By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Vehicles started rolling through the Cope Stadium parking lot shortly before 4 p.m. Monday.
One after another, a steady flow of parents, many with their children in tow, made their way to the PAWS University pickup site on the University of Nebraska at Kearney campus.
Four PAWS University team members wearing gloves and face masks were ready for the rush. They handed out about 200 free activity kits on the hot and windy afternoon, ensuring kids from across the Kearney area can continue learning during what’s been a challenging summer for many families.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has impacted events across the world, including local summer camps. PAWS University, a summer program UNK began hosting in 2019, is no exception.
Because of public health restrictions related to COVID-19, UNK wasn’t able to offer the same on-campus workshops around 240 elementary students attended last year.
But organizers refused to cancel the program.
“We wanted to give back to the community,” said program director Amy Nebesniak, an associate professor in UNK’s Department of Math and Statistics. “We wanted to support families by providing opportunities for kids to stay engaged and busy this summer.”
PAWS University: Home Edition allows families to access a variety of curriculum-based activities through take-home kits distributed on Mondays at Cope Stadium and Bryant, Central and Emerson elementary schools in Kearney. The kits include all the materials and instructions needed to complete several hands-on learning projects based on a weekly theme.
“I’ve been so impressed with how interactive and educational the packets have been,” said Brooke Ward, a mother of four from Kearney. “They’ve been fun for the whole family and I feel like our kids have learned a lot.”
“The fact that they get a book every week, as well, is just amazing,” she added.
Ward, whose children really like the art projects, called the UNK program a “huge benefit” for the community.
“With four kids and working from home, my life is crazy,” she said. “This has just been a breath of fresh air.”
Every PAWS University: Home Edition kit features STEM, arts, humanities and family activities, as well as a book and easy snack recipe. Additional learning opportunities, including experiments and interviews, virtual tours, “celebrity” readers and workouts led by UNK athletes, are available on the PAWS University website and Facebook page.
For this week’s theme – “Taking Flight” – students get to create a rubber band-powered helicopter, Alka-Seltzer rocket and hot air balloon collage. They’ll also learn about the first American man and woman in space, get an inside look at UNK’s aviation program and check out some amazing videos from Maj. Brian Kimmins, a UNK graduate and pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.
James Denzin, who attends Park Elementary School in Kearney, was looking forward to all the interesting activities.
The 10-year-old participated in PAWS University on campus last year and wanted to sign up again.
“Last year it was really fun, so I thought it would still be fun even if it was at home,” said Denzin, whose favorite activity is reading.
His grandmother, Catherine Johnson, also appreciates the program.
“I’m really impressed with the organization,” she said. “This adds variety to the day and gives us learning activities to do each week.”
PAWS University: Home Edition started June 1 and concludes next week. Supported by grant funding from EPSCoR, Humanities Nebraska and the Nebraska Arts Council, the UNK program distributes 550 educational kits to area families each week.