Schools have partner in Army fort

As the school district at Fort Leavenworth transforms its teaching methods, it looks to the environment created by the United States Army.

“The nature of this culture, it’s not textbook-driven,” district Superintendent Keith Mispagel said.

The school district is made up of three elementary schools and a middle school, and is one of only a handful of schools on federal property — in this case the miliary installation of Fort Leavenworth and the Combined Arms Center.

It places the district in a unique position: While it is part of the state public school system, it can’t issue construction bonds, and it has an annual student turnover rate of 50 percent.

But it has access to some of the nation’s top military training and leadership resources, including the National Simulation Center.

“We’ve learned through gaming simulation in the Army how much you can really get out of it,” said Lt. Col. Russ Rhoads with the National Simulation Center. “I can see where in education, they would also be able to expand, very quickly, a young person’s mind.”

District officials agree.

Last school year, during a brainstorming session, Mispagel and Director of Technology Services Alan Landever came up with a program called Cyber-Teams that guides professional development and curriculum in the schools.

The word “teams” is more than just an indication of the collaborative nature, it’s also an acronym for technology, engineering, arts, math and science.

The program is funded through a $2.5 million Department of Defense education grant.

The district already has encouraged faculty and staff to broaden their definition of learning spaces. It also uses iPads, laptops and a planetarium as learning vehicles.

With some of the grant money, the planetarium will get a boost with a new screen and more smartboards to aid student presentations and activities.

“It’s a concept called challenge-based learning,” Landever said. “Students pursue meaningful solutions to a real-world problem.”

Next quarter, Mispagel will introduce his students to the problem of renewable energy.

It’s especially relevant to an Army installation such as Fort Leavenworth since the Defense Department is a leader in the consumption of fossil fuel.

Students will work on renewable-energy options, focusing on Fort Leavenworth. Some will study windmills, while others might examine solar-energy options.

Students and teachers will work together on the energy issue throughout the spring with the help of the National Simulation Center.

“They know it works, and we’re teaching their kids,” Landever said.