SHERIDAN — More than 100 local elementary and high school students took part in an unusual activity Wednesday — a Marine combat fitness test that entailed a half-mile warmup run and an obstacle course that included sprinting, crawling, running with weights and carrying another person. Sheridan County School District 2 health and physical education teacher Jessica Pickett brought the fitness test to Woodland Park Elementary and Sheridan High School after attending a five-day Marine Educator Workshop in April. Marine Staff Sgt. Cody Wallace led the tests along with another Marine.
Wallace is a Marine recruiter based in Casper who travels to Sheridan County every week to talk with students.
Most of the students at Woodland Park had a blast with the tests in the morning, but it was tougher to get students excited at the high school in the afternoon. The 80-degree heat Wednesday didn’t help, either.
However, Pickett said one student mentioned that completing the drill gave her confidence in her ability to push herself going forward.
“That made it all worth it, really, just for them to see that they’re capable of a lot when [they] put [their] minds to it,” Pickett said.
Wallace invited Pickett to the workshop, which entailed several different activities for the teachers, including a fitness test, team exercises and watching a Marines graduation.
Pickett plans to do something similar to the combat fitness test next year. The simulated test was a physical example of incorporating lessons from the Marines into school, but local educators believe room exists for deeper connections.
“As teachers, we’re trying to do the same thing the Marines are doing,” Pickett said. “We’re trying to take kids in and train them and give them skills they need to be better in life.”
SHS computer science instructor Sharon Deutscher and SCSD2 health and science instructor Helen Grutkowski attended the Marine Educator Workshop last year.
Deutscher believes more educators should experience something like the workshop because teachers can learn from Marine instructors about how to build better relationships with students.
“When you learn teamwork and patience like you’ve never known and problem solving skills in a different day, you start realizing how you can use that in your classroom,” Grutkowski said. “It was in military style, but it still applied to us. There was a lot you could bring back and implement into your classroom.”
Grutkowski and Deutscher joined educators from Wyoming and Colorado who had the equivalent of 13 weeks of boot camp packed into five days. The teachers were divided into two groups of about 30. Deutscher and Grutkowski were in the same group and had a drill instructor who was with the group almost every minute of every day and excelled at building relationships.
“By the end of the trip, we all liked our drill instructor, and the other group would say, ‘No, no, we like ours better,’” Deutscher said. “Those gentlemen are really gifted at their skill … They really know how to do the relationship (aspect). They know how to break you down and bring you back up. It would be good for all teachers to learn those skills, and you can’t learn that in a book.”
Pickett and Grutkowski attended the workshop to see what they could learn from the unique experience. Deutscher signed up for the workshop because she teaches a career development class and wanted to be more knowledgeable about students’ questions regarding the military, and she also had a daughter enroll in the Air Force last year.
“I was worried about her going into boot camp, and I figured if I could go watch what [they] do in the Marines, she’ll be OK in the Air Force,” Deutscher said. “It did give me a little bit of peace of mind.”
At the workshop, Grutkowski enjoyed talking with actual Marine recruits and watching instructors teach recruits how to swim. If a Marine recruit fails a swimming test on a certain day, the recruit will spend a full day in the pool the following week until he or she is able to pass.
Wallace said that example illustrates the Marines’ core values of honor, courage and commitment.
“Honoring what we need to do and the courage and commitment to always follow through,” Wallace said. “Never giving up on somebody, no matter what … They can become better, they just need that extra push.”
That sentiment rings true to teachers, who try to do the same for students. Retesting until a section is completed applies directly to education as well. If a student struggles in class, teachers don’t stop teaching; they keep working with a student until he or she can pass the section.
Pickett said the workshop helped her remember her teaching goals.
“It kind of renewed my sense of what I’m doing as an educator,” Pickett said. “It was awesome to see how they take individuals and see how they turn them into a team … The Marines are taking kids in and, whether it’s four years or 40, they hope to turn them out as better people and better citizens. That’s what they’re trying to do, which closely aligns with my purpose as a teacher.”
Teachers and Marines take two different approaches to molding young people, but local instructors believe the techniques overlap more than appears on the surface.