Growing up, whenever the subject of the Omaha Public Schools (OPS) came up, sure enough the name, Susan Mayberger was tied to the story some how. I would hear people say, “Well Susan Mayberger said,” or “Susan Mayberger is involved in helping,” so on and so forth: it seemed to me Susan Mayberger’s name was synonymous with OPS in some for or another.
But how can it not when the job of English as a Second Language (ESL) Coordinator and head of the Migrant and Refugee Education office touches so many people. To no surprise on her last day, during our lunch interview countless people would come up and wish her luck on her retirement.
“Thank you so much, Yes! I am going to miss it,” Mayberger says as she bids farewell to a former colleague. “So many fond memories here at OPS,” Mayberger adds. The Omaha native has been working with OPS, specifically with the ESL program for 18 years, but her love for education and helping others can be found in her roots.
“My uncle was a missionary, and I was always attracted to the concept of doing a mission. I realized by working with people in the ESL program you have the opportunity to serve others, almost like a mission,” Mayberger says. “The only difference is you can probably do it from the comforts of a U.S. lifestyle, in a sense.”
After graduating from Burke High School, Mayberger studied at Wayne State College where she would meet her future husband. He moved to New York City and two years later after Mayberger graduated she followed him to the Big Apple.
“I initially worked in the Catholic Schools in New York as a second grade teacher for a year and then as a first grade teacher for two years,” Mayberger says. She then took a year off and headed to Spain to learn Spanish. “It was a very humbling experience: I had an idea about the language but I got there and I didn’t even know how to order food,” Mayberger remembers.
She attributes her experience in Spain to what would later become a bedrock for her work with ESL families. “It helped me form a more empathetic view towards people who are coming here, wanting to and needing to learn English,” Mayberger stresses.
After going back to NYC and then working in the public school system for a couple of years, Mayberger and her husband decided to move back to Omaha in order to raise their family.
Mayberger first worked at Metro Community College when moving back to Omaha from NYC for a year and half, but then started working for OPS in 1998.
“Looking back, I feel it was the perfect time when I started with OPS. I could bring my expertise with ESL during a time when the program was transitioning and growing,” Mayberger says.
In 1998 the ESL program served 1700 students throughout the district. Fast forward to 2017; over 9,000 students belong to or take part in ESL classes. The primary language used to service different cohorts in the district is mainly Spanish but there are many other languages that are used.
“We started with 29 different languages, but now we have 114 languages,” Mayberger says. “The diversity of our students in OPS is changing and growing which is amazing.”
Back in 1998 there were only 29 schools that served ESL students, because of Mayberger’s efforts, now almost every school in the OPS district serves students with ESL needs.
Mayberger’s work did not stop there. Mayberger wrote and implemented a 2.5 million dollar Title VII grant that began the first Dual Language program in the state of Nebraska. There are 10 schools now that spearhead the Dual Language Program where 3,000 students are taught 50% of the time in Spanish and the other 50% of the time in English.
“We received great feedback about our Dual Language Program and to be able to see the results of our data that learning a second language for our students is beneficial, it’s astounding,” Mayberger says. “It really is the future of education and the success of our students.”
Between her tireless efforts in helping expand the resources to so many ESL students, migrant & refugee families, Mayberger is an avid community member and volunteer. She is a member of the Latino Academic Achievement Council, The Omaha Refugee Task Force and was the board chair of the South Omaha Community Care Council in 2017.
“I have received so much love and support throughout the years from so many people that have made my experience with OPS and the ESL program unforgettable,” Mayberger says. “When you give people language, you give them the key to opening the vaults so to speak to be able to share who they are with the rest of the world.”