PREP-KC helps solve a multi-decade education challenge for underserved urban students


If former high school teacher, principal, and well-known educator Susan Wally had a hashtag to describe her life’s mission, it might be #transformation.

Changing kids’ lives is exactly what the Leawood resident has devoted her career to, from the classroom to educational philanthropy at one of the world’s foremost entrepreneurial think tanks, to the nonprofit sector.

In 2005, following a 15-year stint at the Kauffman Foundation, where Wally had worked directly with Ewing Kauffman managing his Project Choice—an urban high school dropout prevention and scholarship program—she launched PREP-KC (Partnership for Regional Educational Preparation Kansas City). The 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s overarching goal: Inspiring and motivating kids at the grassroots level.

“We support urban school districts to increase college and career readiness for students,” says Wally. “My life has been dedicated largely to urban education. At PREP-KC we are partners with principals, teachers and employers and their employees from across the metro.”

Now in its ninth year, PREP-KC is the region’s urban education intermediary, a program essential to more than 50,000 mostly low-income kids in the underserved, often-overlooked urban core. It fundamentally strives to increase academic rigor and, unlike some initiatives where the emphasis is on the best and brightest, to raise the performance of all students in five of Kansas City’s bi-state urban school districts, which includes 10 traditional high schools and three charter schools: Kansas City, Missouri; Center; Hickman Mills; Grandview; and Kansas City, Kansas.

“Regardless of where these kids are, we meet them, right there,” says Wally. “PREP-KC’s footprint focuses on school districts serving the region’s highest percentages of low-income students.”

Funded through grants and donations from foundations, organizations, and individuals committed to improving the education and employment opportunities for urban youth, PREP-KC works directly with the five school districts to provide critical resources, including time, talent and funds. Investors in PREP-KC range from large foundation grants to smaller private donations.

“We strategically use our funds to directly impact students,” explains Wally. “Accountability is created for private dollars while leveraging public funds on behalf of the students being served by Kansas City’s urban school districts.”

At its heart, PREP-KC supports a more rigorous math curriculum, provides students the opportunity to earn college credit in high school, and offers career-readiness experiences to prepare students for future employment.

One of PREP-KC’s successful programs is the Career Jumping experience.

“Think of it as the speed-dating concept applied to education,” says Wally. “Perhaps we are focusing on students interested in engineering—our employer investors such as Honeywell and other firms come into the school’s library, and sit at a table while kids rotate, asking questions such as what would help prepare them for a job in the engineering field.”

Wally is excited about PREP-KC’s future of transforming kids’ lives. In fact, stickers were just designed for Career Jumping participants to wear when they go back to the office after working with students.

“They say, ‘My Story Changes Lives,’” says Wally. “Our volunteer-professionals understand the value of sharing their experiences with these kids. It’s a powerful, priceless collaboration that’s a win-win for everyone involved.”