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Kansas high school students gather at ESU to learn more about teaching field

Kansas high school students gather at ESU to learn more about teaching field

Ask 15-year-old Abby Vandaveer what she wants to do after high school, and you will get a quick and definitive answer – an elementary special education teacher. 

“I’ve fallen in love with working with people with special needs,” the 15-year-old Olathe South High School student said. 

Her chosen career path was reinforced this week by spending time at the Kansas Future Teacher Academy (KFTA) at Emporia State University. The goal of the academy is to expose high school students to the rewards of the teaching profession. 

This year, 116 high school students applied to spend a week of their summer staying in ESU dorms, eating college campus food and learning about what life is like as a Kansas K-12 educator. 

“We were shooting for 80-100 (applicants),” said Todd Roberts, KFTA’s director. “We had 60 (attendees) last year, and that was the largest number we’ve ever had. This year, we have 93. It was exciting to see these numbers.” 

Roberts took over KFTA in November 2022. He has worked hard to expose more students to the program by spending time traveling to districts across the state and making presentations at education conferences. 

The 93 students representing nearly 60 school districts had to apply for the program. Students must be entering their sophomore, junior or senior year to attend and are accepted into KFTA based on their academic standing, involvement in school and community activities and interest in exploring a career in teaching. 

KFTA began in 1989, originating from talks between Robert Glennen, then-president of ESU, and Dr. Jack Skillett, who served as dean of the College of Education and The Teachers College from 1984-1995. In the beginning, KFTA was funded through a private foundation. Private funding for KFTA stopped in 2000. However, there are now funds set aside from the state for the academy and students only have to pay a $100 fee. 

KFTA is sponsored by the ESU Teachers College and has graduated more than 1,200 high school students since its inception more than 30 years ago. For more information on KFTA and the application process, go to https://www.emporia.edu/teachers-college/centers-services/kansas-future-teacher-academy/

Amy Hillman serves as assistant director of KFTA. She also is a recruiter liaison for Olathe USD 233 and an adjunct professor at Kansas State University.  

Hillman and Roberts, along with 10 additional staff members, ensure the five-day academy runs smoothly.  

There have been some changes from last year’s event, Hillman and Roberts said, some of them based on student feedback.  

“This year, it’s more conference style,” Roberts said. “Students get the opportunity to select what sessions they want to attend.” 

The event also moved from Sunday-Thursday to Monday-Friday, and staff members supplied journals so that students can reflect after each session.  

“The whole week is about reflection,” Hillman said. “This week is also about getting the skills and techniques – ready-made skills – that can be applied to real life. I think every day has little stars (highlights) – its own glitter.” 

This week kicked off Monday afternoon with check-in at residence halls and a parent meeting. Students also were assigned to a group led by a staff member. Each group created a team name and a team chant. After dinner in Memorial Union and teambuilding, students had free time in residence halls to network. 

Tuesday included sessions on social-emotional learning and keynotes by Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson and Dr. Jay Scott, director of the Kansas State Department of Education’s Accreditation and Design team. 

Kansas State Board of Education members Danny Zeck, Melanie Haas, Ann Mah, Dennis Hershberger, Betty Arnold, Jim Porter and Jim McNiece attended Tuesday sessions and listened to keynote presentations. 

Arnold and Zeck spent a portion of their lunch break visiting with students about diversity, equity and inclusion. 

“I had a teacher who inspired my life,” Arnold told the group of students. “There may be one child you inspire. Thank you for looking at this as a career path.” 

Wednesday focused on project-based learning and inclusive classrooms and included more informational sessions attendees could select from. 

KFTA attendees on Thursday finalized projects for a special presentation and had fun participating in a scavenger hunt. 

The week will conclude Friday with a final presentation to parents, a campus tour and special farewell celebration. 

Nearly 100 students will go home with a better understanding of what it takes to be a Kansas educator. They will have time to consider if teaching is the right career path for them, and if they need more inspiration or help deciding, Roberts, Hillman and other staff members will be back at the end of July for the first-ever academy follow-up event. 

Attendees from last year and this year are invited back to ESU from July 25-29 for a free event that will focus on mindfulness, preparing for college and more. 

However, some students like Abby Vandaveer don’t need any more convincing that a career as an educator is the right choice. 

Abby began attending the Gaby Lucas House of Dance in Olathe for lessons when she was in the fifth grade. As a seventh-grade student, Abby began volunteering with the Extra Ordinary Troupe, a class for dancers 21 years of age and younger with cognitive or physical special needs. She also participates in a special needs band class at Olathe South High School. Abby has been playing the French horn in band since the fifth grade. 

“My time with the Extra Ordinary Group is heaven on Earth,” Abby told Olathe USD 233 in February 2022. “I just feel so much joy and peace – truly complete. That, along with my interaction with students at FTMS (Frontier Trail Middle School), has shown me what I want to do after high school. We are all different ages and may have different abilities, but it doesn’t matter. We are just friends dancing together. And at school, we are all just students. In both places, teachers have had such a powerful influence on me seeing them interact with all kids.” 

A year has passed since she was quoted in that Olathe USD 233 article. But her sentiments haven’t changed – and neither has her career choice. 

“It is so beautiful to see them come together for a common love – dance,” Abby said. “There is so much joy within our relationships, too. I love seeing those connections.” 

Posted: Jun 8, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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