Digital Inclusion Awareness Day

Join the City of Kansas City, Missouri,  Mayor Sly James, and the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion for Digital Inclusion Awareness Day on July 15.

This free community event will provide citizens with the opportunity to sign-up for low cost-internet, computer classes and affordable computers. Kansas City is the third city in the nation to adopt a digital inclusion plan focused on improving access and improving digital equity.

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Club KC Salon

Enjoy a manicure at Club KC Salon! This event is free every Saturday starting May 27th through August 5th at Gregg Klice Community Center located 1600 John Buck O’Neil Way, Kansas City, MO 64108 from 6-11PM. IMG_7890

Club KC

We’re back for another fun filled summer of basketball, music, swimming, games and so much more! Middle school kids are invited to join us at Gregg Klice Community Center located 1600 John Buck O’Neil Way, Kansas City, MO 64018 from 6-11PM. A ClubKC card is required to enter, download a Mayor’s Night registration form to get your ClubKC card.

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Improvise, Adapt & Overcome: An honest discussion about education reform.

I am the mayor of a city with 14 school districts and I have jurisdiction over none of them. If you think I’m looking to change that, you’re wrong.  I’ve been down that road.

I’m a Marine and one thing I learned from my experience in the Marine Corps is that when one road is blocked off, you just have to find another one that gets you where you need to be.  The unofficial motto of the Marine Corps rings true in this case, “improvise, adapt, and overcome.”

Kansas City needs to be a community where every child has access to a high-quality education. Period. End of story.

Or at least that SHOULD be the end of the story.

Far too often adult interests and political rhetoric complicate this very basic idea.  That is problematic for me.
There is a close connection between education and prosperity, both for individuals and for cities.  Where this becomes problematic for me as Mayor is when I cannot keep a business here or attract a business here because of the perception, and to some extent, the reality, that our education system is an impediment. Businesses want to locate where there is a highly-trained workforce.  They also are hesitant to locate in neighborhoods without high-performing schools to which their employees can send their children. Businesses also know that cities that lack quality educational opportunities tend to have higher crime rates.
High crime is bad for business.

We need to turn all of this around.  Last month at the Interim House Committee on Education, I urged state lawmakers, as another legislative sessions draws near, to shift the entire education conversation.  I want to share with you all I feel that is necessary -

Our kids are not a drain on the rest of the state.  I question the line of thinking that brown and black children would magically learn more if they were sitting in seats in suburban school districts surrounded by white kids.  I refuse to believe that all our teachers care about is tenure when the reality is that teachers in our city often use their own money to buy school supplies and often have to be the teacher AND the guidance counselor because the Missouri General Assembly has failed to properly fund social services and education for years.

I want lawmakers to consider that it is not that our families don’t care about the education of our children.
Rather, the reality is that many families are juggling raising their children with working more than one job because it is so hard in the current political and economic atmosphere for middle class families to make ends meet. I reject the notion that we shouldn’t even try to do better by urban kids because it’s too difficult to make changes.

I’m tired of the status quo and so are the people of Kansas City.

I do not pretend to be an education expert but I am a huge supporter of education because it changed my life, so this is personal for me.  I grew up on Kansas City’s east side and my parents both worked two jobs so that my brothers and I could go to the best schools possible.

I know first-hand the transformational nature of education. And I’m sick of seeing so many of our kids unable to reach their full potential because we adults have failed to do our job of providing them with a quality education.

They deserve better.

If lawmakers are truly committed to education reform, then we need to stop playing politics and make the necessary investment to get the job done. That means they must be as committed to investing in education, our social infrastructure, as they are in investing in our physical infrastructure like roads and bridges. That means they defend every child’s right to have a first-class education with as much passion as they would defend every adult’s right to have a gun.

By the way, I noticed a lot more talk during this year’s veto session about guns than I did about children. What does that say about our priorities?  Let’s talk about real, meaningful education reform.

Merriam Webster defines reform as, “improving someone or something by removing or correcting faults and problems; and to improve your own behavior or habits.”  To that end, I propose that when we refer to “education reform” we include reforms to education institutions and reforms to our own behaviors.  Because reforms to both are badly needed. I hate it when people come to me with nothing but complaints.  It’s easy to complain, but more difficult to come up with solutions.

So, I have some suggestions for true education reform:

First, invest in quality early childhood education.  

Early childhood experts tell me that Missouri has consistently ranked near the bottom in terms of state funding for early childhood education for decades.  Consistency is good for many things, but that is not one of them. Trust me, I have to balance our city budget and I understand competing priorities in the budget process. But I dare anyone to name a priority that should be higher than our children.  And if the moral argument doesn’t work for you, look at it from a business standpoint.

Studies have found that for every $1 invested in early childhood education, $8 is returned to the community.
If your stockbroker could virtually guarantee that kind of return on investment, wouldn’t you do it for your own financial portfolio?

Second, help me change the public image of urban education.

Earlier I mentioned all the misconceptions I hear in the news, in committee hearings, and from the general public. I am not here to tell you that everything is rosey.  It isn’t.  But accepting that at face value isn’t telling the complete picture of today’s urban education system.

Urban kids face challenges every day that their suburban and rural counterparts simply do not face. I’m talking about a lack of proper healthcare, random gun violence perpetrated by idiots with illegal guns on the streets of this City and others, and a lack of hope that is passed from one undereducated generation to the next.  In spite of all of this, we have some great students, great schools, great teachers, and great families here.

For example, KCPS offers the Early College Academy, where students earn their high school diploma and associate’s degree from Penn Valley  Community College.

Center High School student Erick Boone was selected by the Meridian International Center and the Youth Initiative for Human Rights to participate in the 2013 Youth Leadership Exchange Program with Central Europe.

While traveling through Central Europe, participants learn ways to impact their community.

Erick believes that the greatest benefits he received from the program was learning how to lead and inspire others for change and to start projects which make a difference to the entire community.

Jada Robinson is a 4th Grader at Genesis Promises Academy.  The United States Tennis Association announced this summer that Jada won the prestigious, nationwide Arthur Ashe Essay Contest.  Next month, she’ll travel to New York City where she will be a special guest at the 2013 Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day presented at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

Two Park Hill High School students are Governors of Boys State and Girls State this year.

Maybe I’m idealistic, I’ve been called worse, but I believe if more people come to understand that all is not lost in Kansas City, St Louis, and other urban education systems then perhaps they will dig a little deeper and be more helpful than adversarial.

Third, when making education policy remember that nothing impacts every facet of community development like education.  

Education impacts crime, health care, economic development, neighborhood stability and everything in between. Therefore, we need a holistic, community-wide approach to education.

Two and a half years ago, I created Turn the Page KC, a community organization dedicated to the goal of ensuring every child in this city can read at grade level by third grade. If we achieve that overarching goal then we will also accomplish something that is immeasurable: elevating the urgency and importance of education in this community. The academic achievement of our young people should be a community-wide priority. We cannot consider our young people as “someone else’s problem.”  I’m doing my part locally to reinforce that and would appreciate help in doing the same at the state level.

Lastly, to reform education, we need to more strategically plan for the future, not just the present.  

That means thinking about the needs of our future workforce. We need curriculum aligned with the needs of a high-tech, global job market. It is no longer enough to teach only reading, writing, and arithmetic. The workforce of tomorrow needs to be trained in information technology, communication (including foreign languages), and critical thinking.

To that end, I’m happy to be a part of DESE’s Pathways to Prosperity Program.  That’s the department’s partnership of employers, educators and policymakers committed to building a system of pathways for high school aged students to and through a postsecondary technical education program and into meaningful work. At the same time, we need to recognize that not every child should or wants to go to college to be a computer wiz. We need to educate our mechanics, our artists, and our furniture makers with as much passion as we educate our doctors and CEOs. Every child has unique potential. We just need to turn that potential into skills for our local workforce.  That is what the employers in this city are concerned about – not teacher tenure, vouchers for private schools, and whether or not kids pray in class.

I’ve touched on a lot here. At times it can be emotional – As I said before, education is personal for me.

I urge state lawmakers to consider my suggestions of investing in early childhood education, changing the public image of urban education, linking community development goals and education, and also strategically planning for the future through our education system.

The education of our children is too important to take lightly.  We must take the necessary steps to make it a priority.

The Mayor’s Challenge Cabinet: Making Kansas City Best

The inaugural Mayor’s Challenge Cabinet is about to wrap its first six months.  And, this group of passionate, dedicated, civic do-gooders is focused on one key goal: Make Kansas City best.

It’s lofty. We know. So where do we start?

Our 30-member cabinet has pinpointed four key areas:

Engagement – Let’s face it: You probably only contact the City when you have a problem. And, that’s okay – that’s how we used to be, too. But, what if there was a free-flow of information all the time? What if there was an easy way to engage with the City every day, not just when a new airport plan was being batted around? We’re looking at ways to boost the civic conversation every day, in every neighborhood, and across every appetite for technology.

Accessibility – If 911 is the lifeline for health and safety, then 311 is the number for civic sanity. From potholes to water main breaks to snow plows, 311 is the magic number for civic concerns. But what if aggregated 311 data could be shared online, reducing phone calls and freeing valuable city resources? The MCC is developing the first “open data” policy so residents can access more information online, and KC’s best practices can be shared with other municipalities. Pretty cool, huh?

Pride – Remember that overwhelming sense of civic pride you felt during the 2012 Major League Baseball All-Star Game? Yeah, we want to bottle that sauce. Making KC best and civic pride go hand-in-hand. We’re proposing ways to boost KC’s enthusiasm year-round, not just when we’re shining in the national spotlight.

Development – The MCC recently took a bus tour through some of KC’s urban core communities. The goal? To understand the unique challenges facing these areas. Next, we’re meeting with area leaders and neighbors to talk about partnering, and generating new ideas for boosting economic momentum.

The MCC is a group of 30 people who heart the greatest city in the heartland. But, this is your city, too. And, we need your help making KC best.

So, share your ideas with us. Or, come meet us this Saturday at the inaugural Ideas Fair.

Together we can create a city that’s engaged, accessible, proud and thriving, and a model for other municipalities.  Let’s work together to make KC best.

Kate O’Neill Rauber is a member of the  Mayor’s Challenge Cabinet.  She is the Founder and CEO of Sink Cycle and KORPR.

From the Mayor’s Office of Civic & Community Engagement: Bright Future interns make an impact

When Rachel Sweet accepted an internship through the Bright Future Employment Program – managed by the Mayor’s Office of Civic & Community Engagement – she knew the experience would have a tremendous impact on her and her fellow interns. What she didn’t know was just how much of an impact they would in turn have on local Kansas City kids.  

The Bright Future Employment Program has provided more than 3,500 area residents with paid part-time, full-time and internship opportunities since its inception in 2005. This year, over 70 high school and college aged students joined the program to serve in various positions with the City. The Mayor’s Office welcomed three interns to our daily operations – you can find profiles for each here – in addition to the various roles filled by students in other City departments.

In their daily operations, projects and assignments for the City’s interns vary.  In our office, interns played a large role in areas of research, administrative duties, customer service, event planning and of course the occasional errand-running.  They also joined interns from other City offices for partnerships with local schools and non profit organizations including Upper Room.

Upper Room is a neighborhood-based non-profit organization that provides high-quality out-of-school education programs to low-income families in urban areas of Kansas City.  Bright Future interns had the opportunity to take part the Turn The Page initiative, reading to area kids attending Upper Room.

On one such visit, Rachel Sweet, intern for the City’s Chief Innovation Officer, met a first-grader.  After he asked  to take one of the school books home, Rachel politely explained to him that all books were needed in the classroom.

She then asked him if he had books at home.  He didn’t and that surprised her.  But it also inspired her to act.

Rachel, along with the help of fellow Bright Future interns, decided to organize a book drive in the hope that they could raise 100 books for Upper Room kids to take home.  They focused on the students from Melcher Elementary and Hogan Middle School whom they had spent a significant amount of time with over the summer.

But what happened next was the real surprise.

Giving themselves just two weeks to collect 100 books, the interns hit the pavement, bringing in their own books and soliciting donations from local businesses, family and friends.  Fourteen days later, they were running out of space to hold the donations they received.  With a little help from the the Kansas City Public Library, Half-Price Books, private citizens and one exceptional intern – Sandra DuPree  who brought in over 740 books – they had collected over 1,700 books in all!

When asked about the impact of the program, Rachel had this to say:

“I think it’s important that learning does not end in the classroom and that students have the tools they need to succeed.  I saw a way for the Bright Futures Interns to make a lasting impact that exceeded our few hours a week working in the classrooms and we jumped on it.”

This annual program, which kicked off the 2013 session back in May, wrapped last week, but not before a motivated group of students made a huge difference for Kansas City youth.

On July 26, Bright Future interns gathered their massive supply of donated books and took them to the kids they had been working with all summer.   Each kid now had books that they could take home.  Research suggests that having books in the home, combined with parents who are committed to reading with their children, dramatically increases opportunities for academic success.

What started as a way to make an impact for one young student, turned into an effort to get books in the hands and in the homes of several area kids.  It was the perfect end to a very hands-on summer learning experience for the Bright Future program and a testament to the impact community members can make when they elect to reach out and get involved.  

Thanks to all of our tremendous Bright Future Interns and to the generous donors who made this project possible.

To read more about the Bright Future Program, Click HERE

To volunteer with Turn the Page, Click HERE.

For more information on Upper Room, click HERE.