Tag Archives: lessons

Rose Baker

January 20, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rose Baker is a graduate of Monroe Elementary School.

That’s not a typo.

Monroe Elementary became Monroe Middle School in 1956. Baker doesn’t need much of an excuse to return to her alma mater. She’s there over 20 weeks a year on Saturday mornings giving swimming lessons in the school’s pool.

“My dad made sure everybody in the family knew how to swim,” Baker explains. “And I decided I kind of liked it.” She went on to a stint as a lifeguard at a now defunct neighborhood pool. She graduated from (the also now defunct) Tech High School before enrolling at Omaha University (now the University of Nebraska-Omaha), where she won two events at the first Nebraska College Invitational swim meet in 1964.

But by then, Baker was already five years into her work as a swimming instructor, which she began in 1959.

That, too, is not a typo…1959.

Ike was in the White House. Buddy Holly’s plane went down in an Iowa cornfield. Bridget Bardot was the hottest thing on two wheels. Bobby Dain crooned about menace named “Mack the Knife.”

Baker, now a retired Omaha Public Schools physical education teacher, is known for a firm-but-gentle teaching style that has become familiar to generations of Omaha families.

“My recollection of Rose is that she didn’t take anything from anybody,” says Brian Neu, who is now 33 years old. “Her no-nonsense style is the key to her success. We started our daughters (Reese, 5, and Morgan, 8) in lessons elsewhere and we didn’t seem to make much progress. Then I learned that Rose was still teaching and now my kids are with the same woman that taught me how to swim. Their progress with Rose has been just remarkable.”

“Swimming is for everybody,” says Baker, who was recently recognized with a place of honor in the Omaha Public Schools Athletic Hall of Fame. “I’ve also done a lot of classroom water safety work, but the pool is where it’s at. I want to be in the water. And so do the kids.”

What she calls her “tough love” approach is legendary in this city and, after more than a half century of splashing around in the water, she is equally taciturn in talking about the “why” of it all.

“Sure, it’s fun and rewarding and all of that,” she says, “but the main reason I do this, the main reason this is so important to me, is pretty simple. I don’t want to ever have to read about a kid in the paper…a kid who drowned because he didn’t know how to swim.”

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Early Music Education


December 3, 2013 by

Most students are introduced to band and orchestra in the later years of their elementary education. But that doesn’t mean they have to wait until those years to begin learning how to play an instrument.

Like any skill, playing an instrument requires time and effort. Ask most professional musicians, and they will tell you that they’ve been involved in music since before they were in school.

As a parent, you might be wondering when your child should ideally begin this education. The answer: Pre-K (ages 3 and 4).

Studying music in these developmental years is a great way to help children develop concentration and memory skills that prepare them for that very important first day of school. Not to mention, they can learn hand-eye coordination and alphabet recognition before kindergarten, which will put them ahead of their classmates.

“String instruments and piano are especially good for young children,” says Anne Madison, piano teacher with Omaha Conservatory of Music, who teaches musicians as young as 4. “There are so many benefits to music education for children that it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Madison, herself, took piano lessons from a young age up until she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Baylor University. She even went on to study at the Vienna Conservatory in Vienna, Austria and teach on the faculties of the Carinthia International Piano Academy and the Tyrolean International Piano Academy in Austria. Today, she serves as Chair of the Piano Department for Omaha Conservatory of Music, where she has been a member of the artist-faculty since 2001.

“There’s a large and growing body of research that shows the significant difference that music can make academically and socially. But as a teacher, I am most moved by the impact that I see it makes first-hand in the lives of the students I teach.”

Some of the benefits Madison sees among her students are the ability to express themselves and work well with others, the development of self-confidence and self-discipline, and the ability to set and pursue long-term goals successfully.

“Even when they don’t always have immediate gratification, [it helps them] to be creative thinkers and problem-solvers; to explore the human condition as it has been expressed in music in different cultures and times; to become poised when speaking and performing in front of an audience; and to connect with the community around them and with something greater than themselves.”

Madison believes it is never too early to start building a child’s love and understanding of music. “There are even popular Kindermusik classes designed for babies!” she adds.

For children ages 3 and 4, Omaha Conservatory of Music offers private lessons on violin, cello, and piano. These lessons also follow the “Mother-Tongue” philosophy created by Japanese violinist and famed music educator Dr. Shinichi Suzuki.

In basic terms, Dr. Suzuki’s philosophy applies the processes of learning a language to learning a musical instrument. Young children are able to learn music in the same way that they learn their native language—through parent involvement, early beginning, listening, repetition, encouragement, learning with other children, graded repertoire, and delayed reading.

Creating an environment that is rich with beautiful sounds immerses children into better comprehension of music. Repetition is important as well. Just as words are repeated in early talking phases, pieces of music should be repeated in a child’s musical vocabulary. Also, the encouragement of the parent and teacher for each step of progress allows each child to learn at their own pace in a positive and fun environment.

Beginning a musical journey with your child during the Pre-K years gives your child the strongest start for future academic success and will give a lifelong gift—the joy of music!

Violin and Cello Sprouts classes are also offered at OCM throughout the year as an introduction to the instrument. This gives students a chance to try an instrument before signing up for private instruction. For more information about classes and lessons, visit omahacm.org or call 402-932-4978.

Swimming Safety

June 20, 2013 by

Always swim with a buddy. Don’t run around the pool. Only swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards. Never leave a child alone near water. Don’t dive into water that’s not at least eight feet deep.

You’ve heard these rules before, but they are never more important than when supervising children around water.

According to the National Safety Council, Nebraska Chapter, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) estimated an annual average of 5,200 pool- or spa-related submersion injuries for children younger than 15 from 2009 to 2011, with 66 percent of those injuries being represented by children between ages 1-3. Even more frightening is that most drowning and near-drowning incidents occur when children are left alone in the water or fall into the water without knowing how to swim.

Parents should always be cautious and constantly watching children around water, but there’s another way to prevent water-related injuries—swimming lessons.

There are plenty of places around Omaha where you can sign your family up for swimming lessons—including Aqua-Tots Swim Schools, Swimtastic Swim School, DiVentures, The Salvation Army Kroc Center, Little Waves Family Swimming School, and more.

When is the best time to get children into swimming lessons? “I believe the earlier, the better,” says Mike McKamy, owner and manager of Little Waves Family Swim School in West Omaha. “We start children at 6 months [because] children as young as 1 can learn to float on their backs if they fall in the water. We see a lot of 3- and 4-year-olds starting, too.”

“We start children at 6 months [because] children as young as 1 can learn to float on their backs if they fall in the water.” – Mike McKamy, owner of Little Waves Family Swim School

Little Waves strives to provide a fun, comfortable, and safe environment for families to learn swimming techniques. Lessons are available for all ages—babies, toddlers, preschoolers, kids, and adults. There are even pre-competitive classes and triathlon stroke clinics for more advanced swimmers.

When it comes to swimming, McKamy agrees that children should never swim without supervision; however, he does think that the supervision can be less hands-on as children’s swimming skills improve.

“They can get in the pool by themselves when they are able to float on their back and swim comfortably across the pool and back, [and] they should be able to breathe without effort when swimming over and back. But I always tell children they should never get in the water unless an adult is watching them.”

As for lifejackets and flotation devices, McKamy believes they’re necessary for non-swimmers to be safe around pools or lakes, but they’re not helpful to a child learning how to swim.

“A child who learns to swim with a flotation device can become very comfortable in the water with one. But when they become too comfortable with one and forget they don’t have it on, they [might] jump in without knowing how to swim. It’s best for children to learn how to float and swim without one so, if they fall in, they know exactly what to do.”

McKamy also thinks it’s a good idea for parents to receive CPR training. “Hopefully, you’ll never use it, but a 4- to 8-hour class may help you save the life of your own child or some other child or adult.”

For more information about Little Waves Family Swim School, visit littlewavesfamilyswimschool.com or call 402-932-2030.

The Volleyball Academy

March 25, 2013 by

Deb Grafentin was an educator for 23 years before opening The Volleyball Academy in 2006. “My dream has always been to coach and teach,” she says, “TVA allows me to do this on a daily basis.” Six years after opening, The Volleyball Academy still prides itself on being the only business in Omaha that provides the most volleyball programs and classes under one roof. Players start as early as kindergarten, and while classes are available for adults as well, the most common customer is the K-12th grader. Customer satisfaction is most important to Grafentin, as she explains, “We really want our clients to feel welcome when they enter and throughout their experience with TVA.”

Each year, TVA has seen a steady increase in the growth of their classes, with the Lil’ Diggers and Fall, Winter, and Spring Leagues as their most popular programs. The Lil’ Digger-Big Digger program encourages parents of K-4th graders to attend with their children and get involved in learning volleyball skills. “This allows the family to enjoy volleyball all year long wherever they may want to play—family picnic, the backyard, on the beach, etc.” The newest program, the Lil’ Digger 2nd-4th grade Balloon Ball League, has been added as a three-on-three mini court game in which Balloon Balls are used for players to get more practice in contacts and touches of the ball.

The Volleyball Academy, which is located in the West Omaha-Chalco area, is a unique company in that it continues to cater to both kids and adults each year with new programs and changes existing programs based on the needs of players. “When a child, teenager, or adult come to us for some style of training, and they leave knowing they have improved and had fun participating in our programs, that to us says it all.”

This is evident in the testimonials on TVA’s website, and what may be Grafentin’s favorite memory. “The first summer we opened our doors at a summer camp for Lil’ Diggers, one of the 6-year-olds came skipping up to one of our court coaches on her way to a water break and said, ‘This is the greatest day of my life!’ Right then and there, I knew we opened for all the right reasons.”

With the success of TVA and the opportunity to teach volleyball skills every day to players of all ages, Grafentin’s dreams are finally coming true.

The Volleyball Academy
8930 S. 137th Cir., #2
402-213-4644
thevolleyballacademy.com