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Getting schooled

Small-town student teacher takes on big-city classrooms

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  • Story and photos by Shane Epping
  • Published: June 5, 2009
Meghan Bedford with student

Second-grader Raymond Smith Jr. reads along with MU student Meghan Bedford, his homeroom teacher, at J.A. Rogers Academy in Kansas City. Beford taught at the school as part of the MU College of Education's Senior Year On-Site Program.

Meghan Bedford, an elementary-education major, expected to spend her senior year in Independence, Mo., where she’d complete an on-site teaching internship before graduating in May 2009. The school district in which she’d intended to teach belongs to the MU Partnership for Educational Renewal (MPER) program. The arrangement would include free housing and a classroom environment that might mirror the one Bedford experienced growing up in Mexico, Mo.

A phone call from Dan Lowry, co-executive director of MPER, changed her lesson plans. Lowry wanted to know whether Bedford would consider doing something that no former MU elementary-education major had done in the Senior Year On-Site Program: teach in a Kansas City public school. Educated at a small Catholic elementary school before graduating from Mexico High School, Bedford didn’t know whether she was ready for the big city.

J.A. Rogers Academy, formerly called East Elementary, is where Bedford would teach if she accepted Lowry’s offer. The academy has failed five of the last six Adequate Yearly Progress reports, goals established as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, and 80 percent of the approximately 700 students enrolled at the school qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, based on household income.

“I was initially apprehensive,” Bedford admits. “I had never lived more than 30 minutes from home and was nervous about entering such a diverse environment.” At J.A. Rogers, nearly 90 percent of the students are either African American or Hispanic; in Bedford’s hometown of Mexico, nearly 90 percent of the population is white.

Bedford was attending her grandfather’s funeral when she received Lowry’s voice mail messages and had less than four hours to make a decision. She decided to accept his offer and teach in Kansas City. She drew inspiration from other educators: her mother and her sister-in-law as well as author Ron Clark, whose book, The Essential 55, she had just read.

Fellow elementary education major Issac Bjerk would join Bedford at J.A. Rogers. “We consulted each other and thought we’d make a good team,” Bedford says. “I felt like I could make a difference.”

Head of the class

According to Laurie Kingsley, a professor in MU’s Department of Learning, Teaching & Curriculum, Bedford had a record of going above and beyond.

“She was really positive and reflective about helping kids,” Kingsley says. If Bedford could survive and thrive at J.A. Rogers, Kingsley believed, she would be prepared for any school.

A Flagship Scholarship, an award set up to eventually provide a full-ride scholarship in every county of Missouri, helped ensure Bedford could pay for rent and gas for a 45-minute one-way commute while completing the unpaid internship. One of four original Flagship Scholars, she’d received $15,000.

Her first semester at J.A. Rogers, Bedford was on campus for three days a week, rotating from kindergarten to fifth-grade classrooms. Her second semester, she joined second-grade teacher Emily La Plant, who became Bedford’s teaching mentor, for five days a week.

“Meghan did have a culture shock when she started but readily embraced the students and all the cultural differences,” La Plant says.

Learning from experience

Bedford leads her class of 25 students down the hall.

Bedford leads her class of 25 students down the hall.

Despite the disparities, Bedford’s experiences as a student helped her connect with children she taught in Kansas City. After struggling in her first semester of college, Bedford was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

“I struggled with an ability to focus, and I never felt like I was smart or competent,” she says. “I don’t want students to feel like that.”

After working with an academic counselor her freshman year, Bedford maximized her study skills. Her concentration consequently rose, along with her grade point average. She wanted to do the same for her own students.

“Meghan really enjoys teaching, and she reflects on what happens in the classroom and tries to make lessons better, or she develops different lessons so she is able to reach more students,” La Plant says.

When some of the second-graders asked to go home with Bedford at the end of a school day, she was reminded of their emotional attachment to her. “It was the opposite for me growing up; I couldn’t wait to leave school and go home,” she confesses. “It’s a great feeling to be needed.”

Bedford’s next stop is Hallsville, where she’ll begin MU’s Teaching Fellowship Program and work with fifth-graders while earning her master’s degree next year.

“The students already miss her and are sad that she had to leave,” La Plant says. “Meghan has a very bright future as a teacher.”

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012