Nebraska Chooses Education for All

Lincoln Education Association members Brent Jarosz and Ethan Carlson just completed teaching their first semester at a one-of-a-kind public school in Lincoln. This fall, Bay High opened its doors to 75 high school juniors and seniors to offer curriculum that is focused on emerging digital technology and content creation.

Created in partnership with The Bay (a program for economically and culturally disadvantaged youth sponsored by the nonprofit Rabble Mill), Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) and Nebraska’s business and charitable community, the Bay High Focus Program is one of several focus programs offered by LPS.

Students in the program focus on four subject areas: photography and videography, coding and development, design and digital asset creation, and digital storytelling and podcasting.

“Monday, Wednesday and Friday students focus on core academic classes, but we teach them in a contextualized way to allow students to link these core concepts back to their area of interest. Tuesdays and Thursdays is a special course where we get to dive into the content creation,” said Jarosz.

The Bay is also home to Nebraska’s only public, indoor skatepark. It houses a coffee shop, a venue for concerts and offers after school programs for the community. In planning for Bay High, The Bay modified its facilities to create open-concept classrooms, a computer lab and edit bays for audio and video recording.

“We want this program to help develop the future workforce,” said Carlson. “Our focus programs are meant to fit with upcoming trends in business. We need bright minds and Gen Z are incredible creatives.’’

Public schools for every student

While Bay High is the newest focus program for the LPS District, it’s not a new concept for Nebraska public schools.

In 2012, state lawmakers passed legislation that allowed the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) to establish quality standards and guidelines for career academy programs in the state’s secondary schools. The state now boasts career academies in 12 school districts. From Omaha to Scottsbluff, public school students have the choice to explore career fields of interest in agribusiness, construction, welding, early childhood education, information technology, engineering, software development, biotechnology research, video production, web design and web development just to name a few.

Belonging and purpose for every student

Across the state, public schools have the local control and understanding of how to best serve students and their communities. Research has shown that students involved in career academy programs like Nebraska’s have higher GPAs, increased graduation rates and a sense of belonging.

Just a few months into Bay High, Jarosz can already see the difference in his students.

“We've had a few parents tell us, ‘I’ve seen a huge change in my child this first semester.’ So maybe their student is not getting all A’s or B’s as this point, but they can see that difference. I know this program is already hitting home for students,” said Jarosz.  

Such programs can make a huge difference for individual students as well as for communities and businesses. Even given disruptions caused by the pandemic, Nebraska’s 4-year high school graduation rate was over 87% in 2022. And Nebraska students continue to have one of the nation’s top ACT scores. According to NDE, when compared to the 15 states where 100 percent of graduates took the ACT, Nebraska tied for the second highest percent of students meeting the English benchmark and the third highest percent meeting the math benchmark.

No one understands the important investment of public schools more than educators preparing young Nebraskans for their future. Public schools are free and open to all.

Nebraska chooses public schools

Public schools serve more than 90% of the children in Nebraska and there are many public school options available. Parents may choose to send their child to another public school in the same or different school district or enroll their child in various public school focus programs and academy schools like Bay High.

“I think a focus of the district is to provide that school choice,” explained Carlson. “As educators, we have to meet every student in their individual way. That's our goal at Bay High. We, as a program, want to create choice in our projects and in our assignments, knowing, of course, we have a rigorous district curriculum to meet and exceed expectations. We meet students exactly where they are.”

The Independence Academy

Special education teacher and Lincoln Education Association member Megan Britton's classroom is a zoo. To be specific, Britton’s students are learning age-appropriate curriculum, community-based training inside the Lincoln Children's Zoo.

Students receiving special education services who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) can access services through ages 18 to 21 within Nebraska public schools. Lincoln Public School provides students with relevant educational, life, social and career experiences in business settings through a program called the Independence Academy.

“The work we do with students in the Independence Academy is something I'm passionate about because it gives students a leg up on what they're going to see post public education,” said Britton. “So rather than just finishing high school and going straight into a job or into a program, they have the opportunity to gain job skills.”

Through the Independence Academy, the community becomes an extension of the classroom and provides opportunities for skill development in the areas of communication, employment, independent living, and recreation. Students work, learn, and prepare in the community.

“In a regular school building, our students don’t have the opportunity to interact in their community—they’re isolated to the school. But when we’re working in the zoo, students are interacting with little kids and adults. Having them practice those social skills is important,” explained Britton. “A lot of these students have spent their whole lives mostly interacting with only family members or they’ve been isolated to special education courses. Working in the zoo gives them the opportunity to interact with those who don't have disabilities.”

The Academy’s mission is to prepare students with the knowledge and skills needed to facilitate a positive transition into adult living after high school.  The Independence Academy operates at several locations including Duncan Aviation, the Food Bank of Lincoln and now, inside a coffee shop at Bay High.