Keeper of the Plans

NBC’s ‘Today’ show took a tour through Wichita this week. Here’s where they went

Avid “Today” show viewers know Sheinelle Jones as a co-host of the show’s 3rd Hour.

But longtime Wichitans remember her as a hometown girl, a 1996 graduate of Wichita Heights High School.

This week, all of the hosts of the 3rd Hour — Jones, Al Roker, Dylan Dreyer and Craig Melvin — are visiting their hometowns across the U.S. and showcasing their favorite spots.

On Tuesday, Jones took “Today” show viewers through Wichita and visited her childhood church (New Hope Missionary Baptist Church at 1001 N. Ohio), her schools — and the neighborhood spot where she had her first kiss in seventh grade.

Riding a pink bike with streamers — just like she rode as a child, she said — she visited Buckner Elementary (“God bless Mrs. Owens — best kindergarten teacher on the planet,” she said), Brooks Middle School, and Heights High School. The bike was donated to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church at the end of filming.

She described Heights as her “home away from home, one of the most special places on the planet.”

Former Heights principal Mark Christian (who retired in 2006) makes an appearance in the video, as does her former guidance counselor, the now-retired Jeanne Belew.

Before leaving the school, she cheers the Heights fight song alongside the school’s current cheerleaders — later joking that the dance is exactly the same now as it was in 1996.

In a phone interview with The Eagle on Wednesday, Jones said the segment was like an “assignment from heaven.”

She landed at the Wichita airport at 5 p.m.Monday, ate dinner with her family, spent the night there, then filmed starting at 8 a.m. the following day. Her flight out of Wichita was at 2:30 p.m. that day.

“Even if I’m home for less than 24 hours, it’s worth it,” she said.

She said she hopes meeting some of Wichita’s current high-school students showed them that “no dream is too big.”

“You see these people on national TV and it seems unattainable — I felt it was important to come back to see kids who were maybe working on the newspaper or the yearbook or were cheerleaders and (let them know) I was right here where you are now,” she said.

Jones is the daughter of Sheila Kinnard, who teaches drama at Mayberry Cultural and Fine Arts Magnet Middle School.

Jones said she’s “all about thanking teachers,” which she did in the “Today” segment and off-camera.

“My mom is a middle school teacher in Wichita — I know the days can be tough and long, but there’s nothing better than pouring into a child,” she said. “USD 259 is a phenomenal school district — I had the best teachers who believed in me.”

While Jones was a student in Wichita, she interned at the USD259 channel and at KWCH, where she ran the teleprompter.

She graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and Links Inc. She also interned at KSN while she was in college.

Jones began her tenure as a “Today” show host in 2014, after previously working as a co-host of a morning show in Philadelphia.

The video of Jones’ trip through Wichita is available to watch online at www.today.com.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.
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