When students return to area classrooms in just a few days, one of the first questions they’ll likely be asked is: “What did you do for your summer vacation?”
In fact, many will be asked to write about their experiences as a class assignment.
But what if we turned things around a bit? Students, have you ever wondered what your teachers do for their summertime break? While they’re unlikely to write an essay about it, try asking the question.
Their answers might surprise you.
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You may discover that your principal (Amy Casey, at Ravenwood Elementary) is a “rock star” in the band Cherry Bomb by night. Or that your favorite theater director (Robin Muphy at Olathe Northwest) might have served you lunch at a Lenexa restaurant.
Read on to discover a few surprises about the teachers in our area.
Danaya Roller: pregame emcee
Kansas City Royals fans have seen Danaya Roller many times over the summer. Roller, a music teacher at South Valley Middle School in the Liberty School District, is in her sixth season as pregame emcee at the Royals home games.
Roller is out in the stadium and on the field pumping up the crowd during the team’s pregame show.
“The pregame show consists of five segments where we interview fans, play games, chat with players, etc.,” Roller said. “I have been there eight years, so I was emcee during the 2012 All-Star Game, as well as both 2014 and 2015 postseason runs.”
Roller landed the Royals gig when she was student teaching in Blue Springs.
“I needed some sort of job, but I needed one that I could work around my teaching,” she said. “I had a friend who sent me the audition information for the K Crew and thought this was great.”
Roller made the squad in 2010. The following year the emcee position opened up, and Roller auditioned for it.
“I was really green,” Roller said of her first season as emcee. “They put a lot of trust in me. They taught me how to be comfortable, how to improve and improvise.”
Roller emcees between 50 and 80 home games a season with the “Countdown to Game Time” show. As emcee, Roller arrives about two hours before game time for a production meeting. One hour before the game, it’s showtime.
“I am all over the stadium. Every segment is in a different place,” Roller said. “I have even been on top of the Royals Hall of Fame for a live shot.”
Roller said her teaching background has helped with her emcee work.
“Because I talk all day for a living...it has helped me at the ballpark, being able to chat with kids and fans alike,” she said.
Roller comes from a family of teachers, including both of her parents and her brother, who is the band director at Grain Valley High School. Music has always been part of her life.
“I had these grand dreams of Broadway but my realistic brain came through,” she said. Teaching music has proved to be the next best thing for Roller.
“I love working with kids,” she said. “There is nothing more rewarding than seeing a student loving what you love to do and I get to do it with music,” she said.
While emceeing has given Roller an opportunity to perform, she’s pulled back from working every home game.
She and her spouse are busy with their 2-year-old son, Bronson.
“He’s our postseason baby,” Roller said with a laugh. “He’s our rally baby. All the fans were joking with me about having too much fun in postseason.”
Kayla Becker: furniture maven
In the Blue Valley School District in Johnson County, it’s all business in summertime for Pleasant Ridge Middle School intensive resource teacher Kayla Becker. For the past three years, Becker has run her own business, Well Traveled Furnishings.
“I refurbish and upcycle furniture, largely vintage and antique pieces,” Becker said. “I try to make my finished pieces one-of-a-kind.”
Becker refurbishes treasures in her garage and sells the refurbished furniture in a vendor booth space at the Painted Sofa, at 1101 Mulberry in Kansas City’s West Bottoms.
Becker has been enamored with vintage pieces since childhood.
“I always loved treasure hunting at my grandparents’ farm and exploring,” Becker said. “A few summers ago when my grandmother passed away I received a lot of pieces from the farm and I began restoring and refurbishing them.”
She started selling her pieces on various websites before joining the Painted Sofa.
“I decided that it might be a nice way to supplement my teaching salary,” Becker said. “I will go to estate sales, flea markets, auctions, swap sites to find items.”
Becker has been a special education teacher for 15 years, working in the Blue Valley and Olathe school districts. She comes from a long line of teachers.
“My great-grandmother was a teacher and I spent a lot of time visiting her growing up,” Becker said. “I was impressed with her stories, and I have always enjoyed working with children.”
Becker chose special education while doing her student teaching.
“They are the most genuine children to work with,” she said. “They work harder than any other children and truly appreciate life and make me very happy.”
Becker is the mother of three, with a high school senior and fourth-grader in the Blue Valley School District. Despite her busy schedule, Becker said Well Traveled Furnishings is a perfect side business.
“I am able to use the summer to scour for treasures and find my project pieces.”
During the school year, she cuts back on her craftsmanship work, limiting her refinishing and selling time.
Becker has discovered an added bonus working on her own business.
“It’s a meditation time for me,” she said. “When I have a stressful day I look forward to sitting in my garage and painting.”
Robin Murphy: ‘performing’ as a waitress
Most summers, Robin Murphy, Olathe Northwest’s director of theater, travels to see new parts of the country and visit her grown children. However, this summer was different.
Murphy is “performing” in a working role as a waitress at Ronnie’s Restaurant in Lenexa.
“I am waiting tables. I am a server again after 20 years,” Murphy said. “I actually love it, except for the physical exhaustion.”
Murphy is working what she calls the school shift, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the family-style restaurant. While she hasn’t waited tables since her college days, Murphy likes the gig.
“It keeps my energy high, I get to interact with people and I get to be charming,” Murphy said.
Murphy said she went back to working a summer job this year for financial reasons: Her 21-year-old daughter, Molly, attends private school at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo.
“I decided to work because this is the last kid, and this is her last semester of college…and the resources are tapped out, especially after her semester abroad,” Murphy said. “Now her tuition will be paid.”
Murphy, who graduated from Shawnee Mission North High School, has always been involved in theater both on stage and behind the scenes. Murphy said teaching was a natural progression for her.
“There was never anything but teaching for me,” Murphy said. “I was teaching from day one, and I mean first grade and it was always theater…I playedJulius Caesar in sixth grade.”
Now, some 30 years later, Murphy remains entranced with teaching.
“I love how different it is every single day,” Murphy said. “The best part is watching the students become more than they ever expected themselves to be, both as individuals and a community.”
The theatrical bug has bitten two of Murphy’s four children as well. Her daughter Molly is finishing up her film degree at Stephens.
Daughter Kaitlin Mesh, 28, lives in New York City. Mesh has appeared in numerous Broadway musicals and national tours, including the revival of “West Side Story,” “Anything Goes,” “Nice Work If You Can Get It” as well as the television series “Homeland.”
“Kaitlin and Molly have an ongoing bet as to which one will get me to an awards ceremony first,” said Murphy with a laugh.
In the meantime, Murphy returns to the classroom this fall to teach and direct four productions at Olathe Northwest. While she spends hours at school, she plans to keep working at Ronnie’s Restaurant.
“I will probably work the weekends into the fall until the musical starts,” Murphy said.
Luke Young: camp with a cause
For Luke Young, a math teacher at Winnetonka High in Kansas City North, at least one week each summer is dedicated to volunteering at Camp MOJA located at the Lake Doniphan Retreat Center in Excelsior Springs.
The residential weeklong summer camp is for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. The word “moja” is from the Swahili dialect and stands for the number one.
“It’s the goal of the camp to make the campers feel like they are No. 1, giving them a week where they are the center,” Young said.
Young was part of the 55-member camp staff working with 85 campers of various ages and abilities. Campers enjoy swimming, activities on the lake and a fun event each evening.
“There is a big talent show and every camper gets to do a talent they choose and the parents come,” Young said. “Some campers’ talent might be playing Uno or singing an Elvis song or just being themselves.”
Each year, the camp has a special theme. This summer’s theme was space, and Young said staff goes all out to make it special for the campers.
“We went on a space walk and every camper got an inflatable back pack. We decorated one area like a moon crater,” he said.
Young has been part of Camp MOJA for nearly 20 years, starting as a lifeguard.
“The last five or six years I have been a camp pastor — really a mentor — for the counselors who range in age from age 16 to 70,” Young said. “Sometimes working with this demographic is hard so I help the counselors to get through the week. It is a leadership experience for them.”
Young’s passion for working with people who have intellectual disabilities started with his close relationship with his aunt, who was born with Down syndrome. She died three years ago.
“I continue being involved with Camp MOJA, not because I want to keep her memory alive or because I want to honor her influence in my life — both of which are true — but because I loved my Aunt Julie,” Young said. “For me, it is an act of love to spend a week telling our campers the exact opposite of what the world tells them. They are wonderful, they are celebrated, and they are worth it.”
Young became a teacher five years ago after having worked in the recreation field for a number of years after college. When he got married and children came along, Young decided to make a career change to teaching.
“It seemed a good career choice for a family,” Young said. “There is definitely a need for math teachers.”
Young and his wife, who is a nurse, are the parents of two children aged 6 and 9 months. Teaching has afforded him an added benefit.
“I get to stay home sometimes and be Mr. Mom,” he said.
Teaching is a fulfilling profession for Young and he is looking forward to the start of the school year. His summer experiences at Camp MOJA have impacted Young’s work in the classroom.
“There at Winnetonka, we have kids with special needs and they are not always in the classroom, so I try to raise awareness,” Young said.