Mattie Rhodes Educator Honored As Gladstone ‘School Hero’

Students recognize Jenny Mendez's life as a 'Work of Art' during March 10 celebration

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Gladstone Elementary School students perform during the School Hero Award on Friday, March 10. (PHOTOS BY: Ray Weikal/KCPS)

Kansas City, March 10, 2017: Gladstone Elementary School students honored a renowned Kansas City educator for living her life as a “Work of Art.”

Mattie Rhodes Center Director of Cultural Arts Jenny Mendez received the 2016-2017 Gladstone School Hero Award during a celebration Friday, March 10 at the school, which is located in Kansas City’s Northeast neighborhood.

Ms. Mendez is a Kansas City native who has spent decades devoted to educating residents about and promoting art and culture, particularly work produced by Latinos and members of other minority communities. Her efforts have helped make Mattie Rhodes one of the premier community organizations of its type in the U.S.

“I’m so thankful that Jenny has been here to enrich our lives,” Gladstone Principal Dana Carter said. “She truly lives out the Mattie Rhodes mission.”

The celebration included student dance and choral performances, the debut of a student produced video titled, “Work of Art,” that features Mendez, and a keynote address by Mattie Rhodes President/Chief Executive Officer and KCPS Board of Directors member John Fierro. The students also performed an original song about Mendez that was written and directed by Kansas City musician Bob Walkenhorst.

Every school year, Gladstone students select a Kansas City resident as their School Hero. Under the guidance of Vice Principal Tearo Condit, the students spend the year learning about and from the honoree leading up to the award celebration.

Ms. Condit started the School Hero initiative in 2002 when she was a teacher at Primitivo Garcia Elementary School as a way to showcase individuals who had a made a significant and positive impact on students. Previous honorees include Ollie Gates, Crosby Kemper III and Dr. R. Stephen Green.

In early November, Gladstone students visited Mendez at Mattie Rhodes’ Westside neighborhood center. She led the students on a tour while explaining the center’s various educational, artistic and cultural programs. The tour included a viewing of the center’s 2016 “Dias de Los Muertos” exhibition of colorful memorials created by families for deceased loved ones.

“I’m very honored and really surprised to be picked for this award,” Mendez said.

Mendez talked about growing up in a tight-nit Westside neighborhood and how she would walk to a community center to participate in educational programs in the same location that is now Mattie Rhodes.

“I remember thinking that I wanted to work there someday,” Mendez said. “What I do now is an opportunity to give back to the community that gave so much to me.”

In his remarks during the School Hero Award celebration, Mr. Fierro praised Mendez for her focus on strengthening families and communities.

“She’s always respectful and she always kind to every person who she meets,” Fierro said. “Jenny is always positive in everything she does.”

Mendez has helped nurture a whole new generation of children who love and appreciate art and culture, according to Gladstone art teacher Garrette Brown.

“The work she does is all about educating young people about their own and other cultures,” Brown said. “Without that kind of exposure, a lot of this culture would just disappear.”

Visit the KCPS Flickr site to view more photos from the Gladstone School Hero celebration.

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