Saturday, August 08, 2009

An AMAZING KIPP experience

I have been among KIPP's biggest fans since the day, 10 years ago, that Wendy Kopp took me to the original school in the South Bronx and introduced me to David Levin.  I remember it well because it was like getting hit by a lightning bolt -- that's how unbelievably inspiring KIPP and David Levin were.
I don't know if it's possible, but I'm an even bigger fan of KIPP after attending the KIPP School Summit Wed. evening and all day yesterday (it went on all week for teachers and school leaders, but the part for board members was on the last day).  When I first met Dave, KIPP was two guys, running two schools, with a handful of amazing teachers and a few hundred kids.  With the new schools opening next month, KIPP will be 82 schools, with 20,000 KIPPsters in grades pre-K through 12th, across the country in 19 states and DC. 
There were well over 1,000 people at the closing gala dinner last night celebration KIPP's 15th anniversary and, looking around the room, I got goosebumps.  The only thing that rivals what KIPP has done is TFA.  You can see the handful of pictures I took at:
The whole evening was great, as 10 stellar teachers and 10 stellar students received awards, but the highlight was a totally unscripted screw-up that could -- and by all right, should -- have been a mess, but instead was a triumph that says everything about KIPP, both the kids and the teachers/school leaders.
The moment occurred seconds after I snapped this picture: (here's a link to the full video: The KIPP Infinity students were about a minute into their performance of an intricate, choreographed salsa dance when the sound system died.  With any normal group of 8th graders, in the biggest performance of their lives, you'd expect them to stop and/or chaos to ensue. 
Instead, three amazing things happened: first, they kept dancing; then, within one second, the entire audience started clapping to the beat of the song (and those who knew the song were also singing), and finally, after 30-40 seconds, we heard someone with a microphone singing the song, a capella, but with spontaneously made-up words about how KIPP students always do the right thing, never stop trying and never give up, even when things go wrong, etc.  It was, by far, the single greatest piece of improv I've ever seen.  
But who was singing?!  Everyone was looking around, but it wasn't until the end of the song when Joe Negron, the school leader of KIPP Infinity, stood up and took a bow (I later learned that Joe was one of the top 250 finalists nationwide for American Idol, so he's got REAL talent -- above and beyond running the #1 rated school among more than 1,300 in NYC!).  The crowd went NUTS!!!!! 
It would be hard to think of a better case study of what KIPP is all about: in the face of unexpected adversity, the students didn't give up, the entire adult KIPP community rallied around them, and big mess was instead turned into a home run -- talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

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