An estimated 200,000 children without homes or families were moved from the big cities they’d come to know on the east coast to rural homes throughout the Midwest.
Known as the Orphan Train Movement, the welfare program ended in 1929 after 75 years in effect.
Despite ending nearly 90 years ago, area students learned about the movement from orphans themselves, in a way, as Pippa White wore many hats, literally and metaphorically, during a storytelling presentation this week.
These were just a few of the stories shared at the annual Heartland Storytelling Festival.
The event, a tradition at Homestead National Monument of America for more than 15 years, was held Thursday and Friday at the Homestead Education Center.
During the event, storytellers performed in a round-robin event that featured a variety of topics.
White told stories of immigrants who settled in the Midwest. Darrin Crow discussed what education was like inside one-room schools.
Rosie Cutrer, of Topeka, Kan., focused on tools and toys found on the prairie that were used by the early settlers.
“I share artifacts, toys and talk about sod houses and the Homestead Act,” she said. “I just like interacting with people and seeing them enjoy themselves and that sort of thing. It’s neat to see them engage.”
Cutrer, who gives presentations in multiple states and plans to go on a tour of libraries for summer reading programs, also played folk music for those watching.
And her audience extended beyond the presentation room at Homestead.
Thanks to the NPS site’s distance learning program, more than 70 students were able to view the presentation in their own classrooms.
Ramon Mangual, Homestead National Monument education program specialist, said a focus on distance learning is something Homestead has worked to enhance over the last two decades, and presentations have been given in other languages to people in other countries.
“Homestead has been doing distance learning since 1998,” he said. “For the National Park Service, Homestead is the first to officially do distance learning. Right now in this academic year we have presented to over 30 different states. It makes taking the National Parks to the classroom way easier.”
Homestead park ranger Susan Cook said she’s also seen an interest from nursing homes whose residents can’t make it to the events in person, though distance learning is primarily used in classrooms.
In this instance, it’s helping spread stories of pioneer era, further telling the homesteading story.
“Storytelling is a way that we tie into the homesteaders’ lives,” she said. “They were using storytelling to teach children right and wrong, how to do something, how to behave. It was a way to teach children through storytelling, and for entertainment. What we do is try to bring that skill back to these kids because every single one of us is a storyteller. We’re going to challenge every single one of them to go home and tell a parent a story.”
March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month and to celebrate staff and residents at Beatrice State Developmental Center invited the community to an ice cream social Friday.
Visitors to BSDC could grab a bowl of ice cream and enjoy a variety of toppings from the sundae bar.
Developmental Disabilities Awareness month is an opportunity to celebrate and promote communication, information and education on developmental disabilities, said Courtney Miller director of Nebraska's Division of Developmental Disabilities, who stopped in for a bowl of ice cream.
“The reason we did the ice cream social, it's an opportunity to promote our collaboration with our community partners and thank them for opportunities for community integration for the individuals that reside at the Beatrice State Development Center,” Miller said.
Russell Fralin, who works at BSDC was serving ice cream and said it’s an opportunity for the community to come in and take a look around. It’s a chance for more community integration into everyday life, he said.
James Bush, an active treatment program specialist at BSDC said that it’s about treating people with disabilities like you would anyone else.
“We're all individuals,” Bush said. “We're all members of society and we want people to remember that.”
The Beatrice Public Schools Board of Education held one final discussion on the proposed restructuring of elementary school buildings on Thursday night.
Following five parent and staff discussions at the three elementaries in Beatrice (Paddock Lane, Stoddard and Lincoln) elementary principals Betty Replogle and Kevin Janssen told board members what they’d learned in their discussions.
The district is considering four options for the restructure that’s aimed at equalizing class sizes across the three schools and try to minimize the movement of students from building to building.
The first option would cut a section from third grade and add one to second grade and would require moving a limited number of students to different buildings. The second option would leave students in their current buildings but would require hiring a new staff member at a cost of around $80,000.
The third option would reduce a building to 1.5 section school and increase Paddock Lane to a three section school, requiring movement of students and staff.
The fourth option being referred to as "leveling" would create grade level schools, with Lincoln becoming a kindergarten through second grade school, Stoddard becoming third through fifth and Paddock lane remaining a K-5 elementary.
Replogle and Janssen spent two weeks laying out each of the options for parents and received feedback from an online poll. There were 285 families that responded to the poll, 48 from Beatrice Community Preschool, 74 from Lincoln Elementary, 85 from Paddock Lane Elementary and 76 from Stoddard Elementary.
One of the poll questions asked parents if they’d be willing to voluntarily move their kids to another school. Only 15 respondents indicated that they’d be willing to do so, Replogle said. Two Lincoln second grade families said they would and none from Paddock Lane first grade, which would be the two classes most impacted next year.
Of the parents who responded with a comment, Janssen said, 15 indicated they’d be willing to move and 35 said they’d like to see the grade level building option.
Superintendent Pat Nauroth addressed a few comments that came up frequently during the parent meetings.
The biggest question, Nauroth said, is why not just leave the schools the way they are.
“Almost every year, we have to tell families that their child or children have to go to an elementary school other than the one where they reside,” Nauroth said. “On average, we have 35 percent of our children attending an elementary school outside of where they should go. This happens for a variety of reasons, but one of the primary reasons, after special needs, is class size equalization.”
They’d also received questions about the land by the high school that the district purchased in advance of a failed bond measure for a centralized elementary school and whether these options were a way for the district to force the community’s hand to build a new school.
If the district was to sell the land the money would have to go back into the building fund and couldn’t be mixed with the district’s general fund or used to pay salaries, Nauroth said.
“The idea that the district is doing this as a way to force a vote on a new school bond, I don't know how to say it, it's just wrong,” Nauroth insisted.
It boils down to inequity in numbers, class size, moving students and the costs associated with all of those things, he said. Class sizes are getting smaller, down to about 130 students per class from 150 per class a decade ago.
Nauroth said he’d have a definitive opinion to offer the board, but said that even though all of the options had pros and cons, he had a direction in mind.
“If you press me right now, I would probably tend to lead toward grade level, only because of the following,” he said. “In the five years I've been here, this is what I've seen: every year, we're talking to families and moving people around and I think this might and should take care of that.”
Nauroth also said he wasn’t ready to make a final decision because there was still additional information and parental input to consider. The Beatrice school board would have the final say in the matter.
Parents had an opportunity to speak to the board after the discussion and Neal Trantham and Brent Essink urged the board to wait on a decision until new superintendent Jason Alexander—who will replace Nauroth this summer—begins. Trantham said he wished the board had brought the idea to parents and school staff before school administrators and the superintendent came up with a list of options.
Replogle told the board that if the schools keep moving kids around, there will be a lot of upset families.
“I just hope you make a decision that puts an end to this,” she said.