Fellows Week 2: Chadron

Written by Vasundhara Balraj, Bhargav Vemulapalli and Elizabeth Schott

Chadron continues to defy our expectations every day. When we arrived last week, we did not know what to expect – we knew little about our assigned town other than the Bean Broker coffeehouse and C-Hill. Despite the odds being stacked against Chadron, it’s amazing to see what this town has been able to accomplish.

   During our first week in Chadron, we visited all the local public schools – the elementary, intermediate, middle, and high school – in order to meet the people that we will be working with for the next several months. As soon as we arrived, we recognized this unique pride and love for the local community that we had never witnessed before. For example, despite Chadron Public Schools being classified as a Title 1 school district, the district consistently ranks among the best in the state. In fact, when we met Mr. Jerry Mack, the principle of Chadron High School, he couldn’t help but brag how his school district is only ranked behind the elite districts of Eastern Nebraska (e.g., Elkhorn). Furthermore, he demonstrated to us the unique didactic philosophy that makes Chadron Public Schools set such a high standard of excellence for the rest of the Nebraskan Panhandle – a philosophy which is predicated on providing the teachers with almost unlimited autonomy in their teaching methods, allowing them to use trial-and-error to find what is most suitable for their students. For example, he showed us two classrooms: one with the lights on maximum brightness and another with the lights dimmed. In the dimmed-light classroom, the students were dramatically quieter and were paying much better attention to their teacher, confirming the teacher’s prediction that dimmed-light conditions would promote a more productive learning environment for the students. In the future, we are really looking forward to working with the public-school district and we continue to be inspired by its underdog mentality every day.

   We also were introduced to the staff at Western Community Health Resources (WCHR), a public health office of Chadron Community Hospital. WCHR provides mental health and occupational services to the whole Nebraska panhandle and its personnel are constantly on the move across different communities. In our mission to improve the accessibility of community mental health resources for the public-school district, we will be working with WCHR a lot in the future and will continue to rely on them for advice on how to best tackle the gaps in mental health services that we will eventually identify in the public-school district.

   During our first week in Chadron, we established many of the connections that will help us with the main objective of our service – to identify gaps in the pre-K-12 mental/behavioral health services offered in the public-school district. During our second week, we are familiarizing ourselves with the SHAPE system, which will allow us to identify these gaps in mental/behavioral health services. In the next few weeks, we will be working with the school mental health providers to determine what specifically is contributing to the identified gaps in mental/behavioral health services and coming up with proposals for how to tackle these challenges using the evidence-based practices provided in the SHAPE system.

We attended an event at the Bean Broker where representatives from Net Radio (Nebraska’s PBS & NPR Stations). The radio stations usually just cover stories from Eastern Nebraska but have recently increased their efforts in covering stories from the Panhandle region. This will be a nice way to increase Chadron’s publicity across the state!

We were invited to attend the high school assembly where it was revealed to the students that one of their beloved history teachers was awarded with the state history teacher of the year award. Mr. Sandstrom is now in contention for the national history teacher of the award, which will be presented in a few months in Washington D.C.

We attended a meeting with Chadron’s transportation committee. The residents of Chadron and the students at Chadron State College encounter many problems when trying to get around the town and to/from the airport due to the lack of public transportation offerings. As a result, this task force has been assembled to address this issue and we look forward to working with them in the future!