Stories Gathering Place is not only a spot in Gothenburg where locals go to get a freshly brewed cup of joe, but it’s a place where the school gathers to discuss important topics with the public. This last year, Gothenburg Public Schools implemented their Coffee Shop Talks program where Superintendent Allison Jonas hosts a panel of presenters and creates a safe environment for the community to discuss and learn about school topics.

May’s Coffee Shop Talk was the last talk of the 2022-23 school year and it concluded with a discussion about Gothenburg’s current health standards. Health standards became a big topic in our community two years ago, when the Nebraska State School Board proposed a new set of health standards for public schools. Both proponents and opponents of the proposed standards voiced their opinions but, ultimately, the school board could do little more than listen.

When the topic of health standards was brought up, Jonas started digging into the standards already being taught at Gothenburg Public Schools and discovered that the standards weren’t kept in a single document but instead spread out across multiple ones. She made it her goal to compile them in one place. This effort paid off when she handed out copies of GPS’s current health standards to Coffee Shop Talk goers at the April meeting and explained that May’s meeting would be fully dedicated to answering questions about the document.

May’s meeting kicked off on the 16th at Stories, where attendees ordered their favorite drinks and sat down with teachers, health care providers, and Jonas. Jonas opened the meeting by having the presenters introduce themselves and explaining that the purpose of the meeting was for community members to get up close and personal with GPS health standards.

Jerry Wiggins, Susan Massin, Gretchen David, and Melissa Haas were this month’s presenters. Wiggins, who is the 9-12 grade counselor for GPS, started the discussion by saying that when it comes to the information he gives his students, “I have my finger on the pulse of the student body.” He gives students perception surveys to discover what is directly impacting their lives when it comes to social-emotional health.

“Surveys give me guidance on what our students need to have in front of them in terms of information,” stated Wiggins.

Wiggins explained that he sends option-out letters to parents for sensitive topics and provides monthly updates for them. He remarked, “Generally speaking, most of our topics haven’t changed in the last 10 years. There are three that I would say have.”

The three topics that Wiggins says he has to keep in mind when teaching students today, compared to 10 years ago, are social media, vaping, and human trafficking. These three topics have increased their effect on the everyday lives of students.

Massin remarked that she graduated from Gothenburg and feels like she “has a pulse on the standards of the community”. She’s the family consumer science teacher and has made sure to keep her curriculum in line with the community’s traditional values.

Concerned parents voiced their inquiries about social media and how the school is going about educating students on its dangers, specifically about its impact on mental health. Wiggins assured that social media talks usually began around 7th grade and that the school wants to educate its students, especially young women, on the way social media affects the way they see themselves and the world around them.

Wiggins referenced a school docking policy that was implemented so students give up - otherwise known as docking - their cell phones during class periods. Students are allowed to have their phones outside of class, but teachers ask them to dock their devices during class time, which helps teach kids to unplug from social media.

“We’ve done presentations that teach kids what is illegal online,” stated Wiggins, “and we’ve tried to do presentations for the parents but we’ve not had a good turnout.” Social media presentations for 7th grade and above usually contain talks about the age of consent, the laws of the internet, and how influencers are always showing the best version of themselves instead of their messy human side.

Haas is a certified nurse and provides GPS with her services. Jonas remarked that Haas never knows what kind of situation will walk through her door at any given moment and that the school is thankful for her hard work and dedication to their students. As the school nurse, Haas is responsible for giving both ‘the puberty talk’ and ‘the talk’ to students. She pulls in a male doctor to help her with these.

“We do separate sessions,” explained Haas. “One for 5-6th grade boys, one for 5-6th grade girls, and one for 4th grade girls, because girls tend to go through puberty sooner than boys and they should have that information before they start.”

The 4th-6th grade puberty classes focus on basic anatomy, a puberty video, and answering any questions about their changing bodies. Letters about this class are always sent out to parents so they can choose whether they want their kids to see the video or not.

Seventh and 8th grade doesn’t have a puberty or sex education class, which concerned some parents in attendance at the Coffee Shop Talk. Parents stated that social media is introducing kids to things like sex at a much younger age and they worry about how it impacts students. They asked Jonas and the presenting teachers, “How can we fill the gap without overwhelming the students?” One suggestion was for parents to use situations like physical exams to talk to their kids and to create an open line of communication where kids feel comfortable expressing their questions to their parents.

“Not all parents are the same,” stated Haas. “Some aren’t comfortable talking about sex and puberty with their kids, which is why we provide the classes we do.”

In 9th grade when ‘the Talk’ is given to students. Parents are informed and given the option to take their children out of the class.

While elementary students do experience a little bit of basic health, David stated they focus more on social-emotional health with the use of Trauma Informed Care.

“Trauma Informed Care is a system that allows us to teach kids how to deal with trauma,” explained David. “And at the 3rd grade level trauma can be anything from a bad morning to an ongoing problem.”

David uses emotional charts in her class to keep track of student feelings and makes sure to check in with the students who state on the chart that they are feeling stressed or deregulated.

“Once a student is deregulated (meaning they are not calm and ready to learn) it can take 3-4 hours to re-regulate them,” remarked David. She went on to explain that taking the time to help a child ultimately improves their school day because they cannot learn if they are stressed.

Wiggins expressed that he’s noticed the training the school staff went through on Trauma Informed Care impacting not only the students but the teachers. He said teachers have started thinking about their responses to situations, how they are coping with trauma, and what trauma they are bringing into the classroom with them.

Though Coffee Shop Talks have officially ended for the 2022-23 school year, Jonas says to keep your eyes open for information regarding next year’s plan.