October 18, 2018

Honors program, local schools partner for student-led programs

Alex Otto, a Nebraska Honors student, leads a Wildlife of Nebraska Club at Prescott Elementary.

Alex Otto, a Nebraska honors student, leads a Wildlife of Nebraska Club at Prescott Elementary.

As a student in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s honors program, Rose Wehrman is no stranger to seeking out opportunities for growth and learning.

The junior English major from Kenesaw had those objectives in mind when she applied to lead an after-school club, an opportunity made possible by the honors program’s new partnership with Lincoln Community Learning Centers.

“It definitely is fun — but I’ve never been so challenged as I have by the third-graders in my club,” she said. “It is truly a unique opportunity.”

Wehrman’s club, which focuses on adventure books, is one of 10 programs sponsored by the honors program in Title I elementary and middle schools across Lincoln this fall. Honors students leading the clubs chose a topic of interest to them, ideally tied to one of their academic interests. Current club offerings are focused on math, art, nutrition, computer programming and more.

“This partnership is exactly the kind of student engagement that we need to see in communities throughout the state — inspired college students motivating young Nebraskans to reach their full potential,” said Jeff Cole, network lead for Beyond School Bells, a program of the Nebraska Children and Families Foundation. “We are honored to work with Nebraska Honors to support this new initiative.”

Alex Otto, a junior from Omaha, appreciated the opportunity to apply what she has learned in her classes in a novel way. The fisheries and wildlife major developed a club for kindergarten through second-grade students at Prescott Elementary focused on the wildlife of Nebraska. Recently, Otto’s lesson plan focused on native birds, and activities included mimicking bird calls and a craft session making pinecone bird feeders.

“I was initially worried about the young age range of my students, but I ended up being surprised by how enthusiastic these children are about learning,” Otto said. “It is just a great experience to share my knowledge from my major with children in the community, and it adds purpose as I pursue my undergraduate degree.”

Emily Koopmann, Campbell Elementary’s school-community coordinator, said that joining forces with Nebraska Honors has been a worthwhile collaboration.

“Through our partnership with the honors program, the Campbell CLC has been able to really think outside the box in how to serve our students,” Koopmann said. “Our expanded learning opportunities happen before school, after school and on non-school days. We’ve been lucky to have honors students assist in each of these capacities. This partnership has allowed us to break out of routine and enrich students in new ways.”

The benefits of the collaboration go both ways. Otto, for her part, believes the experience has been just as valuable for her as for the students she teaches each week.

“I’m excited I took advantage of this opportunity and that I got outside of my comfort zone,” she said.