Exploring new worlds in Rock County


BASSETT — Some of the children living in and around Bassett had their eyes on the sky this summer while their hands clutched paintbrushes and glue sticks.

They brought their heads and hands together to create art depicting rocket ships, planets and other space-related items.

The children in question participated in a summer program sponsored by the Bassett Public Library and the Old Feed Store Art Center and funded in part by a grant funneled through the Nebraska Community Foundation.

“The library has a summer reading program, but we wanted to do more activities,” said Macey Lackaff, the library director.

Rylee Stoltz, a former resident and member of the Rock County Community Fund, suggested bringing the library, the art center and the foundation together for the arts program.

Lackaff applied for the Youth Engagement and Development Grant that is designed to help start new programs or enhance existing programs.

“(The library’s) portion of the grant was for the summer reading programming costs. The other recipient of the grant was the Old Feed Store Art Center, who used the Youth Engagement Grant to do a summer art program,” said Kristine Gale, the community impact coordinator with the Nebraska Community Foundation. “The local Rock County Community Fund gave the $2,500 match … to Rock County Growth Inc.”

Rock County Growth is a local nonprofit organization that coordinated with the library and the art center to do the programs for the kids, so it was a three-way partnership, said Gale, who lives in North Platte now but is formerly from Bassett.

Because the Rock County Community Fund matched the $2,500 Youth Engagement Grant, the library and arts center had $5,000 to use on its programs.

At the art center, Ashley Kustka, art teacher for the Rock County Public Schools, taught children several techniques using space as the theme.

The topic was in line with this summer’s reading theme, which was “A Universe of Stories,” Kustka said.

The children made a number of items, such as sun catchers meant to represent planets that were decorated with melted crayons. Younger children made similar “planets” using tissue paper.

Some of them also created paintings by putting paper in a tray, dotting it with paint and adding marbles that spread the paint when they rolled around.

Still other children made rocket ships out of construction paper.

“I absolutely loved it,” Kustka said of the opportunity. “It was a chance for me to experience things I don’t do in the classroom. And the kids got to use a lot of materials at once.”

The grant also allowed the library to buy a Makerspace kit, which has a variety of interactive programs designed for children.

That purchase would not have been possible without the grant, Lackaff said.

“It’s not something we’d budget for,” she said.

One of the Makerspace programs includes robots called Dot and Dash that are controlled with a smartphone or tablet and offer educational lessons and activities.

Another program includes a caterpillar named Code-a-pillar, which teaches planning and sequencing skills by allowing children to put its pieces together in various sequences.

The grant also provided funds for the appearance of a mobile planetarium provided by the Edgerton Explorit Center in Aurora.

The inflatable planetarium allowed people of all ages to get a good look at the day and night sky.

“We talk about constellations and . . . travel to planets and back to earth,” said Deb Miller, who operated the planetarium during its visit to Bassett.

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