Kindness and commitment shape life lessons for kids and adults.
As summer winds down, back-to-school excitement is building at Martin City K-8! The administrative staff has been busy preparing as teachers return to set up their classrooms for the 2019/20 school year. School officially starts on August 15th and everyone is looking forward to reconnecting with friends and community members, a collaboration that sets the school apart.
A Unique Profile and Responsibility
Martin City K-8 is tucked away on 133rd Street between Locust and Wornall just north of the hustle and bustle of 135th Street businesses. It may be hard to tell from the outside, but the building houses both an elementary school and a middle school rolled into one.
The school started at the elementary level back in the 1950s and expanded through eighth grade around 2000. That’s when Johnny Dodge took over as Assistant Principal before moving up to Principal ten years later.
“Our K-8 profile really makes us special. So many kids start school here and stay with us until they’re ready for high school. It’s wonderful to see them advance and watch the older kids help the younger ones along the way. It helps middle schoolers build ownership and the elementary students really benefit.”
Today Martin City K-8 is the second-largest school in the Grandview C-4 School District (GC-4) and serves over 700 students. Only Grandview High School is bigger. MCK-8 is different than all other Grandview public schools in that it’s actually located in Kansas City, Missouri. Dodge says that can make things a little tricky, but he’s proud of the strong relationships MCK-8 enjoys with both the GC-4 and Kansas City.
“You know things like building permits can take a bit longer to process for us because Kansas City is so much bigger than Grandview and has so many more issues like that to handle overall. Some things are going to take more time and we understand that.”
The police response process is somewhat different too. But Dodge says a police response is rarely needed and he feels like both Kansas City Police and Grandview Police are committed to the responsibility.
“Our phone systems ring through to Grandview Police and they have to transfer us to Kansas City Police. So it’s a little unusual, but the Grandview PD and Kansas City’s South Patrol are just great and we’re not concerned about getting attention if we need it.”
Even though MCK-8 lies outside of Grandview, Dodge says the GC-4 never makes the school feel left out.
“The District is always there for us. They make us a priority. We needed a new elevator to improve accessibility for certain kids and they delivered. We needed a new parking lot and got one. Our heating units went bad and were replaced. Those are only a few examples.”
Families of children attending MCK-8 can expect the school’s One-to-One computer program to reach full capacity this year. Students will be issued an Apple device to boost learning in and out of the classroom. The goal is to provide an iPad for every elementary student and a MacBook for every middle schooler.
“We’ve been training for this and want these devices to make learning as fun and productive as possible,” says Dodge. “We’ve been using computers like this for a while, but this year we’ll be up and running like never before.”
A Special Place for Special Kids
MCK-8 is well known for providing extraordinary help for kids with special needs. The school’s special needs population is typically more than a hundred students and they’re backed by a specialized support staff that includes speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, special education teachers and others. Dodge says families know their kids are in good hands here.
“We have kids who live as far away as Longview Lake who come here for this support. Some families move into the District just so they can be part of our program. We even have kids visit us from private schools. If they’re in our District’s boundaries we’ll do all we can to help them.”
Support for autistic students is a particular source of pride at MCK-8. In addition to specialized services, the school’s kindergarten through middle school structure offers valuable, long-term stability.
“Change can be especially hard for autistic children, so staying in an environment full of familiar places and people can really help. We get a lot of satisfaction from watching them grow up here.”
Sensitivity to special needs also means recognizing the realities of large numbers of students who move to the area from Spanish-speaking countries. MCK-8 has three full-time English language teachers and a school full of people ready to reach out.
“All of our students are an important part of our diversity,” says MCK-8 teacher Cindy Long. “I strongly believe that diversity boosts learning. Our kids are very accepting. They help each other and learn from each other. This is what community is all about.”
A Life Lesson for Teachers
There’s little doubt that teachers and staff at MCK-8 are there because they want to be there. It’s a place where purpose pulls you forward and careers culminate with a valuable opportunity to do what you love and love what you do.
“Every day there’s a payoff for me as soon as I walk in the door,” says Dodge. “When the kids start arriving, I get smiles, fist bumps and high-fives. You know we need these kids as much as they need us. We thrive on the relationships. Knowing the kids are happy and want to be here means everything.”
Dodge says MCK-8 teachers are highly engaged and forward-leaning, taking full advantage of opportunities that come their way.
“Summer is the time for teachers to take a well-deserved break, but they still show up here for training that’s not even mandatory. They do it because they want what’s best for the kids. We hold each other accountable and expect everyone to give their best.”
It’s no surprise that there isn’t much turnover within the teaching staff. Long says MCK-8 has a reputation that makes educators want to come here and stay.
“When teachers retire here, there are many others ready to replace them. Some teachers wait years for a chance to work here. Somehow we end up with terrific students and I think teachers know that.”
MCK-8 also ends up with terrific teachers. Long is a prime example. She’s been teaching here for over a decade and four of her own children came through the school. She’s known for making teaching a lifestyle, squeezing in extra training and extra help for students despite an already busy schedule.
“We just couldn’t ask for better,” says Dodge. “Whatever is asked of her gets done and then some. She steps up all the time. I remember when she showed up on a Saturday morning to help clean up an area outdoors that needed it badly. After a long week in class, there she was, still ready to go.”
You’ll be happy to know that Long’s hard work doesn’t go unnoticed. She’s been recognized as Teacher of the Year by MCK-8 and the District. She’s also in the running for regional Teacher of the Year for Greater Kansas City and may become eligible for statewide recognition. But don’t expect to hear her brag. She’s quick to share credit.
“All of these teachers go above and beyond. It’s our culture here. And it’s not just teachers. For example, we have a bus driver who knitted a stocking cap for every child on the bus. I remember seeing the kids streaming off the bus with their hats on and thinking, that is just amazing. So that’s what I mean. It’s everyone here and so many people outside of our walls, too.”
Counting on Community
If a family struggles at MCK-8, it’s almost always due to difficulties at home. That’s an area where the Martin City neighborhood can make a difference by providing support for the basics so that kids can come to class ready to learn.
“We’re always in need of food and clothing,” says Dodge. “We do shoe drives, jeans drives and food drives. The GC-4 does a great job of taking care of everything the school itself needs, but kids also need help living a stable life outside of class.”
Dodge is proud of the support MCK-8 receives from local businesses and other organizations. He says there are too many to count. In fact, he asked us not to mention any by name out of concern for leaving someone out. But he did share one story that he believes captures the Martin City spirit.
“Over 70% of families at our school qualify for free or reduced lunch so paying for food is a real struggle for many parents. I remember an employee at a local company who came in during the holidays and insisted on writing an anonymous $1,400 check to pay off every overdue lunch account. Just amazing. That’s the kind of people you’re dealing with in Martin City.”
Employees from local businesses also make guest speaker appearances to help keep students inspired and on track toward their potential. Churches have been known to collect money for critical supplies and even show up to spend the day making improvements. Dodge says the District is now working to secure a Resource Officer for MCK-8, but he wants to be clear that the need is less about safety and more about adding to the school’s diversity.
“Safety and security isn’t something we really worry about. I’d like to have a Resource Officer mainly to help build the community. I want students to understand the humanity behind the badge so that when they see police officers outside of our walls, they’ll have a positive idea of what those officers do.”
From families, students, teachers and administrators to business leaders, police officers and churches, support for MCK-8 is an ongoing reminder of what’s always made Martin City meaningful. We pull together, share what we have and give our best to each other. So, as the school bell rings this fall on 133rd Street, remember that some of the strongest bonds that define our neighborhood are being strengthened yet again, connecting yesterday’s lessons with tomorrow’s promise.
If you or your business would like to get involved in supporting Martin City K-8, please contact Principal Johnny Dodge at 816-316-5700 or email [email protected]. He’s looking forward to building stronger relationships with the Martin City community!