November Golden Apple: LHS teacher strikes a chord with students

Published: Nov. 25, 2020 at 5:21 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - Once a Link, always a Link for Jill Oetken. For more than 10 years, this Lincoln High alum, now band director is making music and touching lives.

And now this teacher, gets a much-deserved award, recognized by one of her 2020 graduates.

Jill Oetken once marched down Beechner Field as a student, but this percussionist is now marching to her own beat, as a Lincoln High Band director.

“I know and love this building and this community, and I really wanted to come back here and make a difference, kind of on the other side of the coin as a teacher,” Oetken said.

That passion for teaching and music is evident in her students. This is what 2020 graduate and Cornhusker Marching Band member, Jayden Hood, wrote in his Golden Apple nomination: “Jill Oetken should be the Golden Apple of the month because she is FOR REAL, the best teacher ever. She’s like a second mom to me.”

“As music teachers, I think we really have it good in that we get to see students grow over many years,” Oetken said.

“In the case of Jayden and a lot of his peers, we see them grow over four years, and that’s really exciting to see them grow and develop as young people.”

Ms. O, as the students call her, has been instrumental in starting new programs for the Links, like piano and world music drumming classes. Brett Noser is the Lincoln High Music Department Chair. Noser said, “Jill went and learned about different styles of African drumming, and the drums are actually from Africa. And the way that it’s taught is completely from rote. There are no notes on a page because a vast majority of the world doesn’t learn by notation.”

And Ms. O puts in lots of hours to help create lifelong memories for her students and for the community. Links band members have played for the Veterans Walk and participate in a holiday tour, performing at various venues around Lincoln, like the Cornhusker Hotel and the State Capitol.

“As a staff, we know that there are long hours, but we know that a lot of what we do benefits the students and the opportunities they have,” Oetken said. “So, I think as a staff that’s something that’s been important to us.”

And from this year’s spring break trip to Hawaii, to now directing the marching band during a pandemic, Jill Oetken is taking it all in stride. And being thankful for her spot on the field.

“This is just some really good recognition when we’re all kind of struggling,” Noser said. “We’re not at our best teaching moments this year, and I think coming from Jayden, from the view of when he was in high school...Those we’re some good times when we were really effective. We’re making it work and trying our best.”

And if you know a teacher who you think should be recognized for a 10/11 Golden Apple Award like Jill Oetken, nominate them here.

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