GIRARD — In 1976 school districts could purchase canned food, paper and other goods from a small Education Service Center near the unincorporated town of Greenbush. Forty years later, the center has grown into an education center offering services to districts, educators, students and more.

Greenbush started in 1976 with a vocational grant from the state. Four area schools — Girard, Riverton, Yates Center and Erie — along with Fort Scott Community College used the $40,000 grant to set up the Education Service Center at the location of the closed Greenbush Elementary School.

Greenbush started with three original programs. The center offered cooperative purchasing for schools to buy supplies cheaper, it had an instructional media center with resources on film and it repaired audio visual equipment like speakers and overhead projectors. Executive Director Mike Bodensteiner said these three programs still exist after 40 years.

“We still do cooperative purchasing, but now it is with things like football turf,” Bodensteiner said. “We have an instructional media center with computers, and we are repairing classroom equipment, but now it is iPads.”

Now, Greenbush is almost synonymous with student enrichment — especially in science. Since 1976, Greenbush has added the Abernathy Science Education Center and Observatory, full low and high ropes courses and multiple programs based around physics, life sciences and more.

“It’s tough to focus completely on science at a regular school,” Director of Student Enrichment Michael McCambridge said. “Students get to come here and have great experiences with science as a child.”

Greenbush has always aimed to provide access to equipment and resources which aren’t available at local school districts — to educators and students alike.

“Greenbush is always looking around the corner so schools don’t have to,” McCambridge said. “We are looking for the next thing we need to be on top of for our districts.”

While Greenbush’s proactivity is visible with technology and student enrichment, the center also stays ahead in many programs people don’t see, according to Bodensteiner.

“They’re are so many programs people don’t see,” he said. “We have an early childhood program with educators actually going into homes and working with kids, an infant toddler program all over the state, a migrant education program, people see our enrichment, but there is so much more.”

He also pointed out that last year, Greenbush helped 11 inmates receive their high school diploma.

Bodensteiner identified a few milestones that helped make Greenbush what it is today. He said the first was when the center began to work with special purpose schools in Parsons and at the Winfield State Hospital to deliver specialized education to students with physical and developmental disabilities.

The second was the creation of the Mobile Life Education Center. The mobile trailer traveled to schools filled with equipment to teach about anatomy and other sciences of life — all with every student’s favorite puppet, Harold the Giraffe.

“Harold was a huge milestone,” Bodensteiner said. “His creation was the moment we went from serving children with special needs to serving all children no matter the location.”

The next big milestone he identified was the Abernathy Science Center’s construction. He said it brought students to Greenbush and helped push their goals for more student enrichment forward.

“As soon as yellow school buses began to pull through our driveway, something clicked,” Bodensteiner said.

Even with all the programs Greenbush currently offers, previously offered and hopes to offer — too many to name — Bodensteiner said there is one thing that allowed Greenbush to become what it has over the last 40 years.

He said when Greenbush started, people like Robert Haderlein realized schools can do things together they could not do alone. And when they started Greenbush, they decided not to charge a base administration fee to schools that wish to join, there is no base fee from the federal government and Greenbush doesn’t levy taxes.

Both Bodenstein and McCambridge said the reason this was so important is because it allows schools to only pay for the programs they use, which keeps Greenbush providing new programs and ditching ones that aren’t being used.

“It’s kind of like Walmart,” Bodensteiner said. “You don’t need the little card to shop here, and you can just buy what you need.”

Greenbush and its staff have no plans of slowing down and will continue to offer programs that are needed, as well as look to the future.

Yellow school buses may still be pulling through the driveway in another 40 years.

— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at choener@morningsun.net or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.