It’s probably not a big surprise that all four Balcer siblings ended up with careers in education, but was it fate they all are working in Gretna Public Schools?
Lorie Balcer, Julie Regan, John Balcer and Ann Ross grew up in Bellevue. The children of Paul and Dorcas Balcer, each of the siblings worked their way through the Bellevue Public Schools system, graduating from Bellevue East High School.
The importance of education was apparent to the Balcer siblings from a young age.
“I think we all played house and school in our backyard, so we were all students and teachers in our playhouse,” Ann said. “On the last day of school, we would dumpster dive for used textbooks and spelling books and that was our curriculum for the summer.”
All four of the siblings took piano lessons, sang and played instruments throughout their childhood, teenage and even college years.
Both parents worked in education, with Dorcas teaching kindergarten, equipped with a music minor, and Paul teaching music at Mission Junior High. The couple had met in Lyons, Neb., where Dorcas was the kindergarten/elementary music teacher and Paul was the junior high/high school music teacher.
“We saw how our parents impacted other kids’ lives, how they looked up to them, trusted them and learned from them,” Ann said.
Each of Paul’s children made their way into his band room during their time at Mission.
“It was always the place to be,” Lorie said. “It was special; a place to belong. I liked what my father did and I wanted to be involved in that.”
“When I was in fourth grade and even younger, my dad would bring his clarinet out and I’d put my mouth on it and he’d move the fingers. That was just our special bonding that we had.
“Through the years I was just thinking, ‘I can’t ever not do music.’ I could never see myself not doing this ... playing my instrument or being involved in some way.”
John’s path to education was solidified through performing arts.
“I loved the arc from beginning, middle to end,” he said. “I work well within that process. I thought, ‘Where else can I do this?’ It made sense to go into this and I always appreciated how our dad approached his work. I could see myself do that very easily.”
Unlike her brother and sister, music wasn’t in Ann’s educational path.
“I wasn’t musically inclined like Lorie and John,” Ann said. “My passion was always working with special needs. I knew in third or fourth grade that that’s what I wanted to do.”
Spending much of her time in high school and college working with special needs students and the elderly, “It was pretty evident that was her calling,” John said.
Julie followed a slower path to education, working in the corporate world for many years before staying home to raise her children. When she was ready to return to work, someone mentioned a paraprofessional position in special education. It made her think twice.
After putting in time volunteering for her own children’s school events and other programs, the position didn’t seem like so much of a leap. Her family also spent many years volunteering at the Special Olympics.
“I’m kind of a no nonsense type of person,” she said. “You have to be firm and provide these kids structure and stability but you have to give them a lot of love ... and I can do those.”
Both of the Balcer quartet’s parents are retired from teaching: Paul after 32 years and Dorcas, who taught for six years before staying home as a full-time mother, though she subbed occasionally through the years.
Lorie has spent 31 years in education, eight of those in Gretna. She has served as a music teacher at Whitetail Creek Elementary School since its opening.
John has been in education for 22 years, 15 of those with GPS. He taught for the district before moving away, serving as a music teacher at Palisades Elementary since his return.
Ann has spent nine of her 10 years in education in Gretna. She worked near brother John at Palisades as a special education teacher before becoming the special education teacher at Gretna High School. Her daughter Mary Ellen Kramer is in her first year as a paraprofessional right in Ann’s classroom.
Julie has spent all five of her paraprofessional years with GPS at Palisades.
“My mom used to sing songs with us all the time,” Lorie said. “Some songs I sing with my kindergartners. I use that all the time. All through my teaching it was nice to have those songs that she had passed on that I’m able to use.”
Ann agreed. She uses the songs in her alternate curriculum classroom, helping students who may have trouble communicating to get involved in singing something together.
John tries to implement his father’s humor in his own classroom.
“Seeing my dad be playful in class, goofy, draw kids in and engage with them that way,” he said. “It keeps me young and connected with them.”
“The draw for me in education is connecting with people. I feel like through music, I find it to be very dynamic.
“There’s so many different ways you can connect: emotionally, intellectually. It’s not always somebody’s strength to participate but the challenge of getting them to engage and to come out on the back end a better work mate and more thoughtful about how they approach class.”
Lorie agreed, sharing that offering a special part, whether it’s a solo, group dance or something similar, offers each student a chance to shine.
“I always try to find that one special thing about that student,” she said. “They may never have been interested in having a part, but it helps build their confidence and give them a chance.”
That nurturing nature seems common in the Balcer family, who agreed they try to live by Gretna Public Schools’ mission of accepting all students unconditionally and maximizing their potential.
“We want to help kids get to the next level and get them excited about that next level,” Ann said. “Teachers naturally believe in their students and want the best for them.”
The Balcers love working in education for a multitude of reasons, whether it’s watching student’s grow, the supportive and feel good environment, or because it’s just plain fun.
“We relate to kids well,” Julie said. “We all like to have a lot of fun. We do want those kids to excel or get connected to have a better chance.”