For almost four decades now, Pam Magdanz has been fearless about shaping the future, parlaying a passion for education into a legacy that has impacted tens of thousands of young lives.
Her advice to anyone in education: “Continue your own journey of growth and learning. Don’t be afraid to take risks and try something new.”
Magdanz did just that in 2012. She shunned retirement after a 35-year career with Lincoln Public Schools to assume the role of education coordinator with Bright Lights, a Lincoln-based nonprofit dedicated to providing high-quality, hands-on summer learning experiences for elementary and middle school students.
Magdanz was well aware of the program, a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska grant recipient, long before the job opening became available. Her own children had taken classes at Bright Lights. “The opportunity to continue working with teachers and children made it a good match,” she said.
In addition to recruiting teachers, Magdanz researches and develops curriculums and summer class schedules. She said she does her best to stay on top of expanded learning opportunities for students and encourages teachers to incorporate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) into every class.
“STEM focuses children’s minds toward deep-thinking, problem-solving skills, and that is what makes Bright Lights stand out among summer programs,” said Executive Director Linda Birkes-Lance. “Pam’s diligence with the teachers ensures that ‘high quality’ will remain our standard.”
Angela Penner, a Bright Lights teacher, describes Magdanz as a “servant leader, not a top-down administrator” whose encouragement, support and feedback help teachers turn ideas into classroom success.
“When I first approached Pam with my idea for a new class, she was very excited and wanted to know more right away,” Penner recalled. “During our first conversation about Building Beyond Blocks (a program idea later implemented), Pam encouraged me to write up a lesson plan and class description.”
“Many times teachers have wonderful new ideas and just need a bit of encouragement and support to give it a try,” Magdanz said. “Often, we’re texting, emailing and sending photos, encouraging each other. The energy, excitement and celebrations are a shared experience.”
Calculating Magdanz’s total impact on education may require some higher level math. Her resume, pre-Bright Lights, is a palette of experiences in the Lincoln Public School system: speech and language pathologist, childhood special education teacher, kindergarten teacher and longtime assistant principal at Campbell Elementary.
“Pam utilizes her 35 years of public school teaching and administration to consider each child as an individual,” said Birkes-Lance. “Her vast experience as a special education instructor gives her insight into the most appropriate contacts to make with the students Bright Lights serves.”
For Magdanz, the most rewarding aspect of her current work is hearing from students who were influenced or found their careers through a Bright Lights class. “I am so glad we can provide experiences outside of the traditional school curriculum and help students become the next generation of problem-solvers and healthy risk-takers in our society.”
As for delaying retirement in 2012? This Face of Fearless has zero regrets: “I love what I do. I feel I’m making a difference, and I am absolutely having fun.”
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same.