O’Holleran visits Lexington

LEXINGTON – During her tour of local schools and programs in Lexington Wednesday afternoon, Molly O’Holleran was not only nice and well informed but full of questions for local teachers and administrators.

For O’Holleran, a member of the Nebraska State Board of Education representing central Nebraska and the Panhandle, the visit gave her an opportunity to gauge Lexington Public School’s learning environment and see how local obstacles are being dealt with and what she can do to help.

“We are the ones making policy, it’s good to see students that are affected,” O’Holleran said during her tour of the Alternative Education building.

One hot button issue in some communities, whether or not to teach students in dual language classes, was something O’Holleran said she supported and was glad to see it implemented in Lexington at Bryan Elementary School.

“You need to teach them in their language,” O’Holleran said noting that academic improvement in other courses has been shown in students who learn in two languages during the day.

O’Holleran’s enthusiasm for bilingual learning was evident during her visit to Maurita Runkel’s English Immersion Class for second and third graders at Morton Elementary, where she talked to students in Spanish and asked for Spanish and Somali words for certain things.

The popularity of the Dual Language Program at Bryan Elementary, the only Lexington school with such a program, has made the school into a sort of magnet school for Spanish and non-Spanish speaking parents who want their children to be bilingual, said Lexington Public Schools Superintendent John Hakonson during O’Holleran’s visit.

At the Alternative Education Building, O’Holleran asked staff about career opportunities for students after they graduate high school, something state lawmakers are putting an emphasis on.

“The Legislature has mandated that we create a system for career pathways, we need to keep them (students) engaged,” O’Holleran said.

As O’Holleran’s tour guide, Hakonson said his schools are working on a curriculum revision process to tailor courses to meet the skill needs of local technology companies such as Eilers Machine and Welding and Orthmans, who are always looking for qualified welders.

At Morton Elementary, O’Holleran and Hakonson were given a brief tour by Principal Julie Myers, who said participation in the school’s after school program was strong at Morton, with about 100 students involved, some staying at Morton until 5:30 p.m.

O’Holleran asks about preschool participation, as if recognizing that more participation and access to preschool is necessary.

“We have 40 kids on the waiting list for three-year-olds (for preschool),” Hakonson said admitting there was a growing need for more preschool access.

“We want to work with head start,” he said.

O’Holleran said in her experience, working with local groups to form public partnerships helps provide more students access to preschool.

“It’s the new frontier of what you can do,” Hakonson said about afterschool programs and preschool, that helps expand and build on learning outside of the regular classroom.

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