It wasn’t Christmas, but Brooke Ronhovde brought gifts to Washington Elementary School.
On Monday morning, the former Fremonter — now a teacher in Lincoln — came with plastic baskets full of art supplies for students at the local school.
Decorated paper hearts and letters came from children at Clinton Elementary School in Lincoln, where Ronhovde is an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher for students in kindergarten, second and fifth grades.
A variety of art supplies came from students and staff at Wysong Elementary in Lincoln. Almost 400 items were donated.
All items were given in the hopes of helping Fremont students whose families were deeply affected by mid-March flooding.
“We were really sad about the flooding that happened in Fremont and how it impacted your school so closely — and that a lot of you had to go through some pretty hard things with that,” Ronhovde said. “We wanted to do something to make you guys smile. We hope you guys have a great end-of-the year and, hopefully, this will help you start your summer off well, too.”
Washington Elementary School Principal Diane Stevens was touched by the generosity of Clinton and Wysong elementary schools.
“They went way above and beyond for us and it’s made lots of kids happy, for sure, and it’s made the staff and teachers feel cared for,” Stevens said.
“It’s been a hard spring here,” Stevens noted. “I don’t think people always understand how challenging it has been for the staff.
“Half of our students were displaced by the flood and almost all the other half had family and friends living with them. It’s been challenging for teachers to balance focusing on learning and teaching with the emotions that the kids are bringing to school and their need to express that — so this is nice.”
Ronhovde, assisted by her fiancé Nathan Kyes, also a former Fremonter, dropped off supplies at each classroom.
Wide-eyed children listened attentively as Ronhovde told how students in Lincoln made cards and collected supplies for kids in the Fremont school.
Each classroom got a wooden sign cut in the shape of the state. The signs, many of which said: “Nebraska Strong,” were painted by Lincoln students, who signed their names on the back.
Younger schoolchildren each received at least one paper heart or cutout of the state of Nebraska decorated by Lincoln children in the same grades.
“We’re going to send those home with you to remind you that people are thinking about you and want you to feel happy,” Ronhovde told children in Dan Moran’s kindergarten class.
Older children each got postcards or letters written by Lincoln students in grades 2, 3 and 4. Pre-kindergarten children received paper butterflies made with clothespins.
Each classroom got a plastic basket with art supplies geared to that grade level. Supplies included crayons, markers, chalk, PlayDoh, clay, coloring books and paint. Teachers could decide how to use the supplies to help give the students some good end-of-the-schoolyear fun.
In addition, every classroom got a couple larger items such as magic or bracelet-making kits or small towers that held lots of markers.
Teachers responded with warm enthusiasm.
“This is incredible,” Moran said. “Thank you so much.”
Fourth-grade teacher Shanna Karlin grew teary-eyed during the presentation.
“Are you OK, Miss Karlin?” one student asked.
“I’m just very grateful,” Karlin said, also expressing her thanks.
About 320 students attend Washington Elementary School on South Broad Street. Ronhovde said Clinton and Wysong schools each have about 500 students.
Ronhovde was in town visiting family during spring break when flood waters covered highways in and out of the city, making them impassable.
She was among area residents who got a plane ride out of Fremont to the Millard airport. From there, she caught a ride to Lincoln so she could be ready for Monday morning classes.
Ronhovde told the Tribune in March that leaving was hard since so much had to be done in Fremont after the flooding, but believed it would be good to be back with her ELL students. Most of these students don’t speak English as their first language and teachers, like Ronhovde, are a voice for them.
When Ronhovde returned to Lincoln, she told students about Fremont-area flooding and showed them photographs.
“A lot of our students have experienced something like that before — some kind of trauma that’s caused them to have to move,” Ronhovde said. “A lot of our kids, who’ve come here from other countries, have had to flee from dangerous things and leave their homes really quickly and so they kind of know what that feels like.”
So immediately, Ronhovde’s students wanted to know how they could help.
Staff at Clinton donated a carload of cleaning items, such as gloves, masks and trash bags. She gave those items to her parents, Mike and Edie, who took it to the local distribution center for Fremont-area residents affected by the flooding.
In April, a teacher reached out to Ronhovde about Student Serve Week, a time when kids at Clinton and Wysong schools partner for a project to help others.
This year’s theme was “Hearts Through the Arts.”
Lincoln teachers wanted to help flood-impacted students in Fremont. They knew Ronhovde was from Fremont and is familiar with Washington school.
Ronhovde was still in college when she worked on projects with Washington students. Her parents have taught summer school here.
“We felt so horrible for the families,” Ronhovde said of those involved with the project. “We felt like the kids needed something to help them feel like kids and to help them get a break from having to deal with this really heavy stuff.”
Kyes snapped photos during the distribution.
“Seeing their happiness and excitement to use those things and to get to take home something created for them, it felt rewarding to me,” Ronhovde said. “I know our students and staff will be really excited to see those pictures and see the work they did helped kids feel happy and excited.”