Opportunity in the Heartland

Secretary DeVos recaps Day 3 of the Rethink School Tour

U.S. Dept. of Education
4 min readSep 15, 2017


Our Rethink School Tour arrived in the Cornhusker State Wednesday night at Midland University, and today we continued to be impressed by the innovative thinking in America’s heartland.

We began the day with a visit to Omaha’s Nelson Mandela Elementary School, a free private school. That’s right: a private school that, through the generosity of philanthropic foundations, is able to offer its students from the surrounding neighborhood free tuition.

Getting to see students thrive at Mandela Elementary was a great way to start the day.

Every student at the school qualifies for free and reduced price lunch, so Mandela is truly providing a valuable educational opportunity for children that would not otherwise have them.

The school’s focus on mindfulness seems to be yielding great results. Each student I met looks to have a bright future ahead — one accompanied by beautiful music too! Every student at Mandela is taught how to play the violin, thanks to the school’s partnership with the Omaha Conservatory of Music. I was treated to a stirring performance. Bravo!

Every student at Mandela Elementary learns to play the violin thanks to the Omaha Conservatory of Music

We then made our way down the highway to St. Mary’s Catholic School in Lincoln. Parochial schools have been in the United States since its founding; so what could it have to do with rethinking school? Well, rethinking is not only about “new” ideas — it can also be ideas that work and ought to be amplified. St. Mary’s emphasis on “personal education, not just private education” is evergreen.

The students at St. Mary’s have a bright future ahead thanks to the schools commitment to develop their character.

St. Mary’s utilizes the Ec3 system, which stands for education through the development of courage, character and confidence. Ec3 is designed to get students familiar and comfortable with STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and the school ensures the students have the support they need by bringing in student-tutors from the nearby University of Nebraska.

Our next stop on the Tour might just be the coolest yet. The public school we visited today wasn’t in your regular classroom: it’s based at Lincoln Children’s Zoo!

Talk about hands-on learning!

Lincoln Public Schools’ Science Focus program is a shining example of a public school that rethinks and innovates to meet the needs of its individual students. Here students have the opportunity to learn in an exciting environment that enlivens their curiosities and brings the textbooks to life. And these students can even earn college credit thanks to a partnership with the local Southeast Community College.

We ended our day in Kansas City, Kansas with a visit to the largest community college in the state. Johnson County Community College offers its students a diverse menu of skills to learn and career pathways to pursue. From welding to nursing, coding to culinary arts, this institution is meeting the needs of students to prepare them for the 21st century economy.

Johnson County Community College gives these students the option to learn and grow in a profession they care about.

Community colleges like JCCC thrive because they are student-centric. Too many for too long have insisted upon elevating four-year degree programs at the expense of other options. That focus seems to have been misguided, because the vast majority of American students today aren’t what we think of as “traditional students.”

Students should be able to pursue their education when and how it fits their schedule and needs. Education, after all, can’t stop at age 22. Education can— and should — be a lifelong quest, with multiple pathways available to pursue it.

Tomorrow we head across the border to Missouri, then on to Indiana for the final stops of our tour. Be sure to check back on the blog to hear about the next great examples of rethinking school.

Until tomorrow!


Betsy DeVos is the 11th U.S. Secretary of Education.



U.S. Dept. of Education

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