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LaRae Plessing puts a finishing touch on the siding of one of Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity’s four homes constructed in 2015.

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Longtime volunteer knows true meaning of hard work

LaRae Plessing knows the meaning of hard work.

“I was a farm wife for 47 year and we did a lot of hog confinements and everything out on the farm,” she said. “I was always interested in working on that, and I guess that is how I learned how to do a lot of that kind of work. If we didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done.”

After living and working alongside her husband on their farm near Uehling for most of her life, she has chosen to spend her retirement as a volunteer with Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity by helping the organization build homes for local families three days a week.

“I like to do that kind of work, I love working with my hands and being outside,” she said.

Plessing was born and raised in Dodge County, growing up on a farm east of Winslow before marrying her husband Marvin and spending her adult life living and working on their farm before retiring in 2006.

Following her retirement Plessing began her decade long relationship with Habitat like many other people who volunteer for the organization, by signing up to help on a one-day build through her insurance company Thrivent Financial.

“That’s how I got started, because I am a Thrivent member and I decided I would help that day,” she said. “While we were working they said, ‘you don’t have to just work on this house, we have three others’, and that was the end of my vacation.”

Since that day over 11 years ago, Plessing has dedicated herself to volunteering with Habitat by assisting in the construction of numerous homes as often as she can. Usually every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday each week.

“It’s pretty amazing,” Joy McKay, executive director of Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity, said. “She probably could build a house on her own at this point, because she has been involved with nearly everything we’ve done.”

Although Plessing insists that there is no way she could build a home by herself, her experiences on the construction site have allowed her to learn a lot of different skills involved with building a home.

“I learned how to do molding, door trim, baseboards and all sorts of stuff,” she said. “One thing I have learned is how to use power nailers and when we started we didn’t use them either until the last few years. But that is really a time saver, if you have the right tools it is a lot easier.”

Even when not on the construction site, Plessing isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty and do the simple things that need to be done at Habitat, according to McKay.

“She is not a person to just sit around and not do anything, even when she is not on the construction site she is always doing something else,” McKay said. “In the summer she will show up and get the lawn mower out and mow our lawn.”

Along with learning how to put up siding and use a nail gun, her volunteer work has also been a learning experience in working with new people on daily and yearly basis.

“That was different for me, being a farm wife I worked with my husband and family and we didn’t have outside help like that,” she said. “That was a learning experience because some people just stand there and watch you, and some people want to work and dig right in.”

“I had a little difficulty at first, and I might have been a little bossy at first,” Plessing said. “I said you can’t just stand there you have to work, that is why you are here.”

According to McKay, it is Plessing’s dedication to hard work and service that has kept her volunteering all these years.

“She has worked hard her whole life, so she just wants to keep working hard,” McKay said. “We really appreciate her continued effort and willingness to help.”

McKay also appreciates Plessing’s continued dedication to volunteering at Habitat because the organization has seen fewer numbers of long term volunteers over the past few years.

“We don’t get quite as many of those long term consistent volunteers anymore,” she said. “That used to be a lot more common where people would retire and come volunteer and show up everyday year after year, and that kind of has not been the case so much anymore.”

Plessing has also noticed the drop in long term volunteers.

“We can’t seem to get younger ones to participate in that,” she said. “I guess when they retire at 67 they’re retired, they aren’t going to work anymore unless they get paid. I guess us old people are dumb that way, we keep working.”

Although Plessing’s children have some concern about their mother’s strenuous volunteerism, she doesn’t plan on stopping any time soon.

“I’m 77 years old and I still like to get up on the roof and work but my kids are a little concerned about that, they think I should stay down,” she said. “But I still have to get up on a ladder, I can’t do much without having a ladder because I’m not very tall.”

Along with volunteering at Habitat, Plessing also like to keep busy by way of bicycle rides, walking, and crocheting prayer shawls for the First Lutheran Church Prayer Shawl Ministry.

The Fremont Area Habitat for Humanity has a variety of volunteer opportunities available, for more information visit their website or call their office at 402-721-8771.

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FPS students show positive results through MAP testing

Recently released information shows that students encompassing the Fremont Public Schools District in grades kindergarten through eighth are making positive strides in the classroom.

During the fall, winter and spring, students in these grades complete online Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) testing to look at learning progression throughout a school year. Fall results – given instantly following examination – provides student baseline data, winter testing serves as an educational checkpoint and spring MAP testing yields the final learning growth outcome, said Kate Heineman, executive director of teaching and learning for the FPS District.

“In the fall we get the baseline data for that year, we take it again in January and that is our checkpoint, which shows us how much growth we have made from fall to then,” Heineman said Monday morning during an interview with the Tribune. “We think about what instructional adjustments we can make to help our students grow further. What things are they missing that we thought they had – those kinds of things. Based off of that we can adjust our instruction to meet their needs.”

MAP results are used to indicate individual student growth and positive age-level growth as a whole for each grade completing testing.

“We take a look at it on the individual student level, and teachers have access to it (data) and can look at their classroom as a whole,” she said. “(They look at) What as a teacher do I need to adjust? Grade levels can take a look at inside a building as a whole. What do we need to look at and really focus on as a grade level? Buildings can also take a look across all grade levels and see if there are any trends happening.”

Students completing MAP testing are tested on reading and math comprehension, and for the first time during the 2017-2018 school year, tested on science. Also new this school year is high school freshman completing MAP testing, Heineman said.

MAP testing is taken nationally and data is compiled by the Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA). According to information on the NWEA webpage, the norm baseline of where student comprehension should be is determined by anonymous assessment data pulled from the results of more than 10.2 million students nationwide.

Final MAP testing results from April of last school year revealed that FPS District Students were performing well in comparison to students in school districts all across the United States.

In terms of reading comprehension, nearly every FPS elementary school, Johnson Crossing Academic Center and Fremont Middle School tested at a rate better than the 50th percentile. Viewing a graph illustrating results, Heineman said:

“All of our schools are growing at a rate greater than the 50th percent,” she said. “Our kids are making huge growth gains, with the exception of Washington (elementary), and they were at the 46 percent mark – that’s how close they were.”

In mathematics, all FPS District schools participating in the testing reached higher-than the 50th percentile mark nationally.

Heineman said that MAP testing provides a great look at exactly how students are growing personally, and as a class, throughout the course of the school year.

“This is an exact representation of what is going on in the district,” she said. “NeSA (Nebraska state assessment testing) does not adjust, it is specific to a standard at a particular grade level. It will not adjust up or down to see where a student is at – that’s not its purpose. The purpose of MAP is to find out exactly where students are at, and to find out how much they have grown in a given year.”

The district is thrilled at the overall map results from the 2016-2017 school year, she added.

“Teachers and students are all to be commended for the hard work that they put in each and every day to make that happen,” Heineman said.

RISE program helps at-risk youth

Mandi Byrd hopes area youth will get involved in a program that can help them do better in school and get a job.

Byrd is a specialist in the RISE program for Fremont and Blair.

RISE stands for the Rural Improvement for Schooling and Employment program.

An AmeriCorps program, RISE is designed to help youth, who are on probation and are assessed as high-risk because they’re not attending school or getting in trouble there, and don’t have jobs.

Goals include improving the students’ attendance and grades in school, reducing negative behaviors — and keeping youth from repeating them.

“Studies show if youth are involved and successful in school and obtain employment, they’re less likely to engage in delinquent or criminal behaviors,” said Allison McElderry, programs and services officer for RISE.

AmeriCorps members, like Byrd, work with the youth.

Byrd facilitates groups in Fremont and Blair with youth who are on probation.

The groups meet once a week, one hour per session and follow a 12-week curriculum. Byrd works with students on the curriculum, which covers learning skills, goal setting, motivation, organization, test taking and study skills.

Most of the book is focused on things that will help them in school. The last few chapters focus on topics such as employment applications and interviews, job skills and post high school education.

She’s added videos and power point presentations and has a speaker who will come to talk about budgeting and community programs.

The youth can learn about community centers and job training. They can be connected to mentors.

Youth can refer themselves to the program. Parents and probation officers can refer them. The program can be court-ordered. Teachers can recommend the program to a parent or probation officer.

Byrd goes to some family team meetings, court hearings, probation office meetings and Individual Education Plan meetings.

She enjoys working with the youth and hopes to have more groups throughout the next year.

“I’m also hoping to start an afterschool homework program, especially for those who’ve fallen behind by not attending (school),” she said.

McElderry also pointed out the program’s employment aspect.

“These kids need jobs,” she said. “It’s very difficult for employers to hire probationers — based on the bias and the fact that they’re on probation.”

Employers may assume these are bad kids or aren’t capable of holding a job.

“That’s not the case,” McElderry said, adding, “We have kids fill out a letter of explanation to the employer, explaining why they’re on probation and how they have learned from it and what skills they have to be able to do the job and why they should be hired.

“So we really want employers to give these kids a chance.”

Those who’d like to make a possible referral or want more information may call the juvenile probation office at 402-727-2790.

More information also may be obtained at https:\supremecourt.nebraska.govprobationjuvenile


Nebraska Probation works with AmeriCorps to provide the program. Those interested in becoming an AmeriCorps member may call McElderry at 1-402-471-3338.