Program helps students see a brighter future


Savanah Mandeville/ The Chart

Kimberly Lankford, teaches more than the three R’s to at risk kids in the Joplin school district.

Missouri Southern alum Kimberly Lankford has a one-of-a-kind job in the Joplin school district, literally!  She is the teacher at the Joplin juvenile detention center, and is the only Joplin schools employee at the center.

She doesn’t have a conventional classroom or school day and works with a maximum of six students at a time in separate morning and afternoon classes.  The students she teaches range in age from 12 to 17.   Her lesson plans are unique to her position as well. 

“I teach all four common core classes…but I also do a lot of social and life skills,” said Lankford.  “They have a voice in the classroom; we have a lot of group discussion.  We do a lot of group work together, and I think that’s more conducive to learning for these types of students.”

Aside from teaching in a non-traditional setting, Lankford faces many other challenges including the varying time periods she will have students in her class.

“You get really attached to them and you’ll come in one day and their name will be off the board because they’ve been released,” she said.  “You don’t get that closure that you would in a normal school setting, like on the last day of school.” 

She also said that her students are often able to explore interests they may have never known they had.

“I did a lot of surveys with different students to study their reading habits, and students when they come in here read so much, but they do not read outside of the facility,” she said.  “But picking out books is like being in a toy store to them, and that’s all they have in their cells is to read.”

Another challenge is knowing that the children she works with often return to environments that are not conducive to education.

“Some of these kids are so intelligent and they have aspirations and they have dreams, but then they have parents at home that beat them down.  It’s very frustrating,” she said.  “You just hope that you plant seeds, and maybe five years down the road that’ll click, and a light will come on.” 

A former truancy officer, Lankford found she didn’t have the personality for that line of work.  She was inspired by her family to combine teaching with her criminal justice background, and she took her current position in 2009.  She has a bachelor’s degree in general studies with an emphasis in criminal justice from Missouri Southern.  She earned her master’s degree in Education and teaching certificate from Missouri State University in 2012.  She is also a mentor through the Check and Connect Program for Joplin High School. 

“I really do enjoy these kids, and I get that respect back, and I hope they take something from that,” she said.  “I just feel like through education I can inspire them to better their lives.”