by Suzanne Singer
Nancy Rampey-Biniamow has been named the Phil and Ruth Sokolof Outstanding Jewish Teacher for 2015. She has been a science teacher for 13 years at Omaha Public School’s Blackburn Alternative School, which is for students who have been unable to succeed in OPS’s traditional classrooms.
According to her nominations, Rampey’s students are generally troubled teenagers who often are members of gangs. They need someone to believe in them, and Nancy shows them she cares. She gives them direction that many have found lacking in their lives.
She believes these students need an education integrated with marketable skills for the workforce. Working with OPS’s Vocational Education Department, the Sherwood Foundation and Blackburn, a grant was obtained to build and develop a horticulture program at the school. The program has developed four campus gardens plus a community garden at 25th and Hamilton.
For these gardens, Nancy and her students built 4’ by 8’ raised cedar beds, spread the compost, got on their knees and planted the herbs and vegetables. Her students learned how to grow food for their families and developed an understanding of the origins of their food. Her horticulture program is tied into the culinary arts department so that the students not only learn about growing plants from seeds, but also how to harvest the produce and then to prepare it in a nutritional manner.
Nancy had been troubled for years by her concern for students who do not want to be in school or work on their class lessons. Horticulture has been a part of her answer. She and her students have developed a hydroponic system that is fertilized by goldfish. The students are also taught how to build their own hydroponic system using pop bottles so that they and their families can have fresh herbs all year round. In addition, she introduced an architectural landscaping program that has multiple levels — the grid drawing and a 3D virtual rendering of the design. Once the students have mastered the software, they spend their time working on designing their landscapes.
Following their graduation from Blackburn, her students are often able to find employment in local nurseries, garden stores and with landscapers.
The community is invited to a reception honoring the Sokolof Foundation’s Teacher of the Year and Scholarship recipients on Tuesday, May 12, 7 p.m. at the JCC.