KIPP Renaissance Juniors Begin Bard Early College in High School

ByWilborn P. Nobles III

Read the full article at The Times Picayune >

The community of scholars talented enough to enroll into college before age 18 includes notable names such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. On Tuesday (Oct. 9), that same recognition was bestowed upon 45 high school juniors in New Orleans.

Relatives and teachers filled a room at the Frederick Douglass school building in the Ninth Ward Tuesday afternoon to celebrate the inaugural class of the Bard Early College Academy at KIPP Renaissance. They were joined by Louisiana education superintendent John White and Bard Vice President for Early Colleges Stephen Tremaine, who joked during the matriculation ceremony they spared attendees from the hallmark traits of such ceremonies, which include “old people in funny robes.”

Bard Early College Academy is a branch campus of Bard College authorized by the Louisiana Board of Regents to enable students to complete two years of college, tuition-free, while earning credits that can be transferred to many 4-year institutions. The students honored Tuesday completed the majority of their high school graduation requirements by the end of sophomore year, allowing them to earn 60 college credits to work toward an associate’s degree in arts as full-time college students this fall.

White praised the students and staff for participating in the state’s first-of-its-kind program with Bard. The New York-based Bard operates Early College High Schools in 6 locations nationwide, but this is the first time Bard has launched a degree-granting program within an existing public high school. White also thanked the relatives present for their efforts in raising their children.

“There are going to be late nights, there’s going to be more work, and I know your parents won’t let you down. I thank y’all for not giving up until they get across the finish line,” White said.

The students are currently two months into their undergraduate studies, and officials said they will leave school with both a high school diploma and a college degree if they pass their courses. KIPP student Rodricka Robertson said Bard gives them the freedom to complete their assignments without a “teacher that’s hovering over your shoulder” to see if work is being done.

Tremaine has stated early college is “really central” to Louisiana’s plan going forward. The American Institute of Research found students who earned 20 or more college credits in high school are 20 percent more likely to finish a bachelor’s degree on time.

Before the event began, KIPP Renaissance principal Towana Pierre-Floyd said she designed a 9th and 10th grade experience to ensure every student would leave their 10th grade year with the skills to access Bard’s program. She said the program erases the disconnect between high school and college because high school tends to focus on preparation for end of course tests and the ACT.

Pierre-Floyd said KIPP’s 10th graders have the option to take two Advanced Placement classes, including one course explicitly designed to prepare students for college. KIPP also has Bard professors take over an English class eight times a year to give students “a taste” of what Bard offers to students before they apply. Pointing out her own son at KIPP is preparing to apply to Bard next year, Pierre-Floyd said she wants students to prepare themselves “as if the world is your oyster.”

“A lot of people say things like you’ll succeed despite your heritage and history, but I’m saying you’re standing on the shoulders of giants. New Orleans is what everyone loves because of your ancestors,” Pierre-Floyd said.

Pierre-Floyd’s comments were echoed by KIPP junior Nile Daniel after the ceremony. Daniel, who said he’s still adjusting to public school since he was previously homeschooled, said he’s really excited to be a part of Bard’s program as a 16-year-old.

“As a black man in America we need every advantage we can get because everything is trying to put us behind. This is a great opportunity that’s going to put me ahead in my life,” Daniel said.