Local Rock Stars Headed to the Windy City

Rebekah Rae

Local Rock Stars Headed to the Windy City

CREATED Mar. 6, 2013

Omaha, NE - There's a place in Omaha, where there's never a charge for a concert.  Songs so passionate, you can see the struggle and hear triumph behind each note.  The place is Burke High School and the artists are 21 students with disabilities, known to their teachers and everyone they meet as "Rock Stars".  

These Rock Stars will never ask for much, even those who are clearly in need.  Many of Burke's Rock Stars have mental or physical disabilities.  Some are wheelchair bound, others use crutches.  At times, the disabilities cause pain but the teens are too strong, too independent to ask for help. Independent, unless it's something they really want, and have no way of accomplishing on their own.  Like raising thousands of dollars for a one-time trip.

Marilyn Hinkle has a long past working with the special education program at Burke, a veteran of 13 years.  Her special education teaching career extends for 31 years, although Hinkle will say at heart, she became a teacher at age 12.  Her brother was born with cerebral palsy.  The doctors told the family that he would be in a vegetative state and there wasn't much hope.  That's when the family quit listening to doctors and took matters into their own hands.  Ever since, Hinkle has been a voice for those without their own.  

While at Burke, she's been on multiple field trips with her students.  In 2008, Hinkle took her Rock Stars to Washington D.C. when Congress wanted to pass restrictions for students with power wheelchairs.  She wheeled her class up to Nebraska Senators Chuck Hagel and Ben Nelson and asked why Congress was considering legislation to take away transportation from the handicapped.  The talk of restrictions stayed only that, nothing passed. Hinkle likes to think her Rock Stars had something to do with it.  

In 2011, Hinkle brought another group of students to D.C. where they met with representatives of Senator Hagel and Senator Mike Johanns.  That time around, students voiced their need for more career opportunities after high school in Nebraska.  

The goal is similar this time around.  Although the trip almost didn't happen.  The school was having trouble with funds until thousands of dollars came pouring in from the community.  Next month, 21 students, 15 parents and nine staff members will head to Chicago to meet with an advocacy group.

 "Think Beyond the Label" provides workforce training for parents, teachers and people with disabilities.  Currently, many job opportunities awaiting Hinkle's students involve cleaning toilets and taking out trash; she says her students are worth more.  "They can file papers, they have computer skills," says Hinkle, skills that nearly every business uses.  "Think Beyond the Label" will give the 21 Rock Stars the courage and know how to prove their worth to potential employers.  

If you ask any of the students what they want to be when they grow up, most already know.  "Police officer," says freshman Beth.  "I want to be a teacher," explains another student across the room.   "I just want someone that will help me with a job after high school," says student Andy.  This will be his second advocacy trip; he went to D.C. in 2011 to fight for the same cause. 

While this four day trip is mostly work oriented, there is room for fun.  Most of the students have never been on a charter bus, never been to a hotel and never taken a vacation.  If you ask the Rock Stars what they are most looking forward to, they'll tell you the bus ride.  
Lady GaGa and Justin Bieber will likely play on the speakers for the entire ride to Chicago.  Once the music stops and they reach the windy city, plans involve museums, aquariums, restaurants and a Cubs game.  At every destination, there will be teaching opportunities and memories they'll never forget. 
This will also be a trip Hinkle will never forget, it's her last advocacy trip.  She is retiring from the teaching community.  With her Buffett award in hand, she will work with older people with special needs.  Thanks to the help of their teacher, the Rock Stars from Burke will continue to rock as they enter the workforce in the next few years.  And perhaps, an entirely new demographic of Rock Stars will be uncovered as Hinkle moves on.