Center teaches understanding

Register Reporter

Register/Richard Luken
From left, Megan Felt, Maria Bahr and Norm Conard, of Fort Scott’s Lowell Milken Education Center, assist students and teachers from around the world with various history and research projects.

FORT SCOTT — For more than 20 years, Norm Conard’s social studies students at Uniontown High School earned acclaim at the state and national levels for their knowledge and grasp of history.
They did so primarily through project-based learning, producing everything from film documentaries to short skits to learn their subject matter.
A byproduct of their success came through annual National History Day competitions. More than 60 UHS students earned national awards for their projects. Another 200 or so earned state awards.
Conard was inducted to the National Teachers Hall of Fame in 2007, the same year he retired from Uniontown High to become executive director of the Lowell Milken Education Center in Fort Scott.
The two-year-old center is named after Lowell Milken of the Milken Family Foundation. Milken is regarded as a pioneer of education reform for K-12 schools.
Conard’s mission at the Milken Center is much the same as it was in Uniontown — to help teach history and understanding of folks of all races, religions and creeds — but on a much larger scale.
Now beginning its third year, the Milken Center hosted its project kickoff Wednesday, hosting a number of local students and educators to discuss new projects for the 2009-10 school year.
The Milken Center assists educators and students through projects based on “unsung heroes” in history. The center provides support, ranging from project development, research and interview assistance. Then, as each project proceeds, Milken staff provides critiques.
Projects are developed and presented through performances, documentaries, exhibits, historical essays and Web sites.
As Conard has hoped, the Milken Center’s reach is growing in leaps and bounds, Conard said.
“It’s to the point that we can barely keep up with requests,” he said.
During the 2008-09 school year, Milken Center staff assisted 83 students in developing 52 projects, 27 of which advanced to the National History Day competition ion Maryland in June.
Three Fort Scott High students earned fourth place nationally with their performance of “A Recipe for Legacy: 35 mm and a Wide-Angle Lens,” a skit that examined Will Counts’ role and impact as a photographer of integration at Little Rock High School in 1957.
The center provides support to students of all ages in 24 states as well as those in Canada, Ireland and Poland.

TEACHERS across the country appreciate the Milken Center’s support.
Alice Bertels, a gifted facilitator at Washburn Rural Middle School in Topeka, saw five of her students advance to the national history day competition in April, three of which produced a documentary, and two others who developed poster board exhibits.
Working on their projects instills in the students the importance of learning research skills, Bertels told the Register in a telephone interview.
“By the time they’re finished, the students have put so much work in their project that it obviously carries over to the classroom,” Bertels said. “They developed quite an interest in their topics.”
More importantly, when their projects concluded, the students were saying, ‘We want to do another project,’” Bertels continued. “It’s obviously very gratifying and pleasing to see them so excited about history.”
Some of her students’ projects were a bit outside the norm. One student produced a display on Daniel Crumbine, inventor of the fly swatter and a champion of community health.
Another, meanwhile, researched infamous cult leader Charles Manson.
But rather than focus on Manson’s notorious crimes, the student wrote about his psychological profile as a cult leader.

SUZANNE Scotten, a middle school history teacher at Weimar Hills School in Fremont, Calif., sends her students out to ask a simple question: “What’s your story.”
The goal, she said, is to have the students learn about diversity, “even though we’re one of the most un-diverse communities in the country,” Scotten told the Register by telephone.
Through assistance from the Milken Center, the students gathered reams of research materials about unsung heroes in history in the Fremont area.
“It’s been amazing to see how the students can learn about history, but more importantly, to see how people relate to other people,” Scotten said.

LOCAL STUDENTS are taking advantage of the Milken Center’s resources as well.
A group from Fort Scott Christian Heights School were on hand for the kickoff to speak about their projects from years past.
Austin Hansen showed off his Web site detailing Henryk Slawik, who rescued 30,000 Polish refugees during World War II.
The Web site won the State History Day competition in April, advancing to nationals.
Hansen is researching materials for another entry in the 2010 History Day championships.
Patricia Schafer produced a documentary last year on Sheyan Webb, the youngest marcher from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., one of the critical moments leading up the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
Schafer’s documentary won a district competition.
She hopes to do a life action skit on a woman in health care for next year.

WHILE THE History Day projects gain most of the publicity, “it’s just a fraction of what we do,” Conard said. “We get calls every day from teachers and students looking to learn about history.”
The Milken Center also has become a museum of sorts with a number of historic exhibits put on display periodically.
The center’s next exhibit will feature the Osage Indian Tribe, including information about Chief Tal-lee, an arrowhead collection and information about the Osage’s influence on southeast Kansas and southwest Missouri.
“The remarkable part about the Osage is that so little is known about them even though they’ve been a part of the area since the 1600s,” Conard said.
The Lowell Milken Center is at 4 S. Main in Fort Scott. For more information, call (620) 223-9991 or visit