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Dieker: Facilities inspire success

The Iola Register

“Why do we have to settle? Why can’t we give our kids the best we possibly can and see what they can do with it? We have to invest in our future and our people.”


-Morgan Dieker

Morgan Dieker experienced culture shock the first time she walked into a chemistry laboratory at the University of Kansas.

“The whole lab was indescribable. The equipment was different, things I’d never seen before,” she said. 

Even though Dieker had studied chemistry at Iola High School, “I didn’t know what a lab could be until I got to KU,” she said. That experience changed her perception about what an education can mean, she said.

Dieker graduated as valedictorian from Iola High School in 2009 while earning dual credits from Allen Community College. Though she’d been at the top of her class in Iola, she soon found herself facing a steep learning curve at KU amid students who had graduated from schools that offered more advanced science programs.

Dieker grew up in Iola, where her father, Jeff, is an owner of Iola Pharmacy. That Morgan studied pharmacy and eventually returned home to join her father in business was perhaps not a total, but indeed, pleasant, surprise.

Dieker said her fascination with history and her desire to preserve her local community for future generations let to her involvement with a steering committee formed to study school facilities in USD 257.

Her initial reaction to their plight was to renovate existing elementary schools.

“I like the idea of neighborhood schools. I liked knowing future children and family members would be in the same building. The sentimental part of keeping the schools was important to me in the beginning,” Dieker said.

But as the committee looked at the costs of renovation, her viewpoint changed. She saw the cost to renovate would be about the same as building a new school, which would combine preschool through fifth grades under one roof. The bond proposal that voters will decide April 2 also includes options to build a new science and technology building at the high school, and a new heating, ventilation and cooling system at the middle school.

Studies showed a new elementary school could save the district between $300,000 to $500,000 each year in various efficiencies, such as reduced utility costs, consolidated staff positions and less duplication of resources like books and materials.

“Seeing the money the district could save and put directly back in the classroom is exciting,” she said.

The history is not with the buildings, she realized. It’s with the people. People like her former chemistry teacher Marv Smith, who inspired in her a love of science in spite of the limitations of his lab at IHS. Her former teachers made the best out of the facilities they had, whatever the challenges.

But facilities matter, too. 

At KU, Dieker was part of the second class to utilize a brand new, state-of-the-art facility at the School of Pharmacy. Using that lab inspired her to achieve at a higher level, she said.

She also drew comparisons to her hometown. 

True, she struggled a bit at KU. She leaned on fellow students to help her through difficult times and sought tutoring.

But at KU, she saw opportunities she couldn’t envision while at Iola. She developed a sense of optimism that she wanted to bring back home.

She understands the challenges facing youth in Iola and surrounding communities, which have higher rates of poverty and poorer health than the state in general. She worries local students won’t have the same opportunities she had to expand her views. 

She wants them to be inspired, just as she was when she walked into those new labs at KU. She’s excited about the types of science, engineering and technology classes that could be offered with a new building at the high school.

“Why do we have to settle? Why can’t we give our kids the best we possibly can and see what they can do with it?” Dieker asked.

“We have to invest in our future and our people.”

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