After months of planning, construction and preparing, the new location for the Lowell Milken Center for Unsung Heroes is finally ready for its grand opening, which began Monday with discussions with and presentations by visiting educators, students and even some of the Unsung Heroes featured in the new center’s exhibits.
Monday’s activities included presentations by students and their teachers, referred to as LMC fellows, opportunities to meet surviving unsung heroes of projects as well as a panel discussion with educators from around the nation on the topic of why such projects are useful to them and their students.
Dyane Smokoroski, a middle school language arts teacher in Kansas, said teachers often have two goals, to help students be better students than they thought they could be and help build them into good citizens for the community. Smokoroski said the Unsung Heroes projects help accomplish those goals by giving students the opportunity to learn about role models other than the more common athletes or celebrities students might admire.
“These projects are so impactful,” said Rich Meserve, a teacher to at-risk youths in Maine, saying the impact reaches around the world by bringing attention to the unsung heroes but also is relevant and meaningful to individual students who may not otherwise be excited about their education.
Maddy Hanington, a Maryland teacher who works with students with learning disabilities or who are part of minority groups in their area, said her students gain confidence and a louder voice through their projects.
Teacher Nate Mcalister said the students take ownership of the project as they do the extensive research necessary, becoming experts on the individuals they select. Teacher Brad LaDuc, who with student Alexis Balaun shared a documentary project, said helping students with their projects has been one of his best experiences as a teacher as he sees the teens go from students, to collaborators in the project and eventually teachers through their presentations.
LMC Executive Director Norm Conard expressed his appreciation and admiration for the large number of educators helping their students through the projects, which are fun but also take a lot of work.
Attendees at Monday’s events got a taste of the projects that will be on display in the new center, which will be open to visitors after the ribbon-cutting event Tuesday morning. Many in the audience were driven to tears as they watched documentaries or witnessed presentations on individuals who stood up against injustice and did good in their lives.
Unsung Heroes present for the events Tuesday included Therese Frare, Ken Reinhardt, Ann Williams Wedaman and Harry Hue.
Festivities continue on Tuesday with the grand opening ceremony at 10 a.m. on Main Street in downtown Fort Scott. Guests include the Kansas governor, Kansas Commissioner of Education, the founder of the center and other participants in its development.