New program helps students get their academic careers back on track

Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell (center, at podium) was one of the speakers at the Middle College Program signing ceremony. (Photos by Jordan Williams and Tim Engle/MCC)

Metropolitan Community College, Kansas City Public Schools and the Full Employment Council officially launched the Middle College Program on Feb. 9. The new program puts high school dropouts on a path toward a diploma and post-secondary education.

The ceremony and press conference at the Student Success Center at MCC-Penn Valley included remarks by MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty, MCC-Penn Valley President Tyjaun Lee, Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell and Full Employment Council President and CEO Clyde McQueen.

Middle College Program lead instructor Annette McDonald (right) talks with students on Feb. 7, the program’s first day at MCC-Penn Valley.

The program targets students living in the KCPS district who have dropped out of school but are looking for an alternative path toward academic and career success. Through the Middle College Program housed at MCC-Penn Valley, these students (ages 16-24) will access success workshops, online coursework and direct instruction to earn a KCPS high school diploma (ages 16-20) or high school equivalency credential (ages 21-24).

After that, the focus turns to post-secondary options, including staying at MCC to earn an associate degree or workforce certificate. Students’ two-year college or technical educations are paid for by the Full Employment Council, which also helps them find jobs.

The new program gives students the chance “to recommit themselves to education and realize their dreams,” Dr. Beatty said at the signing ceremony.

The FEC’s McQueen called it “a great and innovative opportunity.” Dr. Beatty, Dr. Lee and Dr. Bedell are “people willing to step outside of the box and do something for their community,” he said.

McQueen said the program will receive at least $300,000 in funding from the FEC over the next four years.

KCPS Superintendent Bedell said a large percentage of children in the school district “don’t matriculate successfully.” This program reaches out to students who’ve become disengaged for a variety of reasons.

“Our job as a school system is to remove all barriers,” Bedell said.

Eleven students were on hand Wednesday, Feb. 7, for the program’s first day, but the goal is to serve up to 30 young people this calendar year.

Paloma Ramos, one of the Middle College students, said at the signing ceremony that she’d come close to earning a high school equivalency credential but she really wanted a high school diploma. Thanks to the new program, she’ll be able to earn that.

“I’m ready to come to class,” she said of the Middle College Program. “I just love seeing (instructor) Ms. McDonald every day — she always has a smile on her face.”

MCC-Penn Valley President Lee said she was in Cleveland visiting her grandmother when she got a call from Dr. Bedell. After he described the dropout recovery program, she asked, “So it’s about changing the lives of people in Kansas City?”

Absolutely, he said.

“Sign us up,” she told him.

Former dropouts might not feel comfortable returning to their old high schools, which is why MCC-Penn Valley as the new program’s location makes sense. The students become immersed in a collegiate environment, Lee said, which should get them comfortable with the idea of earning a college degree.

Middle College will provide participants with tutoring, leadership development, adult mentoring, counseling, financial literacy education, entrepreneurial skills development, post-secondary education transition support, job placement support and more.

The students spend 15 hours a week in class — typically mornings — and 15 hours in paid or unpaid work experiences.

More photos from the signing ceremony:

Full Employment Council President Clyde McQueen (from left), MCC Chancellor Kimberly Beatty and Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Mark Bedell sign an agreement launching the dropout recovery program.
Back row: Pam Pearson (left) and Christy Harrison (right) of Kansas City Public Schools with Middle College student Paloma Ramos. Front row: Clyde McQueen, Dr. Kimberly Beatty, Dr. Mark Bedell and Dr. Tyjaun Lee.
Clyde McQueen (from left), Missouri State Rep. DaRon McGee, Dr. Mark Bedell, Dr. Kimberly Beatty and Dr. Tyjaun Lee
Student Paloma Ramos tells the audience how she found the Middle College Program.
MCC-Penn Valley President Tyjaun Lee takes a selfie with Middle College student Paloma Ramos.
Early College Academy students with coordinator Paula Schaaf (left) and Carolyn Watley (right), a member of the MCC Foundation board. Early College lets motivated Kansas City Public Schools students spend their junior and senior years on the MCC-Penn Valley campus and graduate from both KCPS and MCC in the same month.

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