Barbara Shelly

Contributor

Barbara Shelly is a veteran journalist and writer based in Kansas City, Mo. She has been an opinion columnist, metro columnist, editor and reporter for The Kansas City Star and is currently a contributing writer for The Pitch and a frequent guest on KCPT’s “Week in Review.”

Barbara specializes in writing about Kansas and Missouri state governments, schools and colleges and health care.

Her interests include bikes, biographies, piano, people, family, friends, cats and kids. Her favorite pursuits are travel and hanging out on her front porch in Kansas City’s Waldo neighborhood. 

Ways to Connect

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Students in the Hickman Mills School District are returning from spring break this week, and their teachers are gearing up for the final stretch of the school year. In most grades, that includes high-stakes state achievement tests.

Teachers and administrators want nothing more than to settle down their classrooms and get everyone focused on the work ahead. But in this south Kansas City district, movement in and out of classrooms shows no signs of slowing down.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

A parent arrives home one day to find the family’s possessions sitting on the curb. Those eviction threats were all too real.

A basement fills with water and the landlord won’t come around to deal with the problem. The family has no choice but to move.

An ex-boyfriend is making threats. A nearby apartment complex has a rent special going on. A family moves to be closer to a parent’s new job.

For many reasons, families move over the course of the school year. For children and their schools, the consequences can be profound.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Second-grade teacher Aubrey Paine leads her class into the school computer lab, gets everyone seated, then moves from computer to computer, typing in login information and issuing instructions.

It is testing time at Ingels Elementary School in the Hickman Mills School District. Besides the “benchmark” testing that goes on throughout the school year to assess whether classes are mastering necessary material, students are taking tests known as “Star assessments.” These are standardized, computer tests designed to measure a student’s progress in subjects like reading and math over the course of the school year.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Kaily Ross rocked a baby stroller as she talked to the staffers who run the after-school program at Ingels Elementary School in the Hickman Mills district.

Could her older son, the 3rd grader she was enrolling in the LINC program that day, still get in the flag football activity? What else did they offer?

It was a few weeks after the start of the school year and Ross’s son was transferring from another area district. When I asked how many schools he had attended to that point she sighed and said, “There have been so many.”

Elle Moxley / KCUR 89.3

It is late morning, and Barb Wunsch limps a bit as she emerges from her office in the enrollment area of the Hickman Mills School District. Twice already she’s banged her knee on the corner of her desk in the process of jumping up to cope with a new situation.

Outside of her office, at least a dozen people sit at tables. The adults busily sort through piles of papers and fill out forms. Children color or read the children’s books on hand in the office. Wunsch moves among the tables, dispensing advice, checking on documents and admiring a newborn in a baby carrier.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Ingels Elementary School in the Hickman Mills district marked the days before the holiday break with a concert, a chance to spray the principal with silly string and enough cookies and candy canes to vault children into the new year on a sugar high.

Like teachers everywhere, the faculty was visibly relieved as the closing bell drew near. But this group may need the break more than their peers in some other schools.  As the principal, Sabrina Winfrey, told parents at the start of the concert, featuring 3rd and 4th graders, “this year has been a bit different.”

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

If an event at Ingels Elementary School calls for participation from parents, Shari Anderson is there.

Goodies for grandparents. Check. Anderson has legal guardianship of two grandchildren who are enrolled at the school.

Muffins with moms. Why not? She’s mothering the kids.  

Courtesy Hickman Mills School District

School district performance reports matter. They can affect accreditation status, real estate dynamics -- even whether students get to go on field trips.

“We are in an era of testing,” Sabrina Winfrey, the principal of Ingels Elementary School, told a group of parents at her school in the Hickman Mills School District recently. “I would love for your kids to go on more field trips, but right now they need to be in this building learning to read.”

Barb Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Aubrey Paine is a 2nd grade teacher, the mother of a 1-year-old girl, a Kansas City Chiefs fan and a technology buff. So it isn’t as if she needs more excitement in her life. But lately she’s taken to looking at her class roster every night, just to see what the morning might bring.

“We have all these new kids. I never know what to expect,” she told me on a recent Tuesday afternoon. The newest student had joined the class just that day. You couldn’t miss him: the shaggy-haired boy in soccer shorts, an athletic shirt and eyes that darted between eager and guarded.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

Journalist Barbara Shelly is spending a year inside two classrooms in an elementary school in the Hickman Mills School District. This is her latest report.

 

Sylvia Maria Gross / KCUR 89.3

Students in the Hickman Mills School District face a lot of challenges, including poverty and a provisionally accredited district, as well as a high rate of mobility: 75 percent of students typically change classrooms, schools or districts within the course of one year.

Barbara Shelly / KCUR 89.3

At Ingels Elementary School in the Hickman Mills School District, children are lining up outside of their classrooms for the start of the school day. They know the drill; faces front, hands at sides, no talking. It’s the morning after Labor Day, and most of these students have been in classes for two weeks.