Recent College Grads are Helping New Students Succeed to College

Posted Wednesday, September 21, 2016

KIPP Academy of Opportunity alumnas Alana Herbert (left) and Denise Maldonado (right).

KIPP is Community means our schools are making a difference in the communities we serve. Whether our teachers are practicing restorative justice, or students are breaking new barriers, we are sharing the stories that are changing the landscape of Los Angeles education.

Alana Herbert and Denise Maldonado are both KIPP LA alumni who graduated from one of KIPP LA’s original middle schools, KIPP Academy of Opportunity in South Los Angeles. After graduating from the University of California, Irvine and California State University of Long Beach, respectively, Alana and Denise decided to return to the place where it all started: their community. They both recently joined KIPP LA’s KIPP Through College (KTC) program to support current students on their journeys to and through college.

We interviewed them to learn about their unique perspectives on KIPP LA and KIPP Through College, and understand what continues to fuel their commitment to their communities.

On their experiences at KIPP LA:

Alana: “When I attended KIPP, I learned how to have grit and never give up. There are different challenges that you face on the journey to and through college, and that’s when I was able to see how important it is to have those qualities. I had a lot of support from my teachers and family who never gave up on me; so I never gave up on myself. They taught me to go above and beyond and step out of my comfort zone.”

With the support of other members from their community, Denise and Alana persevered through life’s challenges to earn college degrees.

Denise: “As a student at KIPP, I realized the importance of community. KAO was like my second home. My mom worked all of the time, and my classmates’ parents would help out and give me rides to school. This teamwork from my mom and other parents made me feel like I mattered and that I was safe. Since I was nine years old, college was something I was aware of so I always thought about where I wanted to attend college.”

After graduating college, Alana and Denise returned to KIPP LA as college advisors. The decision to join KIPP Through College was easy for them; they both wanted to make a difference in the lives of students in their communities.

Alana: “I wanted to come back to serve my community because KIPP helped me believe in myself to and through college. Now I want to be that resource for other KIPPsters; because when you have a support system it motivates you to want to achieve and do more. I realized how important I am to my community because the KTC program was there to help me overcome the challenges that I faced. Not everyone has this luxury, so it motivated me to come back to provide the same support for other students.”

Denise: “I realized I wanted to come back to my community when I was sitting in a Chicano studies class at El Camino Community College, before transferring to Cal State Long Beach. The professor asked how many of us had learned about college in our senior year of high school, and the number of raised hands was alarming. Later at Cal State Long Beach, in another Chicano studies class, there was a discussion about the Latino education pipeline and the gap was frightening. I knew then that I had to come back and help my community, and the KTC program allows me to do that.”

Alana and Denise carry the valuable lessons they learned at KIPP LA and hope to help instill them on future generations of students as they climb the mountain to and through college.

Denise: “KIPP Academy of Opportunity helped me set goals for myself and realize my potential. I want to be able to continue the mission of KIPP and help other students on their journeys to and through college.”

Alana: “At KIPP, I learned that work and success is a collaborative process and everyone's accountable. If one of us was down, we were all down. This is the power of community, which is why I returned to help make a difference.”


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Why KIPP LA Schools is Transforming Conflict-Resolution in the Classroom

Posted Monday, April 25, 2016


John Coleman, Coach of the KIPP Academy of Opportunity Basketball team with his students.

John Coleman is worried about his basketball team.

Well, it’s not his team, as he points out to the middle school girls surrounding him at KIPP Academy of Opportunity’s basketball courts. He’s only coaching the boys basketball team this year. But when you’re a go-to for resolving conflicts quickly and doling out general life advice like John is, you get a lot of questions from people trying to solve problems.

John is the Lead Physical Education teacher at KAO, which means he gets to know KIPPsters there outside the classroom. That helps in his role as Family Liaison, supporting parents and students in everything from community outreach to discipline issues.

A few years ago, KAO leadership noticed that traditional discipline wasn’t resulting in a noticeably more productive, safe community. John suggested using restorative justice principles instead.


“I want them to be thinkers rather than reactors,” he said. “I just really felt like our kids deserved something different.”


That ‘something different’ is restorative justice, a practice of reconciliation when wrongdoing has been done in a community. An important part of the process is opening dialogue between the KIPPsters on both sides of the argument to rebuild trust, safety, and forgiveness in the community at large.

To John, it’s a constructive way to frame discipline issues for students and to meet them where they are. “We’re dealing with a lot of students with socio-emotional issues,” he continued. “The go-to would be suspension. Students aren’t learning anything at that point. Also, a lot of students are below grade level, so they can’t miss that class time.” To John, restorative justice has a few long-term outcomes. “I really want our kids to be a lot more mindful,” he says. “I want them to be thinkers rather than reactors. I just really felt like our kids deserved something different.”

A few miles southeast of KIPP Academy of Opportunity, leaders at KIPP Philosophers Academy had the same thought. School Leader Heidi Kunkel started incorporating restorative practices into discipline when she came to KPA two years ago.

At KPA, KIPPsters have many opportunities to reflect on their actions. Students who are disruptive during class will work in that class as part of the restorative solution, which provides opportunities to build relationships after trust between teacher and student has been severed.

“I think part of our charge as educators is to create well-rounded students and treat them with humility and dignity,” says Joy Turner, Dean at KPA. Restorative practices during Saturday sessions help with that, giving KPA leadership a chance to build relationships with students outside of the traditional school day. During the monthly Saturday sessions, students join Joy and Heidi in doing reflective activities, like planning their success for the rest of the school year, and some work around the campus.

Heidi also designed a friend program specifically for KIPPsters who have had an argument. In the week following an incident, they spend their recess interviewing each other and then create a presentation about their friend. “They’re not having to write standards. They’re getting to know someone else and fixing that broken relationship,” says Joy.

KAO’s Saturday program also follows restorative principles. Though John is quick to point out that it doesn’t have a formal and complete restorative justice structure, it’s more than a step towards that goal. Held every week, it gives each student a chance to talk about their situation and discuss how each could have better managed their own situation.

John’s long-term goal is for students to lead the Saturday conversations and to hold each other accountable. And he’s already seeing students understand their triggers for emotional reactions.

Although the goals of restorative practices are big and the process takes work to grasp, educators can lay the foundation of forgiveness and restitution early. That’s what Amanda Tran, kindergarten teacher at KIPP Vida Prep, does during community circles each morning to address behavior trends head-on. “Shaping the culture of the room is really important to me,” she explained. “[My students] may not have the maturity or verbal skills to name or come to the conclusion that their actions have. I can put more tools in their toolbox for conflict resolution.”

Amanda learned about restorative justice through her Teach For America training and was inspired to adapt it in an age-appropriate way. She thought it would ensure that she was doing right by her students, families, and the community at large. “I’m very cognizant of what it means to send a student to the office. What does that mean, what is it saying to the student?” she said. “Why are we sending a majority of our black male students to the office? If we’re doing that, we’re not serving them the way we should.”

Since kindergarten is such a crucial year for students’ relationship with school, Amanda knew restorative justice would help keep trust between her students and school strong. Community circles give her KIPPsters a chance to “shape the culture that they want to see,” as she said.

Amanda’s long-term goals are to expand the practice to all of KIPP Vida. “School should be a joyful, positive, safe place,” she said. “We want to make sure all students feel that way.”

Learn more about culture and character education at KIPP LA:

Tags: blended learning , college , college access , college prep , construction , East LA , education , high school , KAO , Los Angeles , playground , results , South LA , teachers , teaching

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3 KIPP LA Schools Closing the Achievement Gap in Los Angeles

Posted Tuesday, March 22, 2016

According to the Education Equality Index (EEI), a first-of-its-kind tool released today, students from low-income families in Los Angeles and Long Beach are less likely to attend schools that put them on an equal playing field than those in other major California cities, such as San Francisco, San Diego, Irvine and Fresno. While Long Beach is frequently cited as having the best public schools in the country, EEI analysis demonstrates that students from low-income families are far less likely to reap the benefits of this system.

According to the Education Equality Index (EEI), a first-of-its-kind tool released today, students from low-income families in Los Angeles and Long Beach are less likely to attend schools that put them on an equal playing field than those in other major California cities, such as San Francisco, San Diego, Irvine and Fresno. While Long Beach is frequently cited as having the best public schools in the country, EEI analysis demonstrates that students from low-income families are far less likely to reap the benefits of this system.

Only 2 of 10 students from low-income families attend schools that have successfully closed the achievement gap

Positively, Los Angeles’ achievement gap narrowed by five percent between 2011 and 2013 — a faster rate than nearly 70 percent of the nation’s largest cities. This indicates that while much needs to be done to ensure students from low-income families have equal access to great schools, progress is being made. “According to the Education Equality Index, Los Angeles narrowed the achievement gap by five percent from 2011-2014,” said Ethan Gray, founder and CEO of Education Cities. “We celebrate the schools where students from low-income families are achieving at similar rates to their more advantaged peers. Los Angeles is heading in the right direction, but has a long way to go ensuring that all students have access to equitable schools.”

The Education Equality Index also identifies the top 10 schools in Los Angeles with small or nonexistent achievement gaps that serve a student population where the majority are from low-income families. On the list is KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory School, which serves 360 students in Boyle Heights, 93 percent of whom are from low-income families. “We are honored to have three schools recognized among the top ten in Los Angeles for opening doors of opportunity for underserved students and helping to close the achievement gap here in LA,” said Angella Martinez, Chief Academic Officer of KIPP LA schools. “While there is so much more work to be done, we are proud of our school teachers and leaders that are proving what is possible in public education.”



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March 19, Tax Prep and Resource Fair for East L.A. Families

Posted Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Mark your calendars! There is a Free Tax Prep and Resource Fair for East Los Angeles families on March 19 from 9AM-3PM at the Puente Learning Center, 501 South Boyle Ave.  Los Angeles, CA 90003. Don't miss this great opportunity! Please check out the flyer for more information.


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