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Kauffman Education Fellows 2021
Who we are

Class of 2021 Fellows

During the first year, the Discovery Path, Fellows explore who they are in relation to the education system in Kansas City and how they want to make an impact.

Camila Alvarez

Partners in Education Coordinator, Kansas City Public Schools

Amber Buck

Coordinator of Community Relations, Partnerships & Inclusion, Piper School District

Bryan Cisler

Applications Developer, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project

Dana Coleman

Educational Consultant, Dana Coleman Consulting


Marvin Daniels

Executive Director, The Hope Center KC

Ruth Dickson

Director of Communications, SchoolSmartKC

Liz Freeman

Program Officer – Sustainability in Education, Kauffman Foundation

Ariel Griffin

Program Officer, Education, Children International


Ernestine Key

Program Officer, Education, Kauffman Foundation

Anne Kniggendorf

Staff Writer/Editor, Kansas City Public Library

Brent Lager

Founder and President, Uncover KC

Allecia Lowery

Coordinator of Real World Learning and Community Partnerships, Raytown C-2 School District


Constance Luo

National Urban Fellow, Kauffman Foundation

Roberta Lyle

Program Director of Education and Foster & Adopt Missions, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

Adriana Paez

Assistant Teaching Professor and Field Coordinator, Master of Social Work Program, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Fray Patton

Co-owner, I Am Me Mentors


Jessica Peña

PhD Student, School Psychology, University of Northern Colorado

Lexie Rios

Operations Specialist, Latinx Education Collaborative

Rachel Russell

Community Engagement Manager, Cross-Lines Community Outreach

Jacob Schwartz

Agency Software Development Director, emfluence

Naomi Tolentio Miranda

Program and Prevention Specialist, Department of Students Services, Kansas City Kansas Public Schools

Daniel Velasquez

English Learner Program Manager, Family & Community Liaison, Ewing Marion Kauffman School

Carla Williams

Assistant Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, University of Central Missouri


Camila Alvarez

Partners in Education Coordinator, Kansas City Public Schools

Year 1 Fellow

Camila Alvarez joined Kansas City Public Schools (KCPS) in August 2018. Currently, she serves as the Partners in Education coordinator where she focuses on identifying, developing, and managing community partnerships that sponsor opportunities that benefit KCPS students, families, and employees. As an Uruguayan immigrant and first-generation college graduate, Camila is passionate about providing opportunities to raise awareness and amplify the voices of those who have been historically silenced and disenfranchised and she does not wait for permission or approval to confront injustices and inequalities. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Camila heading to the gym or relaxing at home.


Amber Buck

Coordinator of Community Relations, Partnerships & Inclusion, Piper School District

Year 1 Fellow

Amber is the daughter of veteran educators and a native of Kansas City, KS. A proud alumna of Howard University and the University of Southern California, she has 14 years of professional experience writing for newspapers such as The Boston Globe, The Kansas City Star, and The Tampa Bay Times, and 12 years of teaching secondary English. With a passion for people and equity, Amber currently serves as the coordinator of community relations, partnerships & inclusion for the Piper School District. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Amber at her daughter’s ballet class.


Bryan Cisler

Applications Developer, Juniper Gardens Children’s Project

Year 1 Fellow

Bryan Cisler is an applications developer at Juniper Gardens Children’s Project, which is a University of Kansas-affiliated research center. At Juniper Gardens, Bryan designs, develops, and maintains web and mobile applications. Existing applications at JGCP include learning management systems, web apps that support management of child assessment data, graphing, reporting, data-driven decision-making, and mobile apps to support parent-teacher communication and student self-management.On Saturday mornings, Bryan can be found hanging out with his wife and two-year-old daughter at the park. 


Dana Coleman

Educational Consultant, Dana Coleman Consulting

Year 1 Fellow

Dana Coleman began her career in education in Kansas City as a middle school math and science teacher where she developed a love and expertise for mathematics instruction and developing teachers and leaders. Over the course of ten years, her experiences spanned several roles including founding school principal, assistant principal, and instructional coach. In 2020, Dana founded Dana Coleman Consulting which provides support and development for schools around the country, specializing in teacher and leader coaching and excellent math instruction. On Saturday mornings, Dana can be found chasing a chatterbox 3-year-old, sweating on a treadmill, or indulging in chips & queso.


Marvin Daniels

Executive Director, The Hope Center KC

Year 1 Fellow

Marvin Daniels is the executive director of The Hope Center KC, a youth and community development organization that has served the East-side for the past 21 years. The Hope Center has a public Charter School serving pre-K-4th grade, a neighborhood Medical Clinic, and is currently remodeling a historic church into an event space and an affordable housing initiative. On a free Saturday, Marvin could be found taking walks with his wife of 31 years or exploring Kansas City events.


Ruth Dickson

Director of Communications, SchoolSmartKC

Year 1 Fellow

Ruth is a native of the United Kingdom, where she was raised by educators, and has always had a passion and curiosity for the transformative role that education plays for children. Currently living in midtown KC and serving as the director of communications for SchoolSmartKC, Ruth is deeply committed to closing opportunity gaps for students in Kansas City and learning how to “do better” for the next generation. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Ruth chasing her 10-month-old, Annie, around the house, or FaceTiming with her family back home!


Liz Freeman

Program Officer – Sustainability in Education, Kauffman Foundation

Year 1 Fellow

Liz Freeman is a program officer – sustainability in Education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, where she supports education-focused initiatives through managing a diverse grant portfolio focused on the Kansas City region. As a graduate of Kansas City Kansas Public Schools and an alum of the Kauffman Scholars program, Liz is passionate about working towards all students in our community being offered an equitable, accessible, and quality educational experience. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Liz spending time with her rambunctious nephew or curled up on the couch with a good book and her cats.


Ariel Griffin

Program Officer, Education, Children International

Year 1 Fellow

Ariel Griffin taught for seven years in private, charter, and public schools in various countries and U.S. states. While teaching, she served on a district-wide committee for socio-emotional learning (SEL) and the school site team for AVID – a national program committed to closing the achievement gap in education. Ariel holds two master’s degrees – teaching and global policy studies (international development). Now, Ariel works as a program officer for Education at Children International, which allows her to combine her policy education along with her practical experience in the classroom. For the last year, she has led the organization in launching their digital learning work so that children all over the world have access to quality virtual learning programs. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Ariel going on a stroller run with her 1-year-old in South KC.


Ernestine Key

Program Officer, Education, Kauffman Foundation

Year 1 Fellow

Ernestine was born and raised in Chicago and recently joined the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation’s Education team in May 2021. She has spent the last 20 years advocating for young people to have the confidence, opportunity, and capacity to fulfill their life dreams through her work in school reform efforts and policy change initiatives where she has served in roles that range from citywide strategist for dropout prevention with Chicago Public Schools to her current work with the Kauffman Foundation supporting grantmaking investments for the Real World Learning initiative. Ernestine is passionate about supporting young people from disinvested communities to have positive educational experiences that provide them with easy transitions to and through college and into meaningful careers. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Ernestine having fun with her daughter, Lena, watching movies, playing games, and exploring the parks and outdoor activities around Kansas City.


Anne Kniggendorf

Staff Writer/Editor, Kansas City Public Library

Year 1 Fellow

Anne is a staff writer and editor for the Kansas City Public Library and the author of Secret Kansas City. She’s a regular contributor to KCUR 89.3 (NPR in Kansas City) and sometimes to the Kansas City Star and The Pitch. Anne is a graduate of St. John’s College, Santa Fe, and has a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing/media arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, where she serves on the College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Board. She is also a graduate of the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center in Monterey, CA, and a Navy veteran.


Brent Lager

Founder and President, Uncover KC

Year 1 Fellow

Brent Lager started Uncover KC in 2013 to build a bridge between those who want to improve their community and those who need help doing so. Since then, UKC has recruited over 52,000 volunteers and helped them complete more than 110,000 service hours, leading to $2.8 million in valued impact for local nonprofits. Beyond his nonprofit work, Mr. Lager also serves as an adjunct professor at the William Jewell College Pryor Center for Leadership Development and frequency coordinator for the National Football League. He has a minor in Spanish, a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and a Master of Education in journalism and English from the University of Missouri-Columbia.


Allecia Lowery

Coordinator of Real World Learning and Community Partnerships, Raytown C-2 School District

Year 1 Fellow

Allecia Lowery is the coordinator of Real World Learning and Community Partnerships for the Raytown C-2 School District. In her role she has collaborated with community partners to deepen relationships in Raytown, provided career readiness support to students, and conducted local research to inform the development of the 3-year Real World Learning Kauffman grant for Raytown School District. Allecia has served as an AmeriCorps National for a refugee resettlement agency in Atlanta, GA, and worked with youth in education, behavioral health, and volunteer programming. Allecia graduated from DePaul University in Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and advertising, minoring in African and Black diaspora.  Allecia has found herself captivated and driven by the resilience of those she’s had the privilege to engage with throughout the years. With that, Allecia continues to search for and apply sustainable solutions through youth empowerment, community partnership, and capacity building.


Constance Luo

National Urban Fellow, Kauffman Foundation

Year 1 Fellow

Constance is a National Urban Fellow with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and a master of policy management student at Georgetown University in the class of 2022. She has organized with immigrant youth and communities of color in Chicago and Houston regarding issues of immigration reform, environmental justice, housing, flood infrastructure, and elections. Her background also includes interpretation, translation, data management, graphic design, and language justice consulting with nonprofit and government sectors. Constance is very passionate about language justice and making our world more equitable for people who speak other languages than English. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Constance learning about languages, building computers, and maintaining cars, in addition to listening to music and podcasts.


Roberta Lyle

Program Director of Education and Foster & Adopt Missions, United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

Year 1 Fellow

As program director of Education and Foster & Adopt Missions for United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, Roberta serves as the church’s leader in directing the strategy and implementation of Education Initiatives and Foster & Adopt Ministries across all locations. Roberta seeks to engage and coach volunteers in serving in partner schools and identify community partners for collaborative work. On Saturday mornings you will find Roberta and her husband working out with Trainer Ron in Raymore.


Adriana Paez

Assistant Teaching Professor and Field Coordinator, Master of Social Work Program, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Year 1 Fellow

Adriana Paez is an assistant teaching professor and field coordinator at UMKC, serving the master of social work program for the past 3 years. She has always had a passion for education and learning. Her experience as a social work professional in the field has focused on supporting young people in various settings, by emphasizing their strengths and reinforcing their inherent value and worth, as individuals with great potential and power. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Adriana sitting on her front porch with her 4-year-old, her dog, and a cup of coffee, watching the tiny visitors in her native flower garden and enjoying nature’s many beauties.


Fray Patton

Co-owner, I Am Me Mentors

Year 1 Fellow

Fray Patton is a co-owner of I Am Me Mentors education cooperative, where they support students with disabilities with their courses, and co-create personalized learning experiences with students and their families. They have supported students on their learning journey for over10 years from 4th grade and above. Fray enjoys cultivating relationships with their students and empowering them to advocate for themselves inside and outside of the classroom. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Fray listening to an audiobook or cuddling their cat Bobcat.


Jessica Peña

PhD Student, School Psychology, University of Northern Colorado

Year 1 Fellow

Jessica Peña is an education professional striving for a more equitable experience for students AND teachers. Ms.Peña is currently pursuing her PhD in school psychology at the University of Northern Colorado. Despite the distance, she remains heavily invested in the Kansas City educational landscape and supports families as a BilingualSchool Navigator with Show Me KC Schools. After working in KC classrooms for three years, Ms. Peña partnered with several nonprofit organizations in the Kansas City Metro to strengthen the education system and assist students and parents. Ms. Peña’s most rewarding experience was teaching English language learners at the high school level and seeing 93% of her students grow at least one grade level in reading fluency and comprehension. On Saturday mornings, you can usually find Jessica hiking with her dogs, paddle boarding with her fiancé, or tucked away reading research papers.


Lexie Rios

Operations Specialist, Latinx Education Collaborative

Year 1 Fellow

Lexie Rios, a Kansas City, Missouri native, proudly serves as the operations specialist with the Latinx Education Collaborative supporting Latinx educators through coordinating the overall operations of the LEC, centering culturally responsive community engagement. With a passion for students and advocacy, she aspires to find her place in the education ecosystem, so that she can leverage opportunities to amplify the voices of students of color. On Saturday mornings, you can find Lexie listening to music and spending time with her family.


Rachel Russell

Community Engagement Manager, Cross-Lines Community Outreach

Year 1 Fellow

Rachel is a fierce and fun nonprofit professional with a strong dedication to volunteerism and service in both her professional and personal life. She currently serves as the community engagement manager at Cross-Lines Community Outreach, overseeing volunteers, community partnerships, and collaborations. As a parent of three beautiful children, Rachel recognizes the power and importance of ensuring every student including her own have access to an equitable, fair, and quality education. On Saturday mornings, you can find Rachel enjoying a hot breakfast at a local restaurant.


Jacob Schwartz

Agency Software Development Director, emfluence

Year 1 Fellow

Jacob Schwartz settled in Kansas City over a decade ago. He is a leader in the parent organization at Crossroads Academy, is collaborating to establish a new SPED KC parent-support organization, and has been the treasurer of Kansas City Women in Technology as it grew from a handful of people running a single monthly program to a volunteer leadership structure of over 60 people and a portfolio of monthly programs. Before COVID, Jacob mentored groups on weekends with CoderDojoKC, and had just started a LEGO coding club at Crossroads Academy. He is an energized graduate of the Parent Leadership Training Institute and the Parent Power Lab, and has a deep passion for organizing for a diverse and inclusive community. In his day job, Jacob manages a team of software engineers, and on Saturday mornings, you can usually find Jacob making crepes for his family at his home in the Westside.


Naomi Tolentino Miranda

Program and Prevention Specialist, Department of Students Services, Kansas City Kansas Public Schools

Year 1 Fellow

Naomi is an educator with over 10 years of experience. She currently serves as the program and prevention specialist for the department of Students Services at Kansas City Kansas Public Schools. There she oversees various programs like Attend to Achieve and Positive Alternative for Children in Trouble, as well as serving families with wrap-around services to support student achievement. She is also an advocate and community organizer seeking equity and justice – serving on boards such as Advocates for Immigrant Rights and Reconciliation, where she is currently board president. On Saturday mornings you can usually find Naomi making brunch, reading a good book, or leading a march for justice.


Daniel Velázquez

English Learner Program Manager, Family & Community Liaison, Ewing Marion Kauffman School

Year 1 Fellow

Daniel Velázquez enjoys working with multilingual learners and the wonderful community of families, teachers, and staff at the Ewing Marion Kauffman School. The best part of his job is having conversations with students about their lives and interests. Lately, he is super excited about starting a new school garden and growing fruits and vegetables with the entire school community. On Saturday mornings you can usually find Daniel trying to sleep as long as possible, drinking South American mate, and walking his dog.


Carla Williams

Assistant Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education, University of Central Missouri

Year 1 Fellow

Carla Williams is an Assistant Professor of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at the University of Central Missouri where she prepares future teachers. She also supports school districts across Missouri in the areas of leadership, systems thinking, data, assessment, and effective practices. She is very passionate about the art and science of teaching and learning. On Saturday mornings, you can find her at the gym or chauffeuring and cheering at her kids’ sporting events.