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Moran sees driven students at KAMS

By DAWNE LEIKER

dleiker@dailynews.net

The atmosphere was informal Friday morning as U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., and Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science students exchanged insights and observations about Kansas' educational system and the KAMS program.

It was his first visit to KAMS on the Fort Hays State University campus, and Moran said he initially felt a bit intimidated by the students. Whatever intimidation might have existed faded quickly, though, as a frank discussion got under way between the senator and students.

Although he posed a number of pointed questions to the students, one question, in particular, brought some thoughtful replies.

Moran asked for ideas on how students within traditional schools in Kansas, those who are not a part of the 62-member KAMS program, could be assured a quality educational experience.

"I think the people who have the power to control that are mainly the individual teachers in the classrooms," said Alec Weaver, a senior from Spring Hill who is researching chaos theory. "When I was in school, there were one or two teachers who would notice how bored I was, and they would pull me aside.

"There are always those one or two really special teachers that take the effort."

Weaver said he was encouraged by teachers to explore the KAMS program after he mentioned to a teacher he was planning to pursue his GED diploma in an effort to move his education along more quickly.

Weaver's experience mirrored that of some other KAMS students who said their high school classes failed to provide the educational challenge they were looking for.

Deborah Denny, a senior from Hutchinson, said she also had considered the GED option.

"But my parents really pushed me to go here, where I'd be surrounded by all these other smart people," she said.

As a result of No Child Left Behind and budget cuts, FHSU President Edward H. Hammond, who joined in Friday's discussion, said 36 percent of high school advanced placement classes have been eliminated. In an attempt to meet the educational needs of those at the lower end of the spectrum, talented and gifted students have been overlooked, he said.

"There is no reward for how they deal with the higher intellectual students," Hammond said. "And that wasn't something I thought about when we put the (KAMS) program together, but it's really filling that opportunity for so many of the students."

In its fourth year, the KAMS program has been central to a multitude of success stories -- from offers of fellowships and scholarships to awards and research opportunities for its students.

"It's fantastic to be around them," KAMS Director Ron Keller said of his students. "It's an honor and a privilege to be here and work with these kids.

"They're doing what they want to do, but they're among like-minded thinkers."

As ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Moran told the students education funding is a concern for him. In addition, he said he is driven to create job opportunities and grow the economy.

"I have focused a lot of attention on start-ups and innovation on technology, and one of the things that has become clear is that we are not educating students for the workforce that we need in the areas of science engineering and mathematics," he told the KAMS students. "The numbers are, by the year 2018, we need 779,000 STEM-educated individuals in our workforce, and we will be producing 550,000."