Alumni Find a New Home in Kansas City

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Both Katy Kenyon and David Persley were placed in Kansas City to serve as Teach For America corps members by chance. Ms. Kenyon, who was a 2013 corps member, preferred a larger city. Mr. Persley, who became a corps member in 2014, preferred teaching in a city closer to his home in California. Neither knew much about Kansas City but Teach for America placed them here. Ms. Kenyon became a high school math teacher at University Academy and one year later when she learned that Mr. Persley, whom she knew through a mutual college friend, was placed in Kansas City, she urged her principal to hire him too. Now, Ms. Kenyon and Mr. Persley collaborate and teach in classrooms right next door to each other at University Academy. They both enjoy living and teaching in Kansas City and feel this city’s educators are connected in so many different ways that benefit both our teachers and students.

[The] continuity between our program (TFA) and the community here in Kansas City is really the key aspect to making this a meaningful, tangible and connected experience for all corps members.
David Persley (Kansas City '14)

“I know people who work in almost every school in Kansas City,” Ms. Kenyon said. “I know the major organizations that are supporting education outside the walls of the school. Things like Shark Tank aren’t happening in big cities. Kansas City provides the perfect storm of really innovative things happening for education and ultimately our kids benefit hugely from the fact that our teachers are tapped into the community.”

Both Mr. Persley and Ms. Kenyon also feel connected to their Teach For America Kansas City community as well, which today includes approximately 400 current and former TFA corps members. They get excited about teaching students who have been taught by other TFA teachers, which occurs frequently for them at University Academy. They know they need to do right in order to “honor” the work of a past TFA teacher, or most likely that teacher will hear about it from the student. This continuity of excellence and accountability keep this work invigorating for TFA corps members, like Ms. Kenyon and Mr. Persley.

“The TFA network is so strong, that’s a normal thing for TFA everywhere,” Mr. Persley said. “But the continuity between our program (TFA) and the community here in Kansas City is really the key aspect to making this a meaningful, tangible and connected experience for all corps members.”

A young white woman blonde hair, wearing a black and white dress and grey blazer leads a lesson in her classroom of young African-American students.

Ms. Kenyon enjoys teaching at University Academy where the mission is to prepare students to succeed in institutions of higher education and become leaders in society. She is excited about helping her students get ready for college and to be part of some- thing that is so close and tangible for them. When a student overheard her exclaim her love and excitement for their education, the student responded, “Aw we love you too, Ms. Kenyon.”

This love for students and passion for seeing them successful in all walks of life extends far beyond the walls of the classroom. At University Academy, Ms. Kenyon coaches track; Mr. Persley coaches basketball and has started the first-ever coding curriculum. Both agree that coaching students in an extracurricular activity revolutionizes their relationships. Since coaching, they have both seen an increase in the level of effort from their students – the students tell them they know they can’t hide from their coaches.

A young African-American male teacher wearing a white shirt and black tie, sits across the desk of a young female student, helping her with the lesson.

In the spring of 2016, Mr. Persley received funding from Teach For America’s first-annual Shark Tank event to take his students to a coding hackathon. His students recently traveled to North Carolina State University for the hackathon and received multiple awards including Best Overall Project and Most Innovative Design.

“My students have surpassed all of my expectations,” Mr. Persley said. “Coding is becoming more and more of an essential skill in the workforce. This felt like something that needed to be incorporated into our students’ education. There’s just no reason they shouldn’t have the opportunity.”

Both Ms. Kenyon and Mr. Persley have committed to teaching past their two year Teach For America commitment and will remain teaching at University Academy for the 2016-2017 school year. In addition they are both active members of the Kansas City community. 

About Katy Kenyon

Katy Kenyon graduated from the University of Minnesota with a BDA in Architecture. She loves learning and was so thankful for all of the opportunities she received. She didn’t feel it was fair that she received so many great things because of her zip code and her skin color. This was unsettling to her and she knew she had to do some- thing, but didn’t know what. After working as an architect for a year, she was unhappy in her job because she wasn’t making decisions that were impacting kids. She found Teach For America as a way to make decisions that have a real impact for what she truly cares about, the future of our children. Katy began teaching high school math at University Academy in 2013 and now coaches the track team as well as cross country.

About David Persley

David Persley graduated from University of Wisconsin with a BS in Statistics. David want- ed to pursue teaching since high school and has always been interested in STEM. During his entire college career, David was dissuaded from pursuing a career in education by his support system because they felt being a teacher would undersell his talent and not al- low him to actualize his skills. David decided to ignore this recommendation and applied to Teach For America. He loves people and giving back and feels compelled to lead in his community by teaching. David began teach- ing high school math at University Academy in 2014 and now coaches basketball and chairs a coding club.