In the wake of the shooting that injured two people after Center High School’s graduation ceremony at Leawood’s Church of the Resurrection last month, many people have formulated their own opinions about the Center School District. The words we read and pictures we see will influence our perceptions of the people in the district.
Hopefully, your perception of Center reaches beyond a singular negative moment that occurred after a joyful celebration.
No matter what your image of Center was, is, or has become, we encourage you to adopt one word — a picture — when you think about Center community: family.
Families, after all, are comprised of people. This point might seem subtle or insignificant, but its implications are huge. Because people matter. People have value. And people form relationships.
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Center is a people-first, family-first kind of school district.
I am part of Center Impact, a collaborative association of businesses, churches and community organizations located in the Center community that work to help the district’s students and families thrive. When our group began, we asked Center administrators and staff how we could support them. No matter whom we spoke with — counselors, social workers, principals or the superintendent — they all said the same thing: “Relationships first.”
They likened Center to a small town in the middle of a larger city. They said it’s a place of belonging and acceptance, a place where people desire to know you. And they are fiercely protective of that.
In our first Center Impact meetings, we would spend a few minutes discussing test scores, attendance and college readiness. But the conversation would inevitably turn into a discussion about relationships.
“Our dream is to find a mentor for every student,” they told us.
From there, our group got busy recruiting and training volunteer mentors to match with these amazing students. People first.
A year later, our mentoring initiative won the Community Impact Award at the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce awards banquet. Indeed, these mentoring relationships are making a big impact. However, despite its success, our mentoring program has been an inexact science. The work is both rewarding and challenging.
And that points out another fact about families: They are far from perfect. Even the healthiest families have issues. However, when tragedy strikes or a crisis occurs, healthy families grow stronger. Adversity brings close families even closer together. This is true of the Center School District. The shooting has strengthened an already-strong community.
Togetherness is surely an incredible characteristic of a healthy family. Families are present for one another. They laugh together and cry together. They support one another and respect one another. They hold each other accountable and defend each other. Healthy families practice discipline, forgiveness and unconditional love. Then, eventually, families are able to move forward. Together.
Another word associated with family is home. A home is where a family resides, or dwells. For most of us, it’s our primary picture of security, our safe harbor, our refuge.
The majority of Center students spend more time at school than they do at home. They come early and stay late. School has become their second home — a safe haven.
Some people may wonder if Center is urban or suburban, black or white, large or small. The answer is yes — it’s all of those things. But most of all, Center is a community of people who value relationships, mentoring, achievement, safety and love. Our district, our community, our home.
Center is our family.
Mark Potter is pastor of community transformation for Colonial Presbyterian Church of Kansas City.