Thursday, January 17, 2008

The KIPP Difference

I'm so excited! As outlined in this LA Times article, the KIPP organization will be opening more much-needed schools in the area.

I was disappointed to read that the President of United Teachers Los Angeles, AJ Duffy, seems to not understand much about KIPP, as evidenced by his comment: "Eli's so enamored with charter schools, he's willing to put millions and millions of dollars into them simply because they're charter schools."

It's not just the word "charter" that makes KIPP special. The list is practically endless, but here are some key points.

A KIPP employee (from the founders to the Principal to the teachers and office staff) absolutely believes that any child can learn, and any child can make it to college. Every single student is treated with a sense of respect and love that I've never seen at any other school.

The school year started with a 2-day session just for new KIPP students. As they all lined up for breakfast, a KIPP employee shook their hand and said "good morning." As they ate breakfast, several KIPP teachers and staff went around to the tables and met the students, saw which students had no one to talk to, and hooked them up with a "buddy." The Principal went around and shook every student's hand, and every parent's hand. To see every student's eyes light up a little, at the warmth and the respect, was a beautiful sight to see.

And I see that any time I'm there. The kids can't wait to see the Principal and show them their artwork or a good grade. Sylvia's Reading teacher came to run a race with Sylvia on a Sunday. Even my youngest daughter runs up to Sylvia's art teacher to give him a hug. The kids can feel the love from everyone there.

Sylvia has never worked harder in her life, and she's also never been easier. I rarely hear complaints about doing homework. As a matter of fact, over the Winter Break, she was doing her homework even before I mentioned it. She knows all of her teachers believe in her ability to succeed, and it gives her the confidence she needs that she can do it.

My favorite KIPP motto, one that we've adopted in our home, is "when there is a problem, we find a solution." This is something I've tried to instill in the girls already, but to be able to put it so succintly, to know that she knows what that means, makes it so much easier.

When difficult situations arise, I can count on the Dean of Students and/or the Principal to deal with it effectively. They get all the interested parties together in a room, give everyone involved a chance to speak, and then resolve the issue. Sylvia has been involved in such a session, and has come away from it satisfied that she was heard, and that the problem has been solved.

The Principal holds a Breakfast one Saturday a month with the parents. We all contribute food, there's a presentation from one of the various departments, announcements made, and then it's an open forum for us to talk about whatever's on our mind.

I can email or call anyone from KIPP at any time, and I always get a quick and thorough response. Sylvia also has every teacher's cell phone number, and can call them directly if she has a question about her homework.

And I also have to dispute Duffy's implication that they only "teach to the test." In fact, I've seen more of that in LAUSD regular schools than I've seen at KIPP. What they do is actually give them the tools they need to succeed in a test situation.

I'm not a fan of standardized tests, and wish that they would go away. However, I have accepted that my daughters need to know how to succeed in taking tests in order to succeed in their academic life. KIPP is now going to be focusing their Saturday school program on test-taking skills, which will be an invaluable tool for Sylvia to have for the rest of her academic life, and even beyond to some extent.

Riley actually accompanies Sylvia to Saturday school most of the time now. She loves going, and the teachers have made her an "honorary KIPPster," a title she is proud to hold. She was overjoyed when the art teacher gave her an art composition book of her very own.

That's another huge point in favor of KIPP: the fact that Sylvia has art and music as part of her regular curriculum. I don't have to run around, trying to find a place for her to get "supplementary" knowledge. She also is part of the Thespian Club, which is completely free to me as a parent.

It's also pretty incredible to me that I'm actually raving about a school. I'm no longer frustrated and ranting, "why don't they get it?!?" I'm no longer pulling my hair out at the sound of the words "parental involvement." I don't have to try and make anyone at KIPP understand how hard it is for a single parent. I know they know. Instead, I'm figuring out what I'm going to make for the next Saturday breakfast. I'm helping with the fundraising for KIPP. I'm hoping to go on the next field trip! I'm so grateful for everything that KIPP has given both me and Sylvia - and all this in just the first half a school year - that I will happily do anything in my power to help KIPP.

I'm as enamored with KIPP as much as, if not more than, Eli Broad. Having someone actually make a difference in my daughter's education will do that to me! And now, thanks to Eli Broad, it can do the same for so many more children. And their parents.

1 comment:

LunaNik said...

This is such a wonderful post! I was smiling the entire time I read it because I could feel your excitement jumping off of the screen.