I am living proof that education reform has not failed in Newark

ByWydeyah Hay (op-ed)

Read the full article at NewarkInc.com >

Over the next couple months, parents across Newark will choose the school that best fits the needs of their child. And because of their parents’ choices, they will have amazing opportunities; they just have to take advantage of them.

New Jersey legislators also have an opportunity. The opportunity to build on the success of charters by allowing them to grow and provide children with access to an education that sets them up for success. Being from Newark, I am living proof for them that it can happen.

My name is Wydeyah Hay and I am a TEAM Academy (KIPP New Jersey) founding class member, part of the first class when TEAM opened in 2002. This fall, I returned to the classroom as a Relay Resident at KIPP’s Seek Academy. Through this program I’ll be on my way to earning a master’s degree by apprenticing in a well-run classroom. It was because of the values that KIPP helped instill in me that I was inspired to become a teacher and support my community.

While some of the things I’ve read have said that reform has failed in Newark, or that it was a “wash” for Newark’s kids, I am living proof that this is not the case. Over the last five years, KIPP has opened four new schools in Newark and has grown to serve roughly 2,000 more kids. And politicians need only to see what I see in my school each day, that’s no “wash” for the kids in these classrooms.

Coming from Newark, people often have the perception that it’s unfriendly or that if you stay here your future will be limited. My teachers and school leader at KIPP New Jersey helped me realize that there was more than being another statistic. To be blunt, I believe they saved my life. And now I’m back in my community to do the same.

My teachers at KIPP always enforced extending my education and climbing the mountain to college. With their support I got into Immaculate Conception High School (ICHS) in Montclair, NJ after graduating from TEAM Academy middle school in 2006. I went on to attend Virginia State University (VSU). I was determined to stay in school and I always made great grades. And KIPP helped support me every step of the way both emotionally and financially.

It is because of them that I graduated from college with honors. Whether it was my former principal, Mr. Reagans, pushing me to finish college and acting as a surrogate dad, or Mr. Forde, my KIPP Through College counselor, helping me through tough times once I was at VSU, I knew I could count on them. Even today I can call them anytime to talk about ANYTHING. They are always around when students need them. They believed in me, they believed in my dreams, and for that very reason they are my heroes. Just think about what that means for the thousands more kids in KIPP schools now in Newark.

During my senior year of college, I knew I wanted to teach because of the influence Mr. Forde had on me. He would always come to VSU to visit me throughout the semester and give me words of encouragement. He would send me inspirational text messages to let me know I wasn’t alone and that I could do it. Mr. Reagans had always been a shoulder to lean on through tough times. I could call him anytime during the day and he’d stop whatever he was doing to listen to my problems. I knew I could count on him. Because of this I feel it is my responsibility to do the same for someone else. I want to make Newark known as a great place to be. As part of the team at Seek Academy I am happy to instill the power and knowledge in my students that the path doesn’t stop here.

I believe in the mission of KIPP and I believe in Newark. For me, a charter school was the best choice to receive a quality education and I’m glad I can now come back to help kids overcome the same obstacles I did. And I know that the years of steady progress and growth have meant that many more kids will have that opportunity.

Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Thanks to the team at KIPP for showing me the road less traveled because without you, my success thus far wouldn’t be possible. And politicians who support anything less than excellent educational options for children in our state jeopardize the success of our future generation.

Wydeyah Hay is a KIPP New Jersey TEAM Academy Founding Class Member