Championing the Needs of Diverse Learners

This interview was conducted in early March 2020 before the closure of Kansas schools due to COVID-19. As a result, the Spring 2020 Family Language Academies that are highlighted in this story are postponed until in-person school resumes.

As the Director of ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages) and Migrant Services at Kansas City Kansas Public Schools (KCKPS), Kristen Scott focuses on addressing the needs of students and families who are new to not just the school district, but the country. In addition to serving students and families through their Newcomer Program, she also attends to any other student and their family who might be learning English. As she described it, her role is to “champion the needs of diverse learners.” During her first few years in the position, Kristen collaborated with the University of Kansas Center for Educational Opportunity Programs to secure a National Professional Development grant, Supporting Technology, Educators, and Parents for Upward Progress (STEP UP), to assist her with her mission.

Through her work, Kristen seeks solutions to one key question: “How can we change and do things differently, as a system, to meet the needs of our kids?” Partnering with STEP UP has helped her work toward that goal. As Kristen explained, the STEP UP grant program, which is now in its third year, has helped her department provide additional services and do “things that we weren’t able to do before” because of previously limited funding. The partnership between KCKPS and STEP UP has broadened the scope of services that the district can provide to students and families and extended its reach into the community.

The teacher education component of STEP UP provides funding for KCKPS teachers to pursue their Teaching English as a Second Language (TESOL) endorsement for their teaching licenses. Kristen shared that KCKPS has “several cohorts of teachers in the process of working toward this endorsement right now,” including 18 teachers who recently completed their endorsement and secured their state-level licensure in this area. Those teachers serve a wide variety of grade levels, subject areas, and school buildings within the district, which Kristen pointed to as particularly important and helpful because, in the past, some KCKPS schools had more expertise with serving ELLs than others.

Kristen is exceptionally passionate about family engagement. She spoke with a great deal of excitement about the launch of this year’s Language Academy. The academy welcomes students and their family members of all ages, and from all language backgrounds. Kristen has high hopes for this year’s program because now, after functioning several years, she says she “could really see the growth across the years for the families who were attending since we started.” Beyond the shorter-term success, Kristen and the entire STEP UP team aspire to develop a road map that will help the district better serve these students and their families for years to come.

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