By David Boyce
Seventeen years ago, Shannon Lawson wanted to show her students at Liberty Academy that there were many ways to make a meaningful difference beyond simply donating money to a charity.
“I wanted to let them know they can give of their time or their talents, and that would still make a difference in somebody’s life,” she said. “As a teacher, I felt it was always important for students to know to give back to their communities.”
With input from her aunt, who was a counselor at Liberty Academy, other colleagues, and students, Lawson started Strikeout Cancer Liberty Academy Bowl-A-Thon. It was started to get a service learning component into the curriculum at Liberty Academy.
The students voted that the money raised would go to the American Cancer Society. They decided it was the best way to honor Lawson’s dad, who had passed away a year earlier due to cancer.
“Every year, we would have the students vote, and they just always wanted to continue with the American Cancer Society,” Lawson said.
Because of this yearly project, Lawson will be recognized on August 10 at the Kauffman Stadium for the Royals game against the Chicago White Sox. Lawson was selected to sit in the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat.
To honor O’Neil, the legacy seat is filled every Royals home game with a member from the Kansas City community, who on a small or large scale, embodies the spirit of Buck O’Neil. In addition to being a guest of the Royals, the honoree is featured on the scoreboard and the Fox Sports Kansas City broadcast.
“I am very humbled. I thought others probably deserved it more than I do,” Lawson said. “I am very honored and humbled that I am going to be part of that legacy. I am allowed to take four guests with me. I have invited people who are either current or former colleagues of mine who help make this event a success each year, because I couldn’t have done it myself.”
One of the people she thanks for the success of the bowl-a-thon is her aunt, who was a counselor at Liberty Academy for eight years. Liberty Academy is a special place to teach for Lawson. She enters her 20th year at the school that prepares at-promise students for their adult life.
Lawson came to Liberty Academy in 1997 after spending nearly three years at an alternative school in Kansas City. Lawson brought a few of her ideas from the alternative school to Liberty Academy. One of them is her discovery class.
“It is a program where we teach students life skills; we include anger management, conflict resolution, problem solving, and communication skills,” said Lawson, who also teaches short story. “These are things they can use in the workplace and outside school, as well as in school.”
Like any other teacher in LPS, Lawson feels a sense of accomplishment when students learn different things in class that will benefit them once they leave the school district.
“There is no feeling like it when you reach a student,” she said. “I have students who have emailed me from 20 years ago. I taught in an alternative school in Kansas City, as well. I have those students who find me and email or call me and remind me of things I taught them in class. It is the best feeling in the world to have a former student come to me and tell me I made a difference for them.”
Lawson finds it equally gratifying to work in a school district that devotes resources to help at-promise students at Liberty Academy, a place Lawson calls the district’s best kept secret.
“I am so lucky to be part of a district that recognizes every student is successful in some way and one that devotes money, a building, staff, and time to grow the program and letting our program transform as students transform,” Lawson said. “It so important for the community. Every single school in the United States has at-risk students and at-promise students. Having Liberty spend so much energy on making sure they feel valued is important, and it is important to their growth.”