March 9, 2018

KIPP Indy Unite Academy

NEXT GENERATION SCHOLARS – Kipp Indy Unite Elementary teacher Deitric Hall (above) helps his kindergarten students begin planning for college. Like all classes at the school, Hall’s students have already chosen the colleges they’re interested in attending.

Matriculation is years away for the Class of 2030, but many of the kindergartners in Deitric Hall’s class at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary School already have potential campuses picked out. And all of them have visited at least one college campus.

“We call them College Field Lessons,” said Randi Perry, associate director of KIPP Through College. “Every grade level goes on an independent college visit at least once per year, including kindergarten.”

Perry said she and her team work closely with university admissions offices to make sure all activities are age-appropriate. “As you can imagine, it’s very different with eighth-graders versus kindergartners,” said Perry. “With our younger grades, it’s just about getting on campus. It may just be playing outside on the mall, having lunch there, or talking with some college students. It’s more about, ‘I see myself here, and I know I am someone who belongs on a college campus.’”

At KIPP Indy, college is a focus from the first day of school. Each homeroom is named after a university, and college pennants and brochures hang proudly in the hallways.

“I look for ways to weave it into lessons we do around biographies. When we are doing lessons on community helpers, I ask students what they’d like to be growing up and we research, as a class, how to reach that career, including college requirements,” said Hall, who has been with KIPP since 2014. “Our classroom is also named after a college and I constantly introduce facts about the college so students feel a connection to their college names. I show pictures of campus, videos of school events, and information about the school.” 

But, of course, it takes much more than enthusiasm and learning about the history of post-secondary education to get into college.

KIPP students have a longer school day and bring home two or three hours of homework each night. It’s all part of “More Time Learning,” an important element in KIPP’s formula for building the academic knowledge and skills needed to prepare students for competitive high schools and colleges. At some KIPP schools, administrators require Saturday classes and an extended school year.

“What we’ve found works best for our students, families and staff is the extended school day, which greatly increases the number of instructional minutes we have with our students,” said Emily Pelino Burton, executive director of KIPP Indy Public Schools. “KIPP Indy’s longer day also allows time for children to experience key extracurricular programs such as art, technology and physical education. This not only increases the joy factor of the school day, it also fosters the development of lifelong passions.”

Preparing students to follow their passions is what KIPP Indy is all about. “We used to just ask students, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Perry said. “Now we ask, ‘How will you get there?’”

Part of that preparation includes helping students and parents figure out how to pay for college. A 2010 study from Washington University in St. Louis found that having a college savings account makes students almost seven times more likely to attend college than those who don’t have an account. The study also found that a college savings account was a better indicator of whether a child would attend college than race or family net worth.

Last year, KIPP Indy was selected by Marion County Promise to participate in an innovative college savings initiative. “Through this partnership, KIPP Indy students have the opportunity to open a 529 college savings account at zero cost,” said Perry. “The community makes an initial deposit of $25 to the student’s savings account, and, if a student engages ‘Champions’ and raises $25, the community will deposit an additional $75.” 

Perry’s goal is to have 70 percent of the students participating in the program.

“We think that once parents see how easy it is to participate and that they don’t have to provide any funds to get started, they will be excited to sign up,” said Perry. “A family with a kindergartner who opens an account now and adds nothing to it will have around $2,500 by the time their student reaches college – real money that can help with books or other education expenses.”

As much as the program increases the likelihood of students attending college, Perry said it’s also about having students practice a behavior that affirms they are capable of going to college.

“Every student who opens an account gets a piggy bank and knows they are saving for college, even if they’re just putting in a quarter,” she said. “It’s a tangible reminder of college and an investment in themselves.”

KIPP Indy is guided by a board of directors who are experts in their professions and passionate about educational equity, including Andra Liepa, KIPP Indy Board of Directors vice chair. Liepa is a former Eli Lilly and Company executive who got involved through the encouragement of a colleague.

“I went to visit the school and was absolutely amazed at what they were doing,” she said. “I saw teachers that were incredibly passionate and teaching with a high-level of energy. I saw kids that were engaged and focused and seemed to be happy to be there.”

Liepa was also inspired by Palino. “She is so passionate about what KIPP Indy is trying to accomplish and believes that all families want the best educational opportunities for their students, regardless of what type of school they attend. It made me want to make a difference.”

Liepa says meeting Pelino helped her realize how fortunate she has been in her own life. Growing up, she said there was never any question that she would go to college. Many of the students who attend KIPP will be the first in their families to attend college.

“At KIPP, the whole focus on college is to allow kids to have a life filled with choices,” said Liepa. “There’s no reason kids can’t go to college if they can get the right support and believe in themselves.”

Liepa maintains that while college isn’t a goal for everyone, every child should know their future is filled with possibilities. “We want every student to be able to live their dream,” she said. “For some, that dream may not be college. It may be to become an electrician and own their own business.”

In addition to attending board meetings and chairing committees, KIPP board members assist in fundraising, identifying and engaging with potential donors. Liepa has also served as a frequent volunteer in a kindergarten classroom and as a literacy volunteer with second-graders.

Liepa believes there are a lot of misconceptions about charter schools like KIPP. “We are a different model, but we are a public school. We don’t have admissions criteria. We are fully public. Twenty percent of our kids have special needs of some kind.”

“We aspire for more of our kids to just get to graduation,” said Liepa. “We want all of our students to have the options to pursue whatever they want to be and go wherever they want in life. We align our resources in the classroom to try to achieve that goal.”

“Our mission is that all students have the opportunity to know what’s ahead of them and to live a life of choice,” said Perry. “We know a college degree leads to the greatest life of choice.”

KIPP is an acronym that stands for the Knowledge Is Power Program. KIPP Indy College Prep Middle School educates students in Grades 6-8, and KIPP Indy Unite Elementary School currently serves Grades K-3 and will add one grade per year until it reaches Grade 5. KIPP High School is scheduled to open in the fall of 2019 for ninth-grade students and will add one additional class per year, serving Grades 9-12 by 2022.