I Chose KIPP By Accident; I Stayed On Purpose
This story is part of our Celebrating Education Innovation series leading up to our fall fundraiser. These stories highlight the progress, innovation, and impact of Indianapolis charter schools over the past 20 years from the perspectives of parents, school leaders, and community partners.
By Robyn Russell, KIPP Parent and Student Retention Officer at KIPP Indy Legacy High
I like to say that I chose KIPP by accident, but I’ve stayed on purpose. My son, Zion, had been to many different schools. District schools, township schools. No matter where he went, he was unable to succeed. He wasn’t excelling. He wasn’t reading at grade level as a fifth grader. I went into prayer mode. As a mother of a Black son in America, I do not take his educational success for granted.
One day, I was driving down 30th street and there was KIPP. So I just turned in real quick. I went in, I enrolled him, and he was able to start school there the next day. Pure luck brought me and Zion to KIPP. But I’ve stayed on purpose because of their commitment. They care and it shows.
Diverse Students Need Diverse Teaching
As a parent, I enjoy KIPP because it’s not a cookie cutter. KIPP serves lots of different children who all bring different backgrounds, experiences, and talents. It is so important to not approach them believing one way will fit for each student. KIPP is about individuality. They serve students’ particular needs. That is very important in today’s world.
Diverse students should be met and served with diverse teaching. I know it’s difficult for teachers to meet each child’s needs. With 25 kids in a class, it’s hard to say, okay, each of your 25 gets something different. But it can be more nuanced than that. Maybe it’s only a few who need something different in order to succeed. In my experience, it comes down to whether or not an educator is willing to suss out who those few students are and provide them with what they need. I have yet to meet a KIPP educator who doesn’t exemplify this kind of approach.
How KIPP Has Supported My Student
Zion is in twelfth grade now. He’s been in the KIPP network since fifth grade. Let me tell you about some of the ways they’ve supported him across his eight years at KIPP. Right from the get-go, they offered a reading group, tutoring, and comprehension training to get him up to grade level. He’s always excelled in math but he needed that extra push in reading and they gave it to him. Now in high school, Zion has been to many college fairs, career fairs, college visits. All kinds of opportunities that show him what is possible after high school.
Those supports go way beyond academics. A few years back Zion went through a challenging season and needed extra support to get back on track. It was a difficult time. KIPP’s school leaders, Casey McLeod and David Spencer, were so instrumental and helpful. I could not imagine having gone through that alone.
Casey and David went above and beyond to give my son mentorship and support. They spoke with Zion regularly, fed positivity into him, and were able to motivate him. Seeing commitment like that from school leaders, seeing how much they poured into my son because they refused to let him slip through the cracks or become a statistic, that’s why I say I’ve stayed at KIPP on purpose.
During his time as a KIPP student, I’ve seen Zion become a leader at school. His leadership was apparent as a young kid, he always had the ability to lead people. I remember in pre-school all his friends would come around him, they’d want to see what Zion wanted to do, where he wanted to go. My conversation with him was always focused on, where are you going to lead them?
During his time as a KIPP student, I’ve seen Zion become a leader at school.Robyn Russell, KIPP Parent
He’s come to believe in his leadership now not just because I’m telling him as his mother. But because all of the staff here are telling him the same thing. It has sunk into him and he’s coming to understand he’s bigger and better than he ever thought before. I’m happy to see him leveraging his leadership abilities and I’m happy about the impact he will leave on this school as a founding graduate come this spring.
How KIPP and Edna Martin Work Together
The KIPP network sits in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood. This area needs every bit of this education. I love that KIPP regularly gets into the community, builds community buy-in. And that lets the small things become great. I’m excited about the outreach and partnership that happens with Edna Martin Christian Center. Everything that I’ve seen KIPP do for the community, for my child, and for other children, has been an amazing ride.
I have a unique perspective on KIPP as a parent first and now also as a staff member. I have the honor to act as KIPP Indy Legacy High’s student retention officer, a position I took during the pandemic. In this position, I regularly speak to families who are homeless, who don’t have access to water or food or washing machines or laundry detergent. Just the basic things in life. In response, KIPP’s partnership with Edna Martin ensures those families can access the resources they need.
They connect families to food, glasses, insulin. All of those things that impact a child’s life here at school and the kind of day they can have. I believe when we provide basic needs and make sure that is not a worry for students, then we can connect to their hearts to produce real change and academic growth.
KIPP Prepares Students to Live Their Dreams
Everything that KIPP does is contributing to student success and wholeness. Ultimately, a good education gives confidence. Without confidence in themselves, students will not succeed. Every day I see students at KIPP being empowered, being pushed to imagine new possibilities, being encouraged to pursue their dreams after high school knowing that they are prepared with the skills necessary to realize their dreams.
A good education gives confidence. Without confidence in themselves, students will not succeed.Robyn Russell, KIPP Indy Parent
My son Zion started at KIPP in fifth grade. This spring, he’ll graduate from KIPP. It is easy to imagine so many other paths that do not end happily. Like I said earlier, I’ve stayed at KIPP on purpose. I look forward to the next season in Zion’s life. KIPP and leaders like Casey and David are all responsible for that.