Friday, Feb. 24 will be a big day at Gordon Parks Academy as faculty and students honor “Community Partners” and thank them for their support of the Academy throughout the school year. 

Fifth graders will also perform their annual Black History Month “Living History” program where each student dresses as a character from American History and recites a short speech that describes the contributions of their character.

Principal LaTonia Kennedy said the program allows the school and the students to publicly acknowledge the contributions, both monetary and service-related, that the community organizations make.

Each organization will get a trophy and a representative will walk the red carpet as students on yearbook staff play “paparattzi” and snap their photos or make videos. The students have also put together a banner that will hang in the gymnasium and special guests will sing “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and “There’s a Hero.”

Special gratitude to churches

Kennedy said there will be a special recognition for two local churches, Calvary Baptist Church, led by Dr. T La Mont Holder, and Stranger’s Rest Missionary Baptist Church, led by Pastor Earl Burkhalter.

She said videos with the pastors have been made and will be played at the ceremony.

“Pastor Burkhalter has long been a volunteer with us and a next-door neighbor,” Kennedy said. “And this year we are especially celebrating him because he has become a substitute teacher for us. It’s such a joy to have him. He always comes in smiling and he’s still smiling when he leaves.”

Burkhalter said he has already worked a couple of days in the classroom.

“It’s something that is easy for me to do because it is right there close to my church office,” he said. “And it’s important to me because our children really need to see African American men in their classrooms. It’s a role model that is too often missing,” he said.

He added that his new side job has made him aware of just how important substitute teachers are.

“On any given day, USD 259 may need as many as 300 to 500 subs,” he said. “It could be a full-time job for someone looking for work. I’ve encouraged some of the men in my congregation to give it a try.”

Substitute teachers are required to complete a training program that requires eight to 10 hours of time, he said. College degrees are preferred but not required.

Burkhalter said he is concentrating on serving Gordon Parks but wouldn’t rule out subbing at another urban school where African American male role models are in short supply.

Other organizations being honored

Other organizations being thanked for their support of Gordon Parks Academy include Storytime Village, a reading and literacy program founded by Prisca Barnes; Kansas Starbase, STEM enrichment program of the Kansas Air National Guard; the Wichita State University Trio Talent Search Program, the WSU Department of Engagement, Heroes Academy, founded by Kyle Ellison; Equity Bank, Prime Fit, a fitness support program, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Boys and Girls Clubs of South Central Kansas and TeenView Magazine.