Tag Archive | westside high

Be Kind

This has been one of those years that make you question everything.

Parkland. Santa Fe. Kentucky.

As our country mourned, debated and prayed over school shootings and tragedies repeatedly happening across America, students and in some cases, teachers, walked out of class to protest the violence, demanding change.

Did it make a difference? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’m alone in believing there were many kids who walked out that didn’t fully understand what or why they were protesting.. but simply wanted to get out of class.

At Westside Community Schools, building leaders and staff members tried something different.. they encouraged students to take action with clear and well-thought out plans to enact change, not only outside our schools, but INSIDE them. Westside High students staged a sit-in; they lined the hallways with posters, signs and silence not only paying tribute to the victims lost, but spreading awareness to each other  about violence and to anyone who saw photos and videos of their event. Westside Middle School took this a step further, planning an entire week of activities promoting Safer Schools.

Organized by Student Council members, students created and sold T-shirts uniting their student body and benefitting their school. They made posters reminding each other to report problems and concerns, and they gathered together for an emotional assembly with a resounding message: KINDNESS MATTERS.

That was the theme of their week – to simply be kind to one another. Love always wins. That spirit of brotherhood and respect was palpable during the final assembly wrapping up their Safer Schools week.

It’s the same mentality that has compelled a young woman from western Nebraska to accumulate more than 1,000 hours of time serving others here, and around the world.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“We need to accept people for who they are and embrace their uniqueness,” said Brianna Little, crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County last summer. “My platform is Be Kind, Be The Change, bringing acts of inclusion, acceptance and kindness into our daily lives.”

Brianna is no stranger to service, an active member of her community for the last several years as a teen titleholder in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program. However, she credits a trip to Nicaragua last summer as a key turning point in her mission as both a Miss Nebraska contestant, and a human being.

“I not only was made aware of the need in the world, but I saw just how grateful someone could be for the things we take for granted,” said Brianna. “When a young child, not even school age, runs up to you, dirty bowl in hand begging for beans with big, hopeful eyes, or when a mother will take any clothing you have to offer for her child, your view of the world will change the way mine did.”

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Brianna continued that mission when she returned home to Harrisburg, Nebraska, working to deliver meals to those in need throughout her community. She’s also volunteered with the Salvation Army, hospital patients, and the Special Olympics. Still, she wanted to do more.

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“I got and talk to schools about the importance of being kind to one another, and creating kindness challenges for them,” said Brianna. “Intertwining my platform with the national Miss America Organization partner, one of the first challenges I present is for the kids to collet coins for the Children’s Miracle Network. I speak with other local organizations such as our Scottsbluff Kiwanis Club about my platform. Whenever I volunteer or make an appearance, I also give away shirts, lanyards, bracelets and chapsticks with the Be Kind, Be The Change logo to remind people to always remember they, too, can be the change.”

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Brianna, a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Scottsbluff High School who has already earned an astonishing 51 college credits, notes the facts and statistics that back up the impact movements like her platform can have.. and the problems we all see in society without this work.

“The biggest issue facing my generation is self image,” said Brianna. “There are so many expectations for kids and teens that are both mentally and physically exhausting. There always seems to be something about yourself that needs change, from outward appearance to how to act. 20% of kids and teens in any given year will experience depression. 14% will at least consider suicide. 8% will make an actual attempt on their life. This is one of the many reasons why my platform is so tremendously needed. As a society, we need to change how we view the world and treat people.”

 

 

Reinforcing Brianna’s message are the connections and friendships she’s made by being part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.

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“The girls are amazing, kind and very likeminded,” said Brianna. “When they say it’s a sisterhood, it’s true. No matter what happens, I will have spent countless hours with some of the most wonderful women across Nebraska.”

Maya Angelou once said ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’

Brianna Little shows through her words and actions she is brilliant, driven and determined. She is an award-winning cheerleader, a future University of Nebraska-Lincoln college student who hopes to become a Maternal Fetal Medicine Obstetrician. People certainly see the impact she’s having already, named just this week as a 2018 Miss Nebraska Community Service Award finalist.

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Photo courtesy Kamie Stephen Photography

Still, she hopes she’s remembered for KINDNESS. For making people feel better about themselves and the world around them, and for paying that powerful feeling forward to impact change in others.

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

“Knowing just how much of an impact I can make is the sole reason I pursued the title of Miss Nebraska 2018 and wanted to be part of this,” said Brianna. “Beyond the title, I want to show everyone what I stand for and share my message. I hope to inspire people to push the limits of their capabilities and always reach ahead of them to the next great thing awaiting in life. For me, if that is the title of Miss Nebraska, I will be thrilled and ready to represent my state sharing my platform.”

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To follow Scotts Bluff County Brianna Little click here.

WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIANNA?

CLICK HERE * 2017 * Energizer Bunny

CLICK HERE * 2016 * Bring It On

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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 Alliance Kodi Baumann

COMING SOON.. Miss Chadron Kaelia Nelson

Breaking Out Of The Box

I wrote a few months ago about the STEM explosion here at Westside Community Schools, particularly with our female students. Led by a cadre of phenomenal female educators, girls at Westside Middle School and Westside High School continue to crush anything coding/engineering/robotics related. AND I LOVE IT.

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I love seeing people crush stereotypes. If you’re good at one thing, that must be it, you must fit into this box.

Um, no.

One of the young women starring in this story of students slaying science is Ramya Iyer, a freshman at Westside High School. She’s been to UNO Code Crush. She’s the 2018 regional NCWIT Award winner for Aspirations in Computing. She just won her FIRST state championship as a freshman in photo illustration. AND… just this week, we announced she also won first place out of 5,000 international submissions in a student video contest.

Ramya

Scientist. Student. Techie. Producer.

There ain’t a box big enough for what this girl is capable of.

Same goes for 23-year old Emily Curtis, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from the University of Nebraska, who also happens to be competing for the title of Miss Nebraska.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Mechanical Engineer.. AND a pageant queen? Could it be?

Hell yes.

Emily’s kind of a genius when it comes to ‘figuring things out’; solving puzzles using a scientific approach is her career and her passion.

 

“I was part of the Husker Racing Baja SAE Team, a student organization at UNL that got to design, build and race an off-road vehicle,” said Emily. “At the Solid Freeform Fabrication Symposium in August of 2017, I was able to present my research in Austin, Texas to other students and researchers in the 3D Printing/Additive Manufacturing fields. Ultimately, I want to work as a research engineer, focusing on sustainable manufacturing with 3D printing.”

<Editor’s note… here’s me just reading that.>

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So why pageants? Why Miss Nebraska?

“I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain,” said Emily. “I have about five more years left of school and two more degrees to earn, so the scholarship money provided by the organization is a huge help, allowing me to remain debt free throughout my higher education. Along with that, the performance aspect, and preparing to present myself on stage has made me more comfortable with presenting my research and approaching others in the field, two things that are necessary for researchers.”

 

 

Any scientist knows there is trial and error before success. The same holds true for Emily in this latest experiment. She competed several times, over several years, before winning a local title.

Emily Curtis

“Finally earning that title with overall interview and overall talent awards, after so many years, and numerous local pageants, really validated the hard work I had put into my platform and this program,” said Emily. “I was just so happy, ecstatic, delighted and ready for this to happen.”

She seized the opportunity to take her platform to the next level; a message for all little girls and women called ‘Empowering Women in STEM.’

 

“I advocate for a network of support and opportunity for women and girls interested in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics,” said Emily. “It starts with highlighting strong feminine role models within STEM, and then continues by providing women opportunities to connect with each other and the means to achieve their goals.”

Emily’s own networking circle has expanded to include the same women she’ll compete with next month.

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 “[My favorite part of this] is the sisterhood,” said Emily. “Before this, I have never felt a more instant connection than I did with each of the titleholders in this year’s Miss Nebraska class. We all want to see each other succeed, and I can honestly say that I feel that I have made 14 new lifelong friends.”

“The foundation of this organization is a sisterhood, and the concept that women support women,” said Emily. “This organization celebrates the strength of women, not only a individuals, but as a collective group as well. I personally have never met a more dedicated, selfless, and passionate group of people (people, not just women) than the contestants, directors, volunteers and parents I have met while competing in the Miss Nebraska Organization.”

How’s this for a hypothesis: perhaps, engineering, and computer science, and video production, and being a beautiful human being, aren’t as dissimilar as some would assume them to be. Perhaps you CAN be a ‘pageant girl’ and brilliant all at once. Maybe, just maybe, YOU and only you, can define yourself and determine what you want to become.

Both KMTV and KETV are sharing Ramya’s success across Omaha TV this week. (Oh yeah, she’s also EXTREMELY well spoken, nailing every interview I threw at her.) Simultaneously, Emily posted this on social media.

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‘I am so thankful for the opportunity to receive an education, and still thankful for the Miss America Organization for providing scholarship dollars to women like me to further their education. Next stop, Grad School!’

The message at Westside High School, within the Miss Nebraska Organization, and from incredible young women like Ramya and Emily is simple and clear: BREAK OUT OF THE BOX. Find what you love – all of what you love – and DO IT.

“I look up to women like Katherine Jackson, Jane Goodall, and Sally Ride, who broke barriers and showed us all how strong, tough and determined women can be,” said Emily. “With my local title, I have become a role model and strong female voice, and I know have a bigger platform to reach out to my community and show women of all ages what possibilities and potential they have.”

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To follow Miss Panhandle Emily Curtis, 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 Heartland 2018 Brooke Lodl

NEXT.. Miss Twin Rivers 2018 Hayden Richardson

Heroes With Heart

I am WEAK… when it comes to blood, needles, shots.. BARF. When I was 19, I passed out in the doctor’s office while getting my blood drawn. While covering a story in pre-op before a patient’s surgery, I saw the needle and had to kneel on the ground before I dropped (which the doc thought was HILARIOUS.. click here for the story.) Even having my own babies in the hospital, getting IV’s put in made me lose my lunch.

Still, when I learned Westside High School was hosting a blood drive, I decided I was going to suck it up and DO IT. Every blood donation saves up to three lives; I could certainly withstand a little queasiness to do my part.

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I was so proud of myself – ROCK STAR STATUS! I squeezed that little ball and laid back and relaxed… until they took the needle out. WHOOOOOSSSSH!! The tech immediately jumped to my side and called for help…

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… and Gabby Henderson came to my rescue. Gabby is a student at Westside High (featured in this photo on the far left), and she has a special talent for taking care of people. I met Gabby a few months ago, when the Nebraska Medical Center brought the Stop The Bleed program to Westside’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies. Westside High students interested in Nursing and Medicine learned how to triage patients and save lives after an accident or tragedy. Gabby was also one of the student volunteers helping run the blood drive that day at WHS.. she helped fan me off, talk me off my ‘pass out’ ledge, and then sent me on my way with a smile and without any judgement the the Director of Communications for her district almost lost her cookies over a little bit of blood. You can guess how delighted I was to hear last month that Gabby was part of the state championship HOSA team (Health Occupation Students of America) who will now compete at the International Conference in June!

People like Gabby truly have a gift; they see beyond blood or sickness, and only feel compassion and a compulsion to help others. About 4 hours west of Omaha, Jade Vak knows the same calling.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

“I have always wanted to go into the medical field,” Jade told me recently. “While volunteering, I have discovered my career ambition of becoming an Emergency Doctor.”

 

 

Jade is well on her way, excelling in her studies at North Platte High School, practicing hard work and dedication as a member of the dance team, and further improving her ‘bedside manner’ and people skills through volunteer work across her community.

That last trait is part of what compelled Jade to try something new this year; she’s competing for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen.

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“I wanted to further my communication skills and gain more self-confidence,” said Jade. “It is my passion to help as many people as I possibly can within my life. One of the amazing things about the MNOT program is that it gives you such an opportunity to help those in need.”

Crowned Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen in November, Jade has embraced every service opportunity offered to her.

“My platform is Volun-Teen. It is about promoting teenagers to volunteer so when they get older, it is just a way of life,” said Jade. “I visit patient’s rooms to provide comfort services, I serve food for those in need, and I ring bells for the Salvation Army. You name it, I have done it! I also talk to volunteering organizations about my platform. At elementary schools, I read a story and then we talk about how we can help others, or volunteer, just like the main characters.”

To Jade, volunteering not only makes the world a better place, it is a potential cure for the ills impacting her peers and beyond.

“I believe the greatest issue for my generation would perhaps be technology,” said Jade. “We need to learn how to balance it with the real world. Technology is an amazing tool and has done great things for the world, but we struggle on the line of the technology world and reality. I suggest volunteering! It forces us (in a good way, of course) to look up and get out!”

And as Jade hits the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen stage in Omaha, hoping to win the chance to spread that message statewide, she’ll be cheered on by the woman who’s inspired her to help others throughout her life, crown or not.

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“My female role model is my incredible mom,” said Jade. “She supports me with everything and always tries to make my dreams come true, even if it means sacrifices. I think that is beautiful and I hope I can do that for someone else someday.”

Ironically, Gabby’s biggest cheerleader is also HER mom. Christine Henderson works with me here at Westside, and literally glows with pride every time her hero makes a difference in someone’s life.

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For both Gabby and Jade, that difference may very well be saving lives within a few years. Today, it’s simply making a child smile.. and sending out a smiling adult, grateful for the girl who helped her survive a weak moment.

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To follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Jade Vak, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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

NEXT.. Miss Nebraska State Fair Courtney Pelland

 

Girls Rule The World

This week at Westside, I got to do one of the things I love most at work.

We put these incredible Westside High School students on TV, to recognize them for their achievements and talents. Ramya Iyer, Victoria Chin, Raeanne Sando and Emma Carlson have all been honored with NCWIT Awards in the field of computer science. As each of them talked to KMTV’s Emily Szink, they shared how they want to pursue coding and STEM in their careers… and how one teacher mentored and inspired all of them to explore this field and stick with it.

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Kristeen Shabram is a Business and Technology Teacher at Westside Middle School. She’s also the leader of the Computer Programmer’s Club, organizes Family Code Nights across the district, participates in CodeCrush at UNO and Nebraska GenCyber Camp. Her students were Nebraska’s winner in the 2017 Verizon App Challenge, scoring free technology and $5000. Mrs. Shabram was named the 2016 Tech Educator of the Year by AIM, and takes part in conferences across Nebraska, working with other STEM teachers.

Shabram and Teachers

Through Mrs. Shabram, students learn the value of learning this complex and valuable field. Employment of health information technicians alone, which is what Emma Carlson wants to do, is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all other occupations. And at a time when the number of girls interested in STEM plummets as they grow older, Mrs. Shabram is a much needed female expert in this field. She inspires everyone around her, especially Westside’s female students, to learn MORE. (Click here to see for yourself, by following Mrs. Shabram on Twitter!)

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We can spread a message through our words. We can tell lecture kids and young people to do something or say something.. but how often do those same kids grow up wanting to be something because of what a role model DID. You never know who is watching you, thinking ‘I want to be just like her when I grow up.’

Morgan Baird is proof of that.

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“My sister has gone through the [Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen] and [Miss Nebraska] programs and I’ve seen the positive impact it has had on her and other girls,” Morgan told me recently. “I wanted to have the opportunity to develop the life skills and confidence she had and also have the chance to serve my community.”

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This year, Morgan was crowned Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen 2018. After admiring her mom Krista and her sister Allison for nearly all of her life, it’s now her turn to inspire.

Morgan has helped with fundraisers to support Special Olympics and Children’s Miracle Network. She also visits schools, talking to younger students about her personal platform, ‘Be Here Now’.

 

 

“It’s about putting away the distractions and experiencing life to the fullest with the people around you,” said Morgan. “I am promoting it by being the example. I try my best to not be on my phone excessively in public or when I’m with family and friends.”

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Many of those friends are fellow titleholders from across Nebraska who are sharing their passions through service and performance, just like Morgan. They will compete against one another in April, for the title of Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen, but this year more than ever, these young women use phrases like ‘competing with’, instead focusing on the benefits of organizations that bring together women of all ages to support and inspire each other.

“That’s what the Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Organization is all about: The sisterhood,” said Morgan. “Besides my mom, my female role model is Emma Watson. Her advocacy for feminism is what I love to see. She believes that all women have a voice and should be sharing their opinions and beliefs. I strive to be like her.”

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Photo courtesy Timmy James Photo

Girls rule the world.  We can dance and be still, speak and listen, be beautiful and be bold.

SHABRAM W: STUDENTS

Women are pioneers and mentors. Teachers and computer scientists. Nurturers and bad-ass experts in coding and technology. We can do ANYTHING we want to do, and we inspire others when our passion shines through our own actions.

 I would argue that neither of the kids in the above photo went to Nebraska GenCyber Camp because they felt like they HAD to – they wanted to because they enjoy it, and especially for the girls who took part, Mrs. Shabram has showed them THEY CAN. Morgan Baird is competing for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen because she WANTS to, and has seen through the women around her that we can choose any path that brings us joy.

Meryl Streep once said, “I think the best role models for women are people who are fruitfully and confidently themselves, who bring light into the world.”

Thank you, Mrs. Shabram, for being a lighthouse for girls everywhere. Morgan Baird hopes someday, she can say the same.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

 “My favorite part about being a titleholder is getting to meet all the little girls who tell me they want to be just like me when they grow up,” said Morgan. “I know it’s because of the sparkly crown on my head, and who doesn’t want to be a princess when they get older?, but it makes my heart feel so full when I hear those words come out of their sweet, little mouths. I am there to help in whatever way I can.”

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To follow Miss Scotts Bluff County’s Outstanding Teen Morgan Baird on Facebook, click here.

For more information about the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program or to become a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook, or CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Twitter. You can also contact Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com or Director Kali Tripp at KaliNicoleTV@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Competition takes place April 28 in North Omaha, Nebraska.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Kool-Aid Days Nikki Catrina Anderson

NEXT.. Miss Fur Trade Days Outstanding Teen Gabriella Wagner

 

Getting To Know You

This afternoon, I was honored to be interviewed by one of Westside’s incredible high school students, Emily Kutler, who is writing an essay on the sexualization of women in the media.  We discussed my experiences working in broadcast news, my observations of national media.. and almost naturally, my time with the Miss Nebraska Organization surfaced.  I explained to Emily how my hope lies within our titleholders and the women they inspire… that the key to ‘girl power’ is to do what we love.  To be confident.  To do good and share good in our world.  And if you feel good wearing lipstick and high heels while you dominate life, then so be it 🙂

There’s always more to the story, the ‘behind the scenes’ element that isn’t always shared.   The 34 women competing for two state titles this year aren’t just girls slapping on makeup and waving in parades, they are role models and leaders driven by 34 compelling stories.  For a teenager out west, her journey and mission include a medical diagnosis she refers to as the forgotten disability.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance

“I have Dyslexia and I know what it means to have it,” Cherokee told me recently.  “I know what accommodations need to be made and I know the benefits of it as well.”

Cherokee shared her personal story with me in 2015 and last year; as both Miss Northwest’s Outstanding Teen and Miss Alliance’s Outstanding Teen, she worked to spread awareness about Dyslexia and to support children and teens facing the same diagnosis.  That mission continued this year when she won the title of Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen.

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“I love my time as a local titleholder building up to state!”  said Cherokee.  “All of the girls are so kind and fun to be around.  These are the girls everyone loves.  So why wouldn’t I love them just as much?”

The character of the young women who compete is what initially drew Cherokee to Miss Nebraska in the first place.  She grew up idolizing the contestants who competed every summer and served all year long, and knew when she was eligible, she wanted to be just like them.  The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization provided Cherokee that opportunity.

Cherokee has visited schools, childrens’ groups and charity events, in addition to her studies at Alliance High School.  The 17-year old is an accomplished pianist and performer, winning the recent Alliance Stars of Tomorrow competition’s Overall Star of Stars Award and a $1000 cash scholarship.

The ‘Miss Fur Trade Days’ OT’ title has not only offered Cherokee more opportunities to perform, but experiences to hone in on communications and networking skills.

“I’ve become more well-spoken, made some great friends and developed a greater love for serving my community,” said Cherokee.

Get to know a ‘pageant girl’ like Cherokee.. and you’ll meet a young woman with goals, willing to work hard to make those dreams happen.  Throughout this journey, Dyslexia hasn’t been a curse Cherokee has tried to hide from.  Rather, she shares her story and advice for others, like how the Orton-Gillingham reading program benefited her.  This self described initiator, a devoted and methodical young woman, has a plan and vision that extends beyond a diagnosis.  She may be a ‘beauty queen’, but she, like all of her pageant sisters in the Class of 2017, are proving what that title really means.

These are people you want to know.. they are the women who are changing the world.

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“Whether or not I win the state pageant, I want to be remembered for changing the way people view Dyslexia,” said Cherokee.  “It isn’t just an excuse.  You can’t cure it.  You have to deal with it.”

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WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT CHEROKEE?

CLICK HERE to follow Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen 2017 Cherokee Purviance!

CLICK HERE * 2015 * Girls And Dolls

CLICK HERE * 2016 * When I Grow Up

For more information about the Miss Chadron/Miss Northwest/Miss Fur Trade Days’ Outstanding Teen Program or for information about becoming a contestant, CLICK HERE to follow the organization on Facebook.  You can also email Director Amanda Vogel by emailing maoteenchadron@gmail.com or calling 308-665-5595.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook.  For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson

NEXT.. Miss Chadron’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Brianna Little

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

It Takes a Village

For the first time in 16 years, Westside High School won a gold medal at the NSAA State Wrestling Championships this year.  In fact, TWO Warriors made it to the top of the podium.

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Josh Jansa and Darlondo Hill worked tirelessly all season and for years prior to earn this achievement.  So did a handful of men working nonstop behind the scenes.. their coaches. These student athletes are Head Coach Mike Jernigan’s FIRST state champions.

“Getting your first state champion makes a coach feel that ‘I finally did it.  I do know what I am doing!’” Jernigan told me. “Getting two in the same tournament is even better! I finally felt like I belonged to the coaching fraternity. To finally have a state champion to call our own is a great feeling. I know my assistant coaches haven’t stopped talking about it yet.”

Behind every star is a support network.  Oscar winners thank their agents, Olympic athletes thank their coaches, EVERYONE thanks the family members who cheered them on every step of the way.  The Miss Nebraska Organization is no different; behind every charismatic, stunning, role model.. there is a village.  Executive Director Rachel Daly spends countless hours preparing our titleholders to be the best they can be for Miss America and for their entire year of service.  President Janet Heinzle has volunteered for DECADES to constantly strengthen the program’s support network in North Platte, Nebraska and beyond.  Scholarship Director Megan Doughty spends time every day securing new financial opportunities with countless business partners and universities.  And Board Member Carol Halley has dedicated the last 25+ years to a group known as the Miss Nebraska Little Sisters.

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Photo courtesy Jenn Cady Photography

The Little Sister’s program was started as a good will gesture between girls in the community and Miss Nebraska contestants. They meet at orientation and spend much of Miss Nebraska week together, including time on stage during the pageant itself. These friendships often last for many years and create a lasting bond between the big sister and little sister; it’s a direct connection between outstanding role models and little girls who absolutely adore their ‘big sisters’. Carol organizes ALL of this, and the impact is during that week of competition and for years after is simply immeasurable.

Here’s proof:

Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Kiera Rhodes

“When I was 10, I was a Little Sister in the Miss Nebraska Pageant,” Kiera told me recently.  “It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.  My Big Sister was Mindy Schreiber; she was awesome.  Her talent was singing and I just looked up to her the whole time.  She got first runner up that year and I was so proud of her.  What I pulled away from that experience was the effect the girls had on my life.  I decided that I wanted to change people’s lives the way those girls did when I was younger.”

Mindy Schreiber, like so many of our contestants, is the textbook definition of ROLE MODEL.  She completed college in 3 years while working in her intended career field.  She held five local titles; a tireless advocate for her community, volunteering for the Teammates program.  She is kind, beautiful, healthy and hardworking.  And ‘little’ Kiera has emulated each and everyone of the traits she witnessed in her ‘big sister’.

“I am self motivated because I haven’t always needed someone to be telling me why and how I should do something, I just do it and I push myself to work hard for what I want,” said Kiera.  “I would like to say that I’m outgoing, I love talking and getting to know people.  I am very dedicated to the activities I am involved in; when I join something I always want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to help out.”

And boy, is this girl doing that as Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen.

Kiera is literally EVERYWHERE.  She’s signed autographs at carnivals, walked in charity fashion shows and volunteered at numerous local events.  Check out this article including Kiera in the North Platte Telegraph!  This busy sophomore, a student at North Platte High School, was selected for UNK Honor Choir this year, she’s performed the national anthem several times and she’s involved in musical productions in her hometown.  Singing is one of her favorite parts of being a titleholder and competing.

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Click here to hear Kiera’s recent national anthem performance at the District Basketball game in North Platte!

“I’ve always loved singing ever since I was little,” said Kiera.  “When I’m on stage singing, it’s like no one is watching and I’m just expressing my feelings.  It truly is an indescribable feeling.”

Kiera’s personal platform of service is ‘Bust A Smile – Break Down a Barrier’, encouraging others to break out of comfort zones to try something new or make a new friend.

“I really think a big problem we face today is not only the generational gaps but even the gaps within our own generations,” said Kiera. “More people need to realize that we all have a lot more in common than we think. Not only that but we can all teach each other valuable things if we would all just talk to one another more often.”

Fewer cliques, more connections.

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A mission that’s only been fueled by Kiera’s participation in the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen program.

“Obviously we all want to win, but only one of us can win,” said Kiera. “The girls I’ve met and competed against are girls that are very true and they are super nice and I know I’m going to have long lasting friendships with [them].”

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Kiera with Miss Twin Rivers 2017 Emma Wilkinson; both were Miss Nebraska Little Sisters

Tremendous maturity and perspective from a teenager, likely credited to her parents, her sisters both by blood and by title, and the volunteers who worked behind the scenes to pave her way to success.  Thanks to the village, women like Carol Halley, little girls across Nebraska grow up with a little extra sparkle.. then as young women share that with countless generations who follow their paths.  Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes hopes to continue that legacy.

‘Little Girls with Dreams become Women with vision!’ – Carol Halley

“My biggest goal is just that I’ve impacted at least one person’s life in a good way,” said Kiera.  “Those girls taught me to be more confident in my opinions and that it’s ok to express your opinion.  Never be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Harvest Moon Festival’s Outstanding Teen Kiera Rhodes.

For more information about the Miss Harvest Moon Festival/Miss Alliance/Miss Panhandle’s Outstanding Teen Pageant and to become a contestant, email Director Melinda Cullan at maot.alliance@gmail.com.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

For more information about the Miss Nebraska Little Sister Program CLICK HERE.

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

NEXT.. Miss Eastern Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Naomi Turner

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Just The Way You Are

Last fall, I had the honor of emceeing the Lighthouse Leader and Hall of Fame Gala for Westside Community Schools. This biannual event recognizes alumni and supporters who have demonstrated exemplary leadership, success and dedication to their careers and communities. All ten of our inductees are extraordinary, but one in particular caught my attention as I prepared my remarks.

Dr. Suzanne Hutchinson Verma grew up in Omaha and attended Westside High School. She’s now one of the world’s leading experts in Anaplastology; she rebuilds FACES. Patients around the world, including children, come to Suzi to reconstruct their faces after cancer, birth defects and accidents. Multiple times in her career, she’s operated for free on patients who cannot afford help.

Dr. Verma and I are about the same age. I mean, we’re basically the same person… Faux Pelini RETWEETED me once. That’s a really big deal.

WHAT?!?!?! I shook my head in disbelief as I researched this incredible woman’s accomplishments. Once in awhile, we come across people in life that have just set the bar higher, their contributions to the world are exponentially greater. It may not be their intent, but they inspire the rest of us to DO MORE, to BE BETTER. Cue 12-year old Phoenix Stanford.

Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

She can’t get in to a rated R movie, yet this girl has already testified before the Nebraska Legislature, been a featured guest at several high profile events and spent countless hours volunteering across Sarpy County.

(Again.. we’re basically the same person. When I was 12, I set a new Tetris record on my Nintendo.)

“My parents have raised me since I was 5 years old to always be involved in giving back to the community,” Phoenix told me recently. “I believe helping out those who are less fortunate and donating your time to an event helps people to rise.”

Phoenix has touched communities around the world, literally, due to her military upbringing.

“I was raised in England and spent most of my childhood there. That was where I first started school,” said Phoenix. “All my friends were British and all the activities I was involved in were all done with the local nationals. Having to leave my childhood friends behind devastated me. It was a difficult transition when I moved. I missed my British food, I missed living in Europe and seeing medieval buildings around me. I was terrified to start school not knowing anyone around there. After having moving here, I met more military children. I’ve learned that the many who go through things like this soon give up the will to want to make new friends because they know that they are just going to move again.”

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Phoenix took her own experiences and set out to help others facing the same challenges. When she became Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017, she put a name on her mission: ‘Beyond The Yellow Ribbon: Support for Military Children.’

“Because this is something I can strongly touch base with and it is an issue that kids and teens have to go through, I wanted to make a difference,” said Phoenix. “The military has blessed my family and I with incredible opportunities that most people don’t get. I am forever grateful for it. This is why I want to give back to the men and women who serve and still continue to serve. ‘Beyond the Yellow Ribbon’ is about helping kids and teens go through these difficult moves, and also spread the word to civilians to let them know that not only do their parents serve, but us as the youth serve, too.”

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Phoenix is engaging her peers, her school and community members both in and outside the military. Her most recent pictures show a glimpse of all of her hard work; from the Remembering The Fallen exhibit on display at her school, to her volunteer efforts to raise money for military families.

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Got to help out at Offutt Air Force Base’s Thrift Store today! The revenue that is brought in goes toward many base organizations, off base community organizations, as well as scholarships for high-school seniors and military spouses.

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Proud to be a young Filipina! Performing at this year’s Santo Niño Festival was an honor! I had the pleasure of meeting our Nebraska Governor, Pete Ricketts, and Bellevue city mayor, Rita Sanders. I truly enjoyed being a part of this religious and cultural celebration!

Just last week, Phoenix did something most adults never commit the time or dedication to; she went to Lincoln to testify before members of the Nebraska Legislature.

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This brave 12-year old advocated for LB88, a bill that would prompt the state to issue temporary professional licenses to military spouses during the procedural wait time it takes to secure a permanent license.   State Senator Carol Blood later posted on Facebook: “Thank you to Miss Sarpy County Outstanding Teen for her outstanding testimony on LB 88 this week. This military spouses bill is important to Nebraska, especially District 3 and 45.”

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“I want civilians to be aware of what goes on behind their freedom and how military families make it happen,” said Phoenix. “I also want people to know how amazing this pageant system is and how much young women can learn from an opportunity like this.”

That’s why Phoenix decided to compete for Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen this spring, to share a message and grow as a person.

“I love how this pageant is scholarship based!” she said. “School and getting a good education is everything to me. [My goal] is to make it easier for my family to pay for my education. I love music and when I found out they have a talent portion in the pageant, I thought it would be a great way to express my love for performing and music. The Miss America’s Outstanding Teen Pageant system recognizes young women’s talent, promotes healthy living, emphasizes scholastic achievements and encourages community service.”

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Ironically, the friendships that are so often part of Phoenix’s message about military children have become of one of the clearest benefits of her participation in this year’s program.

“Not only have I met some amazing people, but I get to help out the community as well,” said Phoenix. “[This organization] has taught me some great skills and how to put myself out there. I have been so blessed with this opportunity and I’m so thankful.”

What’s next for Phoenix Stanford? Turning 13 in April. Graduating from middle school and starting high school.. something she could be doing as Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen. And continuing to advocate for the cause and people she believes in.

“Winning state would be a win for Sarpy County, including Offutt Air Force Base,” said Phoenix. “Winning national would be a win for Nebraska, the military community, the Filipino and German community. While it would be fantastic to win at any level, my goal is to make a difference in my community and for the people around me.”

Beyond the impressive resumes, what ultimately sticks with me about people like Suzi Verma and Phoenix Stanford are who they are beyond their titles. Those who nominated Dr. Verma for the Westside Hall of Fame didn’t focus on her extensive academia or doctoral accolades, they raved about her love for children, her kindness, and the depth of her heart. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford, at just 12 years old, doesn’t brag about her service or eye-opening accomplishments, she stresses the qualities she hopes to be remembered by: compassionate, perseverant and unique.

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“I don’t like to give up. I believe we are all put here to help one another,” said Phoenix. “There will never, ever be a person like me and that’s what makes me special.”

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CLICK HERE to follow Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen Phoenix Stanford.

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The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com

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PREVIOUS.. Miss Omaha 2017 Wellesley Michael

NEXT.. Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen Emily Lenser

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!