Recently, The Kansas City Star Editorial Board wrote about the challenges the pandemic has posed for students at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, where I teach.
I teach my students to analyze pieces like this one and ask them: Is this article biased? How do you know? Whose voice is most amplified in this editorial? And most important, I teach them to identify whose voice is missing. The voices of teachers — the true experts in this field — were missing here.
I also teach students to spot ideas that oversimplify complex and nuanced positions, like the question posed in the editorial: “Didn’t teachers know before now that their students weren’t cutting it as they Zoomed in?”
Of course we knew, and we moved quickly in anticipation of these exact struggles.
Lincoln Prep teachers learned a plethora of new technology in record time and we translated material from in-person to completely virtual. We created and updated spreadsheets designed to track any data possible in hopes that it would inform our practices and shape our new way of teaching.
As a part of Kansas City Public Schools, we fed students and connected them with devices and hot spots. We helped connect students and families to supporting resources — anything from mental health care to safe and quiet spaces for students to study.
We worked to offer interventions, mini-classes on skills such as time management, self-reflection and how to draft emails. We created videos and support documents and reevaluated our instructions to ensure they were clear and doable for students working from their homes. Our librarian, Brooke Fuendling, developed a virtual tutoring program for kids to get help from older students who were then able to earn community service hours.
And we didn’t stop there. We are still problem-solving despite being in the fourth quarter of the year. We are reimagining ways to engage students and ways to motivate them while still maintaining the integrity of our positions as educators.
Despite all of the challenges and obstacles we face this year, we are still working hard to make this year meaningful and valuable to our students. Auriel Starr, who built our theater program from the ground up with nothing but burrito sales, haunted houses and lip sync battle fundraisers, highlights this with her “Open Letter to our Community for Change” assignment. Two kids were offered internships as a result of their letters, and three kids — two freshmen and a junior — were able to meet virtually with the mayor to discuss the issues highlighted in their letters.
Additionally, eleven sophomores got “honorable mention” for their writing pieces that they submitted to the 2021 Missouri Writing Region of the Scholastic Writing Awards Contest for English class.
Teachers are doing everything we can to encourage and support our students and most students recognize this.
When surveyed about teacher support at Lincoln Prep, a sophomore wrote, “My teachers are doing the best they can, and they are doing amazing at supporting me, encouraging me, helping me, and motivating me.” Another student shared the same appreciation for teachers, saying, “They offer help during advisory and they try to encourage us to finish work on time. Some are flexible with due dates and others let you retry a lot of assignments. That is really helpful.” Many other students wrote that they appreciated teachers for understanding how difficult it was for students and that the little things such as extra credit and flexible due dates were helpful for students.
The thing is, Lincoln Prep teachers show up for our students. Right now it is harder than it ever has been before.
My son died in early March, and his memorial was held just three days before I wrote this. My other child — brilliant and usually intrinsically motivated — is failing and may have to repeat eighth grade. I’m riding some monster waves of grief, but I am still showing up for my students in any way possible, and I know that I am not the only one here at Lincoln Prep who is.
I teach students that advocating for yourself when your voice is ignored or misheard is essential to positive and meaningful change. I take pride in the type of teacher I am: bold, compassionate and loud. Today, I am writing to you as a model to my students, to teach them that words are powerful and that all voices are meant to be heard.
Danie Cooper is a sophomore English teacher at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in Kansas City.