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Zion Lutheran adopts classical education

Zion Lutheran School will change its name to “Zion Classical Academy – Est. by Zion Lutheran Church” for the 2020-21 academic year and will adopt a classical Christian education model for its curriculum beginning this fall.

Leaders of the preschool through eighth-grade institution in Hastings hope the classical education model will better serve students and families through a Christian-based curriculum, supported by Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan.

Zion Lutheran is working with the Thom Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting Christian education named after LeRoy Thom, to make the changes.

LeRoy Thom, who died in 2018, was the founder of T-L Irrigation headquartered near Hastings.

The school is hosting a “Rally in the Park” at the Chautauqua Park Pavilion at noon Sunday to answer questions for those interested. The event will include food, live music and a drawing for a half-year of tuition.

Sara Nielsen, head teacher at Zion Lutheran, said the classical Christian education will return to a style of teaching that was eclipsed about 100 years ago. Zion Lutheran will be joining other Nebraska schools, including Zion Lutheran School in Kearney, that follow the classical model.

“We’re going to be hearkening back to the way that schools were actually teaching before all the 20th and 21st century educational reforms,” Nielsen said. “A lot of that reform has been politically motivated, not necessarily in the direction that our school and our LCMS beliefs would agree with.”

The reintroduced curriculum will include subjects like Latin and logic and take a different approach to other subjects, like history.

The curriculum is designed to interweave subjects and teach students how to draw connections between them, Nielsen said.

“The classical method teaches how to think so that they can examine everything — math, science, all knowledge — not as disjointed subjects but as an integrated whole, with the scriptures at the center,” Nielsen said.

A core component of the classical education is the trivium, where the students’ education is broken into three stages across their education. In early elementary, students focus on learning fundamentals of academic subjects. Then students will focus on analytical thinking in their later elementary years and on how to communicate their ideas in late junior high.

Nielsen said this structure takes advantage of the “children’s God-given strengths at each stage of growth.” She also said curriculum structure will have to follow tightly between classes and across grades.

The Rev. Paul Warneke, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, said that the school will still remain Lutheran and the Christian values will be more present in all subjects.

Nielsen said the curriculum will be based on the “Great Books,” including some classical literature, to teach writing, spelling, grammar and speech.

“That’s the backbone of our entire course of study,” Nielsen said. “Whenever possible, we use original sources of literature instead of just textbooks or just highlights from certain books.”

Another significant component of the curriculum will be teaching history chronologically, starting with ancient eras and progressing to modern times over the course of a student’s duration at Zion Lutheran.

“It’s making sure that students understand that it is chronological and we make sure that our curriculum ties in with the biblical stories, as well,” Nielsen said.

Zion Lutheran also plans to intertwine the academic teaching with character education. Nielsen said the goal is to teach children “how to live well and how to live virtuously.”

Zion Lutheran is adopting the shift because they see a need for a classical school in Hastings. Leaders also hope the curriculum will better prepare their students for high school, college and a career.

Nielsen said the school already has been utilizing the classical method and will implement most of the curriculum in the 2019-20 year. The only thing missing will be a logics class. Zion Lutheran is working with Hillsdale College to develop the curriculum.

“They are a very well known for their conservative Christian beliefs and their commitment to civil liberty,” she said.

Zion Lutheran is able to make this transition with financial help from the Thom Foundation and funds from Adams County Lutheran Education Association. The Thom Foundation was instrumental in connecting Zion Lutheran to Hillsdale College.

“They’re going to help us with some of the initial costs of getting this off the ground, and then the goal is the school will become financially self-sustaining,” Nielsen said.

The Thom Foundation already has helped the school finance educational conferences pertaining to classical Christian education. Nielsen said the conference saw a strong movement of schools adopting the classical method, estimating there are more than 500 such schools in the nation today.

In addition, Zion Lutheran School will become a 501©(3) organization, separate from Zion Lutheran Church, and be recognized as a service organization of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Warneke said that the church will continue to maintain close ties to the school, but that distinguishing the two will as separate entities will make it easier for people to donate to either the church or school and clarify authority structure and business operations.

Nielsen said the separation also will make it easier for the school to work with other religious schools in the area.

“We’re not just for the Lutheran,” she said. “We never have been just for the Lutheran children, but I’m not sure everybody knew that.”

Kids keep high-quality herdsmanship

In between showing animals at the Adams County Fair, 4-H exhibitors on the fairgrounds are busy keeping their animals and stalls clean.

It isn’t just because they want to — they are being scored on it.

The herdsmanship contest is an ongoing contest during the fair where clubs are judged on how clean they keep everything. Only clubs of three or more members participate, and every species a group will be judged.

The judging criteria include the cleanliness and care of the animal, making sure manure is removed, making sure feed is removed when the animal is unattended, and ensuring the exhibitors’ share of the alley is clean.

“Its a competition between the clubs to see who does the best job,” said Kirk Feeney, a 4-H volunteer.

Feeney has been helping find the judges for the contest for four years. He says the reason for having the competition is simply to keep the space clean, keep animals healthy and create some team spirit in the clubs.

“If you go out to look at the animals, you don’t want to step in poo while your looking at the pigs. That’s it in a nutshell,” Feeney said. “Nobody wins in that situation.”

Feeney said the contest happens eight times over the course of the fair — once in the morning and once in the evening every day. A different judge makes the rounds every time. The only time an species won’t be judged is when it is being shown, because that is often when the area is at its dirtiest.

The 4-H’ers are given two time ranges of when the herdsmanship judges will start checking the area, both in the morning and evening. The ambiguity of when the judge will show up keeps the youths on their toes and their areas as clean as possible.

Feeney said the uncertainty ends quickly once the judge shows up.

“Once somebody is walking around with a three-ring binder and judging book and some kid sees that, word spreads pretty quickly,” Feeney said.

Aiden Weeks, member of the Lone Tree 4-H club, said it took his group two hours to clean up its cattle and stalls. With the judge coming out as early as 8 a.m., that meant waking up before 6 in the morning. He said he is at the fair for most of the day, either cleaning or showing.

“All day long, our kids are out washing, sweeping and cleaning,” said Amanda Hoffman, a volunteer for the Lone Tree 4-H club.

Cleaning cattle usually means washing and drying the animals, cleaning manure out of the stall and removing feeding equipment. The group has to do this for every animal.

Aiden said it is a lot of work, requiring everyone in the club to do his or her part.

“You couldn’t do it on all your own,” Aiden said.

An outstanding herdsman can get some compensation, however. Feeney said he started a herdsman-of-the-day award and the winner gets a snow cone. An exhibitor can be awarded if he or she interacts with the judge for a little bit or does an exemplary job keeping the area clean, but the cold treat is only a minor incentive.

“If they interact with the judge, great. If they don’t, that’s fine. Herdsmanship is more the cleanliness of the barns, the vitality of their animal,” Feeney said.

The animals are housed across a road from the arena. Because nobody is designated to keep the road clean, clubs are awarded bonus points for cleaning the road after a show.

At the end of the fair, the club gets a cash prize to help fund its activities.

Adams County Fairfest continues through Sunday and concludes with the livestock premium auction on Monday morning.

Kids study tiny organisms near Crane Trust

As Ian Barnes looked through his microscope at a tiny organism floating in the pond water from the Platte River, he wasn’t quite sure what he was looking at.

“It just ate something,” he said.

His partner, Joseph Meihak, was looking through his dichotomous key, a paper with several drawings of organisms, and thought it might be an amoeba, but he wasn’t sure what kind.

“I think it’s number 28,” he said, pointing to a basic drawing of of an acanthamoeba, an amoeba with a rigid pellicular covering.

Around them, other students from the Hastings College Crane Trust Academy looked at their own samples under the microscope in one of the Morrison-Reeves Science Center labs. Ten high school seniors and two juniors from around Nebraska and Colorado were finishing up the weeklong program.

The group spent its time in the laboratory Thursday, before leaving the program.

Earlier in the week, participants went out to the Crane Trust Nature and Visitor Center in Hall County north of Juniata.

There, they worked with the center to learn about the ecology of the Platte River ecosystem and conservation.

“This slide is pretty alive,” said Megan Snow, a senior from Omaha. “I just zoomed into a tine piece of algae, and there are so many of them.”

Snow went to the academy after her zoology teacher recommended it to her.

Snow said she had a lot of experience working with microscopes, looking at tissue samples and creek water next to her high school. For her, looking at the small organisms under the microscope is interesting.

jjohnson / Jarad Johnson 

Ian Barnes works with Joseph Meihak to determine what kind of amoeba they are looking at Thursday. 

“This is awesome,” she said.

The group spent most of their time working at the Crane Trust. They explored the Platte River and some of the rivers branches looking for insects and fish. The group made pitfall traps, cans in the ground that insects would fall into, and collected dung beetles and velvet ants, among other bugs.

The group also watched the Crane Trust workers bird banding, a process to catch birds and tag them, so that they could learn about the migratory patterns.

Even though the cranes already have passed through Nebraska on their way north for the summer, the kids were able to do some birdwatching, but had to wake up before 5 a.m. to get there.

Matt Fong, associate vice president of external affairs at the college, said this is the first year of the Crane Trust Academy. The students had to apply for the academy, providing a letter of recommendation from a teacher and an essay on why they wanted to participate.

Each kid at the academy came for different reasons, but every kid was interested in learning about biology.

“This is a great opportunity for them to experiment and see what careers exist and what possibilities exist in the sciences,” Fong said.

Mackenzie Gonzales, a high school senior from Omaha, came with her sister, Alyssa, a junior. Mackenzie said she came to learn about ecology, but also get more experience with environmental journalism.

“It just combines my two interests,” Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie said the Crane Trust showed her how a bird was held, so that it would stand up for a photo. She also said her journalism teacher expects her to write a story about the academy.

Alyssa said she found a beetle larva from the Platte River at one point. She was able to see the larva after catching it, but it wasn’t until she looked under a microscope that she found a pair of pincers.

“Looking at it without a microscope, it didn’t look like it had pincers,” she said.

The students arrived last Sunday and finished their camp on Thursday.

Washington talks could soon yield spending, debt deal

WASHINGTON — Washington negotiators are closing in on a budget and debt deal that would stave off the chance of a government shutdown this fall and allow Congress to speed through legislation to increase the government’s borrowing cap.

The emerging two-year framework would satisfy demands for an outline to guide congressional work on more than $1.3 trillion in agency operating budgets. It would still need to be fleshed out in follow-up legislation, and puts off battles over political land mines like immigration and President Donald Trump’s unfulfilled promises of a border wall.

Obstacles remain and conservative forces inside the White House are resisting a quick deal and want more concessions from Pelosi, who says a deal is needed this week in order to ensure it passes before the summer recess.

The chief advocates of the deal include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., along with top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York. Many House conservatives are likely to oppose it as spending too much on Democratic domestic initiatives and ignoring budget deficits estimated at $1 trillion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, focused chiefly on the need to increase the debt limit, is the chief negotiator for the Trump administration.

Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Mnuchin on Wednesday, and the talks have gotten down to timing issues. Pelosi told reporters that “if we’re really going to do this by next Thursday before we leave we have to have some agreement this week.”

“I am genuinely optimistic,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., a key Pelosi ally who is keeping a close watch on the talks.

Also driving the negotiations is the threat of cuts averaging 10 percent to agency accounts, reversing recent gains for the Pentagon and hard-won increases in domestic programs favored by Democrats. Those cuts are the final leftovers of a failed 2011 budget and debt deal negotiated by former President Barack Obama and then-Speaker John Boehner that used the threat of the automatic cuts to try to prompt additional progress on the deficit. Instead, lawmakers have acted three times to stop the cuts.

The talks have so far been insulated from Washington’s ongoing maelstrom and the already raging presidential campaign. It is not a done deal yet. Both sides worry that Trump could still reject it. But the forces aligned in the talks are powerful and all sides want to deal with the politically toxic debt limit issue without a high-wire act that could cause markets to shudder. Failure to increase the government’s $22 trillion debt cap would spark an unprecedented crisis in which the government couldn’t borrow enough cash to pay all of its bills.

The talks have been going for weeks, but took on new urgency as deficit estimates worsened, creating an unacceptable risk of default in early-to-mid September. At the same time, the Senate Appropriations Committee, stacked with loyalists to McConnell, is aching to start advancing its 12 annual spending bills. The House has passed most of its bills using significantly higher spending figures than what it’s likely to end up with under the emerging agreement. Each has been slapped with a Trump veto threat.

Among the loose ends, and they could be significant, is the issue of how much in accompanying spending cuts should be paired with the short-term spending increases. Past deals have had these so-called offsets, often relying on quick moneymakers like sales from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve or extending small cuts to Medicare providers, but only $60 billion or so is available now.

While Democrats sound optimistic, some GOP factions are dreading the deal, which melds a toxic mix of debt, spending and $1 trillion-plus budget deficits for conservatives to digest. Republicans warn that Trump won’t sign anything that doesn’t enjoy widespread GOP support, but the alternative is to run the government on auto-pilot, a prospect that alarms the Pentagon and its allies.

“When you have divided government you have to make compromises. Neither side gets 100 percent of what they want,” said Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga. “There’s enough in there it satisfied the needs of both parties trying to get this done. The alternative is so draconian.”