Bertolas' goal to help students 'learn about your state'
With a goal to "put more and better geography resources in the classroom," Dr. Randy Bertolas began a project his wife calls "a year of Saturdays."
Bertolas is a professor of geography at Wayne State College and recently earned the attention of Nebraska's First Lady, Susanne Shore.
The First Lady was responsible for finding funding for a third edition "Student Atlas of Nebraska" which will be distributed to fourth grade students across the state.
For several years Bertolas has been working with Geographic Educators of Nebraska surveying teachers across Nebraska to determine their needs in teaching students about the state.
"My goal has been to put out an atlas of Nebraska to allow students to 'learn about your state.' I decided to focus on fourth graders, who already study Nebraska to get their interest early," Bertolas said.
After receiving feedback from teachers, Bertolas began with a 'germ of an idea' and started to create an atlas. He very soon realized he couldn't do it at the same time as his 'day job' (teaching at Wayne State College) so with the blessing of his wife, Maureen Kingston, began the project.
"The newly created atlas involved what Maureen calls my 'year of Saturdays' where I went off to work researching the state, creating maps and designing the atlas to allow students to ask questions," Bertolas said.
When the first edition was completed Bertolas needed to get it printed and bound, which required funding.
He spoke to groups across the state and received funding from Humanities Nebraska, Monsanto, Wayne State College, National Geographic Education, Central Valley Ag, Land O'Lakes, Nebraska Council for the Social Studies, LinkedIn-Omaha and the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Bertolas received funding to print several thousand copies of the atlas, as well as provide for professional development for teachers across the state.
"There are 1,400 fourth grade teachers in Nebraska and my goal is to get the atlas, as well as a digital copy of the material, into their hands," Bertolas said. "The atlas is inquiry based, and the curriculum guide that goes with it does more than just teach history or geography. There is also information on government in our state, as well as math and critical thinking," he said.
Bertolas credits his wife for her consultation on the project and reminding him that he needed to use "fourth grade words" in the book.
The atlas contains a number of maps and geographical information about the state, but also includes information such as what crops are grown in Nebraska, where the people came from that settled here, pictures of the state's landmarks, population information and a listing of all the counties in the state.
With the third edition of the book recently completed, Bertolas said, "It is such a good feeling to be done. But, now we are going to work on translating it into Spanish. Everyone I have talked to has suggestions on what to do with the book and where to go from here," he said.
"I have given away all the books that have been printed. This was never designed to be a money-making project.
Funding for the current edition of the atlas came from Mutual of Omaha, Peter Kiewit Foundation and The Ethel S. Abbott Charitable Foundation.