November Staff Spotlight | Leah McDaniel

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Leah McDaniel: First Year Teacher, Veteran Artist


Has someone ever called you a “real life 3D printer”? Well, it was one of many compliments Ashley Jones had to say about her Classroom Support Teacher and artist, Leah McDaniel. 

“I’ll say ‘I really wish I had this’ and next thing you know, she’s showing me my imagination brought to life! Leah’s so creative and has the initiative to match, which as a procrastinator, works out great for me.” Light-hearted as they may be, Ashley’s generous words about Leah ring true – Leah McDaniel is wonderfully creative, bursting with initiative, and can bring the wildest dreams to life, a lot like a 3D printer. 

Leah started as an EarlystART Classroom Support Teacher in July. In her short tenure here, she has already become a source of light, encouragement, and steadiness. Leah is an artist by trade, with her own children’s clothing line to prove it. She has a BFA in Fashion Design, and has always had a passion for creative expression – it’s one of the reasons she decided to change her career path.

“I chose EarlystART because I love how we get to combine art with learning. Working in education, you witness children growing so fast and they lose their imaginations too quickly. I love being a part of a community that has the honor of nurturing that imagination and creativity.” -Ms. Leah, Rainbow Room

After spending the majority of the pandemic living outside of Sacramento, California with her mother, June, the two made their way back home to Kansas City in early 2023. June accepted a new position as the Chief of Human Resources at EarlystART, and June and Leah were introduced to what would become their new home away from home. After months of listening to her mom rave about EarlystART’s mission and the impact early education has on young children, Leah decided that teaching at EarlystART could be a perfect way to exercise her artistic talents while also creating real and positive change.

Leah uses her own love for the arts to encourage her students to bring their imaginations to life through movement, illustration, music, and so on. She says her favorite part of teaching is seeing those “aha” moments of excitement on the students’ faces when they see the results of their hard work. 

“Ms. Leah has created a space that encourages self expression while learning crucial life skills that students will need for not only Kindergarten, but throughout the rest of their lives. The comfort and light she brings to the classroom helps her students to build healthy and intentional social-emotional relationships. It’s really beautiful to watch” said EarlystART Student Success Coordinator, Moneshia Gilmore. 

Leah’s dedication extends well beyond the four walls of Rainbow Room, making its way to her students’ families and the larger community as a whole. In Leah’s first months as a Classroom Support Teacher, she crafted a personal newsletter for each of her students to send home as a way to ensure parents and caretakers are actively engaged in their child’s education. The newsletter features a summary of what they learned in the month previous, what they’ll be working on next month, ways to incorporate these lessons at home, and even an “Awesome Highlight” section that recognizes each student for something they do exceedingly well! 

Merrill Hunt, EarlystART’s Director of Training and Curriculum, is one of Leah’s biggest fans. 

“Leah McDaniel is amazing! She’s the type of person who knows what you need before you do. She’s a good listener, a peaceful presence, and someone who will drop what she’s doing to help others in need.” 

Earlier this month, Merrill shared a last minute idea with Leah – “what if we do an interactive reading of ‘The Color Monster’ at Learn-a-Palooza?” The next time Merrill saw Leah, she was holding a bag of colorful puppets, several poster board sized illustrations, and an easel – all the makings for a very special (and FUN!) reading of ‘The Color Monster’. 

Whether she’s crafting personalized newsletters for all her students, staying up late to help a friend bring an idea to fruition, or providing a wave of calm in a sea of uncertainty, you can be sure that Leah McDaniel is leaving an impact. We are grateful to Leah, and all EarlystART educators, for joining us in our mission of building bridges, inspiring minds, and impacting futures.

“For there is no future without education.”Rosa Parks


“I call her my real life 3-D printer. I’ll be like ‘I wish I had this!’ and next thing you know, she’ll be showing me my imagination brought to life!” – Ashley Jones, Rainbow Room

“I love our classroom – this is the best team we’ve had and Leah is a big part of that.” – Ashley Jones, Rainbow Room

“Why do you work at EarlystART?” “These two.” *gestures toward Leah & Ashley* – Ms. Shirley, Rainbow Room