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October 28, 2021



Students in East High School Vice Principal Bryan VanOsdale's social justice class participate in a listening session with KCUR staff on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. In small groups, students shared their experiences going to school in zip code 64127 and what people get wrong about living in the urban core.

In Social Justice Class, Students at East High School Learn to Speak Up for Their Community

Seniors Stefano Merced and Daniela Moreno wish more people saw the East High School they do.


“Test scores don’t tell the whole story,” Stefano said. “People in this school are dealing with a lot of things, at home and in life, and where we live inhibits us sometimes.”


“East High School is a good high school. Teachers help you with anything you need,” Daniela said. “But we need more funding.”


Stefano and Daniela are students in the social justice class at East, taught by Vice Principal Bryan VanOsdale. It’s a capstone class that challenges students’ assumptions about race, culture and identity.


“We had a week-long talk about race and how it’s imaginary,” said senior Juan Vejar. “It’s not real. It’s a social construct.”


Mind blown, he mouths, closed fists exploding open over his head.


And that’s exactly why VanOsdale developed this course 13 years ago. Known to his students as Mr. Van, VanOsdale wanted his students to think critically about how the world was changing after Barack Obama was elected president. Then and now, he reminds students of their power as young people.


“Do you realize who was the civil rights movement? They were 16, 17, 18, 19 years old,” VanOsdale said. “They sat at lunch counters and had food poured on them. They walked through the doors of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. They rode the Trailways and Greyhound buses across the South during Freedom Summer.


Recently, students in the social justice class participated in a listening session with KCUR 89.3, Kansas City’s NPR station, as part of a project to bridge the urban and rural divide. 



East High School students tell KCUR's Byron Love that the pandemic changed their community. Restaurants are either crowded or closed, and there aren't as many places to hang out with friends as there were before. 

Far-flung suburbs like Belton felt rural to some students. But others hadn’t always lived in the urban core. One student said he grew up in rural Mississippi, where he learned to shoot a gun so he could hunt small game. Another student’s family had lived in a village and raised goats before immigrating to the United States. She said it was strange to buy food for the first time — and expensive.


All of the students knew the stereotypes about inner city high schools. They told KCUR that sometimes visitors to East are tense, almost like they’re afraid to be there. The students know that they deal with things that students in other schools don’t, like violence in their community.


But they also take AP classes, play sports and earn college scholarships.


“There are a lot of smart people who don’t get the attention they deserve,” Juan said.


“They get up every day. They come to school. They work hard. This is giving voice to that. Important people in the community are coming to East and asking, ‘What do you think?’” VanOsdale said.


Daniela appreciated the reporters taking the time to talk to high school students.


“We actually went in depth into how we feel,” Daniela said. “We were able to speak our opinions.”


Stefano added he and his classmates want to be part of the solution.


“People think just because we’re young our opinions don’t matter, that they’re not coherent enough to adequately fix things,” he said. “This is a good way to get our thoughts and feelings out into the public.”


KCPS Recruitment and Retention Coach Ritchie Cherry teaches a social-emotional lesson to fifth graders in M'Kaylah Johnson's class at Longfellow Elementary on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.

KCPS Retention Coach a Resource for Teachers

Earlier this month, Ritchie Cherry stood in front of M’Kaylah Johnson’s fifth grade class at Longfellow and told her to kick up her feet while he taught her class.


“How many of you guys know what a battery does?” Cherry asked Johnson's students.


A hand shot up. “It charges things!”


“And what happens when a battery gets run down?”


“It doesn’t work!”


“And what happens to you if your battery gets run down?” Cherry asked. Once he has the students thinking about how their energy levels affect their moods, they brainstorm ways to take care of each other and their teacher.


“Was this helpful?” Cherry asked Johnson at the end of class.


“I think so. You reiterated the lessons I’m trying to put in place,” Johnson told him.


Cherry is the KCPS Recruitment and Retention Coach for KCPS. He uses his counseling background to support teachers in classrooms.


“Retention is essential," Cherry said. "We have to create different tools to allow our people to stay. I think meeting them on a social-emotional level is the first step.”


Sometimes Cherry goes to schools to teach mini-lessons like the one he gave Johnson’s class. He can reinforce classroom culture while giving teachers a few minutes to themselves. He also works directly with educators who are considering leaving the profession.


“I like to put preventatives in place. I like to be at the schools. I want to go to where the drama and trauma is happening,” Cherry said.


KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell speaks to parents and community members during a Blueprint 2030 open house at Hale Cook Elementary on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. 

What's the Priority? Take Blueprint 2030 Survey

Thank you for joining us last week for community conversations about Blueprint 2030, our strategic planning process. As we make decisions about the future of our schools, we continue to seek your feedback throughout this process. 


If you weren’t able to attend one of our in-person or virtual sessions last week, we’d appreciate your thoughts via a quick survey here. This survey will help us prioritize what we want in our schools and community as we move forward. From here, we’ll keep you updated on more dates and details around future opportunities for feedback this winter and into the spring. 





Together, we’ll make a commitment to our students to provide opportunities that will help them thrive socially, emotionally and academically. For more information about Blueprint 2030, please visit our website.



Next District Advisory Council Meeting is Nov. 10

KCPS is gearing up for the next DAC meeting of the year from 6 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 10, and everyone is invited to attend. The DAC addresses school issues and concerns, allows you to share ideas and solve problems cooperatively and helps advise the district’s Board of Directors. Our schools can’t do it alone; we need the involvement and support of parents and guardians to succeed. We'll be sharing more meeting information soon. We hope to see you there!