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