Richard Barth's Weekly Thoughts: The Constant, Not The Variable

By Richard Barth, KIPP Foundation CEO

This past week marked the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington. Sadly, even as we honor Dr. King’s legacy, we find ourselves grappling with yet another high-profile case of anti-Black violence. The brutal shooting of Jacob Blake, and the subsequent murders of protesters in Kenosha, WI, are just the latest reminder of what’s at stake in the fight for racial justice in America.

In the words of Dr. King, “The time is always right to do what is right.” I’m so proud of all the KIPP students, family, and staff who showed up to protest the injustices in Kenosha and participate in the March on Washington. We stand with all those in our communities fighting to end police brutality and the systemic dehumanization of Black lives in this country.

The powerful photo above comes from DC, where KIPP students, staff, and families participated in the March on Washington.

We Are The Constant, Not The Variable 

Over the past few weeks, I have been absolutely humbled watching how all of you are diving into a school year like no other. I couldn’t be more grateful to all of our teachers, leaders, and staff who are showing up, every single day, to teach and learn. Thank you for your flexibility in a time of constant change, your persistence, your creativity, and your passion in welcoming our KIPPsters back this school year.

I have spoken with so many people this week, from Tennessee to Baltimore, and from Texas to St. Louis. There is not a single person with whom I’ve spoken who would ever choose for this to be our reality. And there is not a single person with whom I’ve connected who has questioned our ability to pursue our mission.

From Florida to Philadelphia to Texas, our KIPP Team and Family is the constant, not the variable, and I wanted to share some of the words from our amazing leaders that have moved me over the past few days:

“There’s a slogan that I often heard during my days as a Soldier: ‘Improvise, adapt, and overcome.’ In my family, that slogan translated into, ‘We gotta make a way outta no way!’ As I reflect on the first week of school, I’ve seen the spirit of both those slogans come to life through the efforts of some amazing KIPP Jacksonville team and family members.”
— Dr. Jennifer Brown, Executive Director of KIPP Jacksonville Public Schools 

“Every storm does indeed run out of rain. When the rain stops, we have to be sure that the clouds have cleared in our schools and on our teams. That our most vulnerable children and team members are fortified by our school systems. By the time the rain stops, we have to be ready to make good on our new promises.”
—Jessica Cunningham Akoto, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia 

“Thank you for your patience as we work through tech issues, your grace as families figure out how to join virtual classrooms, and your compassion as we remind KIPPsters how much we love them. As I observed classrooms virtually this week, I have been so grateful for each of you, persisting with purpose to make the very best out of our situation to bring both joy and rigor to our classrooms every day. You, Team & Family, are my heroes.”
—Sehba Ali, CEO of  KIPP Texas Public Schools 

What Is Happening Around The Country 

Minnesota

In Minnesota, KIPP schools are fostering connectedness in creative ways. In preparation for virtual and in-person learning next week, KIPP Legacy hosted a socially-distanced version of their annual Block Party. Families played games, met their children’s teachers and school leaders, and learned more about KIPP’s plan for distance learning this fall.

KIPP Legacy Primary is preparing to open its doors for the first time this fall for students in Kindergarten through second grade. To help parents and students deal with the anxiety of starting a blended model this year in a new school, KIPP Legacy Primary is offering two in-person orientation sessions this week for families to get set up with the technology they’ll need for distance and in-person learning, and pick up students’ schedules and uniforms.

Columbus

The KIPP Cares Center—a partnership between KIPP, the YMCA of Central Ohio, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Ohio, Columbus Urban League, and After-School All-Stars Ohio—opened its doors on Monday. While students begin the school year with distance learning, the KIPP Cares Center offers a safe environment for students to learn “on campus,” providing support for families and letting students keep up those in-person connections with teachers and peers.

St. Louis

This is a milestone year for KIPP in St. Louis. It’s the first year that KIPP is fully grown in St. Louis, with a full PreK-12 program. Plus, the region’s original founding class of fifth-graders are now college seniors about to graduate! In preparation for the start of 100 percent virtual learning this week, KIPP held Virtual Learning Parent Support Sessions to help families prepare for distance learning. KIPP staff sat down with parents to review class schedules, provide technology training, demonstrate a sample lesson, and share tips for how to prepare kids for virtual learning.

For some back-to-school inspiration, check out this video that Chris Frills, school leader at KIPP Wonder made to send positive messages to his students.

KIPP and ASU Online Learning Initiative — Extended! 

As you all may remember, this summer our national KIPP Through College team created a partnership with Arizona State University, enabling KIPPsters from across the country to continue their college pursuit even as Covid-19 was disrupting the world of higher education. We planned to provide 75 KIPP alums with the opportunity take courses at ASU. This was our first time doing this, and once the word got out, 243 KIPP alums applied. Eighty percent of those that enrolled are making progress toward course completion and earning credits. Spearheaded by the amazing Tazha King, we are now able to share that we are expanding our ASU Online Learning Initiative into the fall semester. This application is open to all college-aged KIPPsters, and we are especially focused on enrolling students from the KIPP class of 2020 who might otherwise miss out on enrolling in college. Students will be able to take one 3-credit hour course for free. There are no required textbooks or software fees, but students MUST have access to a computer with a functioning/enabled camera. The deadline to apply for fall classes is September 16, 2020, at 11:59 PM CST.

Support for All Public Schools

On the policy front, KIPP’s Senior Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement, Lorén Cox, penned this op-ed urging Congress to support our schools as students return to class. Please read it and share it!


I will leave you today with a powerful rendition of Beyonce’s “Freedom” by KIPP SPARK Academy music teacher Zumaah Gayemen, recorded in honor of the region’s Day of Justice.

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