Encouraged to Greatness

Jillian Lipari, a teacher from the Hickman Mills C-1 School District, was one of many to offer tributes to Bert Berkley. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Celebrating an eight-year legacy of support for educators

What have the Joan and Bert Berkley Excellence in Urban Education Awards meant to schools in Kansas City? Well, you could write a book.

And that’s just what the School of Education at the University of Missouri-Kansas City did.

At a bittersweet ceremony marking the close of the Berkley Grant Awards program, School of Education officials distributed copies of a special book created as a salute to the urban educators whose innovation and dedication earned one of the annual grants, and to the philanthropists whose generosity launched the program: Joan and Bert Berkley.

Entitled “Encouraged to Greatness,” the 50-page full-color booklet includes a history of the grant program and stories of the many “teachers and counselors whose ideas would foster creativity and active student engagement,” encouraging urban students to reap the rewards of learning. For nearly an hour after the event formally ended, Bert Berkley, a longtime supporter of urban education in Kansas City, stayed to autograph copies of the book for grateful educators.

Berkley, a former chair of the UMKC Trustees and now an Emeritus Trustee, is now funding the School of Education’s state-of-the-art TLE TeachLive™ classroom simulation technology.

Speaking at the event, Berkley told why he and Joan initiated the grant award program for educators who “stimulate children to learn.”

He cited the percentage of students in cities across the U.S. who are reading at grade level by third grade, ranging from New York City at 28 percent to Detroit at 8 percent, compared to the percentage in the Kansas City, Missouri, School District: 23 percent.

“I don’t refer to the low number of students who can read at grade level by third grade as a problem,” he said. “It is a crisis . . . and one that needs to be addressed on a national basis.”

Those figures, he said, “prove that we must do something so all students become learners, and become productive members of society.”

The annual awards have funded 59 different projects in local classrooms over the past eight years. They have ranged from robotics competitions, to using cooking to develop math skills, to digital publishing projects. Students built greenhouses, engaged in Skype chats with engineers in their workplaces, and planted and harvested urban gardens.

According to “Encouraged to Greatness,” these stories illustrate not a statistic, but “individuals who have changed, grown and thrived” because of the generosity and commitment of the Berkleys.

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