WSC geography made atlas goes state-wide

Jared Schultz, Staff Writer

An educational atlas created by WSC professor Randy Bertolas is receiving statewide recognition after being noticed by Susanne Shore, wife of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The concept of the atlas was drawn up by the Geographic Educators of Nebraska (GEON), which Bertolas has been the coordinator of for the past 12 years. GEON is a group consisting of K-12 teachers, college professors and administrators concerned with providing the best possible geography education for today’s youth. In a strategic planning meeting, they decided to attempt to reach out to children early, specifically fourth grade, when they are supposed to get most of their Nebraska studies. However, those studies tend to be strained and pushed to the side, according to Bertolas.

“Teachers don’t have time for social studies,” Bertolas said. “With No Child Left Behind and the emphasis on testing, many administrators order their—or strongly suggest—elementary school teachers to prepare the students for exams. The administrators want kids to do good on the tests so the school looks good.”

GEON came up with the idea that the group could put an educational atlas in the hands of the fourth grade teachers that wouldn’t cause them to have to do anything extra but would enhance the learning lessons they already had.

The atlas contains information about Nebraska at a fourth grade level that leads the reader through maps, pictures and graphs that enhance teaching about the history of Nebraska, geography, economics and the government in a fun way, Bertolas said.

Bertolas put emphasis on his attempts to get other geography departments involved, and received lukewarm responses at best. He came to the conclusion that if the atlas was going to be completed at all, it would have to be done in its entirety at Wayne State College. He spent nearly every Saturday for a year in his office working on the project and went to numerous meetings to request donations from businesses. His wife refers to the atlas as “a year of Saturdays,” because of the time he had to spend away from home.

Bertolas said that he had help from multiple people and they’re all given credit within the atlas. Prof. Lesli Rawlings is one such individual and was a huge help in regards to the technology aspect and data collecting. She said she’s proud of the final product.

“It’s beautiful,” Rawlings said. “Even though it’s intended for the fourth grade class, we have high school teachers that would like to have a copy for their students. It’s simplistic and has a lot of substance.”

After he had finally finished the atlas, Bertolas received the phone call from Shore, asking if he would allow his atlas to be part of Nebraska’s 150th anniversary celebration.

“I got a phone call late last year from a woman claiming to be the governor’s wife,” Bertolas said. “I thought ‘Who is trying to gaslight me here?’”

The atlas has currently been distributed to somewhere between 120 to 150 schools but with the recognition it has gained from taking part in the celebration, Mutual of Omaha has given enough money to print another 10,000 copies to be distributed.

Bertolas said that people often ask him how much money he has made from this, and the answer is zero. Everything is given away.

“I want this to be given to teachers,” Bertolas said. “I think schools should be cathedrals. They should be places where kids walk in and they’re awed and want to do their very best.”