If they were lucky, 4-H’ers in the Geographic Information Systems Tech Team would find the remains of an old one-room schoolhouse in Leavenworth County, take a reading on their portable Global Positioning System units and take a photo of the building for their records.
If they were unlucky, they would have to settle for a GPS reading of where they thought the remains of the schoolhouse should be and photos of the surrounding area.
And if they were really unlucky, they would end up in a place such as Schoolhouse 14, which the team refers to as “Snake City.”
“That place was scary,” team member Carl Hecht said.
Since March, four of the original seven GIS Tech Team members have continued working toward their goal of using GPS to map the 70 old schoolhouses in the county. So far, the team has marked nearly 40 of them.
To accomplish this goal, the 4-H team is using equipment that Leavenworth County 4-H has provided and is receiving assistance from Leavenworth County GIS director Jeff Culbertson.
“A lot of the information and the maps the county has on these schoolhouses have a lot of errors,” Culbertson said. “We are using the latest technology to update old information. Once it’s in digital format it’s preserved forever.”
He said the county doesn’t have the time or the resources to go out and correct the information, and that is why getting volunteer help from the 4-H is invaluable.
But the 4-H’ers don’t just use the technology to get the job done. They also have to use their wits, some detective work and help from the community to find the schoolhouses.
The group has relied heavily on Leavenworth County residents such as Fred Leimkuhler, who remembers where many of the old schoolhouses once stood.
Beth Hecht, 4-H agent, and Culbertson said part of this project was for the 4-H’ers to connect with the older generation.
“We are definitely one generation away from losing a lot of history,” Culbertson said.
To find the schools, the group would meet on the weekends or whenever they had days off from school.
They use information from the GIS department and information gathered from the community and go to where the schools should be. If they can’t find them right away, they ask the property owners whether they know the location of the school and what happened to it.
In some cases the property owner tells them the schoolhouse was torn down or just fell apart over time, but in other cases property owners have used a schoolhouse in the construction of their own homes — one schoolhouse was found inside a person’s garage.
Because none of the GIS Tech Team is old enough to drive, members have to rely on their parents to get around the county.
Reann French said the critical thinking skills and the technological skills the kids are learning in the program are something they can use in the future. Her 12-year-old son, Garrett, likes the program and likes finding the old schoolhouses, but he would never want to attend school in one.
“It might be painful,” he said. “They were pretty strict. They used paddles back then.”
Carl Hecht, Garret French, Levi Koch and Cody Koch will be returning to the team next year, but they haven’t decided what their next project might be. Culbertson said there are many other things the county needs completed, such as mapping all of the fire hydrants in the county, mapping the banks along the Kansas River in the county or mapping emergency routes in the county in case of a pandemic.