For the past decade, Esther Jones has been a mainstay at Omaha Public Schools’ Community Learning Centers. Before joining Civic Nebraska’s Lothrop CLC, she spent time building young leaders in three other OPS outside-of-school programs. “Mrs. Esther” is known for being energetic, passionate and kind – and has forged meaningful relationships with hundreds of Lothrop students. We caught up with Esther to hear about her experiences as Lothrop CLC’s fourth-grade team leader.
Lothrop is a special place. The students here have different needs than some of the other places I’ve
An awful lot of working with kids is knowing when to say something, and knowing how to build relationships. So if a student has an issue, they will be comfortable with talking with me.
So I try to be as open with students and as outgoing as possible. There are a couple of young ladies here who line up every day, then pull their hoods up over their faces and look down at the floor. I reminded them, every day, to take off their hoods and show me their faces. I’d say, ‘Ladies, don’t cover your heads; don’t cover your faces. You’re beautiful.’
Lately now, when they see me, they keep their hoods down. (Laughs)
By the time I’m seeing the kids, they’re just getting out of school. They’re amped up. So I set standards at the beginning of every program day about what’s expected of them. Such as, we’re going to get in our seats and go read. Or, we’re going to hit the homework. That’s how I keep them focused.
And engaged. We play lots of games, which have a learning component behind them. I always get into the mix and play, too, because that motivates them: We gotta beat Mrs. Esther. I’m fine with losing a game; they’re learning while we play it.
Right now, I have a third-grader who has really changed since being in the program. When he started, he would run out of the room, down the hall, away from others. One day he was sitting in the hallway. I said, ‘We can’t do this every day. Come with me. Mrs. Esther has something special for you.’ I gave him a book and listened to him read. Now, every day, he looks for me to hear him read. And he’s such a wonderful reader, you wouldn’t believe it. He doesn’t care who I might be working with at a given time — he’ll be like, “Mrs. Esther! Mrs. Esther! C’mon, I gotta read these books!” His behavior is completely different.
The word that comes to me about Lothrop is ‘joy.’ There’s the joy of coming in here. There’s the joy of giving children something to brighten their days. They might say, “OK, I might’ve had a tough day, but now we’re gonna have some fun.” That’s joy.
Someday, I hope that these kids remember me for being a positive influence in their lives. That’s really what it’s all about.
To learn more about Civic Nebraska’s Youth Civic Leadership programs, click here.