Oaks-Mission school gifted $2M

BY RICK THIELEN
Grand Lake News
01/07/2020 10:30 AM
Reprinted with permission
Main Cherokee Phoenix
In this 2014 photo, Cherokee Nation Businesses employee Deborah Fritts reads to students at Oaks Mission Elementary in Oaks. The school recently received a $2.6 million gift from the Bill and Ida Hestor Foundation. COURTESY
OAKS – The little Oaks-Mission school received a big gift of $2.6 million dollars from the Bill and Ida Hestor Foundation.

A school system that struggled to cover bare minimum maintenance items due to too little cash, the gift was literally a God-send for the school.

The school board has embarked on much needed repairs and upgrades to their buildings and equipment. A new roof was put on the gymnasium, old HVAC systems were being replaced, new LED lighting was installed in each building, brightening every room and hallway and reducing the electric bill.

A new security camera system was added in the buildings, new ledge stone added to the gym entrance that matches the original gym (still standing), plans to renovate the original gym are planned.

A college scholarship fund has been established that is available to each graduating senior which can be received for 4 to 5 years amounting to $1,000 to $1,500, depending on how many qualify.

One of the most intriguing items added is a virtual reality (VR) system for the students, very similar to gaming goggles for online games.

However, this has become a cutting-edge education tool which is currently in approximately 15 -20 Oklahoma schools, provided by the American Indian Resource Center in Oklahoma.

Oaks-Mission has purchased its own system and Dr. Angelina Dayton and her husband, Andy, have been contracted to train students and teachers at Oaks-Mission.

This system has already made a major impact on Oaks students, reducing absenteeism, making math exciting, even to those who that find math less than exciting, and creating a level of excitement in students from high school down to kindergarten.

The math class experienced and calculated terminal velocity, or how fast one falls through the air.

They did it by “falling” in virtual reality from the top of a building twenty stories tall and timing the time it took from “stepping off to hitting the ground” using algebra to measure the rate of gravity.

“When I first heard of this VR thing, I thought it was just a game, a waste of money, but I went from disbeliever to believer when I saw how my students embraced math because of it,” said high school math teacher Andy Hathcoat.

Hathcoat had some students, who didn’t much like math, take the lead in teaching math to kindergarten students using the VR system, but are now embracing math.

“What a turnaround,” said Hathcoat. “I can see teaching geometry and trigonometry through framing a building in VR, for instance, and being able to do it as a team.”

Oaks-Mission students have already spoken with students in Saudi Arabia, Italy, Norway, Spain and Greece in real time as students in those countries used their VR systems.

Andy Dayton is building new platforms where students can learn the Choctaw language and to learn a language, such as Spanish, by connecting to another student in Mexico who wants to learn English.

Dayton wants to add the Cherokee language program to the available languages.

For literature and reading, as students read about Anne Frank, through VR they were able to visit and walk through her house, see her hiding space, making the book really come alive.

Dayton says this will be the future for education and it is exciting that Oaks-Mission took this leap for their students to get ahead of the curve.

The Daytons are contracted for the rest of this school year and for next year to train teachers and students on the systems.

Principal C.D. Thompson believes this new education tool has already helped reduce truancy, encouraged students to get into class on time and get excited about possibilities for their lives.

How often do you see students crowding around the classroom door, anxious to get into class, like Oaks-Mission is seeing every day, students not wanting to miss out on any time to use the VR system?

There is an ongoing plan to create platforms that will meet Oklahoma State Standards for education in different areas of study.

The system has filters in place so students can’t access places not allowed and has protections so others can’t hack into or have access to the students.

Additionally, teachers have computer screens that show what each student is looking at or experiencing, real time.

Thompson showed the new vehicles the board approved: new Suburban, Malibu and a pick up, along with 4 new buses.

New lighting has been purchased for the football field and is waiting to be installed.

This small, rural community school has been blessed with needed dollars to improve their campus, their transportation needs and educational tools in a huge way.

All of this was not virtual reality, but actual reality for Oaks-Mission, made possible by the generosity of the Bill and Ida Hestor Foundation gift.

– REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION

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