• USD 207 schools start new schoolyear

  • Students of Unified School District 207 returned to school Aug. 13, but their teachers have been hard at work preparing for the year since Aug. 5.

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    Students of Unified School District 207 returned to school Aug. 13, but their teachers have been hard at work preparing for the year since Aug. 5.
    The faculty and staff began the schoolyear with the annual convocation Aug. 5 at Patton Junior High School that included breakfast and presentations by USD 207 Superintendent Keith Mispagel, Deputy Superintendent SuAnn Grant and other district staff. The main event, however, was the military panel of subject-matter experts who spoke about the challenges of mobility, moving, deployment and the emotions that come with being in the military.
    “I came up with the idea this spring as I engaged in many conversations with families about their moves, their fears, their challenges in going to a new duty station as well as what works well for them,” Mispagel said. “Additionally, I engaged in conversation with active-duty soldiers about their time away for deployments.
    “I realized that even though I’ve worked in this district over 20 years and been in and around this community, I still have never lived it. This led me to the idea to try to share with the staff what it looks like and feels like from the families and soldiers themselves,” he said. “The panel was transparent, honest and forthright in the challenges they face as well as the decision they make to send their children to our district. It was an amazing perspective that led to the staff having a greater understanding about the role we play with all students and parents in our schools and how every situation is unique for every family.”
    Panel members included Lt. Col. Chris Evans, USD 207 board vice president; Col. Scott Green, USD 207 board member; and Corie Weathers, military spouse. Weathers, who is mother to 12-year-old Jackson Weathers, a seventh-grader at Patton, and 15-year-old Aidan Weathers, a sophomore at Leavenworth High School, said she felt it was important to share her experiences with the faculty and staff.
    “Given that my children have had to adjust to many schools, I often come across many schools that say they are military friendly, but practically have no plans to be that. As the months go on, military children are ignored, behaviors that stem from relocations and lack of friends are treated as behavior problems rather than with understanding and compassion,” Weathers said. “When Mr. Mispagel invited me, I knew that from speaking with him and hearing his vision for the convocation that he genuinely cared and wanted to cast vision for his administration. It was the first time an administration has wanted to truly listen.
    “Military families will open up if someone cares and is willing to listen,” she said. “His convocation gave our panel the place to not only feel seen and heard, but also a chance to express our gratitude to everyone there and encourage the role they play in investing in the next generation of leaders.”
    Page 2 of 2 - The faculty had positive reactions to the convocation and the military panel.
    “Having the military panel speak to us was powerful,” said Cindy Wepking, Eisenhower Elementary School principal. “Having them share their experiences with us provided insight into the stress they as adults feel, which definitely helps explain the anxiety our students bring to school each day.
    “The comment made that these students have never known peacetime, although I knew it, made me understand the differences we see in our students now,” she said. “It seems there are so many more with emotional concerns now than when I began teaching here in 1999.”
    Ronie McBride, Patton art teacher, said the panel was motivational and informative.
    “We teachers received a lot of praise from each of the three (panel members). Oftentimes, as teachers, we don’t know what an impact we are making on students. It was nice to hear what a great job we do,” McBride said. “They also informed us that we have a great reputation for a school district among military families, and gave us some hints for working with their children such as ‘seeing’ them quickly, building those relationships with them quicker and not taking three months to accomplish this as they move out so soon.”
    Kelley Ebel, Bradley Elementary School third-grade teacher, said the convocation was exceptional.
    “It opened the year with humor, humility and a sense of team,” Ebel said. “There wasn’t a teacher who didn’t feel the impact of the panel participants’ answers. They were honest, thought provoking and heartfelt.
    “Fort Leavenworth is an anomaly,” she said. “The staff and environment have such a high reputation that a soldier and his family will choose Fort Leavenworth over other career enhancing opportunities just so that the children can attend school here.”
    Serene Pennington, Bradley pre-school teacher, said she thinks the panel should be a regular feature of the annual convocation.
    “It was very motivating and inspiring to remind us why we do what we need to do,” Pennington said.
    With the messages of the convocation and the military panel fresh, the faculty set to work getting the schools and classrooms ready for the students with high hopes for the schoolyear.
    “My goal is similar each year,” Wepking said. “Make a positive impact on all our students and help them not only make great academic growth, but see the leader in themselves.”
    Aaron Hall, Patton music teacher, said he hopes to inspire his students.
    “I hope to provide an environment where my students are inspired to work hard and to take a chance at being the greatest they can be,” Hall said. “If we are successful in that, then we will have continued great success.”
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