Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
On Jan. 29, 1861, Kansas officially joined the United States. Since 1877, that day has officially been recognized as Kansas Day, and Unified School District 207 celebrated with its annual Kansas Day event Jan. 29 in the Patton Junior High School gym.
“It is about understanding and embracing and learning more about Kansas history, whether you are a native of Kansas or are joining our school district from somewhere across the world. It is just learning about another culture and the past and appreciating that as we move forward,” said SuAnn Grant, USD 207 deputy superintendent. “Our hope is that it is an enriching learning experience and that we can bring history to life, whether it is something that they get to see or it is someone sharing a piece of history or just being with their peers in a different atmosphere.”
Being that Fort Leavenworth is not only a military installation but also has a high international population, volunteers and teachers said they felt it made the event an important one for the students to experience.
“These kids are only at a certain place for a certain amount of time, so it actually expands their knowledge and it makes them better citizens as they grow up,” said Sgt. 1st Class Nakawa Jones, who volunteered to help at the event with fellow Mission Command Training Program personnel. “It exposes them to things that they probably wouldn’t be exposed to in any other situation.”
Michelle Kern, Eisenhower fourth-grade teacher, said Kansas Day gives students a glimpse into Kansas history.
“They get to bring history alive and see how people lived 100, 200 years ago. They get to make connections to their lives today, and it is a meaningful experience,” Kern said. “It is important for the students to learn about the state they are currently living in because it helps them to build that community and to take ownership and pride in where they live. Part of that is to make that connection and learn about the history of why that state is important to our union.”
Katelyn Reiff, Eisenhower fourth-grade teacher, agreed.
“It is a good opportunity for them to learn the history of Kansas and get a chance to experience cross-curricular activities that are real world and relevant to them,” she said.
Students in third- through fifth-grade from Bradley, Eisenhower and MacArthur Elementary Schools and students in seventh- through ninth-grade from Patton attended the event, which included 16 different learning stations that ranged from an apple cider press to log cutting to quilting. New presenters included the Friends of the Frontier Army Museum and the Museum at Prairiefire out of Overland Park, Kan.
The FFAM booth included opportunities for students to try on different types of period clothing, including bonnets, cowboy hats, top hats and Army jackets.
“We are always looking to engage the children and the Fort Leavenworth community, and this is a fantastic way to really get one-on-one time with the children and introduce them to the Frontier Army Museum and all the things that we have to offer them,” said Jessica Powers, FFAM president. “All of the things that we bring to these exhibits are to encourage hands-on participation and to really make history come alive for kids. …All of these costumes are representative of what the Frontier Army, the soldiers, the families that are out here in Kansas would have worn in this general area — pioneer life in general in the Midwest.”
Tom Radocy, Museum at Prairiefire education team member, said he brought fossils for the students to look at and touch.
“A lot of what (the museum) does is focus on local natural history and that includes paleontology. A lot of people don’t know, for example, that Kansas was under the ocean twice in the geologic past, most recently in the Cretaceous Period,” Radocy said. “A lot of kids come to the museum because they want to see the dinosaurs, but Kansas didn’t actually have dinosaurs because dinosaurs were land animals. Instead, Kansas had swimming animals like large fish and large marine reptiles.”
Students noted different things they liked about the learning stations.
Jonas Mukes, MacArthur fourth-grade student, said he liked trail games, especially the buffalo chip throwing game.
“It tests your throwing, and it is also very hard because when you throw it, it floats away from the bucket,” Mukes said.
Caileigh Courtright, Bradley fourth-grader, said she liked the butter-making station.
“It was fun, and it reminded me of when I was in kindergarten and got to make butter,” Courtright said.
Students agreed that it was important for them to learn about Kansas.
“We live in (Kansas) and you might need to know the information later in life,” Mukes said.
Aiden Madetzke, MacArthur fourth-grader, said he felt it was important to learn about Kansas because it is centrally located within the United States.
“Basically, without Kansas, the United States wouldn’t even have a heart,” Madetzke said. “Your heart is always in the middle.”