WEEPING WATER – Grace Lowe accumulated a library-sized amount of knowledge about agriculture and youth activities while she was growing up in Murray.
She is now passing on her love of field-based classes through a new program with Cass County Nebraska Extension.
Lowe is one of 59 University of Nebraska-Lincoln students who are participating in the first year of a statewide program. She is an inaugural member of the Huskers After-School and Summer Learning Opportunities (HALO) teaching class. The Conestoga graduate is leading programs for dozens of Cass County students this summer.
Lowe said she was enjoying her time helping local children. She has given them opportunities to learn about topics ranging from aquatic insects to galaxies in outer space. That has resulted in many positive experiences for both teacher and students.
“Working with the local youth of Cass County this summer has been an amazing experience so far!” Lowe said. “What they have taught me throughout the summer is that each individual thinks and learns so differently, and it is awesome to see the thoughts and ideas each person has.
“Our youth in the Lego Robotics workshop is a great example of this. Each team came up with very different robots and programmed them to do different tasks.”
Cass County Nebraska Extension Assistant Tracy Ensor said she was impressed with the way Lowe has interacted with students. She has used a mix of old and new methods to help kids become curious about many nature-based subjects. She has taught classes using lesson plans that were already on file at the extension office, and she has also incorporated her own strategies into the summer series.
“It’s been great to see Grace grow more comfortable in her teaching throughout this summer’s HALO internship experience,” Ensor said. “She hadn’t done much teaching before this summer, but she learned quickly and keeps getting better and better.
“She even created her most recent workshop with little outside guidance, and when she taught that program the youth definitely responded to her expertise. They asked questions and looked to her to guide their learning. Grace is doing a great job and we are excited to have her on our team!”
Patrice McMahon, director of the UNL Honors Program, said she was happy to see Lowe and others take time to be HALO mentors. Officials with the UNL Honors Program, UNL Student Affairs, Nebraska Extension and Beyond School Bells are collaborating on jumpstarting the program in communities across the state. They are using federal CARES Act funds to provide financial support for many types of activities.
HALO mentors can work between 40 and 120 hours during the summer. Students who want to fulfill requirements for the UNL Honors Program must spend a minimum of 80 hours working with youth in their communities.
“I am so excited to see our after-school programs grow this summer,” McMahon said. “For UNL students, watching these children learn and grow is often the highlight of their week. They come away feeling not only fulfilled, but also prepared with new skills they didn’t have before.
“This is exactly what the Honors Program hopes to do – help prepare students for real-world experiences that help the community and benefit our society.”
Lowe began laying the foundation for her HALO mentorship as a member of Conestoga’s FFA program. She earned the prestigious Nebraska State FFA Degree in her senior year after compiling many top FFA achievements. She won a pair of state awards in the FFA Food Science category as an upperclassman. She was an honors student and was involved with band and one-act play at CHS.
Lowe said one of her top goals is to make her HALO sessions fun for all of her students. She said creating a relaxing and joyful classroom for kids to visit is a key priority.
“Another thing I’ve learned from working with our youth is that if you provide a safe and inclusive environment, they will soar to their highest potential,” Lowe said. “Throughout the summer, I’ve learned how to create that space and change it depending on the needs and interests of each student, so it is better accommodated to them.”
Lowe has been working directly with youth through the 4-H Summer Workshop Series. Her first workshop involved teaching students about the scientific principles of DNA. Children extracted strings of DNA from fruit and talked about their discoveries with classmates.
Lowe shared her love of the insect world with students at a stream exploration class in early July. She is majoring in English at UNL and would like to eventually earn a master’s degree in library science. She is also minoring in insect science through the UNL Entomology Department, which gave her a solid foundation to stand on during the outdoor workshop.
“I’ve also enjoyed being able to use my experience and knowledge of entomology at our stream exploration workshop,” Lowe said. “The youth had so much fun learning about aquatic insects and how they impact our water ecosystems. They would bring me insects to help them identify and ask me awesome questions about why this insect was the way it was or what the importance of a specific insect was.”
Lowe’s final workshop with students ages 5-7 took place July 14. She and fellow intern Emily Soll introduced them to the concept of galaxies and helped them create stepping stones for gardens.
Ensor said Lowe has also been expanding her encyclopedia of ideas outside the classroom. She is creating a historical escape room exhibit in partnership with Cass County Nebraska Extension and Cass County Historical Society. Her escape room will be unveiled during the Plattsmouth Harvest Festival in September.
Lowe said she was grateful for the opportunity to work with local students this summer. She said the HALO experience has given her many positive memories to take back to Lincoln.
“This has definitely been one of the best summers I’ve ever had,” Lowe said. “It’s been a lot of fun.”