The Lawton-Fort Sill community has weathered a long year of starting and stopping suddenly on literally historic events. A once-in-a-century pandemic was joined by an historic snow storm that placed the community at a standstill. It has sometimes felt as if there were no foreseeable future through the multiple changes we were all forced to make. Making history, it seems, is sometimes not very fun.

Still, there has been a great deal of forward progress during these dark times. One of the more exciting prospects is the introduction of the vaccines that will hopefully allow us to gather in person again for events. For example, the biggest career and technical educator conference will once again be in-person in August 2021. As educators, we have felt isolated from our colleagues and have missed the networking that allows us to learn from each other. While we in Career Tech are looking forward to seeing our peers again in person, not Zoom, this is only the first sign that there is, indeed, light at the end of our historic tunnel.

The strange thing about tunnels is that you go in one entrance and stumble around in the dark, thinking you’re making no progress at all. This, it seems, does not hold true. During our dark times, we have spent time thinking seriously about the future of our school system as a whole. We are looking forward to emerging from the other end of the tunnel with some new and innovative ideas for our community.

Life Ready Center

The most exciting partnership on our horizon is the one being built with our local education partners – Lawton Public Schools and Cameron University. We are excited about the prospect of emerging from the darkness into the light and establishing the Life Ready Center (LRC) to benefit our students and communities by consolidating resources and creating an environment that supports advanced learning opportunities in STEM and other rigorous academic areas. Great Plains is proud to provide skilled staff members at the LRC and believe this preparation will help students enter into and succeed in our two-year Pre-Engineering program located on the Great Plains campus.

The LRC, set to be housed in a Lawton Public Schools facility, will serve as a centralized academy for high-caliber academic subjects for our high school students. Everything from advanced science and mathematics to robotics and concurrent enrollment will be available in one location. Students entering the LRC will be immersed in challenge and rigor while still maintaining their high school affiliations and activities. It is an exciting prospect, impacting all schools in different and positive ways. All students will continue to have a full range of services and support while pursuing the education in the environments best suited for them. This is an innovative project that requires all education partners to work together to put students and their needs first and foremost. We are excited to be a part of the LRC and look forward to students learning and working together in environments that promote success.

It has been a hard year for all of us. Some students have not seen their friends and teachers for a very long time. Teachers have blazed a virtual trail to innovation through multiple teaching platforms and shifting demands that are often out of the control of even local school districts. We have learned to bridge divides that seemed impossible to span only one year ago. We have all learned and grown by being challenged in ways we never even imagined. That is what making history is – growing through unexpected challenges and turmoil. No one has done it perfectly but everyone has done his or her best. Each of us who comes toward the light at the end of this tunnel comes with hopes and plans for the future. Great Plains Technology Center and our educational partners are no different.

New hope, new tools

We have more hope now that we had last year. We are more resilient. We are more united in our purpose. We have real and meaningful plans to make our systems better by providing innovative services and facilities to our students and communities. And we have new tools that will remain with us. There is a place for digital access in the new world we will find very soon. The ability to Zoom with an instructor or advisor or counselor will increase access to services necessary to build success in a world where, hopefully, we will not have to make history again. Making history is hard work – both physically and mentally. But, on the other end of the tunnel, with the perspective of time, we will be proud of ourselves. We look forward to more graduations and fewer quarantines, more teacher-student interaction and fewer digital lessons, and more community activities and fewer cancellations. And we look forward to new partnerships with old allies, creating a unified approach to student success that begins with the LRC and ends wherever the future takes us.

Great Plains Technology Center thanks our students, our staff, our community, and our partners as we move steadily toward the light at the end of this historic tunnel. We look forward to returning to the a new normal in which we combine what we knew before, what we have learned, and our vision for the future as a fully-integrated school district that includes K-12, career tech, and college as full-fledged partners dedicated to student success.

Clarence Fortney is superintendent/CEO of Great Plains Technology Center.