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The “what if” questions I ask

The Teach For America 25th Anniversary Summit prompted Jacqueline Erickson Russell to return with hope for improving education for Kansas City students.

There are a lot of “what if” moments in life. Every once in a while I can’t help but indulge the “what if’ bug. At the Teach For America 25th Anniversary Summit last week, I was asking myself “what if” a lot.

“What if I had chosen a different college to attend?”

“What if I had not applied to Teach For America?”

“What if I had not selected Kansas City as one of my top three choices on the application?”

“What if I had not been exposed to the depth of inequity that children from low-income communities face?”

“What if I had not seen up close both schools where children fail and schools where children succeed?”

Answers to those “what if” questions reveal to me that I would not be in Kansas City working on education issues, working to ensure all kids have access to high-quality options in school and life. In fact, this homegrown Californian still shocks her high school and college classmates when I confirm that nearly six years later I am still living in Kansas City and loving it. Really loving it.


A display from the Kansas City Regional Reception at the Summit.

Yes, California is great, so I get the shocked faces. Yes, other communities have needs too. Yes, there are other places education improvement is happening besides Kansas City. But I cannot deny the powerful hope that I have for this city, with the people I encounter and work with here every day. I believe that change is possible (and happening) in Kansas City; our city is big enough to possess strong resources and small enough to create change together.

After attending the summit, I am reminded of how much there is to celebrate and how much there is to change – both nationally and locally. It is sobering. Our youth deserve much more than we are giving them. Thus far, Teach For America and other education organizations have mobilized many committed individuals to work alongside youth and committed educators while helping empower communities to bring about change. Teach For America is not an answer by itself. It is one of many avenues to create improvement. And we are not done yet…

So now, because it is a reality, and not a “what if” about Kansas City, my career, and how Teach For America helped bring me here, I get to ask new “what if” questions:

“What if we can double the amount of students achieving postsecondary success?”

“What if our city can cultivate communities where Teach For America and traditional teacher preparation programs, veteran educators, and new teachers, families and students can shape the way we best serve children TOGETHER?”

“What if Kansas City can be the city to prove what we already know to be true: all children can achieve?”

It is a beautiful thing that I get to ask these new “what if” questions in Kansas City out of a spirit of hope and substantive belief in the possibility. My challenge for myself and for you is to keep looking for ways we can work together and ask “what if I don’t take this opportunity to contribute to improving education for all Kansas City students?”


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