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North KC schools launch program to ‘grow’ new teachers

First year Grow Your Own students attend orientation.
First year Grow Your Own students attend orientation. Courtesy North Kansas City School District

Some North Kansas City School District students skipped the pool this summer and headed back into the classroom to jump-start to a career in education.

About 15 students participated in North Kansas City School District’s pilot “Grow Your Own” program, which launched this summer.

The district teamed up with Northwest Missouri State University to create a program that would foster future teachers from the Northland and serve as a pipeline for future employment within North Kansas City schools.

“We want to get really high quality teachers in front of our students,” said Mark Maus, executive director of human resources for the district. “Some students struggle with affordability to go to college.”

Grow Your Own eliminates some of the barriers associated with going to college, including cost and accessibility, he said.

The program, which began taking shape last fall with the help of two North Kansas City School District teachers, is open to high school juniors and seniors who participate in Missouri’s A+ program.

Students enrolled in the program participate in a two-week summer course their junior and senior years in high school for college credit. Upon graduating from high school, students would attend a community college tuition-free for two years before transferring to Northwest Missouri State’s Northland Innovation Campus in Gladstone. The purpose, organizers said, is for students to never have to leave the Northland.

Emily Boyd, an eighth-grade math teacher at Eastgate Middle School and one of the brains behind the program, said Grow Your Own will also help the district identify and recruit a more diverse teacher population that better reflects its student population.

“Diversity in elementary meant getting men teachers,” Boyd says of the initial planning phases of the program. “Maybe people who wouldn’t have the chance to go to college but have a lot of gifts and assets.”

The district will also provide work opportunities for students throughout their college careers including after school Adventure Club teaching positions and seasonal mowing work to offset the cost of tuition. Once they graduate from college, students will have an upper hand among hundreds of other applicants, organizers said.

“It is a stepping stone,” said Alexis Wilkerson, special education teacher at Linden West Elementary and co-creator of North Kansas City School District’s Grow Your Own, of the project. “They are not going to feel intimidated when they go into their interview. They are also going to feel like they already know the people in the department.”

The district will also provide mentors for students enrolled in the program throughout college.

Around 15 students completed an Intro to Education course and a two-week field experience this summer at Crestview Elementary.

The district, made up of about 20,000 students and 1,500 teachers, covered the students’ tuition costs and will continue to help sponsor students each year at a minimal cost of under $5,000, Maus said.

Vicki Seeger, coordinator of the completion program at Northwest Kansas City, said the work students completed this summer was on par with college-level work.

“I wasn’t expecting them to have the kinds of skills that even freshmen and sophomores who take this class have,” she said. “After the first day we knew we were doing the right thing.”

Kennedy Butler, 18, a freshman at Maple Woods Community College and a participant in the pilot course this summer, said the experience solidified her decision to become an educator.

“It was a perfect opportunity. I believe that making good relationships ahead of time before you start your career is so important.”

Butler said she hopes to be teaching her own elementary classroom in five years.

High school principals and counselors will begin recruiting more students this year.

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