brain. What they did find was massive amounts of myelin. Einstein himself stated, “I know quite certainly that I myself have no special talent. Curiosity, obsession and dogged endurance, combined with self-criticism, have brought me to my ideas.”

Master teachers provide motivation

So how can we take advantage of all those oligos waiting to transform into myelin? As a musician and parent, I would be remiss not to mention the advantages of choosing a music education. Playing an instrument is one of the few skills that requires the correct “answer” (playing the right note) within a specific time frame (in the correct rhythmic structure), while also engaging the amygdala—the brain’s emotional center—as well as integrating the right and left hemispheres.

Developing a new skill always requires dedication, and finding a master teacher is essential to this process. Input from an expert fuels motivation, encourages repetition, and facilitates learning. Being a part of a music studio connects a student to a community of peers, all working to develop expertise on their instruments. A great teacher brings targeted knowledge to each student’s specific needs, as well as innumerable ways of approaching the same concept if it isn’t grasped the first time. Experienced teachers have developed sturdy myelin wrappings on their “how to teach” connections.

Each day is an opportunity to challenge ourselves and our children with something new. It takes courage and energy, but the result will most certainly be a higher quality of life with quicker neural responses and connections. This is our mission, should we choose to accept it. However, this message will self-destruct in 30 seconds, unless repeated through deep-practice to create 
myelin.

The Omaha Conservatory of Music has an outstanding Artist-Faculty who are highly qualified music instructors, as well as active performers in the community, offering private and group instruction in strings, piano, guitar, voice, winds, brass, and percussion. Join our musical community today by calling 402.932.4978 or through our website at www.omahacm.org.

Top 10 Positive Parenting Resolutions

January 2, 2014 by

The start of a new year is the perfect time for a fresh start in many areas of your life, including parenting. Chances are if you’re like me, you had your fair share of parenting dilemmas this past year. Here’s my Top 10 List for positive parenting resolutions we can all work on together:

  1. Spend less. Spend less time nagging, pleading, and bribing your child. Instead, spend more time teaching them what you expect so you can spend more time together making memories.
  2. Eat right. Take time to eat together as a family. Meals eaten around the family dinner table help children learn important social and life skills.
  3. Get organized. My family can be extremely disorganized, which causes our days to be crazy! Work together to make fun and workable routines. My suggestion: Have each person create index cards with their activities and put them on the fridge.
  4. Get out of debt. De-stress your life and reduce greedy behavior by spending less on gadgets that kids don’t need to be successful. You get to save money and spend time as a family.
  5. Help others. Be a role model and help your children learn what’s really important in life. Have each person choose their favorite community charity and learn as a family the important lessons of giving to others.
  6. No bad language. Do not call your kids names like lazy, bratty, stupid, wimpy, or grumpy. Negative words can hinder a child’s potential to grow and learn. If they have a behavior that has you frustrated, let them know, but don’t let it become the description of your child.
  7. Kick bad habits. I have the bad habit of losing my temper with my teenager. This year, I’m going to try doing the opposite of what she does. In other words, whatever she does that pushes my buttons (rolling her eyes, arguing, or raising her voice), I will do the opposite (focus calmly on her eyes, talk less, speak calmly) to teach her the skill of being calm.
  8. Read more. There are many great television programs out there now for kids, but nothing can replace reading and learning together. Pick out Julia Cook’s latest book to help teach social skills to your young child.
  9. Reduce your screen time. Turn your smartphone off. I know you feel like you need to be connected all the time and always be available. When you’re home, though, that’s time reserved for your family. The only ones you should be available to are your kids.
  10. Keep your resolutions. If you need some help or additional parenting tips, check out one of our Common Sense Parenting classes in your neighborhood, visit Parenting.org, or order a DVD to watch in your home.

Bridget Barnes is the Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® Director