School Visit Series: A Charter School With a Goal
The South Building of Ewing Marion Kauffman School in Kansas City looks much more like a new academic building than a charter school serving low-income middle-school students. Streams of natural light flood the high-ceilinged lobby. On the wall next to the entrance is a portrait of the school’s late benefactor paired with the former Kansas City Royals owner’s quote, “You, you, and every one of you can go to college if you choose.”
Kauffman’s goal to “create college graduates” pervades the three-building campus. University flags hang on the walls. Students are divided into groups named after the universities teaching faculty attended. Teachers connect with students by sharing personal photographs, fight songs, and university traditions from their own college years. “It continues to invest kids in this idea that the people around you want you to have the same opportunities as they had and we don’t want socioeconomic status or zip code to hold you back from that,” said Candace Potter, talent recruiter for the school.
“Kids who grow up in low-income communities, about 10 percent graduate from college by the age of 24 … and we want to break that statistic,” she added. The school seems to be on its way.
Though 82.4 percent of students are eligible for free-reduced lunch, Kauffman earned 88.6 percent of possible points on the state’s Annual Progress Report. This means the charter is only 1.4 percentage points from being classified as Accredited with Distinction, which is stunning considering, according to Potter, most students begin below grade level.
One of those students is fifth-grader Aunecia Smith. She reports both her behavior and academics have improved since arriving at Kauffman, having previously attended George Melcher Elementary, a Kansas City public school. “It’s really not like this school. Their expectations weren’t as good,” she said.
Aside from rigorous academic expectations, the school invests in four PREP values, which serve as “current and future tools for success.” At frequent awards ceremonies, students are recognized with “PREP stars.” Aunecia, who wants to be a pediatrician when she grows up, has received two. “I have to change the channel on the TV when I see kids with cancer,” she said.
Quality charter schools like Ewing Marion Kauffman exemplify how school choice can set students on the course for success. Aunecia is just one student for which a charter school has made a difference, but if charters were able to expand regardless of district accreditation status or geographic location, many more students might be affected.
Before heading back to class, Aunecia said to me, “Every kid should go to a charter school.” I think what Aunecia really means is that every child should have access to the type of high-quality education she is receiving.