STEM students use their critical thinking skills during Fort Leonard Wood field trip

By Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs OfficeJuly 3, 2023

Matthew Mertz, Fort Leonard Wood’s installation emergency manager, speaks to Freedom Elementary School students about emergency management operations and how to prepare and stay safe in weather events during their Summer STEM Academy field trip here June 29. In addition to learning from Mertz at the Emergency Operations Center, the students also visited the Recycling Center.
Matthew Mertz, Fort Leonard Wood’s installation emergency manager, speaks to Freedom Elementary School students about emergency management operations and how to prepare and stay safe in weather events during their Summer STEM Academy field trip here June 29. In addition to learning from Mertz at the Emergency Operations Center, the students also visited the Recycling Center. (Photo Credit: Photo by Melissa Buckley, Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Students from Freedom Elementary School’s STEM Academy spent their last day of summer school, June 29, learning about natural disasters, emergency preparedness and recycling, during an on-post field trip here.

Freedom Elementary School, part of the Waynesville School District, is located in St. Robert. STEM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math. These four fields share an emphasis on innovation, problem-solving and critical thinking.

The students’ first stop was to Fort Leonard Wood’s emergency operations center, where Matthew Mertz, the installation’s emergency manager, talked to the children about dangerous weather events that can happen in Missouri.

“Emergency preparedness is a family affair. All family members must know and clearly understand what their family’s plan is in the event of a weather emergency and how to protect themselves,” Mertz said. “Children can educate, assist and participate in their family’s emergency preparations and planning. When youngsters are able to contribute, they become a stake holder and are more likely to understand the family emergency plan and assist other family members.”

Mertz showed students aftermath photos of the EF-3 tornado that hit Fort Leonard Wood in 2010. He explained the difference between a watch and a warning and what to do if there is a tornado warning.

“They challenged and inquired about certain actions I recommended when responding to weather emergencies. We discussed the safe places to seek shelter during tornados like bathtubs, basements and closets under stairs, but they questioned whether a garage or laundry room would also be appropriate and why not,” Mertz said. “I really enjoyed these questions that challenged my recommendations because it shows they are thinking and demonstrating a desire to understand, rather than simply do what you are told. Questions that challenge or seek clarification are essential to critical thinking and problem solving and this class definitely possess these skills at an early age.”

Mertz also showed the students photos of a bridge that collapsed under the weight of high, flowing water during a flood to help them understand the power of water.

“Water is a very powerful force, especially when it floods. Even if it doesn’t look too bad, any flowing water can push your car into the river,” Mertz told the students. “Rain is good, it makes our grass green and our crops grow, but we have to respect it because it is a powerful force of nature.”

Mertz had emergency kits for the children to look through. The kits had items, such as a weather radio, non-perishable food, a first-aid kit, water, matches, work gloves and a tarp.

“You probably have never heard of this, but you can tune in to an AM channel on a radio like this to get the most up-to-date information to keep yourself safe,” Mertz said, as he showed the students a weather radio.

Mia Terrell, a Freedom Elementary fifth grader, said she learned if there is a tornado, “I need to go hide in the bathroom.” She said, adding when she got home from school, she wanted to talk to her parents about getting an emergency kit. “We need to collect some of this stuff to keep us safe.”

Mertz handed out Ready Army activity books to the students to take home and use as a template for their own family emergency kits. The Ready Army Program informs communities of hazards and provides targeted preparedness information. The information in the activity books can be found by visiting the Ready Army website.

Fellow Freedom fifth-grader Dashel Carlson said he was going to use the activity book to make his own emergency kit.

“If we have an emergency kit, I don’t know about it. When I get home, I am going to show them the folder we got today,” Carlson said.

He said someday he wants to join the military and he has always been interested in weather, so maybe one day he can do both.

“I want to work in emergency services like this. They save lives. They do a lot when the weather is bad,” Carlson said.

The students’ next stop was to Fort Leonard Wood’s Recycling Center where they got to see how recyclables on post are collected and sorted.

“We recycle cans at my house. It is important to reduce trash, so we don’t destroy our planet,” Carlson said.

More information about recycling on post can be found at Fort Leonard Wood’s Recycling Center webpage.