Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) stopped by Great Bend Thursday and requested a tour of Great Bend High School. Senior Class President Darian Harbaugh and Student Council leader Lakin Pafford led the tour.
Even though the students had less than 24 hours notice, they had no problem showing the senator as much as possible during his one-hour visit. Teachers and administrators were also on hand to answer questions, but the students showed their knowledge of their school.
The senator was impressed.
“You two are very good guides,” he said at the end of the tour. As the tour got underway, Moran asked the students to, “show me what you’re proud of. I hope you’ll also tell me anything you’re missing in your school.”
“We have a wide selection of classes, especially electives,” Harbaugh said.
Pafford said one thing students are proud of is the Panther Activities Center, or PAC, which has undergone updates. As they moved to that building, she explained the security system that required them to “buzz in” on an intercom and be seen on camera before the door would open.
Principal Tim Friess said the door buzzer system was added throughout the district starting in 2015 but it is only this year that all GBHS buildings have been included. Another new security feature this year requires all GBHS students to wear photo ID badges.
Other students taking part in the tour included Jalyn Lear with the yearbook, and Patrick Heath, who made a video of the event as part of an independent study he is taking in the video production class taught by his father, Dan Heath. Student Jesus Favela also worked on the video.
Lear said the next yearbook will be GBHS’s 100th. Heath was able to tell Moran about this year’s debate topic, which deals with immigration policies. His team is working on a proposal to make more H1-B visas available to immigrant workers. Last year as a sophomore, Heath competed in the National Speech and Debate Tournament.
Harbaugh mentioned that in government class the students have also learned some money management skills, which she found particularly useful. The senator thought it was a good idea to teach fiscal responsibility in a U.S. government class.
Moran wanted to know everything — from what the students had for lunch (egg rolls and rice) to the most advanced math class available (Physics II). He also wanted to see the vocational programs.
“I’ve had the view that we underemphasize technical and vocational education but I don’t think that’s true anymore,” he said. Vice Principal Randy Wetzel, the school’s director of Career Technical Education (CTE), agreed. Dan Heath’s video production class is one of the newest “career pathway” courses added to the catalog, Wetzel said.
This story was updated Sept. 14, 2018, to include the names of two more students who met Sen. Jerry Moran.
I’ve had the view that we underemphasize technical and vocational education but I don’t think that’s true anymore.Sen. Jerry Moran
One of the stops on the tour was Dan Heath’s classroom, and that teacher elaborated on the subject.
“We use job-related skills in the classroom,” Heath said. That goes for non-CTE courses such as English and math, he added. “I think we do a good job preparing students for college; I think we’re also now preparing them for life.”
Another stop on the tour was technology teacher Jake Hofflinger’s classroom, where students learn about engineering, robotics, manufacturing and drone operation. Students find real customers — often other teachers — and create prototypes and finished products that solve real problems. As an example, Hofflinger introduced student Michael Espinosa, who completed the school's manufacturing pathway and is now a teacher's aide. Espinosa made a plastic rack that holds digital memory cards for the yearbook teacher, so the teacher can organize all of the cards used by the student journalists.
None of this was taught back when Hofflinger was in college, he said. To learn technology, “you just have to learn to learn.”
Travis Straub teaches woodworking and sponsors the Vocational Technology Club that races solar cars. When Moran stopped by Straub’s classroom he recalled the footstool and other items he made back when he took high school woodworking — items he still has. This led to another discussion on lifelong skills.
“Do students see job opportunities in what they’re doing?” he asked Straub.
The answer was, “yes.” Straub still has his woodworking projects from high school, too.
The school district also has a strong partnership with Barton Community College, where students can take automotive classes or earn certificates such as Certified Nursing Assistant or Certified Medical Assistant. Both of Moran’s student guides said they are earning college credit at BCC now while they attend GBHS. Some credits can be earned without even leaving the high school.
For Moran, the growing emphasis on career skills, science and lifelong learning translates to future opportunities for Kansans to be able to find careers and continue to live in communities like Great Bend.
“Jack Kilby should have been able to work his career in Great Bend,” Moran said.
Other stops on the tour were a math class, the weight-lifting room, the gym and the commons area, with a nod to the JAG-K (Jobs for American’s Graduates) classroom, the counselors’ office and the secretaries in the front office. The students answered questions about Great Bend’s alternative high school and talked about Community Service Day and the next school theater production, “Beauty and the Beast.”
Moran mentioned more than once that many education issues are decided at the state level, but there are some things that Congress does. Most recent were the update of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education bill and a bill that would increase the amount of money students can receive for continuing education from the Federal Pell Grant.