Area Student at Kansas Future Teacher Academy

A student from Smoky Valley High School is among 60 high school students spending a week learning about becoming an educator at the Kansas Future Teacher Academy.

According to the Kansas Department of Education, as thousands of Kansas students are kicking off their summer vacations with swimming, summer camps and family vacations, 60 high school students from across the state are spending this week at Emporia State University discovering if they want to join the next generation of educators.

This is the 32nd year for the Kansas Future Teacher Academy (KFTA), said Todd Roberts, director of KFTA, and this is one of the largest groups of students, if not the largest group, the program has had.

“The goal of the academy is to expose high school students in Kansas to the rewards of the teaching profession and what the future of education will look like,” Roberts said. “Obviously there’s a huge shortage of teachers right now. We want to inspire the next generation of educators.”

The 60 students, representing 40 different Kansas high schools, had to apply for the program. Students have to be freshmen, sophomores or juniors to attend and are accepted into KFTA based upon their academic standing, involvement in school and community activities and interest in exploring a career in teaching. Originally, Roberts said, there was a cap of 50 students for this summer’s academy. However, with the teacher shortage and a high amount of interest from students, the academy decided to accept 60 for this year’s program, which has a theme of “Reimagining Education.”

“Our goal is to increase it even more next year,” Roberts said. “They stay in Emporia State’s residence halls, eat on campus, explore Emporia, all with the main goal of exploring what it means to prepare for a career in education. We are excited to have the highest number of students attending KFTA in recent memory, showing us young people are feeling the call to pursue careers in education.”

The past two academies have taken place virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, said Terri Kaiser, a former KFTA coordinator who manages digital publications and publicity for programs of The Teachers College at ESU. Kaiser said KFTA started in 1989, originating from talks between Dr. Robert Glennen, then-president of ESU, and Dr. Jack Skillett, who served as dean of the College of Education and The Teachers College from 1984-1995. In the beginning, KFTA was funded through a private foundation. Private funding for the Academy stopped in 2000. However, there are now funds set aside from the state for the Academy and students pay a $100 fee.

“This is a good introduction to teaching and is only five days,” Kaiser said. “If they find out, through attending the academy, teaching is not something they want to pursue after all, it is good for them to find that out now, rather than halfway through their college degrees.”

The academy kicked off on Sunday, June 5, with check-ins, teambuilding exercises, yard games and social time. Students focused on project-based learning on Monday, June 6. They visited a one-room schoolhouse; discussed assessments; and heard presentations from Shawn Hornung, a member of the 2020 Kansas Teacher of the Year Team and a social science teacher at Wamego Unified School District 320; Susanne Stevenson, the 2022 Kansas Teacher of the Year and a fourth-grade teacher at Dodge City USD 443; and Meghan Shave, an instructor in the Butler/Emporia Students to Teachers (BEST) program.

The focus of Tuesday, June 7, was social-emotional learning and included presentations by Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson, Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE); Deputy Commissioner of Fiscal and Administrative Services Dr. Craig Neuenswander, (KSDE); Dr. Dustin Springer, principal of Gray Hawk Elementary School, Basehor-Linwood USD 458; Tracie Chauvin, coordinator of social-emotional learning for Kansas City USD 500; and Jan Madlock, a science teacher at Bonner Springs High School, Bonner Springs Edwardsville USD 204.

Students presented projects they have been working on throughout the week on Thursday, June 9, and received a campus tour. Their academy experiences came to an end in the afternoon.

For more information on the program, visit

“This is excellent,” Watson said of the academy. “They have done a great job of growing it. Next year, we need to have 150 students.”

Neuenswander agreed: “It’s fun to see the enthusiasm and excitement.”

Elizabeth Herrera, a 16-year-old who will be a junior at Sumner Academy of Arts and Science, Kansas City USD 500, said KFTA reinforced her career choice of becoming an educator. She wants to see more diversity in the education field.

“It has inspired me,” she said.

Amiah McMurray-Hall, a 15-year-old who will be a junior at Topeka West High School, Topeka USD 501, said she wants to be a teacher who connects with her students.

“I like a comfortable environment when I’m learning,” McMurray-Hall said. “I want to model that.”

It also is nice to be around like-minded individuals who have the same interests, she said.

“This has helped me a lot,” McMurray-Hall said. “I’ve met a whole group of friends.”

McMurray-Hall plans to participate in Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers’ Teaching as a Profession pathway during her junior year. This will allow her to take the ParaPro exam so she can become a paraprofessional in any Title I school.

Elijah Spooner, a 15-year-old who will be a sophomore at Smoky Valley High School in Lindsborg, Smoky Valley USD 400, said this is a valuable way to spend the beginning of his summer, and it only reassures him that his chosen career path is the right one.

While several KFTA attendees said there aren’t teachers in their families, Morgan Way, a 17-year-old who will be a senior at Field Kindley High School, Coffeyville USD 445, is proud to say her grandmother is a special education teacher at the same high school she attends – and her great-grandmother also was a teacher. The teen already has been accepted into Fort Hays State University and plans to teach high school history or ag classes.

“This is a great opportunity to make connections,” Way said. “I’m getting different tools that are adaptable, and it’s giving us that foot in the door. It’s beneficial for anyone wanting to go into education.”

Amy Hillman, a former science teacher and now recruitment liaison for Olathe USD 233, as well as a member of the 2020 Kansas Teacher of the Year Team, is spending this week forging bonds with the academy attendees – also staying in the dorms, eating alongside them, cheering them on and presenting. Roberts first asked Hillman to be a presenter at this year’s academy. Before she knew it, Hillman joined the KFTA staff.

“It was a natural fit,” Hillman said. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

By spending so much time with academy attendees, Hillman hopes students will leave with the same enthusiasm she has for the teaching profession.

“So many lessons are caught, not taught,” she said. “Here, we’re creating connections and family. They are realizing their voices matter, and we are training them to think differently. They already know change is about to happen. I’m leaving my world to them – and I know they’re going to crush it.”

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Kansas Department of Education photo:

Left to right, Amiah McMurray Hall, a Topeka student, Elizabeth Herrera, a Kansas City student, and Elijah Spooner, a Smoky Valley student, said the Kansas Future Teacher Academy helped them decide that teaching in the right career choice for them.