Richard Barth's Weekly Thoughts: To and Through During COVID-19

ByRichard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO

As the reality of the pandemic has settled into our daily lives, we’ve adapted to create a new kind of stability—shifting from onsite to virtual education, and from a crisis-level response to thinking about delivering all needed services to our KIPPsters for the foreseeable future in new and innovative ways. We’re focused on all this while fostering connections in ways we might not have imagined before now.

In the face of these challenges, our incredible Team and Family is bringing their best thinking to bear. This includes re-envisioning every facet of our normal spring milestones; like how we celebrate graduations and support students on their way to college and career. It also extends to innovative thinking about how we as a community can stand together with our alumni and higher ed partners as they face new, unexpected challenges due to campus closures.

Before we jump in with updates, I have an ask. If you or your team is thinking of creative ways to celebrate graduation virtually, please contact Ashley Huerta. We’re crafting a playbook and need your very best thinking. More than ever, we must find meaningful ways to celebrate our KIPPsters’ dedication and determination.

This week I’m excited to share stories that highlight the work of our mighty KIPP Through College (KTC) teams and to give you a snapshot of what’s coming for our national alumni network.

Navigating College Decision-Making, Virtually

KIPP NYC senior accepted to St. John’s University

This year more than 6,000 high school seniors will graduate and go on to a college or a career and technical education program. Many are grappling with the challenges of not being able to visit prospective schools this spring. We see our KTC teams across the country going the extra mile to support them at this moment.

Kimbrielle and Katia are twin sisters from Jacksonville who are in the process of deciding which college is their best choice. Kimbrielle has received seven acceptance letters from schools in and out of state, and Katia has four in hand, waiting on others to arrive. Ideally, they’d like to attend the same college so that things would be easier on their Mom. While they were able to visit a few campuses while at KIPP Jacksonville’s Impact Middle School, with college campuses closed and travel restricted, the already complex set of choices they had expected to be making at this moment feel even more so.

To support KIPPsters like Kimbrielle and Katia and their families as they weigh these decisions, Erin Almond and our KTC team in KIPP Jacksonville are hosting virtual office hours and one-one-on meetings for students via Zoom; checking on them and offering support to navigate potential roadblocks towards a decision. They’re also hosting larger webinars to share information like Junior Next Steps and Evaluating Financial Aid Awards. During a series of individual meetings with senior Da’Vory, Erin’s team was able to help her understand her financial aid award and complete all of her matriculation steps to attend the University of North Florida. She is excited to start classes remotely this summer, and relieved to have completed every part of the process.

In Nashville, our KTC team quickly pivoted in the crisis, assembling a multi-disciplinary team to create a customized, virtual matriculation plan for each KIPPster; supporting them and their families in working through each critical step of the process. Nashville KTC Director Chaelsa Williams-McKay recently worked on Zoom with Nashville’s College Readiness 12 teacher, Dean of College Counseling, and the full persistence team to create an online matriculation guide for senior Hassan Ali, who opted for an Early Decision to Duke University. Hassan and his older brother worked with Chaelsa’s team to map out the steps they will need to take in the weeks and months ahead for Hassan to show up ready in the fall.

Nudge: A Virtual Hand Getting To and Through

KIPP alum working on Capitol Hill

Most of our KIPPsters are the first in their families to go to college. A well-timed text, or ‘nudge’ can help our alums make the journey. Nudges—around enrolling in classes, applying for housing, accessing student aid, finding work study, and finally moving in and attending class—can help alums realize their dreams.

With the support of the Ludwig Family Foundation, we created a KIPP-specific nudge program; piloted in 8 regions this year (with 13 scheduled to participate this coming year). Alumni can opt-in, allowing our KTC team to stay in touch more seamlessly as they take each step in the process. While the KIPP Nudge technology was already a novel idea that was gaining momentum for its users, COVID-19-related college closures have made this technology indispensable.

Within two weeks of the first campus closures, Nudge—alongside other traditional methods of outreach—helped KTC Counselors connect with students in need of emergency support.

  • Shikyra, an Atlanta college senior who works full time as a restaurant server, lost her job and needed help with rent. The Alumni support funds helped her cover rent costs.
  • A KIPP alum who attends Princeton, lives off-campus, and supports himself with an on-campus job was able to get help bridging the gaps to cover rent and food.
  • When Christian, a junior architecture student at Morgan State moved to remote learning, he needed more specialized technology at home. Alumni support funds were able to get him the tools he needed.

And, as we shift away from crisis-mode and find our new footing, KTC programs across the country are now using ‘nudges’ to support alumni as they navigate remote learning for the first time.

College Partners Coming Through

Map of KIPP’s 98 partner colleges

Many universities, including our 98 college partners, have stepped in to help our KIPP alumni with costs related to travel, tuition and much more. The forward-thinking measures these colleges have taken to ensure that students don’t fall through the cracks is impressive.

  • Arizona State University (ASU) launched an Earned Admissions program that allows students to take online courses at a reduced COVID rate of $99; if the student doesn’t pass for any reason, they don’t have to pay for the course. The benefit of an initiative like this is that it’s low risk for students, affordable, and there are no textbooks or additional software required.
  • For the staff at Dillard University, this was not the first time they had to close campus and transition to online learning; they experienced a similar closure during Hurricane Katrina. They were able to implement lessons learned from Katrina almost immediately when the campus closed, shifting admissions timelines, online recruitment opportunities, and creating priority housing for their most at risk students.
  • At Washington University in St. Louis, the University paid all the lost wages to undergraduate students — not only those students in the federal work-study program, but to all students with on-campus jobs to offset unexpected costs of travel. For students who lacked permanent housing after the closure, they arranged for 250 students to live on campus with daily access to on campus meals, granting them $1,000 each to cover expenses. They went a step further, refunding tuition and expenses directly to students who rely on the University to cover those costs, giving them the means to choose taking classes elsewhere, closer to home, if they choose to.

Alumni Connecting with Each Other

KIPP Alumni Network’s Mental Health and Wellness series

Last week, the National KIPP Alumni Network held a virtual Mental Health & Wellness series to bring alumni together and provide support during a challenging time. The series included a 60-minute workout, an immune boosting DIY, and yoga instruction; all designed and led by alumni, with over 70 alumni and Team & Family in attendance.

In addition, previous cohorts of the KIPP Alumni Leadership Accelerator have been gathering virtually for reunions! The Accelerator brings alumni from across the country together for a year of leadership coaching, summits, community building, and networking events. Staying connected helps us all in a time we couldn’t have imagined just a few short weeks ago.

National KIPP Alumni Network
In January, we polled our alumni to better understand what they most want from the National KIPP Alumni Network. Six thousand alumni responded and highlighted the 5 things they want the most from their network:

  • Career Connections
  • Financial Planning
  • Entrepreneurship and Creative Fields
  • Non-College Pathways
  • Opportunities to Engage and Give Back

We know the alumni work is exciting and many Team & Family members have a ton of ideas to share. If you have ideas on ways we can best address the priorities above, submit your idea!

Thank you to our KTC teams, and everyone who is working with our seniors and our alumni. Thank you for conducting new ways of college guidance. For mobilizing for alums who needed immediate assistance in the wake of campus closures. And for connecting alums to one another as lifelines.