Building Young Leaders: Dewenica Sallis

Dewenica Sallis has a way with children, keeping them engaged during their after-school time at Civic Nebraska's Sherman Elementary Community Learning Center. And that helps them become strong students and active citizens.

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Fun. That’s what Dewenica Sallis means to students at Civic Nebraska’s Community Learning Center at Omaha’s Sherman Elementary School. The laughter-loving instructor is a mother and grandmother – as well as a military mom – who has served Omaha Public Schools since 2008 and who now works at the district’s Teacher Administrative Center. Sherman students and co-workers say Dewenica has a way with children that engages them throughout their after-school time at Sherman. And that helps them become strong students and active citizens. Recently, we caught up with Dewenica to hear about her approach at the CLC.

I have worked at a few places in OPS, and I’ve enjoyed every one. First I was at King Science (& Technology Magnet). After that, I worked closely with the principal at Adams Elementary. And now, I’m at the TAC Building, which really nice, but there are no kids around. So, for that reason, I like coming to Sherman every day.

I must have an addiction to helping kids, because I just love coming here. Also, I recently decided to become a foster parent. I just received my license last year. So, I have kids in my home again! It really reminds me of what I’ve been missing.

Children have the best conversations. And they are so honest. When they trust you, there’s sharing, joy, and laughter. That’s the honest-to-goodness truth.

I leave my full-time job at 4 p.m. to get on the interstate and head to Sherman. I usually arrive here at about 13 after, and it’s time to get going (laughs). I’ll come in and greet the kids at the (gymnasium) tables as they’re eating. And have conversations – oh, do we have the conversations. About seven of them always come over to me right away to tell me about their day. I get my “daily updates” every day that way.

Some kids don’t really care to do homework. I get that. So I do some things like flash cards or put math problems on the board. Or I go to my phone and Google a fact – what’s the biggest continent? The biggest planet? Stuff like that, to keep them engaged. Sometimes I even give them candy if they get answers right. I just think they should be rewarded for hard work.

I’m leading a cooking class with the kids. I tally up what the kids like and figure out what they would like to do, and what their interests are. Kids are easily bored, and they’re learning full-time during school. So, I figure, let’s tally up what they do like and we’ll do it, week by week.

This past week, we learned how to make edible slime. I didn’t know it existed. I guess it’s pretty good — it’s marshmallows, Nutella, oil and powdered sugar. Pretty sweet! For the record, I did not eat any.

Working with kids for so many years, you hear them communicate with one another. And you hear them ask questions and challenge things: “Why do we have to do it this way? Why can’t we do it like this?” and so on.

I understand that. Back when I was in school, I was the kid who was hopping on one foot. I was the kid who was always talking during class. I was the one who had everyone’s attention – I was sometimes the class clown. Because I was bored. So my goal has been to make it fun, and that’s formed a connection.  It’s just there.

I’m a big advocate of connecting with children on their terms. Have a conversation with them. Point out the good things about them, interesting things about them. Keep them engaged, in some way, shape, or form. And, of course, let them know that you care.

I love what I do. I’m glad to be here. I think I’m the one who’s blessed.

Learn more about Civic Nebraska’s Youth Civic Leadership programs.

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    Omaha, NE 68110
    402.457.6711

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