Education summit focuses on successful initiatives, future

Published 8:05 am Thursday, November 3, 2022

By Angie Thorne | Public Affairs Office

FORT POLK — American religious leader and author Gordon B. Hinckley said, “Education is the key to opportunity.” Opportunities for a better education are what the Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk strives to offer its soldiers and family members. With that in mind, Fort Polk hosted the third annual Education Summit at Fort Polk’s Warrior Center Oct. 13.

Education is a key quality of life issue, and the event fostered an occasion to gather representatives from the Vernon and Beauregard parish school boards, Fort Polk Garrison Command, Child and Youth Services, teachers, Army Community Service, elected officials and more to discuss strides made in the last year, as well as plans for the future. The summit offered an opportunity for education stakeholders, including students and parents, to communicate and get feedback that benefits everyone.

The summit also highlighted the partnership between Fort Polk, parents and local schools.

“You have to have that connection to better understand the needs of the community,” said Tiffany Koch, Fort Polk school liaison officer. “We stay engaged as we discuss what’s mutually beneficial for all stakeholders and move toward enhancing the education offered to not only our military children, but all students attending local schools.”

Col. Sam Smith, Fort Polk garrison commander, began the summit by thanking James Williams, Vernon Parish School Board superintendent, Timothy Cooley, Beauregard Parish School Board superintendent, teachers, elected officials, community partners and parents for all they do and for taking part in the summit.

“We can accomplish it all as we communicate and work together to advance education initiatives,” Smith said.

Fort Polk is one of four Army quality of life installations.

“Why talk about quality of life at an education summit,” Smith asked. “Because you have to have quality education to have good quality of life. They are connected and they matter.”

Data shows Vernon Parish is third in reading and math proficiency and Beauregard Parish is fifth in reading and math proficiency. Vernon Parish is third and Beauregard Parish is fourth in preparing high school seniors to go to college. This data shows schools local to Fort Polk in comparison to schools across all Army installations.

“That’s really good, and what you are going to hear at this summit is how we will continue to advance that data and make it even better,” Smith said.

One of the highlights of the education summit was centered on STARBASE, a Department of Defense youth program focused on science, technology, engineering and math educational experience that offers students and teachers a hands-on, high-tech, discovery/inquiry based learning environment.
Becca Foltz, Louisiana State University of Alexandria Fort Polk STARBASE Warrior director, will guide the Fort Polk-based program. The community education enhancement project will provide STEM based learning to fifth graders.

“We have the flexibility to teach students in a different type of environment,” said Foltz. “It’s about collaboration, working in teams, creating and learning from their own mistakes. Students will have access to the very latest technology such as 3D printers, tablets, robotics, rocketry and more. They will have so much fun as they engage in the learning process. It’s a wonderful and meaningful learning experience for students.”

Foltz said she is exhilarated about the partnership between local school boards, Fort Polk and LSUA that brought STARBASE to fruition.

“They are 110 percent invested in the STARBASE program,” Foltz said. “I can’t wait to see what we can do. The possibilities are endless and the future looks amazing,” Foltz said.

Ann Smith, Vernon Parish School Board curriculum director, took part in the education summit. She said the summit provides a place to exchange information and communicate ideas.

“As we progress through these educational summits, we are listening to what our parents and stakeholder’s needs are because they represent our students and that’s what Vernon Parish education is all about,” Ann Smith said.