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State officials unveiled a program Monday that aims to give all 26,000 Nebraska fourth-graders a taste of Nebraska’s icons.

A group of private funders wants to get every fourth-grader in the state to visit the Capitol or one of 11 other cultural sites throughout the state in the 2017-18 school year. The fund – which is currently at $400,000, roughly enough to fund 80 percent of students – will reimburse public and private schools and homeschooling groups for the cost of sending students to the designated locations.

Given Nebraska’s tight budget for next year, there’s no way the state could have funded such an initiative. But those who understand the need for young Nebraskans to experience firsthand what makes their state unique deserve credit for sponsoring a significant, worthwhile investment.

The broad focus for this program also deserves praise for including four locations in the Panhandle, which are important to show young Nebraskans the treasures of the state from border to border.

“If somebody wants to come from Chadron to the state Capitol, we can accommodate that,” Suzanne Wise, director of the Nebraska Arts Council, told reporters at a press conference Monday. “In my view, this is a gem that we want everyone to visit.”

This is a positive development, particularly to mark Nebraska’s 150th birthday, to ensure as many students as possible can appreciate this wonderful state, regardless which town or city they call home. As economic conditions have forced school districts to make difficult decisions, field trips — such as the annual rite of visiting the Capitol — were often among the casualties.

Fourth grade has long been the year where Nebraska students focus on the history and government of the state. A visit to the Capitol is undoubtedly the prime way to see government in action and bring to life the Nebraska Department of Education’s grade-level social studies standards, which include describing “the origin, structure and function of Nebraska’s unicameral government.”

The other 11 sites – such as Chimney Rock and Homestead National Monument – are icons that preserve and share the foundation and history of the state after a century and a half. These Nebraska gems more fully tell the stories of the people and places, including many far from the capital city, that helped shape the state the fourth-graders now call home.

To know Nebraska is to appreciate Nebraska.

And for students to treasure and fully appreciate it as they should, they must have the opportunity to learn and know all the state has to offer. This program and the generous funders who made it possible are helping ensure that fourth-graders are having the experiences that more fully teach them about Nebraska.


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