KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This Hispanic Heritage Month, we're celebrating the diversity of culture and experience that makes up the Hispanic community.
That diversity is on full display at Scuola Vita Nuova (SVN) charter school in Kansas City's Historic Northeast neighborhood.
Nicole Goodman has worked in education for 24 years, including 11 at SVN, where she's now the superintendent. Her focus has always been on meeting students where they are.
"We know that our students can be successful if they're given equal access, opportunities, and working at their level and pace," Goodman said.
That individual attention is critical in a student body as diverse as that of SVN.
For 70% of students there, English is not their first language. Around 55% are Hispanic and 35% Black, and many of them recent immigrants.
Despite the challenges of helping students navigate a new country and a new language, the school has a track record of success.
Rodney Padilla is one of three English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers at the school.
"Helping them navigate through that process, and feeling like they still belong, even though they cannot communicate through their language, and helping them be successful," he explained.
He tries to make sure his students have just as many opportunities to succeed as native English speakers. It's a job the school does well.
Between 2018 and 2019, the number of students at SVN who scored proficient or higher in English increased six percentage points (33% to 39%). Across the state of Missouri, that number decreased by one percentage point (49% to 48%) during the same time period.
But Goodman doesn't focus solely on test scores.
"I feel why we're successful at SVN is because we do look at individual students and we look at their progress," she said.
Goodman believes part of that success comes from creating well-rounded students. That's why the school just opened a newly renovated building housing an art room, a science and technology space, a teaching kitchen, a music and band room and an outdoor play area.
"I feel like we're going to be able to offer a stronger program and opportunities and plant little seeds of careers and paths," she said. "If we have a strong foundation, I believe that our kids can go to any high school and compete and then, if they choose to go to college, or they choose a different career path or trade, that they are ready and equipped to make a contribution for themselves and their families."
The school also puts an emphasis on family involvement.
That's something Ana Hernandez, who has three kids who attend the school, appreciates.
"As a parent, sometimes you feel like you have a wall in front of you because the language," Hernandez said. "[Teachers at SVN] always communicate with me, and tell me what's the progress."
"They need to know that they do have a voice and that they're valued," Goodman said. "Sometimes it's as simple as [asking], 'What do you need?' And then we need to figure out as a school, how do we fulfill that need. And it's not easy, because it's not a one-size-fits-all."
Goodman is also dedicated to making sure students see people who look like them represented in positions of leadership - something she didn't have growing up.
"When you see someone that you can relate to and connect with, it's just it motivates you," she said.
Ultimately, her goal is to allow each student's unique strengths to shine through.
"I think with Hispanic Heritage Month, [it's] recognizing that there are so many different cultures, ethnicities -- we come from all over. Everyone's not from Mexico, everyone's not from Cuba. But just taking the time to recognize who we are, where we come from, and the valuable contributions that we do make to this world."