Sandberg KIPP scholarship to 'cut through' unequal access to opportunity

ByGreg Toppo
Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg

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About four years ago, Richard Barth, CEO of KIPP Public Charter Schools, was visiting Capitol Hill with a few colleagues for a series of meetings with lawmakers. At each office, the group met young people who served as greeters, gatekeepers and legislative staffers — the people who keep Capitol Hill humming.

After a few encounters, it soon occurred to Barth: “We didn’t meet a single person of color.”

It was, Barth recalled, a “wake-up call for us.” Since KIPP serves almost exclusively students of color, he realized that the network had more work to do to help its alumni forge post-college relationships that would help them find jobs, internships and other opportunities outside of school.

“You might think the student who has worked hard their entire life, first in their family to go to college and now they’re going to Duke, you’d think, ‘Oh, of course they can do whatever they want. They can go get a job on Capitol Hill.’ The answer is, ‘Not necessarily.’ And so we’re trying to close that gap.’”

They are getting an assist from the lean-in queen herself, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

On Monday, the Sheryl Sandberg and Dave Goldberg Family Foundation is announcing a new prize available only to KIPP graduates — Goldberg and Barth were Harvard classmates, and after college they often talked about reducing the barriers to first-generation college students.

A scholarship to help build relationships, Barth said, is “the perfect embodiment of his spirit.”

Monday would have been Goldberg’s 50th birthday. The CEO of SurveyMonkey and Sandberg’s husband, he died of cardiac arrhythmia while exercising on a family vacation in Mexico in 2015.

In a statement, Sandberg said her husband “gave his time, advice, and support to so many people that, to this day, I’m still hearing new stories about how he changed people’s lives.”

She acknowledged that traditional academic scholarships often aren’t enough to help young people who arrive at college without a “financial cushion” that helps them purchase food and books without taking on a part-time job.

“Many KIPP graduates also send money home to their families,” she said. A few drop out to work full-time to help their parents and siblings. “It’s heartbreaking that a young person could work so hard for so long and still have to kiss their dreams of college goodbye because their family is struggling to cover the rent or pay the electric bill.”

The scholarship will go to 15 high school students who demonstrate the qualities that Goldberg exemplified, the foundation said: “leadership, resilience, achievement, strength of character including generosity and kindness, independent thinking and an entrepreneurial spirit.”

It will include an annual stipend of about $15,000 that students can spend on housing, food, clothing, books, computers or other expenses. They’ll also become part of a network of “Goldie Scholars” nationwide who receive mentoring and networking help.

The scholarships will likely be coveted. KIPP, founded in Houston in 1994, is on track to consider about 4,600 eligible students next spring — either graduating KIPP seniors or students enrolled at a non-KIPP high school who completed 8th grade at a KIPP school.

Barth said he hopes the stipend will help even the playing field for students who may qualify for a prestigious-but-unpaid internship but who can’t afford to give up the wages of a good summer job.

Positions like unpaid Capitol Hill or Silicon Valley internships, as well as opportunities like working on a political campaign or studying abroad, “reinforce who already has access, who is already in a position of privilege,” Barth said. “We’re trying to cut through that.”