The Power of Education

Susana Elizarraraz, class of 2015, spoke on behalf of alumni. Photo by Brandon Parigo, Strategic Marketing and Communications

A gift to improve lives

More than 100 people gathered for the annual University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Education Scholar Donor Luncheon on Wednesday.

Attendees heard from three people representing donors, students and alumni as well as UMKC leadership. In his opening remarks, UMKC Chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal expressed his gratitude to scholarship donors.

“You make the gift of education possible,” Agrawal said. “Our School of Education students work very demanding schedules. Because of you, they are able to receive the gift of education here, and then go out into the community to pass that precious gift on to others.”

In thanking donors, Agrawal praised scholars for their hard work, academic achievement and commitment to a vitally important calling.

“There is no greater force for making positive impact on people’s lives than education,” Agrawal said. “Our students are to be commended for answering that call to make a difference. And I must add, I am grateful to our faculty for making that commitment as well.”

Agrawal shared the “gift of education” he received from his parents. His father came from a small village in India and was the first person in his family to attend college. His mother came from an educated family and was the first female in her family to go to college. And at a time when few women in India went to college, Agrawal said his mother went on to get a Ph.D. and teach college.

“I grew up in humble circumstances,” Agrawal said. “My parents made immense personal sacrifices to make sure that I went to the best high school in town and the best engineering school in the country. The reason I stand here today is because they gave me the gift of education. I have lived the American Dream and truly, truly believe that education is the key to success.”

UMKC School of Education Dean Justin Perry also shared his thanks to donors as they stood for recognition.

“Your commitment to urban education is important – not only for our success, but for the successful future of our children,” Perry said. “Your gift of education will create our future educators, and will make it possible for them to encourage and embolden generations of children to become the best version of themselves they can, despite sometimes daunting circumstances. Scholarships for highly qualified, dedicated and talented teachers, counselors and school administrators, is a key part of how we will meet the need of our future education workforce.”

After Perry asked scholars to stand for recognition, he congratulated them on being the future of education

“Your competence as an urban educator will have impact, and will influence future generations,” Perry said “Never doubt your importance in the world, especially in the world of a child’s life. You will give the gift of education every day in the classroom. And it will make a difference in so many young lives.”

On behalf of donors, Debby Ballard shared reasons the Sprint Foundation has donated for more than a decade to the UMKC Institute for Urban Education scholarship program. One reason is the success of the IUE program.

Susana Elizarraraz (right), talks with Debby Ballard, Sprint Foundation

Sprint has supported, in whole or in part, 92 students in the IUE program at UMKC. The total amount of scholarships awarded to IUE students since 2008 has been $333,828 from Sprint Foundation endowment gifts of $620,000, which disperse funds each year to support the full scholarship of five to nine students.

Today, 91 percent of IUE graduates are still teaching. A total of 100 percent of graduates from urban schools are still teaching five years later and the five-year teacher retention rate of IUE teachers of color is also 100 percent.

IUE graduates who were supported by the Sprint Foundation Endowed Scholarship include building principals, assistant principals, instructional coaches and master teachers. They are male, female, Asian, black, white, Latino and Latina and they are working every day to provide equitable and meaningful education to students in our urban schools.

But it’s also more than statistics. Ballard said the decision to contribute to the scholarship program was an easy “yes,” and that there’s so much potential out there but not nearly enough opportunity.

“It’s because of the students,” Ballard said. “Every year I’m inspired by the students. I love hearing about their stories. I’m glad we do what we do because these young people are amazing. Education is a way out of poverty. We believe potential is everywhere but opportunity is not. We look for programs like this to support.”

Ka Bow Say, representing students, is a member of the Karen immigrant community. He spent his childhood fleeing from village to village and jungle to jungle before ending up in a Thailand refugee camp. His parents were teachers, and he shared his desire as a child to follow in their footsteps. But he felt unsure about his future.

Ka Bow Say representing UMKC students

At age 19, Say came to the United States. He shared his feelings from the first few weeks in the U.S, especially the time when he was told he could pursue a career and could have all the opportunities if he was willing to work for them.

“It was a moment when I felt so empowered and so great about myself,” Say said. “All these images (from his childhood) came into my mind, my fears were minimized and the same feeling of wanting to become a teacher that I had when I was a little came back.”

With determination, Say is working toward a future he dreamed of as a child.

“In my family, I am the first generation to attend college,” Say said. “I feel so courageous this year. To me, receiving a scholarship is not just getting help to pay off some of my class expenses, but a lot more than that. By receiving a scholarship this year, it makes me realize that there is someone who does care about me, who does care about my future, who does care about my story and does care about my success. It is amazing to own this feeling and to be filled with what we call spiritual nutrition.”

Speaking on behalf of alumni was Susana Elizarraraz from the class of 2015.

“I am here today to represent the impact that the Institute for Urban Education and the School of Education’s scholarships have on our community,” Elizarraraz said.

Holding back tears, she told attendees of the days when she first knew that teaching was her passion.

“My mother is deaf and has a hearing aid, but growing up poor in Mexico, she wasn’t given the resources necessary to learn to read, write or speak fluently in her native Spanish,” Elizarraraz said. “Despite this, she taught me to read and write before kindergarten. School taught me to read and write fluently and also taught me that ‘everyone can learn’ and to ‘never give up!’”

Today Elizarraraz is a sixth-grade teacher at Gladstone Elementary in the Kansas City Public School District, just 10 blocks from the home where she grew up.

“The  passion that I have for my community and the kids and youth in my community means that I never make excuses for what can’t be done and I hold others accountable to our mission of providing the most fair and equitable education. The IUE scholarship made it possible for me to serve and teach in the population that I most identify with.”

|Article by Bridget Koan, Strategic Marketing and Communications

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