Lee's Summit R-7 School District
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In My Words – Ms. Jess Tonnies (Our Schools Magazine February 2021)

Ms. Jess Tonnies, English Language Development teacher at Lee’s Summit High School, is in her first year as a teacher. She joined LSR7 in 2018 as a paraeducator.

I think the first pillar in my philosophy of teaching is that all students are capable of learning. You just have to figure out how. That’s your job as the educator.

I also believe that basic needs have to be met before higher learning can take place, so that’s priority one: to get to know your student and to make sure they feel safe in the school setting.

English Learners education is very important because we are a nation full of immigrants. That’s the story of America.

I think the first thing to understand about EL is the goal is to provide equitable education, to make core content knowledge comprehensible to a student that does not speak English. It’s not a separate curriculum, and it’s not a special education program. It is simply taking the content that is available to every mainstream student and presenting it in a way that they can understand and learn.

The “I Belong” campaign started as a conversation I was having with the Heritage Spanish teacher. What we want to see is more participation among the EL students in school activities, in special programs like the Seal of Biliteracy, A+, AVID, sports. We want that representation there, and I think part of that is building confidence in the kids and part of that is the rest of the school reaching out to those kids. That’s what “I Belong” means.

I want the students to tell a story of their high school experience and that it was a place where they felt like they belong.

I think there’s a lot of things about our education system that simply do not work and haven’t for decades. It’s been so stagnant because the system has been in place, and it’s very difficult to change something that’s so established, but [COVID-19] is an opportunity to build something new and better, to build something that does work for every student.

What I want people to know about our district is that it is a very diverse district. Diversity is something we should capitalize on. Diversity is a strength.