The National Civic League named Omaha as a finalist in this year’s competition, which was held virtually from July 18-22.
The All-America City Award recognizes cities across the U.S for their work in the community.
The National Civic League was impressed with the challenges that Omaha addresses, which identifies the problem that housing instability has on students’ academic achievement, attendance and graduation rate.
The theme for this year’s competition was, “Housing as a Platform to Promote Early School Success and Equitable Learning Recovery.” The judges praised Omaha’s community work to support affordable housing which, in turn, supports efforts to increase early literacy.
Two nonprofit organizations, Metropolitan Omaha Educational Consortium (MOEC) and Metro-Omaha Raise Me to Read (RMTR) spearheaded the application process.
MOEC is dedicated to providing resources and support to public schools and their educators.
RMTR focuses on early literacy, school readiness, reading at grade level, and strands of community support. Both are housed in the Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center.
“We know that if students are not reading at grade level by third grade, they are less likely to be successful in the rest of their schooling,” said Kate Knudsen, RMTR facilitator.
Knudsen also said parents need to know that even in the smallest moments children can learn so much which, in turn, enhances their early literacy skills.
“If you’re walking through the grocery store, talk about the colors, if you’re waiting somewhere, talk about what they see,” Knudsen said. “Every single time a child sees something new it fires a new neuron in their brain.”
RMTR is connected to the All-America City competition through its theme of enriching places within the city that aren’t schools.
One project that illustrates this is Urban Thinkscapes that encourages play as learning outside of school.
Their All-America City application included plans for development of Urban Thinkscapes to transform non-school spaces into rich-learning environments.
Knudsen said they intend to do two footprints in North and South Omaha as their beginning.
They also plan to create a play ecosystem toolkit explaining what it took to build the structures, In return, anyone in the community can replicate it.
“People are excited about it, they want to be part of it,” Knudsen said. “A gentleman from Omaha by Design said we need one of these 15 minutes from every child in the city.”
RMTR has spent time garnering community support for the project. They have visited North and South Omaha learning community centers, and have had play dates with families learning about how certain children prefer to play.
“We facilitate different kinds of play, one was with music, one was with blocks, and then one was with found items to build your own thinkscape,” Knudsen said.
Keeping play as learning is especially important “for little ones because that’s how they learn,” Knudsen said.
Once they determine locations for the Thinkscapes they will begin to hire architects, designers, and artists. They hope to announce the locations in August or September.
“It is important for the community to know that we are trying to do good,” Knudsen said.
More information about the award can be found on the All-America City Website.