It’s 5:45 a.m. on a Monday in mid-August. The year is 2006 and my mom is rapping on my bedroom door. “Julien! Time to get up Ju, you have school in an hour,” my mom says as I rise out of the bed rolling my eyes.
If it was not for TEAM Academy, I’d still be in Jamaica.
Actually, I’d still be in Jamaica sleeping. Instead, my mom is forcing me to switch from St. Joseph’s Catholic School to KIPP New Jersey TEAM Academy that conducts classes from 7:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every single day. What kid is cool with that?
Don’t let me forget that KIPP starts school earlier in the year than other schools, if you didn’t catch the mid-August part. Also, I have Saturday school a couple times throughout the school year—sounds like fun, right?
Careful not to make my mom come back to my room to scold me, I rise from my bed promptly to see a freshly ironed button-up shirt with khaki shorts delicately hung on my doorknob. Then I see a navy-blue folder with large white letters, reading “TEAM Academy KIPP New Jersey,” sitting next to my backpack.
I think to myself, “At least I get to wear my own clothes today.”
I drag my feet to the bathroom to begin my morning routine, imagining the fresh Jamaican air that I already missed so much. I spend so much time in my head that before I know it, I’m dressed, sitting at the dining room table and eating a half-cold waffle with fresh strawberries.
My mom makes her way down the hallway and says, “Good morning baby. Are you ready to head out?”
I look up from my plate to see my mom putting on her jean jacket. A subtle bit of happiness is on her face, happiness that I’m sure she did not see on mine.
“You know I would’ve been happy at Peshine Avenue School…” I remarked softly.
My mom smiled and replied, “Yeah maybe, but TEAM Academy is an amazing school. I think you’ll be happier there. All right? Let’s be on our way then.”
Welcome to KIPP
“Good morning class of 2014!” Ryan Hill’s enthusiastic words carry through the entire “gymacafatorium” of fifth-graders sitting on the floor facing the stage where he stood. The speakers are so loud, I’m sure that the whole Southward of Newark can hear him.
I calmly scan the open room of all new faces, some that I will come to know as fellow TEAMsters, and others as my teachers.
Mr. Hill continues, “2014 is your class’ name. Hold it proudly because 2014 is the year that you will graduate high school. 2014 is the year that you will go on to start your lives. We here at TEAM Academy aspire to prepare you for success even after you have commenced from KIPP New Jersey in 2014. It is our mission here at KIPP schools nationwide to get our students to and through college.”
As Mr. Hill continues to welcome us to the school, I realize that at such a young age, I have never thought about my future after high school. What is a college anyway?
I think about this pretty much all day. Everywhere I turn, I see banners with college names decorating the hallways of my new school.
However, the decoration that intrigues me the most is the iconic picture of a guy wearing a sweater that reads “COLLEGE” in bold white print. I quickly imagine my face on that poster despite not knowing KIPP’s plan to help get me to the new goal they made possible for me to achieve.
After a long first day sitting on the hardwood floor at TEAM Academy, I have to admit that I’m not quite sold on my new school. Why do I have to sit on the floor to earn my desk? Why do I have to earn my school shirt?
Mr. Hill raised more questions than answers on that first day, but there was a hope and confidence in his voice. That night, I went to bed eager to find out what separated TEAM Academy from every other middle school in Newark.
To and Through
I rise again one morning in early August, but now it’s the year 2014. And this time I’m on my way to Howard University as a member of the incoming class of 2018.
Looking back now, as a Black woman from an inner city, I can finally say that I understand why KIPP Schools are so integral to the success of young Black children. No other school in my career, thus far, has been so invested in my future.
KIPP shows their students that college comes in many forms. It is simply up to the students to choose what path is best for them. In addition to funding trips and college visits and providing college preparation courses, KIPP provided full counseling through the college application process and awarded me an $8,000 scholarship to aid in my career at Howard University.
As amazing as all of this sounds, it is not even half of what KIPP Schools has offered me even after graduating and becoming a KIPP alumna. Now that I’m nearing the end of my college career, I have never been so sure about my decision to teach English in an inner city. I aspire to inspire, just like KIPP Schools is still doing for me.
Even as a senior at Howard University, my KIPP Through College counselor, Sharifa Extavour, has been the ultimate help in ensuring that I can do what KIPP Schools has done for me. I feel I’d be doing a disservice to young Black children from cities like Newark, New Jersey, if I did not pass along the gems that were shared with me.
KIPP Schools is proof that every child from an inner city can be exposed to the opportunities the world has to offer with the proper guidance and dedication.
I cannot say enough how grateful I am that my parents chose to send me to a school that did not initially seem appealing to me. Attending TEAM Academy for middle school and Newark Collegiate Academy for high school was one of the best investments I could have made in my future.