Dividends from Teach for America KC swelled Rachel Foster’s development as a teacher and community member invested in Kansas City, the leader in innovation-driven education said.
“I owe everything, it feels like, to Teach for America,” said Foster, Young Entrepreneurial Spirit program leader at Lee A. Tolbert Community Academy. “The fruits keep coming in for my experience there.”
Teach for America, a nonprofit organization that recruits aspiring educators to fight educational inequity, plans to celebrate 10 years in Kansas City with an event Jan. 10 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The program places recent college graduates or career-changers into pre-kindergarten to 12th grade classrooms, said Nora Freyman, director of external affairs at TFA.
The chosen applicants are on tap for two years in the classroom, during which time most complete a master’s degree in education while earning a teaching certificate, depending on the location, she added.
The 10-year “Tenacious” celebration event is expected to honor the 1,000 teachers TFA has placed in schools across the Greater Kansas City metro through the past decade, Freyman said.
“Our theory of change is that you need folks inside and outside of our classrooms to really affect change at a systemic level,” she said. “That’s at the core of who we are.”
Click here to purchase tickets to the Jan. 10 Teach for America event.
Most applicants don’t enter the program with an education degree — even Foster majored in journalism at Truman State University — but they stay in the field after their exposure to the serious issues and inequity in the education system that impact students nationwide, as well as in Kansas City, Freyman said.
TFA arrived in Kansas City in 2008, calling Noah Devine and Katie Boody — now core members of the entrepreneurial community — to return to the city.
Being placed in a special education classroom through the program helped Devine carve out a completely unexpected path, he said. It led to a 10-year career in education, said Devine, now director of educational investments for School Smart KC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating the achievement gap in Kansas City.
“I saw [the inequity] first hand, working with students and families who are literally no different than any one of us,” he said. “Kids are kids everywhere, but the situation that they’re in and the school which they’re in, is either not meeting their needs or their situation in life circumstances just slightly different and more challenging in many ways.”
“It really catapulted me in saying education is the thing that I want to focus on because it’s not right,” Devine added. “There’s no way that we should have the level of issues that we have in our society that’s deeply rooted in a variety of things, but comes through education.”
Boody, founder of ed tech incubator LEANLAB Education, originally majored in english and dance, but returned to the metro to recommit herself to social justice, she said.
“When the opportunity came up and I saw that Teach for America was opening in Kansas City, I just felt a calling to go home and try out the original thought of why I went to college, which was to teach back in my hometown,” said Boody. “Then once I came back … I just got hooked and just felt like that was where I needed to be.”
Click here for more on Boody’s coming Nov. 8 LEANLAB Education Launch[ED] event.
Staying on at Lee A. Tolbert and becoming involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem pushed Foster to create a model to change the culture of an entire school system, she said, starting with Studio 119, a coworking space doubling as a classroom where the Young Entrepreneurship Spirit class is organized for kindergarteners through eighth graders.
“It’s really like, ‘What are you passionate about?’ and ‘What problems do you see that you want to solve?’ Then we have small groups in that space just trying to solve problems,” said Foster. “Once they’re in the space, it’s like feels like a coworking space. They’re doing their own thing and they’re responsible for their own world. I try to make it as flexible and as ‘coworking’ as possible within the fact that we have to stick to this very rigid [class] schedule.”
This adaptive model should be replicated across all schools, she said, noting design thinking-centered curriculum, which utilizes project and solution-based learning, needs to be implemented to match the reality of work in this era.
“How can we help students thrive right now, rather than [waiting until] they turn 18?” she asked. “My goal would be to see every kid in Kansas City practicing design thinking and practicing problem solving in real life. I’ve seen it happen in kindergarten, right? I do it everyday with 5year-olds. They can do it. I think every kid deserves that opportunity. That’s my big dream.”
Math and science can be incorporated into real talks about community issue, she added, noting that everyone wins when entrepreneurs get into schools.
“[Teachers] are not experts. We need [startup community leaders like] Wesley Hamilton, and Adam Arredondo. I need all these entrepreneurs like them to come and be with my kids to teach them what they do,” said Foster. “I can’t be the voice for everything and they need to see what’s happening in their community.”