Friday, February 27, 2004


A salute today to Rhonda Stuberg, a longtime educator and valiant charter-school champion in Nebraska. She has started a private school for inner-city kids in the former Nebraska School for the Deaf, 3223 N. 45th St.

Apollos Preparatory School charges tuition of $60 a week. It uses the excellent phonics curriculum, Abeka. It offers preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds as well as kindergarten, first and second grades. It employs two teachers as well as Mrs. Stuberg, and already has enrollment of 18 children.

It's a religious, non-denominational school because Mrs. Stuberg, a member of Augustana Lutheran Church, is convinced most parents want a faith-based education for their children.

There's more structure, the adult-to-child attention is much more intensive than in the public schools, and the curriculum is presented in old-fashioned, direct ways. The schedule is year-round, another change from public schooling which seems to be necessary for disadvantaged pupils.

Her first-graders are reading, and reading well. Her kindergarteners are reading.

Yet these are the ''fall through the cracks kids'' we’re all concerned about, who inner-city public schools don't seem to be helping. In contrast, at Apollos School, their parents are delighted. ''They love the structure, the consistency,'' Mrs. Stuberg said. ''They’re excited: their kids are learning.''

Of course, she's strapped for cash and would be overjoyed if her nonprofit, 501(c)(3) were ''discovered'' by donors who want to support inner-city education with tax-deductible contributions, as well as private-sector foundations and philanthropists. She would dearly love to hire another teacher so she could devote more time to administration and offer parenting classes and so much else. She's there until 7 p.m., many nights and is pouring her heart into this effort.

But the key is: they're reading. They're learning. They're fact-finding. They're thinking. They're flourishing.

At sixty bucks a week.

''There’s a reason more people don't open private schools,'' Mrs. Stuberg said. ''Where are you going to get the money?'' She said she's not making money, and not really breaking even yet. But it's early. And she's sure it'll work out fine. She believes in the concept . . . and she believes in the children she serves.

Her life's work has been teaching kids ''who don’t fit in.'' A certified teacher with a master's degree in special education, she taught kids who were truant and in trouble at Boys Town and Uta Halee, and was former director at Cooper Village. Most were very, very behind and skipping a lot of school. Their reading was stuck at the fourth- or fifth-grade level and they just couldn't handle secondary-level work.

Mrs. Stuberg realized that their educational foundations were weak. She worked really hard a couple of years ago by lobbying and forming a statewide coalition to try to get charter schools legalized in Nebraska. Then she could use public-school funding for the different, more intense learning needs of inner-city kids, away from the one-size-fits-all public schooling environment.

However, the teachers' unions slam-dunked that innovation, just as they have slam-dunked attempts to get tuition tax credits, vouchers and other school-choice solutions here.

''I didn’t feel I had any hope at all to get anything accomplished,'' Mrs. Stuberg said. She decided that could no longer be an excuse, so three years ago, she just hung a sign on the gate, spread the word and presto! Her school was accredited by the Nebraska Department of Education in August.

Where does she go from here? ''My dream would be that those people who care very much about how their kids are doing will get their kids to me. We want them to be able to have choices and alternatives, especially if they're not doing well in the school they're in.''

Want to encourage her in that dream? Contact her to set up a tour for you or your church or civic group (Mrs. Stuberg's office phone is 457-7857; email: rstuberg1@cox.net). Spread the word to others. And most of all, send a tax-deductible donation to:

Apollos Prep School
3223 N. 45th St.
Omaha, NE 68104

If you're wondering where she got the unusual name for her school: while she was pondering what to do about her ''calling'' to help disadvantaged children, Mrs. Stuberg's Bible fell open to a New Testament account of a well-educated Jew from Alexandria who became a Christian and became almost as famous a teacher in the early church as St. Paul. His name: Apollos. She felt it was confirmation to her, to share her teaching skills and love for kids who really need knowledge and love.

Rhonda Stuberg is no saint. But what she's doing with that little school is about as Biblically Correct as it comes.

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