NDE Enlists CCC Assistance

One of the things that Central Community College is known for is responding to the needs of the community. In May 2020, a call for assistance came from the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) to quickly create a necessary course for would-be substitute teachers. The plea came after numerous school superintendents across the state said they had a critical shortage of substitute teachers. 

Human relations training is required for all teachers in Nebraska, and most higher education institutions offer the training within a full-semester education course. However, because the shortage was so critical, the NDE needed a course that could be done in a matter of weeks instead of a full semester. 

Abie Ott, director of educational planning, and her staff got right to work and quickly put together a course outline which addressed all the state-mandated requirements. The NDE approved the initial draft, supporting materials were created and through some swift back-and-forth, “Human Relations Awareness” was given final approval.

“The fact that it’s fully online and available at any hour is unique,” said Ott. “We were able to get a full-semester focus in a two-week period and that’s what makes it popular. Plus, the cost was only $107.”

And popular it was. One CCC Facebook posting announcing the course had a reach of nearly 20,000 with 1,536 engagements and numerous shares. Since the course was first offered, more than 1,000 people have taken the course. 

“We work really hard to be as responsive as we can during that two-week period,” said Ott. “It’s a lot of work for the students and we work really hard to reciprocate their thoughtful reflection. We try to prompt more, ask questions and provide thoughtful feedback in that time as well.”

The Human Relations Awareness course is broken down into four areas of study. The first looks at the history of a pluralistic society, followed by a comprehensive look at bias. The third and fourth areas ask the questions, “How does this affect the students,” and “How do we foster a sensitive environment?” If you’re thinking the subject matter is hard hitting, it’s supposed to be.

“I have found that people really dig in deep and for some it almost becomes an emotional experience,” Ott said. “We didn’t necessarily expect that, but we did work hard to craft pretty high-powered content at the start to make everyone a little uncomfortable. We did that on purpose because you cannot really grow or change if there is not a little bit discomfort.”

Ott said that most students approach the content with curiosity and come away having learned things they had never considered.

“The feedback we’ve received from the students that took the course has been overwhelmingly positive,” Ott said.

The reaction of the school superintendents has also been very positive. Some have even asked if they could pay the fee for their para-educators to take the course and CCC has made the necessary arrangements. 

“I have heard reports that the department of education has also heard positive things about the Human Relations Awareness course from the superintendents,” said Ott.

Like many other courses taught at CCC, the popularity of the Human Relations Awareness course has spilled over to external groups. According to Ott, United Way representatives and some law enforcement personnel have taken the course because of the things they heard from other participants.

“It’s exciting to see that what we have put together is reaching a broad audience,” said Ott. “We have had other participants say that they are taking pieces of the course back to their organizations using it to craft their own.”