Powering the Missouri Charter School of the Year

Steffanie Long, left, and Rachel Mills are among the UMKC students and alumni working at the Kauffman School. Photo by Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

A student and graduate share their perspectives from working at the Kauffman School

At any other school, University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate Steffanie Long might hold the title of an English Language Arts Teacher. At the Ewing Marion Kauffman School, Long is a Sixth Grade Textual Analysis Teacher.

“Just like everything else, [the title] goes back to the mission we have here at Kauffman: to create college graduates,” Long said. “We know that the type of material that students are going to see in college will be very rigorous and challenging. We also want them to be able to think critically. I know this class is preparing them for that later on in life.”

Last November, the Kauffman School was named Missouri Charter School of the Year by the Missouri Charter Public School Association. Several UMKC students and graduates are playing an ongoing role in the school’s success.

In 2014, not only did Long graduate with a B.A. in Elementary Education, but also with a year of teaching experience from teaching internships she completed through her classes at UMKC.

“That hands-on experience was very valuable,” Long said. “Not many schools prepare teachers like that. From my freshman year to my senior year, we were always interacting with the community. We were able to build relationships with students and learn things about ourselves as teachers, about education, about students, that you won’t necessarily learn from the book.”

The UMKC School of Education enables its students to gain classroom experiences through student teaching opportunities and internships in partnership with metro schools.

“I am extremely pleased that Ms. Long feels well-equipped to teach in ways that are responsive to diverse learners and has credited her success to the UMKC School of Education’s focus on authentic classroom experiences,” said Chris Brown, interim dean of the School of Education. “These field-based experiences are designed to prepare teacher candidates to advance learning in urban environments.”

Through its after-school club program, the Kauffman School encourages hands-on learning for students as well. For eight weeks, each student learns extracurricular skills like photography, cooking and gardening from a community volunteer. It’s up to UMKC senior Rachel Mills, also the Kauffman School’s Operations Coordinator, to find the volunteers and supervise the programs.

“I’m passionate about allowing students to have opportunities outside of the classroom,” Mills said. “Not only are students interacting with different adults, but the adults also figure out how to break the students out of their shell. They do a really good job at challenging the students and teaching them those skills.”

This May, Mills will graduate with a B.A. in Urban Studies from the Department of Architecture, Urban Planning + Design, but that didn’t stop her from starting a full-time job at the Kauffman School in July of 2015. Her passion for the after-school club program stemmed from her involvement with the UMKC Honors College.

“We have a very strong partnership with the Kauffman School,” Mills said. “A couple of people from Kauffman came and spoke at the Honors College, and I grew really passionate and interested in the school. I was going to be involved in the after-school programs, but I wasn’t able to because of scheduling.”

However, after receiving a recommendation from Dr. Gayle Levy, director of the Honors College, Mills still was able to get involved in the school through a summer internship at the Kauffman operations department.

“I’m very committed to student initiative,” Levy said. “When students come in with an idea, I do what I can to help them, which normally isn’t that much. They’ve got the idea, they’ve got the energy, they have friends that they can rely on to help get it done. With Rachel, she’s organized, she’s hardworking and she comes with all the information. It was a no-brainer. I have faith in my students and they always come through.”

Long and Mills are not the only staff with a UMKC connection. The Kauffman School was founded in 2011 by alumna Hannah Lofthus (’08, Political Science and Philosophy). While at UMKC, she had interned at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and was later asked to help design the Kauffman School.

“While (Lofthus) was still a student, she worked with me and one other Honors student to create a community service partner for the Honors Program with University Academy,” Levy said. “That experience changed her life. She was Pre-Law, and the only reason she decided to pursue education policy was because of her philosophy classes and her work through University Academy.”

Levy saw the same change of heart in Mills.

“I took a couple of classes on Urban Education and that’s where I grew really passionate about urban education,” Mills said. “I started learning more about the charter systems and the public school systems. I saw the need that Kansas City has for it and wanted to be a part of that.”

The partnership between the UMKC Honors College and the Kauffman School continues today; Honors students are often club leaders, interns and teacher assistants at the school.

“I think that the Kauffman School has clearly allowed some students to realize that education is really where they want to be,” Levy said. “It’s incredibly important to have these bright, motivated recent graduates going back into the urban public education system. They’re doing important work that makes me feel like I’m doing something for our community.”

Deena Essa | Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

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