In addition to their loyalty to the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, Nebraska natives take great pride in their state’s great K-12 schools. When it was time to celebrate the success of four Nebraska schools that recently received Blue Ribbon School Awards, distinguished guests, faculty, parents and students happily switched from their team’s red to their very best blue attire. Lt. Governor Rick Sheehy proudly commended the students at the schools for their accomplishments, “You can be a teacher, Lieutenant Governor, or an astronaut if you want to be,” he said. “You can only be held back if you don’t work hard.”
The four Nebraska Blue Ribbon Schools— Bryant Elementary in Kearney, Buffalo Elementary in North Platte, Eustis-Farnam, a K-12 school in Eustis, and Southwest Elementary in Indianola—share many attributes, but they also stand out for their individualized niche strategies that contribute to cultures of academic excellence.
Eustis-Farnam: Place-Based Education. As part of the school’s emphasis on place-based education, students recognize their rural heritage by commemorating a student- built sod house constructed in 1997. The house is used to teach the history and lifestyle of early pioneers in Nebraska. Reinforcing the school’s local flavor, teachers draw on local personalities, experiences, and geography as starting points for the context of academic lessons.
Bryant Elementary: Exercising Body and Brain. High-energy principal Mark Johnson nurtures and inspires his students to learn by incorporating calisthenics into the daily routine. Students look forward to dancing to his rendition of songs such as, “Who Let the Dogs Out,” and this enthusiasm for learning spills over to parents of ESL students involve themselves energetically in their children’s education.
Buffalo Elementary: Caught Being Here. “Caught Being Here” and “Math Facts in a Flash” are just a few of Buffalo Elementary’s sustained academic programs that contribute to Buffalo Elementary’s success. “Caught Being Here,” which rewards students quarterly for perfect attendance, has dramatically decreased absenteeism. Multiple staff members have also committed over 20 years of service to the school, and many of their families have attended Buffalo Elementary for generations. The school’s mission, “Learning today, contributing tomorrow!” is lived out every day both in school and throughout the community.
Southwest Elementary: Ready to Learn. The dedicated teachers at Southwest Elementary have high expectations for their students. Every Monday morning the question goes out to the student body, “Why are we here?” and the answer is a resounding, “TO LEARN!” The school uses a mentoring program called “Good Friends” to focus students and to encourage them to reach their full academic and personal potential.
Elaine Venard is a communications associate in the Kansas City, MO Regional Office of the U.S. Department of Education. She is the proud mother of a daughter who teaches middle school science in North Kansas City.