TAYLOR, Neb. — Schools are the heartbeat of rural communities and now the folks of Loup County have voted to keep their school open. And while they may only have a few dozen students, they also boast the state’s best teacher who recently got to share her story with a famous fellow educator — First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden.
In a county where cattle outnumber people 40 to one, there are just 30 kids in grades 7 through 12. But don’t let the small size fool you with a teacher who does big things.
“I would say rigor of small school is equivalent or greater because we can personalize learning,” said Megan Helberg, English teacher at Loup County Public School.
Helberg challenges her students to think beyond Loup County, as she’s done extensive work to bring to light genocide in Rwanda and the horrors of the holocaust.
“I think that’s the role of educators whether in a small school or large school is bringing awareness to issues going on in society and throughout history,” she said.
And Helberg recently visited a place steeped in history. As Nebraska’s 2020 Teacher of the Year, she was invited to the White House, a long-delayed trip that finally happened.
“Everybody was excited and energy was high,” she said of their ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House.
It turned out to be much more than a photo opp with Pres. Joe Biden, as she got a tap on the shoulder, inviting her in the White House.
“Little did I know I entered the door and walked in there was the First Lady Dr. Jill Biden, a teacher, an active teacher I may add saying surprise would you like to have a chat. Needless to say I was surprised. It was the honor of a lifetime,” Helberg said.
The two educators share a common passion, as both teach about the holocaust.
Helberg said, “Dr. Biden and I are both English teachers and we were able to connect over favorite lessons, favorite moment with kids. It was such an honor to meet with her because she’s the only first lady to keep her job.”
The first lady shared about her community college teaching role while Helberg talked about Taylor, population 190.
“I really think that schools are the heartbeat of communities and if we talk about Nebraska being a state made up of small towns then we need to protect our small schools. It can be a slippery slope when a town loses its school,” she said.
Taylor recently lost its post office after a blast at the building next door. Its fate remains unclear.
The future for the school is not in doubt as voters recently decided to keep it open despite falling below the threshold where it could be dissolved. Only 8 folks voted against the measure while 277 voted to keep Loup County Public School open.
Helberg chose to teach in Loup County after working in nearby Burwell, saying she believes in public education and that kids even in the smallest schools can find the good.
“It does not matter where you are from you set high goals for yourself. You can have big dreams. They can come true. You can accomplish them. Here I am, a small town girl from Taylor Nebraska, from the Sandhills to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. I want them to know they can go for it. There’s a lot of good around here and world is waiting to hear our message from Taylor, Nebraska,” she said.
Helberg’s not the only award-winner teacher in the family. Her mom Sue McNeil was also Nebraska Teacher of the Year.