School Tours Help Kansas City Parents Navigate Choice
In a city with so many school options, it isn’t always easy for parents to choose where to send their children.
Amanda Recob’s daughter, Marliemae, will start kindergarten in the fall. But Recob isn’t just choosing a school for her 5-year-old.
“I have two girls following her, so it is a lot of pressure,” Recob says. “I don’t want them going to three separate schools.”
So Recob is trying to keep the needs of her 2-year-old and 4-year-old in mind as she visits schools.
“Luciana’s teacher said out of all the children, she’d do well in structure. She spends more time with my child than I do,” she says.
Show Me KC Schools
Four years ago, Tricia Johnson was trying to make the same decision. She felt she needed help picking the right school.
And Show Me KC Schools was born.
“We say we don’t work for the school district, we don’t work for charter schools, we don’t work for private schools or parochial schools, but we really work for families,” Johnson tells a group of moms about to get on a yellow school bus. It’ll take them to four Kansas City charter schools.
Usually it’s a preschool calling Johnson to set up a tour for parents of soon-to-be kindergarteners.
“In this case, it was the social worker and the mentors who chose the schools they thought their moms would be most successful at,” Johnson says.
Amethyst Place provides transitional housing for women recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, many of whom are working to regain custody or have just gotten their children back. Not all of them finished high school. So picking the right school takes on added significance.
As the moms get on the bus, Johnson encourages them to ask lots of questions.
“If you have those important characteristics or values you’re looking for in a school, make sure you try to ask them at every school we visit,” she says.
First stop, KIPP Endeavor Academy at 18th and Prospect.
“So we use a student greeter system here,” says director of development Haley Bowman as she leads the moms down a hallway. “We’re going to knock on the door and a student will come out and introduce themselves.”
Sure enough, an adorable first grader comes out.
“Hi, my name is Amore. This is Miss Todd’s class, and we’re watching a video of Reading Rainbow. What’s your name?”
The moms are charmed. Back on the bus, Johnson asks what they thought of KIPP.
“I loved it,” Recob gushes.
“Did you?” Johnson asks. “What did you love about it?”
“The girls soccer team is awesome,” says Recob, who’s been looking for a school where her girls can play sports.
But she also wants her girls to learn a second language, and KIPP doesn’t offer Spanish. She worries, too, that her daughters might be bullied.
“See? You should’ve asked that while you were in there,” chides Irma Robinson, the family care coordinator at Amethyst Place.
Recob asks her question at the next school, Crossroads Academy downtown.
“About bullying and discipline,” she says. “Do you have a lot of issues there with little kids being mean to each other?”
Executive Director Dean Johnson says Crossroads uses a behavior intervention program that’s very effective. Recob leaves impressed with Crossroads and its sister school, Quality Hill, which she’d visited on an earlier tour.
“Crossroads and Quality Hill just sold me because they have the soccer, they have the sports. They do Spanish right away,” she says.
Citizens of the World
Then it’s on to Citizens of the World, a Midtown charter school that’s new to Kansas City.
Kristin Droege, the founding executive director, explains that the school only has kindergarten and first grade but will add a class each year.
“We have a video from one of our schools in Los Angeles that’s a little further in their development,” she says as the moms file in. Then she takes the group to visit a classroom.
Many of the Amethyst Place moms feel Citizens of the World is too quiet – or they have older kids who wouldn’t be able to attend with their younger siblings.
Last stop, Gordon Parks Elementary in the Volker neighborhood.
“If you look out to your right,” Principal Joe Palmer says, “you’ll see our playground out there. Three and a half years ago, that wasn’t there. All we had was just the track. We didn’t have security fencing.”
One of the moms, Ternesa Spears, is excited to find out her son could start kindergarten in the fall. Because he doesn’t turn 5 until July, she thought she’d have to wait another year to enroll him.
“That was my old school,” she says thoughtfully.
“Oh, that’s your old school!” Tricia Johnson says excitedly. “Volker?”
Spears nods. “Volker. I like how they got security and how it’s not just a track. They have a real playground now.”
Back at Amethyst Place, Robinson, the family care coordinator, says the moms she works with are always surprised when she tells them they get to pick a school.
“They’re very stressed about it in a good way,” she says. “The interesting part is they say, ‘I thought if we lived somewhere, they told us what school to go to.’ Well, yeah. That’s how it used to be.”
Not anymore. Robinson says sometimes when moms enter the program, they’re reluctant to send their kids to school in Kansas City.
“It’s not as bad as they think. They think they’re going to go into a school and the kids are – literally – up on a bookshelf,” she says with a laugh.
But then they go on a school tour and see the kids aren’t climbing the walls.
Still, it’s a big decision.
“I was like, ‘Miss Irma, will you just use choose for me?’ Someone needs to tell me what to do,” says mother-of-three Recob. “I don’t know. It’s a lot to choose for my child. It’s almost like I’m picking out a college for them.”
A few weeks later, Recob texts to say her daughter will be going to Quality Hill.
“Got accepted to University Academy too I got very lucky,” she writes, followed by four exclamation points.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.