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Friday, September 29, 2023

Guest Commentary

KIPP Academy Changed My Life

In Tuesday’s issue of The Daily Cougar, Lindsay Gary wrote that “KIPP has room for improvement.” I agree with Gary that KIPP has room for improvement, but my experience at Kipp Academy Middle School was different from hers, and I am only one year older.

I, too, am African American and was a minority within a primarily Hispanic school. My experience at KIPP helped me get where I am today.

I do not have fancy statistics or data to share about KIPP’s success; results are not just numbers, but people and changed lives.

I grew up in Third Ward right down the street from the University of Houston. I had always felt different as an African American youth who could not identify with her surroundings. I can honestly say that KIPP changed my life.

I will never forget the first day of fifth grade, sitting on the cold floor with my fellow KIPPsters because we had yet to earn our chairs.

The first message that co-founder Mike Feinberg gave us was that “we are on a journey up a mountain.” To a group of preteens collectively wondering what this “mountain” was, it seemed logical that Feinberg was crazy.

But as it turns out, that mountain was college and the top was a degree. Just as any experienced mountain climber will tell you, it takes years of hard work and dedication to reach the top, but once you’re there and looking down at what you have accomplished, you cannot help but be grateful for the people who pushed you and held your hand as you made that journey.

The teachers and staff at KIPP taught us the importance of giving back and becoming more than what society says we should be. After that first day, there was never a doubt in my mind that I would go to college and make something of myself. I wanted to give back to the educational system that helped shape me into the person I am today.

One of the hardest lessons any KIPPster had to learn was that nothing is going to be given to us; everything we want must be earned, whether it be a seat in class or end-of-the-year trips all around the country.

That lesson still haunts me to this day. When you have a school filled with minority students, it is important that they know the real world has already stereotyped them and if they do not work hard, then they are forced to perpetuate the stigmas already in place.

Now standing a month away from the top of my own personal mountain — a B.A. in creative writing — I can look back on my time at KIPP and smile the biggest smile.

From my teachers like Jill Kelly-Koren, who inspired me, to my friends, who shaped my life, everyone at KIPP saw something in me and pushed me to tears because they knew I had potential.

My time at KIPP was a constant learning experience. Without the dedicated teachers and, most importantly, the commitment and support from my mom, I could have wound up at a high school that didn’t continue to prepare me for college rather than going to Carnegie Vanguard. I would not have found my love of English and writing in seventh grade and been able to get into one of the finest creative writing programs in the country.

Although both of my older siblings and I all went to the same KIPP school, we all turned out differently. My older brother is a Staff Sergeant and a part of the Honor Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and my sister is an HPD officer. My younger brother attended the first all-boys KIPP school, KIPP Polaris. He is class president at St. Andrews in Delaware and the only freshman on the varsity basketball team.

Without KIPP, our lives would be different. I do not want to know what path four African American kids growing up in the Third Ward would have taken if it wasn’t for KIPP. I am beyond appreciative and far beyond grateful and lucky, because it was our hard work that got KIPPsters to where we are today. It would not have been possible if it wasn’t for the idea that “knowledge is power” and that we must “work hard and be nice.”

I offer you an invitation to visit a KIPP school yourself. They have an open door policy and love visitors. I hope you witness part of the experience I had as a KIPPster and a person who is now at the top of the mountain to and through college.

Marissa Bonner is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected].

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