Friday, March 23, 2012

Changed by the bell

An inspiring story about a KIPP alum now at Yale:

The day I was told I was attending KIPP was the first time I ever felt like I had a chance at making my own path to my future. After signing the Commitment to Excellence Form, which every KIPP student, faculty member, and parent has to sign, I immediately knew that I was part of something different. "I will work, think, and behave in the best way I know how, and I will do whatever it takes for me and my fellow students to learn": I read and signed on the dotted line. These are the words that told me that I was in control of my destiny. 

I got lucky to be selected among the few 10-year olds applying to go to KIPP Academy in New York City. Until I got to KIPP, I don't think there was anything to set me apart from the many immigrants in the South Bronx.  I moved to the U.S. from Ecuador when I was five.  When I got here I was placed into a public elementary school down the street, where I attempted to learn English in a bilingual classroom, got into a few fights, and was constantly surrounded by adults who directly and indirectly told me and my classmates I was getting nowhere. "Why do I even bother trying?" I remember hearing my second grade teacher yelling over my rowdy class. "It's not like you'll actually make anything of yourselves." 

In a way, anything that got me out of my public school would have felt like a miracle. So in some sense, KIPP started out just as an escape. It wasn't until much later that I realized that KIPP saved my life.

Middle school at KIPP was not easy. I never had to do any work at my public school, because it doesn't take a lot of work to fail. Homework was never assigned, and when it was, no one ever checked it. I was shocked on my first day of classes at KIPP when I was told to stand in the back of my classroom for rolling my eyes at my math teacher, and even more surprised when I was actually assigned homework that would be checked thoroughly the next day. 

My days were long, getting to school at 7:25 a.m. and staying until five or sometimes six in the evening. I arrived home to hours of homework and went to school on Saturdays and for a couple of weeks over the summer. I got used to being asked to to stand in the hallways for several minutes between classes, being preached to by my teachers. 

These "sermons" were filled with the distinctive vocabulary of KIPP: Teachers told us to focus on "assigning ourselves" and "following directions," and above all to perfect our "self-control." I learned to appreciate this tough love. The teachers I had at KIPP were truly inspirational: not because they were preaching at us, but because they were challenging us to become better people.

At KIPP, I learned how to play the violin, to sing my multiplication tables (yes, sing!), and, in the course of it all, to believe in the power of an education. One of the best teachers I've ever had was my eighth grade history teacher, Mr. Mitch Brenner. I can remember his first lesson during a hot summer day, while most kids were just heading off to play basketball or swim in the local pool. "What is good? What is bad? How can we be sure of this?" he asked us. I was used to classes where the point was to get the right answer. Now, I was just supposed to be thinking critically about the right questions. 

Mr. Brenner has been there for every high and low since KIPP, and he's even helped me with all my history papers I've written since his class, including the one I'm working right now. He is only one of KIPP's many teachers that are willing to do whatever it takes to help their students succeed. Teachers at KIPP teach you for as long as you need them, not just as long as the class period lasts.


Changed by the bell

By George Ramirez 17 February 2012 12 Comments

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