At 5 a.m., already dressed appropriately formal for a day at the Kansas Legislature, the Board of Regents and the Kansas Supreme Court, the 24 high school juniors in the second class of the Kansas Academy of Mathematics and Science began trickling out of Custer Hall on March 16 to board the three vans that would take them to Topeka.
And so began the second class's field trip to the state capital, much like the trip taken by the first class, the "Pioneer Class," last year. This second group, aware of the pioneer designation given to last year's juniors, has dubbed itself the Trailblazers, and the four class members who gave a presentation to the House Education Committee -- the day's first stop -- proudly used the Trailblazer name.
"It was great going to Topeka and seeing how much support KAMS has in our state. It makes me feel as though we're not just accomplishing all of this for ourselves, but we're promoting Kansas in a positive way. Being in KAMS is hard work, and sometimes it feels like people don't think that's true. Going to Topeka and being recognized for our work is very gratifying." -- Abbey Killinger, Topeka
That presentation, introduced by Fort Hays State University President Edward H. Hammond, briefly went over the purposes and benefits of the academy, which was created by an act of the Legislature in 2006. FHSU is the academy's host institution.
Briefly, the academy was created to promote mathematics and science education, to reduce the "brain drain" in which many of the best and brightest young Kansans go to out-of-state universities and never return, and to promote economic development by providing a well-educated workforce.
"The trip to Topeka was very interesting. It was great to get a look at the legislative process and in a way see how the idea of KAMS was formulated. I also enjoyed meeting the politicians who represent my area of the state. The recognition from the House of Representatives and the Senate wasn't bad either." -- Janae Carter, Andover
On the "brain drain" aspect, KAMS Director Ron Keller drew applause from the committee when he told the members that, out of the first class, whose members are high school seniors this year, only one plans to attend college out of state.
The four Trailblazer class members who spoke to the committee this year -- Clint Herrmann, Manvitha Marni, Cole Mosier and Kara Schnake -- also noted that students at KAMS get to focus on academics, research, leadership development and civic engagement; will graduate from KAMS and take part in their sending high schools' commencements; and begin their post-high school education with 68 hours of college credit.
"I enjoyed my day at the Capitol. Although I was initially nervous about addressing the House Education Committee, once the other students and I had given our presentation, the committee seemed welcoming of us and interested in the program. Another experience that I enjoyed during the day was sitting on the floor of the Senate. Seeing the senators' discourse and hearing the topics that they were addressing helped me understand how much power our state legislators wield, and how important it is to elect a candidate that is representative of your views." -- Manvitha Marni, Leawood
The legislative tour continued through the Kansas House chamber, where, like their predecessors a year ago, they were introduced to the House and given a standing ovation. Ditto in the Senate, plus each student was photographed with the state senator of his or her district. Each house of the Legislature also passed a resolution extolling KAMS and its students.
"I thought [the day in Topeka] was not only an educational experience but it was of much benefit to help promote and help the program's publicity among the people who could influence the program the most in the future. I enjoyed spending time with my fellow classmates and meeting my district's senator." -- Bria Carder, Eudora
The educational field trip bore unexpected fruit in the Senate. While waiting on the floor of the Senate, the students witnessed a small piece of legislative history when a roll-call vote rejected an executive reorganization order of Gov. Sam Brownback, who had ordered that the Kansas Arts Commission be converted to a non-profit organization under the purview of the Kansas State Historical Society.
"The part I enjoyed the most about our capital trip was the fulfillment it brought me to know that our state's representatives care so strongly about Kansas' future. Many times the phrases 'our best and brightest' and 'our future leaders' were used to represent us. Senators and House representatives celebrated our success and ensured me that I made the right choice in joining the KAMS family." -- Kaylin Hawman, WaKeeney
From the Legislature, the students went across the street to the Kansas Board of Regents and later to the Kansas Supreme Court for a tour and a presentation by Justice Lee Johnson in the Supreme Court courtroom. They also sat in the chairs of the seven justices for pictures.
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to appear in front of the Senate and the representatives, as well as many other groups, in Topeka. The part that I enjoyed the most was our presentation to the House Education Committee, because I was one of the presenters. It was an amazing
experience to have the attention of important people in the education system, and it was especially exciting to be able to make them laugh as I explained the life of a KAMS student." -- Kara Schnake, Augusta
Many of the parents, about 25, also went to Topeka to meet up with their students and tag along on the Capitol tour. They and some legislators also had lunch with the students. Arrangement were made by the FHSU Alumni Association. Students and parents totaled about 55 people.
"These are great kids," said Keller after the trip was over. "They are taking a very rigorous curriculum, and they represent both the academy and Fort Hays State very well."
He said students and staff at the academy deeply appreciate the support of the Legislature, especially in the current difficult times. Part of the benefit in the trip to Topeka is being able to express that appreciation to the Legislature. Another part of the enjoyment is the educational value.
"We look forward to testifying before the House Education Committee and visiting the House and Senate in their chambers," he said. "That is a great experience and a lesson in the action of representative democracy. They get to see government in action."
"Since I am an international student, the trip to Topeka was especially educational for me. I could observe and experience the American government system, and the government members' greetings made me proud about that I am in the KAMS program. Also, I realized that Kansas has a pretty big city!" - SooBum Kim, South Korea
Students in the second KAMS class are listed alphabetically by hometown with their parents' names and their sending high schools.
ANDOVER: Janae Carter, Stanley and Patricia Carter, Andover Central High School.
ASHLAND: Justin Arnspiger, James Arnspiger, Ashland High School.
ATCHISON: Rachel Schmidt, Dean and Teresa Schmidt, Maur Hill-Mount Academy.
AUGUSTA: Kara Schnake, Tammy Schnake, Augusta High School.
EUDORA: Bria Carder, Kevin and Lanette Carder, Eudora High School.
HAYS: Jon Folkerts, Tim and Melanie Folkerts, Hays High School.
HOLTON: Cole Mosier, Michael and Amy Mosier, Holton High School.
HUGOTON: Alondra Meraz, Alfredo and Rosalva Cantu, Hugoton High School.
KINSLEY: Krysten Brake, Joseph and Stephanie Brake, Kinsley Junior-Senior High School.
LANSING: Alex Lee, Terry and Clare Lee, Lansing High School.
LEAWOOD: Manvitha Marni, Sitarama and Radhika Marni, Blue Valley High School.
LEOTI: Shaley White, Jan White, Wichita County High School.
PARSONS: Pete Betzen, Ron Betzen, Parsons High School.
RICHFIELD: Logan Smith, Byron and Teresa Smith, Elkhart High School.
SABETHA: Clint Herrmann, Patrick and Donna Hermann, Sabetha High School;
Elsie Suhr, John and Lisa Suhr, Sabetha High School.
SCOTT CITY: Taylor Kane, Todd and Rose Kane, Scott Community High School.
SOUTH KOREA: SooBum Kim, Tae Yoon and Eun Hwa.
TONGANOXIE: Rachel Bieniecki, Robert and Deborah Bieniecki, Tonganoxie High School.
TOPEKA: Abbey Killinger, Amy Kester, Silver Lake High School.
Aleta Martin, Ted Martin and Lee Ann Patterson, Topeka High School.
WINFIELD: Nyasha Maforo, Virginia Maforo, Winfield High School.
WAKEENEY: Kaylin Hawman, Jason and Liz Hawman, Trego Community High School.
WAMEGO: Chance Kahle, Brian and Kerri Huntzinger, Wamego High School.