By Tyler Dahlgren
NCSA Communications Specialist
There was a kickball game in Falls City’s famous Jug Brown Stadium Wednesday morning.
And to the casual passerby, it looked like just that.
A rather large group of high school students, far more than the regulatory 10 per side, taking a 30-minute reprieve from the classroom to have some fun under an usually strong autumn sun.
On the sideline, Katy Gifford plays the part of umpire and coach, keeping the two teams in order and the action moving along. Gifford is in her eighth year at Falls City High School, where she serves as the school’s Lifeskills director, focusing on students with disabilities.
“Remember, sometimes errors are cool!” she shouts.
Eight years ago, Gifford’s Lifeskills classroom was in one of the town’s two elementary schools, her students separated by blocks from their regular education classmates. There was some interaction between the two, but there was certainly room for more.
Gifford developed Peers Always Learning, with the appropriate acronym “PALs”, a program she hoped would teach her Lifeskills students social skills while providing them opportunities to interact socially with peers.
Those were Gifford’s initial hopes. What transpired over the next seven years surpassed Gifford’s highest aspiration.
“When I first started here, I thought that the middle school must do a phenomenal job of getting these students to socialize with Lifeskills students,” she said. “What I’ve learned, the longer I’m here, is that it starts from the get-go with kindergarten and preschool even.”
If Gifford had to use one word, she would describe Falls City’s culture as caring. She’s seen it first hand in the way the student body embraces her Lifeskills students. PALs took extensive planning and careful organization early on, a job that fell to Gifford.
“She came with the ideas and from there it was easy to facilitate from our standpoint,” said Gale Dunkhas, who is in his 11th year as principal of FCHS and 30th in education altogether. “The program just kind of absorbed into our culture and now it’s just something we do. It’s a part of who we are.”
The transition to the high school building has been wonderful, Dunkhas said. With everyone on one campus, PALs has only grown stronger.
“Now that we are all together, I think it’s an even better program, partly because we can do the volunteering during study halls,” Gifford said. “Sometimes they work on academic things, but a lot of the time it’s just reading a book to someone or playing games together.”
Junior Josie Crofford, a PALs mentor since her freshman year, laughs. She can attest to that.
“I played a lot of “Spoons” last year,” Crofford says, placing a heavy emphasis on the words “a lot” before allowing the smile to return to her face. “Never did I win.”
If you would have asked Crofford three years ago what she’d like to do with the rest of her life, “zoologist or zookeeper” is the answer you’d have gotten. On Valentine’s Day in eighth-grade, “Circle of Friends” (a program similar to PALs at the middle school level) handed out roses. Crofford wasn’t involved in the group, but she did receive a rose.
“It touched my heart. I cried that day,” Crofford said. “From then on, I have taken a passion in wanting to be involved. When they told us about it my freshman year, I signed up and it’s been an amazing experience since. I love it.”
Her new dream job?
“Now I’m looking into going to school to be a special education leader,” Crofford says proudly.
The activities are simple, but never small. Not to PALs mentors, and certainly not to Lifeskills students. A couple years ago, the kids in PALs made thermal blankets for pediatric patients at the town’s Community Medical Center.
“The hospital asked, ‘If we could get more funding, could you make us more blankets?’” Gifford recalls.
And so it goes in Falls City. The school matters to the community. And the community matters to the school. Nearly all of Gifford’s students work in the community throughout the week.
“We have had different places actually call and say ‘Hey, I’m looking for someone to hire. Do you have a student that can this type of work or that kind of work?’” Gifford said. “We’ve gone to our bowling alley a couple of times and also have a Special Olympics team, and they are always more than happy to have us come out and to work with us.”
The community of Falls City is caring, which shows through the kids in their school system. Especially the ones on this particular Wednesday morning, lending a helping hand around the bases and in the field to their mentees, and, more specifically, their friends.
“They are fighting the fight of rural Nebraska communities and trying to make Falls City a great place for families, and I think that’s what’s keeping our enrollment so stable,” Dunkhas said of his town, also pointing out renovations to the school in 2001 and additions to the community such as the new waterpark and ballfield upgrades. “It’s a great place to live, and we’ve got a good school system and a good infrastructure. I’m proud of what Falls City does for the people who live here and the kids in our community.”
As in any small town, people in Falls City tend to look out for one another. It’s no different at Falls City High School.
“I think this PALs program, thanks to Mrs. Gifford, is probably the strongest transitional program that I’ve been a part of in my 30 years in education,” said Dunkhas. “These are some of our most protected kids by all of our students, because they love them and they know them and they treat them all with respect.”
Gifford couldn’t do it all on her own. Admittedly, she couldn’t even come close. Four paraeducators, including Lyle Wissmann, playing the role of pitcher on Wednesday, “make the world go ‘round”, says Gifford.
“We have to be a team,” she said. “I trust them. If I am gone for a day, whether I’m sick or out of town, the substitute comes in and, more often than not, they’ll leave a note saying ‘Your paras are the best!’.”
Wissmann has been in the district for seven years working as a para, coach and substitute teacher. He sees the life-altering effects the PALs program has on Lifeskills students, and regular education students, every day.
“The friendships that are developed in the program will last a lifetime,” Wissmann said before offering praise for Gifford. “She is so passionate and caring towards her students. She is firm and caring at the same time. We laugh, sometimes we cry, and we try to develop each one of our students into incredible young men and women.”
In a small town, one where everybody knows everybody, it is easier to become involved than to sit idly by.
“My favorite part of being involved with the PALs program is taking time out of my day to be here having fun with kids who maybe go home and don’t get to do a lot of the things that we do here,” Crofford said. “It’s just great, knowing they are willing to stand there with us or that they want us to be around and are so open to us.”
Gifford’s job tends to lend itself to isolation at times.
“There are times where I feel like I’m off in my own little corner,” she said. “No one else teaches what I do, not at the various levels anyways, so it can be kind of isolating. At the same time, I know all I have to do is ask for help and anyone across the district would step up and help me.”
What Gifford feels is a unique comfort that comes only through caring.
“I think that because of the way our teachers, pre-K through 12th-grade, expect that our students are going to be kind and respectful towards one another, whether it’s a special education student or not, it happens,” Gifford said. “The kids step up to bat, or kick in this situation, and they meet the expectations.”
Simply watching from the sideline, this casual passerby couldn’t help but to feel a sense of that comfort and pride. Pride in Nebraska’s public schools and the future they’re building.
There was a kickball game in Falls City Wednesday morning.
And it was so much more than that.
Mrs. Taylor Kearney, second grade teacher at North Elementary, received a $500 ShopKo Grant for her classroom. This grant was written to purchase materials for the implementation of flexible seating in her classroom. Research has shown that flexible seating has empowered our students, increased student engagement and helped our students make responsible choices. In her classroom she has several table areas where students can move to learn. With the grant money, Mrs. Kearney has purchased items such as wobble stools, stability balls, yoga mats, indoor floor pillows and standing stations. Mrs. Kearney believes that flexible seating is a great opportunity to meet the needs of each unique individual in the classroom.
Beginning this year, the Falls City Tiger Booster Club is giving out a new award, simply called…. “Outstanding Tiger Booster”. The recipient of this award shows his or her dedication to the participants and coaches of Falls City Athletics. This first winner has been hand selected by the current board of the 2017-2018 school year Booster club. It is the board’s hope that current and past members and fans will nominate future winners. Without this years winner’s drive and dedication, the Booster Club would not be what it is today. Presenting this award is this years president Robbie Craig and other members of the booster club. It is only fitting that the initial winner would be one of the founders of the Falls City Booster Club. The Falls City Tiger Booster Club would like to honor Hank Schwartz with this special award.
In the summer of 1970, Hank Schwartz was part of an enthusiastic group of Tiger Fans who formed the Tiger Booster Club. The purpose of the original Booster Club was to always be there to show the athletes and coaches that they could depend on the Booster Club’s support. Also, high on the list of expectations was promoting the “Orange and Black” school colors and encouraging “Good Sportsmanship”. Since 1970 … Hank has continued to be a dedicated Tiger fan by continuously serving on the Booster Club board. His guidance and positive
attitude has been extremely important in the success of the Tiger Booster Club over the years. This year will begin Hank’s 48th year on the Board of Directors.
Hank has been a faithful Tiger fan the past 48 plus years. Since graduating from High School, Hank did his best not to miss a HOME or AWAY football game. Therefore, Hank has attended over 600 Falls City Tiger football games. He has missed less than 10 games. Many former athletes in the crowd know that Hank would be at their respective football game, wearing his signature “Tiger orange” and cheering on the “boys”. He is always positive, ready with words of congratulations, and looking forward to
the next football game on the schedule. Hank has also been an avid basketball fan, also attending HOME and AWAY games. With the arrival of girls sports at Falls City High School, Hank found a place in the stand to cheer on the Lady Tigers, too. This award is our way to say “Thank YOU HANK!” Because of your energy, insight and enthusiasm, the Falls City Tigers have an active Booster Club, that supports our athletes and sports programs in positive ways.
FALLS CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS
BOARD POLICY CODE: 5420
SCHOOL MEAL PROGRAM AND MEAL CHARGES
Meal Program. The school district will make a school meal program available to students. The cost of the program will be determined by the board of education so as to make the program as nearly self-supporting as possible. With board approval, the district may contract with a private company or corporation for the management and/or provision of the program.
The district will notify the families with children attending school of the current guidelines for free or reduced-price school meals. A copy of the complete regulations and procedures regarding reduced-price and free meals shall be available in the office of the superintendent.
Meal Charge Policy. The district will notify students and their families of the policy for Charged Meals, meaning meals received by a student when the student does not have money in hand or in his or her food account. This policy applies to students who receive meals at the free, reduced, or full rates.
Notice of this policy must be provided in writing to all households at the start of each school year and to households that transfer to the school during the school year. Notice may be provided through the student handbook, student registration materials, online portal used to access student accounts, direct mailing or e-mail, newsletter, the district website, and/or any other appropriate means. Notice of this policy will also be provided to all school staff responsible for the enforcement of it, including food service professionals responsible for collecting payment for meals at the point of service, staff involved in notifying families of low or negative balances, and other staff involved in enforcing any aspect of this policy.
The district’s policy on charged meals is if a student has no funds available to pay for a meal, the student will be provided and charged for up to ten meals. If a student has no funds available to pay for a meal, the building principal or his or her designee will contact households about unpaid meal charges and notify them again of the availability of the free and reduced meal program and/or establish payment plans and due dates by telephone, e-mail, or other written or oral communication. Students who qualify for free meals will not be denied a reimbursable meal, even if they have accrued a negative balance from other food purchases. A la carte or extra items will be available for a cash purchase only.
If a student repeatedly lacks funds to purchase a meal, has not brought a meal from home, and is not enrolled in a free meal program, the district will use its resources and contacts to protect the health and safety of the student. Failure or refusal of parents or guardians to provide meals for students may require mandatory reporting to child protection agencies as required by law.
Collection of Delinquent Meal Charge Debt
The school district is required to make reasonable efforts to collect unpaid meal charges. The building principal or his or her designee will contact households about unpaid meal charges and notify them again of the availability of the free and reduced meal program and/or establish payment plans and due dates by telephone, e-mail, or other written or oral communication. If these collection efforts are unsuccessful, the school district may pursue any other methods to collect delinquent debt as allowed by law. Collection efforts may continue into a new school year.
In the event that the Nebraska Department of Education develops a state-level meal charge policy, it shall supersede that portion of this policy.
Adopted: June 12, 2017
Falls City Public School has announced the official launch of their new mobile app designed to improve communication to parents, students, staff and community members. The app will allow access to information and resources quickly on all mobile devices. The district will be able to send push notifications to subscribers in addition to their current messaging alert system.
To access the mobile app, search Falls City Public School in your app store, download the app.