Tag Archive | Westbrook Elementary

What Is Your Gift?

I sat down with my husband, who asked our daily, evening question: ‘how was your day?’

“GREAT.” I responded.

“Wow, great?” he said. And reasonably so; usually my response (and his) is the standard, ‘it was fine.’

No, this day was truly great. I explained to him why; the sun was shining, it was a glorious 80-degrees, I got a ton of work done heading into the weekend, a neighbor told me ‘have you lost weight?’, I was looking forward to softball with our team of friends, and I picked up two happy boys who, while my husband and I enjoyed a peaceful dinner together, were happily playing with the other little boys on our street.

“And,” I added, “we have a GREAT story airing Sunday on KETV!”

That final element was how I ended my work day, and it had me nothing short of giddy.

We have an extraordinary little boy at Westbrook Elementary. He is able to take what he sees in his mind, sheer joy through color and character, and share that with the world through crayons and paper. Everyone, from his fellow students to his teachers, are in awe of what Jesus can create. Jesus also has autism; he doesn’t have many words, but he’s very clear that if his work is not perfect, it belongs in the trash can. All year long, a wonderful Educational Assistant who works with Jesus has saved all of his art, often taping it back together, flattening it out, and laminating it, to save for his parents.

This story is simply beautiful; there are no other words for it. Both in Jesus’s incredible talent, and what he brings out in others. I was in tears as Jesus’s mother, Anaceli, told KETV’s Camila Orti, ‘I am thankful God has given Jesus these gifts.’ And through Jesus, we also see the gift of utter thoughtfulness in his teacher, the gift of compassion and eternal support from his principal… the list goes on.

Author R.J. Palicio writes in his book ‘Wonder’: “No one is great at everything, but everyone is great at something.” It’s a belief at the very core of a young woman from Scribner, Nebraska, graduating today from Wayne State College with a degree in Special Education.

Brooke Lodl - Miss Heartland

Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We can all achieve whatever we put our minds to, but we all have different paths in getting there,” said Brooke Lodl. “One of my nephews suffered a traumatic brain injury at 7 years old and was just recently diagnosed with Autism. Once you label a child with something (Autism, Down Syndrome, Emotional Disturbance, etc.), the world decides to look at them as though they are broken. I fight everyday to make sure my nephew lives the fullest life he can and that the world sees him for his abilities, not his disabilities.”

 

 

Brooke, who will begin her teaching career in the fall as a Special Education teacher in Norfolk, is spreading that same message as Miss Heartland 2018. As she prepares to compete next month to become Miss Nebraska, she is also advocating for children and adults with special needs, dubbing her platform ‘Taking the (Dis) Out of (Dis)Ability.’

“The whole reason I started this pageantry journey was to make a difference, and by serving the special abilities community I am shining a spotlight onto this world and holding the microphone for all of their stories,” said Brooke. “Giving back to a community that has been marginalized and oppressed throughout history is the greatest feeling I have ever felt and I’m hoping to set an example for [others] to do the same.”

“I am promoting this platform and idea by volunteering at various events that highlight the exceptional abilities of these individuals, speaking about kindness at elementary schools, and teaching students how to embrace being an advocate,” said Brooke. “The root cause of continually seeing someone as ‘disabled’ is not seeing the person, only the label they have. By teaching about kindness and to embrace our own unique qualities, hopefully we can push past the labels and see each other for who we are.”

Brooke has also volunteered throughout her community of Lindsay, Nebraska and beyond, raising money for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals and other local causes, even hosting a fundraising princess party, allowing little girls to connect with the women making such a profound difference in our state.

“We live in a world where we need outstanding leaders, advocates, and strong women to raise up a generation to reach their full potential,” said Brooke. “The State of Nebraska cultivates the morals of these extraordinary individuals and the Miss Nebraska Organization gives them a platform to showcase these qualities. It is also fun seeing [little girls’] eyes get so wide when they see the crown, or when I put it on their heads! Who knows, maybe I am crowning the future Miss Nebraska 2030!”

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And if Brooke is crowned Miss Nebraska 2018, she’s got big plans for her year of service. Her goals include sharing stories of people like Temple Grandin, a pioneer for anyone touched by Autism, showing that ANYONE can do ANYTHING. Brooke also aims to make sure everyone, especially our elected leaders at the state and national level, are listening.

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When I told my husband about Jesus and his story, I realized that part of why I am so excited for people to see this is because it’s bigger than this little boy, or his school or our district. It’s about teaching people that we all have a gift within us. Think about it – what do you hope is the first thing people say about you when your name is mentioned? I’m thoroughly flattered and humbled when people comment on my speaking, writing, or singing.. and I’m eternally grateful God gave me a voice. That is what I want to be known for – the things I think make me special.

I would argue Jesus and his family, and any person facing a challenge in life, doesn’t want to be known for that diagnosis. And I hope when people see Camila’s story, they won’t be talking about ‘that boy with autism’, but the kid at Westbrook with an INCREDIBLE gift, and the people around him with exceptional gifts of their own.

Brooke Lodl is working for that every day. And as much as I’m sure she would love to be known as Miss Nebraska, I would argue she wants even more to be remembered as a woman who made a difference for both people with special needs, and that mission to improve how we all view each other.

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“This is such a blessing,” said Brooke. “I want to remember every moment and use it as another opportunity to advocate for my platform.”

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To follow Miss Heartland Brooke Lodl, click here.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Carsyn Long

NEXT.. Miss Panhandle 2018 Emily Curtis

See Jane Soar

I knew it the second I woke up… before I even opened my eyes, I could feel the swollen goo clogging up the back of my throat. My body was achy and although I’m ALWAYS cranky on Friday mornings, this time I couldn’t consider anything except saying ‘nope! Not today!’ and going back to sleep.

I was sick. The annual allergies/sinus infection/where the heck are you, Zyrtec!?! bug had taken over. I pulled my weak booty out of bed long enough to take my littlest buddy to and from Kindergarten Round Up (no way I was missing that!) then crawled back into my sick sheets and wasted away three days. You can only sleep so long, and by Saturday evening I was exploring documentaries on On Demand. I found Jane.

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Photo courtesy the Jane Goodall Institute

All her life, Jane Goodall wanted to learn about and be with animals. At 26-years old, her boss Louis Leakey sent his then secretary to Tanzania to study chimpanzees. She had no formal training or college degree; Leakey wanted a sheer observer with no scientific bias. A woman.. sent to the jungles of Africa.. UNHEARD of. Goodall was even required to  take her mother with her as a chaperone. Within a few short years, Goodall’s work revolutionized what we understood to date about chimpanzees and human connections to them.

Earlier this week, I visited Westbrook Elementary’s Early Childhood Center (note: I’m all healed now and no longer wasting space with my sickness..). After I read to the Pre-K class, one little girl asked, ‘can I be a police officer when I grow up?’

‘You can be anything you want to be,’ I told her.

It’s the same message a young woman from York hopes to take across the state of Nebraska.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Her name is Alexandria Warneke. She is young. She is smart. She is talented. She is beautiful. And she is determined.

“Growing up, my parents have always instilled into me a sense of independence and self-reliance that forced me to decide for myself where I want to be in life and my goals and aspirations,” Alexandria told me recently. “Although they are always there for me to fall back on for support, I appreciate that they let me decide for myself what I want to do.”

 

 

Alexandria decided early on she wanted to learn about science, but like trailblazer Jane Goodall, she says she encountered a few critics who didn’t think STEM was the right path for her.

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“When I was in elementary and middle school, there were a lot of people who said things like ‘science and math are for boys’,” said Alexandria. “I have been fortunate enough to have female science teachers as strong role models, and I went to many different competitions and camps. I saw that there were mostly boys around me, but that pushed me to do better and I took home a lot of first place medals against them! It’s about time for girls to not only be told they are beautiful, but they are brilliant as well, and they have the power to change the world.”

Alexandria intends to do just that. The York native was crowned Miss York County’s Outstanding Teen 2018 and Miss Harvest Moon Festival 2018; she’s used both titles to spread her platform ‘Where a Beautiful Brain Can STEM From.’

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“I have volunteered with the Science Expo and got the chance to speak with girls one-on-one about their science fair projects, as well as give a speech to the K-5 students and their parents,” said Alexandria. “I have also volunteered with Girls on the Run and promoted STEM with my signature hydrophobic sand experiment! I also took part in building a scale model of the solar system all across North Platte, to help educate the community and myself, through a STEM class. One of my future goals is to speak to the Nebraska Department of Education and get more involved with the Nebraska Legislature.”

There are those who will say Alexandria did herself a disservice by becoming a ‘pageant girl’. Alexandria, whose grandmother was the 1st Runner Up to Miss Nebraska in 1968, believes otherwise.

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“Miss Nebraska/Miss America is truly full of the best women you can find,” said Alexandria. “We are truly a sisterhood and I love the fact that I am surrounded by young women that inspire each other with grace and maturity. I always emphasize to people it’s a scholarship pageant first, the leading scholarship provider to young women in America, putting a lot more worth into the academic success of America’s women. This also gives me a lot of practice into public speaking and interviewing, which is important to me going through scholarship applications as a senior in high school!”

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Photo courtesy Sherlyn Edwards Photography & Boutique

Alexandria Warneke is a young woman with endless of self-made opportunities. She’s a gifted dancer who loves to perform and compete. She’s an aspiring student with plans to go to law school to be an environmental attorney. She’s a proud daughter, who says her mom is her role model and inspires her every day.

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And she’s a girl who hopes to show little girls everywhere the sky is the limit.. whether you are known simply as Jane, Alexandria, or maybe, Miss Nebraska.

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“We know that we can make a change because we are truly a powerful and insightful generation,” said Alexandria. “I’m beyond blessed with this opportunity because I can make a difference.”

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To follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival Alexandria Warneke on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT ALEXANDRIA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Finding Fate

For more information about the Miss Harvest Moon Festival/Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also email miss.alliance.pageant@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser

NEXT.. Miss Western Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Shelby Blundell

Bo Knows Inspiration

Once in awhile, you meet someone that makes you want to jump higher and run faster. You meet a Bo Jackson.

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He won the Heisman… AND played baseball for Auburn. He was a #1 NFL Draft pick AND a 4th round draft pick for the Kansas City Royals. To this day, he remains the only person to be named an All-Star in both the MLB and the NFL. Bo Knows Awesome.

(Sorry, guys – Spring Training is here. Get ready for lots of baseball references!)

We are surrounded by Bo Jacksons, right here in Nebraska. I know one.. he goes by the alias Tyler Hottovy.

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Tyler is a musician. He’s a church leader. He’s a proud husband and father. And as of last summer, he has been the principal of one of the largest schools in Westside, Westbrook Elementary.

Westbrook is a Title I school; a relatively high number of the students enrolled here receive free or reduced lunch. For many of them, their biggest worry every day is not homework or getting enough screen time.. it’s thinking of when they’ll eat next, or wondering how they’ll stay warm when the temperatures drop. Mr. Hottovy has made it his career mission to make school consistent, comforting, and a source of hope and opportunity for every, single child who passes through his doors.

“If they are hungry, we will feed them. If they are cold, we will make sure that they are warm,” Mr. Hottovy told me recently. “We don’t turn anyone away. We learn to support and serve the students that show up at our door and give them as many opportunities as we can.”

On the first day of school, he literally rolled out a red carpet for Westbrook students and invited Westside cheerleaders to root on kids as they walked into the building. He and Teacher Leader Amy Falcone don goofy glasses and deliver snacks by wagon, endearing themselves to their students as friends and trusted adults. Mr. Hottovy goes above and beyond to bring experiences and inspiration to his students, like the Nebraska Brass Band (of which he’s a proud member of!) His goal: to make both his students and teachers LOVE coming to school everyday. Click here to follow Mr. Hottovy on Twitter!

“My beautiful moments are when I hear adults supporting each other, recognizing the positive in kids, building meaningful relationships with students, and when I hear staff stop talking about what our kids have done and instead talk about what they will do,” said Mr. Hottovy.

It’s one thing to accept a role and fulfill your responsibilities. It takes a Bo Jackson to keep pushing, to test the limits and to do more.

Cue Nikki-Catrina.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

People think beauty queens brawl for tiaras to wave their hands and ride in convertibles. Nikki-Catrina Anderson has put her crowns and sashes through more than 1,300 hours of community service… and counting.

“One reason I love serving is the people I have met and the stories I have heard,” Nikki-Catrina recently told me. “It’s a two-way street; I’m helping people, but it is rare that I don’t leave a service opportunity enlightened and uplifted from the people I have met. Serving in my community is something I will do for the rest of my life.”

 

 

The current Miss Kool-Aid Days has jumped into ice-cold lakes to raise money for Special Olympics. She’s flipped pancakes and handed out ice cream for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. She’s spoken to schools from Scottsbluff to Kearney, walked in charity fashion shows, served food to families in need.. the list goes on and on. But Nikki-Catrina’s prime focus and favorite contribution is through an ages-old hobby and essential skill: reading.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“My platform is ‘Today a Reader, Tomorrow a Leader’,” said Nikki-Catrina. “It is about promoting family reading and children’s literacy, sharing the importance and relevance of reading, and the bond it can create.”

From business to personal health to civic empathy.. there are endless pieces of evidence as to the positive benefits of simply reading. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, C.S. Lewis, Maya Angelou, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis… they all agree(d) reading is the key to success. Nikki-Catrina shares their messages and puts in the time on the ground, getting books to as many children across Nebraska as possible.

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“Last May, I did a book drive in which I collected more than 4,800 books to give to students,” said Nikki-Catrina. “I’m also privileged to partner with the Lied Scottsbluff Public Library, which has allowed me to vastly promote literacy in the community. With them, I was able to visit every elementary and preschool in the Scottsbluff Public School District to encourage 1,800 students to sign up for the summer reading program!”

Two years ago, Nikki-Catrina amplified her message and mission as a titleholder within the Miss Nebraska Scholarship Program. She soon realized that crown and sash also netted her some personal rewards for her hard work.

“This has been a life-changing organization,” said Nikki-Catrina. “Even before I was old enough to compete, I was inspired by the titleholders in my community who became role models and the women I aspired to emulate. Since becoming a titleholder, I have found countless friendships with women who’s strength, determination, and stories inspire me to be better. I have developed a greater confidence and a deeper sense of who I am. I have been given opportunities to serve my community in a way I would not have been able to do without the prestige reputation of this organization. I have created large projects from beginning to end, and because of those experiences, I am now confident in my ability to continue to make great change even after I am no longer a titleholder.”

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“I do not want to get wrapped up in the idea that this is a competition, I see this more as an experience,” said Nikki-Catrina. “A chance to get to know amazing and wonderful girls. I do not want to be the shy person I typically am in large groups; I want to get to know the girls and build relationships with them. I am surrounded by uplifting, inspiring, and friendly women. I want to make this the best experience it can be, because I am blessed to be able to have it.”

At one recent appearance, Nikki-Catrina warmly greeted a deaf family who approached her… and she communicated with them in sign language. Yup, she does that, too. THAT is the beauty this young woman has defined in the phrase ‘beauty queen’. Look at the faces of the children in these photos. Just like Tyler Hottovy’s pictures, I not only see a caring, person to devoted to making the world better, but I see sheer happiness in the children she is impacting.

People like Tyler and Nikki-Catrina are talented. They are hard working. They do it all.

They are our Bo Jacksons.

The sports legend once said, “Set your goals high and don’t stop ’til you get there.”

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Tyler Hottovy has started his doctorate. He thinks about expanding his work with Title I schools, but for now: “I’m focused on making Westbrook a great place for kids.”

Nikki-Catrina hopes to work in an elementary school, too; she is studying to become a teacher, and may someday be telling her students the story of her time as Miss Nebraska.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I never believed in myself enough to give it a try,” said Nikki-Catrina. “[Now] I love it. This gives me the chance to grow, to be who I am, and feel I have a place.”

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To follow Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki-Catrina Anderson on Facebook, click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT NIKKI-CATRINA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Leading Through Reading

For more information about the Miss Queen City of the Plains/Miss Kool-Aid Days Pageant or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to visit their website, or CLICK HERE to visit their site on Facebook.  You can also emails Directors Angie Trausch at angie.trausch@gmail.com or Angela Keiser at angelakeiser@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska Scholarship Competition takes place June 7-9 in North Platte, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Facebook

CLICK HERE to follow the Miss Nebraska Organization on Twitter

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes

NEXT.. Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird