A Teacher’s Appreciation Month salute to local heroes
Throughout the 2020-2021 school year, teachers continued to conduct class whether it was virtually, hybrid or in person. As of Monday, May 3, elementary students enrolled in Kansas City public schools returned to full in-person learning five days a week. Grades 7—12 remained in hybrid learning mode, an effort that began as early as March for some school communities.
The Pitch took portraits of eight teachers in schools across the district, like De La Salle Education Center and Citizens of the World, at the end of April to capture what teaching this year has felt like for them.
- Shanelle Smith is the associate principal at the African-Centered Preparatory Academy upper school. This marks her 16th year in education, fourth year serving as an administrator, and the three words she chose to describe this school year were challenging, enlightening and long.
- April 5 African-Centered Preparatory Academy upper school transitioned from virtual learning to a hybrid mode. Smith has found motivation this year in uncovering opportunities to do things differently in education and student interactions. “I’m not going to lie, it has been tough to remain motivated, especially when part of an educator’s motivation is students and interacting with them,” Smith says. “So the things that kept me motivated were knowing that students felt comfortable enough to reach out to me when they were struggling or when they had questions. It also felt good and motivating when I’d bump into a student at their job—Walgreens, Wal-Mart, wherever—bumping into a kiddo and then I’d go home and I’d pull their record to see how they’re doing, what’s going on with them. It gave me touch points outside of the scope of the virtual learning platform.
- Camille Burgmeier teaches biology at De La Salle Education Center as well as a dual-enrollment class with UMKC called “Grow Your Own Teacher,” for students that are interested in becoming teachers themselves. This is her eighth year as an educator, and she’s proud of how dedicated her students have been. “They wanted to come back in the building,” she says. “If they had a little bit of a hard period in between, when they came back, they came back. I just feel proud of them because all the things ‘learning loss’…all these things that are true that we’ve heard people say, these experts say. The actual kids are like, ‘What? We’re going to come back to school. I still want to graduate. I’m going to get my grades up.’ They still have these very clear goals and yes they are experiencing achieving the goals differently but they still know what they want and they want to get it.”
- Until April 5, Burgmeier was conducting class completely on Zoom. Since this is Burgmeier’s first year back at De La Salle—after leaving in 2015 to teach fifth grade for five years—the most challenging part of this year was meeting students on Zoom. “[L]ast year in the spring—they know me, I know them. I know when they’re upset. I know when they’re doing great. They know when I’m upset,” she recalls. “Everything is already established. Doing that over Zoom, and then when I first saw kids in the building like, ‘What’s your name, who are you?!’ It was so funny because it was like ‘Your voice does not match your face at all!’ or ‘You’re not what a pictured,’ because a lot of times they’d leave their cameras off or their attendance would be really strong and then they would fall. The hardest thing was that I had to get to know them on Zoom first.”
- Erin Wilmore teaches sixth and seventh grade hives and roots at Citizens of the World Kansas City. Hives covers science and social studies, and roots is a class that focuses on social-emotional needs as well as social justice and current events.
- Ever Fierro is a special education teacher for elementary and middle school students at Citizens of the World Kansas City. Citizens of the World started completely remote in August. Now, some students are present in the building four days a week, with Wednesday as a designated professional development day for faculty.
- Becky Brents teaches sixth and seventh grade math at Citizens of the World Kansas City.
- Eva Santiago is the program coordinator for Plaza Comunitaria, or community plaza. It’s bilingual programming that is district-wide and addresses the social-emotional needs for the Latinx community, specifically undocumented students, non-English speakers and immigrants. Part of her programming is offering scholarship workshops and yoga classes as well as organizing fundraisers.
- Santiago’s office is located at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, thus she has more connections with the students at that school. This year she has been sharing her time between Lincoln Prep, Garfield Elementary School, East High School as well as home visits throughout the community. Three words she used to describe this school year were lonely, revolutionary and new beginnings.
- Santiago has done community organizing work for 20 years, and was a police officer for seven years in the Northeast part of Kansas City—the exact same area she’s working in now. Something Santiago has found motivating is the success of a fundraiser, Cambio Para Cambio (change for change)—a student-led fundraiser that raised $18,000. “If we were successful in certain things in the pandemic, we’re going to kick ass when we go back full time because we have more motivation,” she says. “I’m not hesitant to do the things that I need to do and make the decisions that I need to make to get things done as opposed to maybe two years ago… I’m not a tip-toer and I’m pretty candid but still. Now, I’m none of that. I’m done with that. I’m getting what I need, the resources that I need, and the worst that they can say is no.”
- Marquis Hall is a fourth grade teacher at African-Centered Preparatory Academy lower school. Something Hall feels proud of this school year is his students’ resilience. “In the face of all of this, they haven’t made excuses,” he says. “They still gave me their all, every single day. I feel like just them staying with me, even if they know things are hard and even though they’re uncomfortable and all of those kinds of things—it has been really rewarding.”
- African-Centered Preparatory Academy lower school will return full-time to campus on May 3. In virtual and hybrid learning, Hall found meeting the needs of the whole child challenging. “Oftentimes when we think about education, we think about ‘just teach them’ and ‘they just need to learn,’” he says. “But that’s only one aspect of developing ourselves as educators and developing their education. The thing that has been really challenging is making sure that we’re meeting all of their needs. That’s their social and emotional needs. It’s also making sure that all of those basic needs like shelter, water, food are taken care of. It’s hard to gauge those things over the computer. Fortunately, I’ve been in the position where these are the same kids I had in the second grade all over again, so it has been ok.”
- Lauren Donovan teaches sixth and seventh grade English at Citizens of the World Kansas City, and this is her sixth year as an educator. When describing the school year, Donovan said it was innovative, different and sporadic. The challenges and successes of the year for her go hand in hand. “We still have kids that are logging on,” she says. “Or when we have conferences, their parents [say], ‘Oh, they told us about that book you read or about that activity.’ The challenge was to be like, ‘Great, kids are on[line], how do we make sure they’re learning?’ Then the proud part is they are learning. It’s obviously different, yes. It’s not the same. But there’s still things that are happening, and our team does a really good job of coming together and problem-solving and collaborating and all of that.”