Being a college counselor is a 24-hour job.
I’m in the middle of finding out where my kids are going to college and I’m just as nervous as they are because as much as they’ve invested, I’ve also invested in them. When they leave the building, most times they leave me here in the building. When I leave the building, I don’t leave my kids here. I take my kids home, researching different ways of calling different college admissions officers.
I’ve been with my cohort of 104 kids in classes of 23 to 30 since their junior year. During junior year, my students draft wish lists of nine schools. We’ve been applying to colleges since the second week of school of their senior year, setting up accounts on the College Board, Apply Texa and the Common App. KIPP then used its Match tool to tell them the likelihood of getting into each school.
For a lot of my kids being pushed to retake the ACT or to apply to schools that are considered a reach will change the trajectory of their lives. KIPP Houston tracks college completion for all students who complete eighth grade. 84 percent of these kids matriculate to college and they have a college graduation rate five times greater than that of their socio-economic peers, at 50 percent.
I’ve been with KIPP for two years. I’ve worked in traditional public schools and in private schools. I once read that on average at a public high school, students see their college counselors for a total of only 38 minutes over the course of four years.
I see my kids at least four hours and 45 minutes each week—and that’s just class time. They have my personal number.
The intentionality behind the KIPP Through College program is something I haven’t seen before. From the Match tools that we use, each class being assigned a college counselor, to my being assigned to the same junior class and senior class, it’s amazing what we’re doing.
This Work Is Personal
When I was a kid, my situation looked exactly like theirs. Unfortunately, we did not have KIPP when I was in school.
Like many KIPP students, I also come from a single-parent household and I am the first person to graduate from high school and college. I attended AVID, a college and career readiness program, in high school and got help with college applications, setting up campus visits, learning about financial aid, and applying for fee waivers.
I originally planned to be a lawyer, but I started substitute teaching at a local school during college at Texas Southern University, and fell in love with the classroom. While job hunting, I realized that KIPP was this big AVID and I wanted to be a part of the college counseling section because my AVID teachers essentially saved my life.
I’m working on a Ph.D. in educational leadership at Johns Hopkins. I want to be a role model for my kids. If I’m doing my work, they’ll do theirs.
My kids know that I’m in school. Sometimes when they complain they’ve got so much work, they’ll take a step back and ask, “Miss Ray, you have homework too, don’t you?”
The Work to Get Kids to College and Graduate Is Non-Stop
The lives of KIPP college counselors are busy. Really busy.
Mornings I’m in class. Afternoons I’m putting out transcripts and meeting with individual students to discuss college plans, financial aid, different majors and opportunities at school. Another 15-20 hours are spent each week helping alumni. We literally go the distance.
For example, one alumnus is transferring from the University of Houston to the University of Southern California this fall and a KIPP counselor will fly with him and drop him off there.
If you’re the first person to go to college in your family, then it can be an overwhelming, exciting, scary, awesome time. You still need the support of the people who’ve been there with you from the beginning.
KIPP Through College tracks kids two years after high school since studies have shown that kids are most likely to drop out in their first two years, especially if they’re a first-generation scholar.
The KIPP Foundation team splits up kids across the regions, 31 in total, between different people that they’re familiar with to check on them—see if they need help with financial aid, housing or registration for their second semester of classes.
The way KIPP is set up, kids feel like they’re part of a large, close-knit family. If they ever need any of their teachers from elementary school onward, they can always call them and ask them a math question or trickier questions such as, “What do I do when my financial aid package is not enough?” There are at least seven KIPP Sunnyside alumni who are still in the Houston area and get help from former teachers. Miss Lightfoot, an English teacher, gets at least seven to 10 emails every week from students asking for help with college essays.
My former students are doing college internships in New York or paid internships overseas. They’ve been prepared for these opportunities, like the students at KIPP Generation who visited MIT for a week.
After the election, it really set into me that in the next four years, I’m teaching kids to be leaders. A few kids in my class cried, and I said, “It’s not a time now to be sad or in dismay. It’s a time to equip yourself to have a seat at the table.”
I’m teaching my kids that no matter where you’re from and no matter what circumstances you’ve endured, your dreams, your goals, your success stories, all of those are valid. All of our kids across KIPP Houston have this grit—they never quit, they never give up.