Student Teaching Goes Major League with MLB Partnership at UMKC

Kayla Tottress has a calling to help children love learning
A portrait of Kayla Tottress in a blue UMKC Education t-shirt standing in front of a baseball field with a player blurred behind her.

For most teachers, their classrooms look much the same, desks, white boards and colorful posters. But for Kayla Tottress, the classroom sometimes looks quite different, a turf-and-dirt kind of different.

The junior in elementary education is part of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Institute for Urban Education (IUE), which trains culturally responsive teachers who receive scholarships in exchange for committing to teach in Kansas City-area districts.

Among the IUE’s many partners are Major League Baseball and the Kansas City Royals. Together, they team up to help kids in Kansas City enjoy reading and learn a love of the game through the MLB Urban Youth Academy.

Kayla stands smiling behind students who are lined up to bat inside a gymnasium. The student in front is holding a bright red baseball bat.

“What a great way for our students to get involved in their community because we have a team, the Royals, so not only are they getting to learn about baseball and teamwork, but they have a fun outlet, a place to go while also encouraging them to do well in school,” Tottress said.

UMKC students work with local elementary students throughout the year, helping them strengthen their reading skills at “Power Hour” tutoring sessions. At the end of the semester, students get to have a baseball trivia night. The game requires students to read and answer trivia questions to earn their chance to hit the ball. After they get a hit, the game proceeds like regular baseball.

Kayla helps a young student with homework inside Trailwoods Elementary

Though it may seem like fun and games, Tottress said it’s important for students.

“I think it's very important that students don't get used to just the tedious, mundane task of everyday learning,” she said. “If we can get them to learn and have fun at the same time, we feel like we're doing a good job as educators.”

Kayla stands inside an elementary classroom with students looking up at a smartboard she's pointing to

Major-league partnerships aren’t the only experiences Tottress has had in the classroom. She has also participated in Lead to Read, an initiative to read with students. And she’s been a student teacher at Trailwoods Elementary, part of Kansas City Public Schools, also a UMKC partner. Tottress said being in a classroom, having unique teaching and learning experiences and learning from teachers who have different teaching styles have inspired her to think of how she can bring her own style into the classroom.

“One of the advantages of being in a city like Kansas City is that I get to see all different types of people that come from all different walks of life,” Tottress said. “I wouldn’t want to teach anywhere else.”

Kayla sits with classmates in a UMKC classroom

Whether it’s teaching in the classroom, tutoring or leading baseball trivia, for Tottress it’s all about connection. In fact, she says that’s why she chose UMKC. From the moment she inquired at UMKC, Tottress said faculty were responsive to her questions and dedicated to ensuring she was supported.

“I really sensed that someone wanted me in their program,” Tottress said. “I love that personal aspect and connection of being connected to a college. I hadn't even said yes yet, and they were already setting things up, saying, ‘We want you to be here.’”