Teacher Spotlight: Michael Jones

teacher spotlight

Please join me in welcoming Michael Jones, a first time participant of the project.  He teaches 4th grade at Pembroke Hill Lower School (Grades K-5).  Pembroke Hill is a private school with a mission to work “together, cultivating the best in each, for the benefit of all.”

Michael’s students are primarily upper middle class, close knit, energetic, caring, curious, inquisitive, sharp, and open minded.  As a teacher he is joyful, vulnerable, loving, connected, and maintains high expectations of his students.  Learning comes alive for his students when learning is connected to daily experience in a meaningful way.

Michael defines community as a space where one feels accepted for who they are, what they believe in and how they present themselves. Community is where members have equal rights to responsibilities, ownership of accomplishments and have a full voice in their shared experience.  To create this in his classroom community strives to build a similar vision among his students. I also feel that the adults set the tone per respect, compassion, scholarship, integrity and belief in one another. Once that is put in place, the students feel the connectedness of their leaders and it flows to other relationships.

Michael was drawn to this work because he wants his students to integrate writing in real world situations as they connect and share their life experience with others that have a different reality. I want to expose them to other ways of living and how to relate with those who are different.  

He is hopeful the project will open the eyes of my students to new realities and have them hopefully stop and think about those around them in a more meaningful, compassionate and genuine way. I feel that the students can and could impact their parents’ perspectives as well and start to make change in their lives.

jones picture

Once again, welcome to KC Kids Unite!  We are so excited for the impact you and your students will bring to this work!

Teacher Spotlight: Jana Holt

teacher spotlight

This week we introduce another new member to the project, Jana Holt.  She teaches 4th grade ELA at Union Chapel Elementary in the Park Hill School District.

Her students are amazing! She has two groups of kids for the first time. Her morning group is her homeroom, and the afternoon group is a group who looped with their teacher from 3rd grade and have been together for 3rd and now 4th grade. All of these kiddos are amazingly compassionate and many come from diverse homes.

Jana sees herself as a passionate teacher of reading and writing. She has high expectations and strives to create a classroom community that functions like a family.  In her family-like atmosphere, learning comes alive when students feel they have a voice, a choice and a purpose in their learning. They need to feel comfortable with asking questions and investigating within their learning. When their learning can carry over to the real world, students will become more engaged and inspired.

She defines community as a group of people living in the same area and who share places, beliefs and characteristics.  Personally, Jana grew up in a university town where the schools were the hub of the community. In a small town, everyone develops a closeness and commonality among each other.  She describes herself as a homebody who values togetherness. Moving to the city,  she misses this sense of a close knit community where people truly value each other.

At Union Chapel, community is fostered by striving to create consistency among the classrooms. They work hard to incorporate opportunities for cooperative learning and teamwork. This provides a sense of equity among students and therefore a sense of community.

Jana was drawn to this project because she was inspired by the idea of giving kids a view of their community outside of their school and their neighborhood. She values giving students a voice, and the idea of allowing my students’ voices to be heard around the metro area was an opportunity she could not pass up.

Welcome to the project, Jana!  We are so excited to have you!


Teacher Spotlight: Melody Gibeson


teacher spotlight

This week on our blog we get to learn more about new participant, Melody Gibeson.  We are so excited to have her join this project!

Melody teaches third grade at Millennium @ Santa Fe Elementary School in the Hickman Mills Consolidated School District 1.  She has a wonderfully diverse class of 18 students who represent 4 languages and six countries. They are super eager to learn and are very intrinsically motivated.  They love science, poetry and art. They are eager to learn new things and love to explore others cultures as well as learning about their own.  

Learning comes alive for her students when it pertains to the real-world for them.  As such, I am a proponent of project-based learning and teaching.  I feel when you give the kids something they care about, then they will learn more from it.  I also try to make as much of my work as I can be cross-subject rather than subject specific. Millennium @ Santa Fe Elementary is a Project-Based Learning STEAM School and I try to teach accordingly.

As a teacher, Melody has taught 17 years in grades 1-4, all in Hickman Mills.  I believe the key to success for students is respect and belief.  You have to respect your students at all time and they will show the same back.  Also, you must believe in your students. No matter the challenge or trauma a child faces, they will rise to the expectations you set for them.

Melody defines a community as the people and cultures of whom you are surrounded.  Those cultures and people can be the same or different from your own self and culture.  As a white teacher who lives in the community she teaches in, it has helped me understand my students better.   

Community is built in multiple ways.  First, there is the community that students live in.  This is a part of who they are and I, as a teacher, need to familiarize myself with it.  Also, community is built in the school and classroom. The principal sets the tone for how students will be treated and how we work as a family.  Teachers model the community with how we interact with each other. Then there is the crucial part of the classroom. Helping kids recognize and build upon their uniqueness is key to making a community in the class.  When students feel confident enough to ask questions and make mistakes without fear they will get made fun of, then I know I am on my way to being successful.

 Melody became interested in this work because she has only ever taught in Hickman MIlls.  Many of my students only have experience with this neighborhood and area.  I hope that this work will help me be more culturally aware and relevant for my students.  By leading by example, I can encourage my students to see and reach out to other cultures as well.  I hope my students feel confident and proud of their own individual cultures and see how they and their community fits into the Kansas City area and the world at large.

Welcome, Melody!

melody gibeson


Here We GO! Launching KC Kids Unite 2019

Today, as I type, I’m blissfully exhausted from spending the past 5 days with incredible educators who embody a wealth of knowledge and passion in our field.  NCTE 2018 in Houston did not disappoint, and even more exciting for the KC Kids Unite project, we were afforded the privilege to present our work while there.  As we prepare to launch our 2019 cohort, I wanted to share a bit of that presentation to provide background on the racial roots of Kansas City and its perpetuation of the Troost Wall.  “Our Divided City” is a documentary developed through a local production company, KCPT, and addresses the unanswerable question: How do we begin to combat crime and restore communities within a racially-divided city and overall broken system of equity?

Our Divided City

KC Kids Unite does not presume to have the answer, but we do hold a strong belief that in the desire for dramatic change we must begin with our youngest generation.  We also believe the first step in taking action is knowing the city’s truth, facts typically hidden or omitted from conventional Social Studies texts.  It is with these beliefs and in capitalizing on our resources that we work to draw students closer to their identities and therefore, into their communities as youth activists ready to enact that change.

Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers is pivotal text used to help students navigate their own identities, but also learn who they are to those around them.  You can click on the picture below for a video version of the text.  As we prepare to meet the teachers leading this cohort, we too, are asking them to develop an “I Am Jam” to share at our first teacher workshops.  As you prepare to surround yourself with loved ones in the coming holiday season, we encourage you do the same.  Just ask those around you, “Who am I to you?”  You’ll be amazed at what you hear, and experience for yourself just how much more closely you feel connected to individuals and your community.


Teacher Spotlight: Tina Mecklenberg


Tina Mecklenburg joins us this year as a 5th grade teacher at Renner Elementary in the Park Hill School District. Her students are a very energetic, diverse group of kiddos who try super hard, but have many social/emotional issues standing in the way at times. Knowing that each child as the capacity to learn and grow, she teaches with high expectations for all and believes strongly in having a growth mindset.   She was drawn to this work because of her love of writing and how it allows students to express themselves.  She also wants to learn new ways to incorporate cultural responsiveness into her teaching and students’ learning.

She believes a community is a group of people who live in the same area and support each other when needed.  In her classroom community, learning comes alive when students make connections to what they are learning and their questions guide the lessons.  Her classroom community has not happened by accident.  She has worked intentionally to have her students get to know one other to build trust, and by following the school’s hashtag motto this year,  #choosekindness.  They also strive to accept and celebrate each person’s diversity and uniqueness, and develop heir own identify as being part of a bigger whole.   


Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come!


Classroom Sneak Peek: Understanding KC’s Racial Divide, The Troost Wall

There is a tale of two sides of Kansas City- the side East of Troost and the side West of Troost.  The story goes that on the east side of Troost residents do not have the luxury of getting a pizza delivered to their door, nor the luxury of fresh produce and healthy foods available at their local grocer, nor the luxury of locally owned business thriving because they are operated by the black community.  The story goes that the East side of Troost was intentionally sectioned off to become the city’s urban core.  Through block-busting real estate practices that included racial covenants in home deeds and the Kansas City MO School District using Troost as a racial dividing line for attendance boundaries after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, allowing schools to remain segregated, the communities on each side of Troost started to take on a whole new world of their own, and those worlds could not have a starker contrast.

The homes of two prominent men from Kansas City can expose the contrast of those two worlds more so than any words.  Below you see the childhood home of Walt Disney.  It resides on the East side of Troost at 3028 Bellefontaine Ave.



The other man, JC Nichols, of Reece and Nichols real estate lives in Country Club District at 1214 W 55th Street.  His real estate practices incited fear in white community, establishing an incredible amount of momentum behind the white flight movement in our city.  He effectively moved the white population out of downtown and into the suburbs that he was single-handedly creating in Mission Hills, KS and through the Country Club Plaza.  As the white population left, he moved the black community in, establishing our city’s racial divide that is still so prominent today.



Below are students’ responses to injustices and division that have been created and perpetuated by these ill-conceived plans.

Troost 1Troost 2Troost 3troost 4

Applications are being accepted now through October 12th.  We have extended the deadline!  You can apply at the following link: KC Kids Unite ApplicationApply now and share with your friends!  

Classroom Sneak Peek: (Re)defining Beauty Through Skin Tone

One classroom exploration for students is to critically think about beauty, including society’s definition in contrast to our own.  From this students consider what makes them beautiful on the inside and out, with our individual skin tones being one of those elements of beauty.  Micheal Tyler’s book, The Skin I Live In, and Wendy Ewald’s text, The Best Part of Me to guide this work.  Check out the student work below to see more!

Applications are being accepted now through October 5th.  You can apply at the following link: KC Kids Unite Application.  Apply now and share with your friends!



Student writing inspired by the text, The Skin I Live In


Students’ self-portrait art inspired by the text, The Best Part of Me


KC Kids Unite Classroom Sneak Peak

We are entering our final week of accepting applications and we love to see them all coming in!  This week we’ll be offering our readers of daily dose of classroom “sneak peeks”.  The three-week classroom curriculum is led by an essential question centered around student identity.  Today, we see how students explore the first question, Where I’m From?  The video below does an excellent job launching this question in the minds of our students.


Because the issues being discussed through this work are universal and complex, developmentally appropriate videos and texts are used as entry point into our weekly discussions.  The Skin I’m In by Pat Thomas guides students to think about their nationality in connection to their ethnicity, and presents students with information to think about their race at a scientific and genealogical level.  Through this activity students come to recognize that each of us are connected to countries all over the world. Using this book as a mentor text students embark on research of their family history through websites and family interviews.

Check out the pictures below for in action shots!

Researching family history on familysearch.org

Results of students’ family research are posted on a world map, so each classroom can see the many places we have ALL come from!

Applications are being accepted now through October 5th.  You can apply at the following link: KC Kids Unite Application.  Apply now and share with your friends!