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

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!


KC Kids Unite Has a New (Digital) Space


When one door closes another opens.

After much consideration, I have decided to let my blog, Paper and Passion, rest.  In all honestly, it’s been resting for a while, yet remained a constant in my head to return to it and I simply can’t find the time or energy.  It’s time to leave the weight of that constantly lingering expectation go.  But, this is not the end…

As I have posted on social media the last couple weeks, my passion project, KC Kids Unite, is getting more feet underneath it each year, and with our exciting new partnership with the Nelson-Atkins Museum we have much to share!  So, while Paper and Passion rests, the new KC Kids Unite blog awaits bright-eyed with energy and promise on the horizon!

So, what is KC Kids Unite?  Let me share!

  • KC Kids Unite is a community collaboration and celebration for school-aged children grades 2-6.
  • KC Kids Unite promotes community connectedness and youth activism to create bridges, not walls, through shared personal stories, art and literacy.
  • KC Kids Unite accepts 12 teachers annually across the Kansas City metro area to participate in this work with their students.
  • Participating classrooms partner with other urban and suburban classrooms across the city to engage in civic and community centered conversations through age appropriate literature, and develop art and original writing to share their story with others.
  • Participating teachers receive 12 hours of professional development focused toward KC’s unique racial history, culturally responsive teaching, 21st century collaboration, art literacy, student centered learning and engagement strategies, and project development with their partnering teacher.  For this work teachers receive a $75 stipend for their time.
  • Participating students and teachers join together in May for a city-wide art and writing celebration to be held at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  This once in a lifetime field trip creates an opportunity for all participants to meet and student work to be shared across the city.  Student art will be showcased at the museum and student writing shared through our podcast (more on that in a later post) and the open-mic portion of our May writing celebration.

How do I get involved?

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!  We CANNOT WAIT to get this year started!  Check out the work below created from past students.  More to come!

bulletin board zoom inI am from bulletin boardpoem 2poem 4

The Day You Begin: Thoughts on Self + a New School Year

As most of the literacy world knows, Jacqueline Woodson just did what she always does, created a literary masterpiece for the ages.  The Day You Begin helps its readers embrace the moments we feel an other.  The moments we walk in a room or join a group, and find that despite the many gathered there we feel quite alone.

TDYB 1-2

TDYB 19-20

In those moments, we can let the crowd make us shrink and fall into silence, or we can immerse ourselves in it, raising our voices and ourselves to connect.  We can begin.

TDYB 21-22

TDYB 23-24TDYB 27-28

What transpires in the pages in between is

This is book is such a powerful one at the start of a new school year, because what transpires in the pages in between are the stories of so many of our students, and through their telling children and adults alike learn, become aware, and move forward with a greater understanding of humanity.

This book has taken on its own meaning for myself as well.  How will I begin in a new way this year?  In a sense, I already have.  This year I have had the great fortune of getting back into schools at the building level as a Title 1 Instructional Coach.  Being right next door to teachers and students has given me an energy I didn’t realize I’d been missing so desperately for the past 6 years.  The heartbeat of the school setting has pumped new and life-giving blood into my veins in a way that makes me feel I am starting my educational career anew. I am beginning.  And it has been all the things Woodson told me it would be–exhilarating, terrifying, uncertain.  Yet each day brings a new opportunity to share my story and truth with new people, and the connections are building far faster and deeper than I could have imagined.  It is in these moments I know the universe has placed me exactly where I supposed to be.

It is in this belief that I go forward with Woodson’s words on my heart.  The universe has its way of placing us where we can find purpose.  Sitting in silence negates the profoundness we can create in our everyday lives, for ourselves and others.  We need each other’s stories to begin.

As I take these words forward, I will consider each day where my opportunities exist to begin.  To start a new, bolder, more knowledgeable and empathetic version of self.  Our country needs it, our communities need it, our kids deserve it, and if we search deeply, our own hearts are thirsting for it.

Leaders in Education Must Be Leaders in Learning

Let’s begin.

Summer Institute Writing Marathon, Day 3

It’s only appropriate that a week ago today I was sitting in our city’s Vietnam War Veteran’s Memorial participating in a writing marathon across the city.  Seven days later as I attempt to encapsulate just a small piece of that for those reading, we ourselves are celebrating our nation’s independence.  The writing marathon creates a unique opportunity of rare moments of writing connected to place, often places that are not part of our daily routine.

National Writing Project’s Richard Louth defined it best,

It’s about the writing act, not the writing product.  Most of our writing in school and in the publishing life is about the product.  We teach our students the so-called writing process–draft, revise, polish, edit–and when it is done, they have supposedly learned to write.  What they have learned is one way to write.  There is an entire world of writers–and enjoyment in writing–that this process does not tap into.  And the writing marathon does.  That is, writing for the sake of writing.  Writing for the moment.  Writing for the immediate audience.  Writing as the foundation of other writing by peers who respond directly to your thoughts in their writing.  Writing as the experience of a moment or place.  Writing for the self.

I have participated in Writing Marathons in Philly and KC on a large scale, and around schools, parks and neighborhoods on a smaller scale.  Which only enhances the appeal.  Writing marathons can happen literally any time, any where.  Just pick up and pen and go.  Immerse yourself in the space and write only for the sake of writing.  You’ll be surprised what shows up on the page.

We visited several places across the city during our marathon, but in honor of today, this piece of writing seems most appropriate to share.


Blackened, broken, bloodied, blue.

Uncle what did they do to you?

Booming, bombing, barricades, abroad.

Did they tell you this war, a fraud?

Running, choking, aiming, pulling.

Who does the world think they’re fooling?

Peace from this?  How? No way.

Yet you wake to serve day after day.

The noise around you now silenced,

But your brain still on attack.

The voice in your throat now silenced.

But your memories live on in a shack.

A ramshackle domain with no polish or praise,

for the honor, the courage,

that defined those days.

You mention a man killed in ’69.

A life taken at your hand 

while you served your time.

The world has moved on.

Yet your prison remains.

The world has moved on.

A cold stone covers his remains.

Remains of blood and bones and a brother lost.

At what cost?

The cost of empathy, emotion, the ability to engage.

As you sit on the outside filled with quiet rage.

Yes, the war is over

and the world has moved on,

but so much remains.

Let us remember the cost,

for the living, the dead,

each person’s remains.