In less than a week, the Kansas City Girl’s Preparatory Academy will be welcoming its first students.
Previously used by Hogan Preparatory Elementary, the school is located at 17th Street and Van Brunt on Kansas City’s east side.
The first all-girls charter in Kansas City, the academy is an affiliate of the Young Women’s Leadership Network (YWLN) and will serve 100 5th-grade girls during the 2019-2020 school year and continually add on one grade each year up to 12th grade.
Jahna Riley, family and community outreach coordinator for the school, said they were fortunate to get the building from Hogan Prep.
“It’s a win-win for everyone and this is right in the heart of where we want it to be in the Northeast,” she said.
Riley said founders Christine Kemper and Julie Tomasic have a heart for education and have seen how their own daughters have flourished in all-girl schools.
“They have an up-close and personal view of what happens when your girl goes into a setting where girls are everything and can fulfill all the roles,” said Riley. “They saw how their daughters blossomed and they really wanted to help provide that opportunity to students in our city.”
Kemper is co-founder of The Collectors Fund and The Kansas City Collection which invests in art and artists. She serves on several boards and in various leadership positions around the city.
She has served as president for the Board of Directors of University Academy Charter School and under her leadership, the school earned a 100 percent APR score and has been recognized as a national Blue Ribbon School, recognizing five years of sustained excellence from 2013 to 2017.
Tomasic is a 27-year veteran of the Kansas City Police Department, serving in various units including Patrol, Vice, Narcotics, Tactical Response Team, Intelligence assigned to the FBI, Sex Crimes Unit, Cold Case Crimes, Community Support Division, Victims Assistance Unit, Hostage Negotiator, and Mayor’s Security Detail.
Friends of Ann Rubenstein Tisch, the founder and president of Student Leadership Network, an organization that operates The Young Women’s Leadership Schools, both Tomasic and Kemper visited the TYWLS of East Harlem and were astonished at what was going on there.
“They came back and said they had to make this happen,” Riley said. “They were able to bring folks on board who have experience opening up schools and charters and have pushed it from a dream to a reality.”
According to the website, the school’s mission is to “develop young women to discover their voice, succeed in college, and lead impactful, meaningful lives.”
The approach for the school includes an extended school year, no tuition, fees, or admissions exams, rapid reading growth, STEM classes to expose girls to an array of future opportunities, social and emotional learning, college preparatory-focused, serves predominantly low-income students, and provides high quality teachers.
Based on The Young Women’s Leadership Network Model and KCGPA values, a 5 Pillar “House” was created to ensure the young women receive exceptional education and develop empowering leadership skills. Those five pillars are:
This includes social and emotional learning model that is integrated into staff development and content curriculum as well as principles of restorative justice.
A humanities class includes blended English and history content to help students understand history through multiple perspectives and balanced literacy which offers personalized support at the student’s reading level to ensure rapid, consistent growth.
Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics classes will be offered to help build conceptual understanding and interdisciplinary connections and inquiry-based and hands-on learning.
Mastery-focused standards and competency-based curricula and grading will be offered, focusing on student’s mastery of knowledge and skills. Support will also be given to develop both advanced and struggling students’ learning needs.
Staff will be offered ongoing weekly professional development, coaching, and collaboration in conjunction with expert external partners such as Achievement Network, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Relay Graduate School of Education, Student Achievement Partners, UChicago STEP Literacy, UnboundEd, and Promise54.
Riley said creating a space for young girls holds unique benefits.
“One of the big differences is that in society, it isn’t intentional, but I think we all breathe in these societal beliefs about the places of the genders,” she said. “For example, the idea that boys are going to be active and they need to get up and move around and girls are going to be more quiet and well-behaved; boys are going to be good at math and science and girls are going to be good at language and research. Research shows that we internalize those beliefs extremely early. In an environment where they’re all girls and it’s intentionally designed for girls, then we work against those societal beliefs.”
She said KCGPA is breaking down these societal beliefs to show girls that they truly can do and be anything.
“We intentionally build in opportunities for our girls to get up and move around, we intentionally build in opportunities for our girls to practice speaking up, speaking up loud and proud, making mistakes and instilling the belief that making mistakes is okay and we learn from them,” she said. “We are really intentional about building those things in for girls because we know that when they have those opportunities, then they really do blossom.”
Apart from academics, KCGPA will be partnering with various agencies to offer extracurricular activities for the girls including Global FC soccer club, Girls on the Run, and Kansas City Young Audiences.
“As we grow, we will build out those options as we hear from parents and students as to what they like and what they want to see,” said Riley.
KCGPA will be under the leadership of Tara Haskins. Graduating from Hampton University, Haskins joined the New Teacher Project and taught middle school English and Language Arts in Louisiana. She also taught U.S. History in Houston, Texas and led school-wide culture systems as Dean of Restorative Justice and Culture.
Haskins’ implementation of these restorative justice practices led to out-of-school suspensions being cut in half in a single year.
The school’s logo, created by Willoughby Design in Kansas City, is a tree with visible roots and leaves, surrounded by a laurel.
Riley said this is the representation of the school’s core values:
“The tree represents the growth piece, the laurel around it represents the community, and the leaves represent freedom,” she said.
Riley said her ultimate goal is to see the future leaders of Kansas City being educated at KCGPA.
“There is a quote that says ‘when you educate a girl, you educate the entire community’ and that idea of the ripple effect of educating a girl is what we hope to see,” she said. “We want our girls to have choice. We want our girls to be able to say, ‘I want to go to Harvard or Howard or Hampton’ or ‘I want to go through trade school or vocational training and this is the choice I’ve made.’ We want them to have options and be exposed to enough where the decision is theirs to make because they’ve done enough work to know what their hopes and dreams are for themselves, where they see themselves going, and how they can get there. We want them to be the next generation of leaders in Kansas City. I would love for, down the road, our mayor to have graduated from Kansas City Girls Preparatory Academy.”
KCGPA is still enrolling for the 2019-2020 school year, but space is filling quickly. For more information on the school and enrollment, visit kcgpa.org or call (816) 268-2573.