WashU offers up to a free ride to KIPP alumni who meet academic standards

ByAshley Jost St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Read the full article at STLToday.org >

These scholars stand to be the first in their families to pursue a post-secondary degree.

When invited to meet with actual college students they had a lot of questions.

“What did you have to do to get into college?”

“Do you like college?”

“I like broccoli.”

They are quickly pardoned for getting off track. They’re only 5, after all.

Still, college is really not that far away for the kindergartners of Wisdom and Victory academies, two elementary schools that are part of the KIPP charter school network. An initiative with Washington University is closing that gap even more.

Starting fall 2017, money won’t hinder KIPP alumni who are accepted into Washington University from attending. In a broadened partnership with KIPP, the university pledged to meet all demonstrated financial need for all KIPP alumni who meet the academic rigor required to enroll.

Washington University is the first Missouri college to become a KIPP college partner, but there are more than 80 institutions who do it nationwide. The St. Louis research institution is one of only a few of those partners willing to provide as much as a free ride to qualifying students, holding ranks with schools like the University of Pennsylvania.

Steve Mancini, a former teacher and the national spokesman for KIPP, called the Washington University partnership “the gold standard” as not many schools provide up to a free ride. There is no cap to how many KIPP students the university will fund either — as many as those who get in, they say.

Mancini hopes this is the first of more Missouri college partnerships.

KIPP, an acronym for Knowledge is Power Program, is the largest nonprofit network of charter schools in the country, with 141 schools in 20 states and Washington, D.C. The network touts high college readiness among a largely minority student population. According to KIPP, 44 percent of their students complete a four-year degree, versus a national average of 34 percent.

The new partnership with Washington University applies to all KIPP alumni, including those across the country. Many of those students have graduated at a KIPP high school. In St. Louis, KIPP won’t add high school grades until next year at the earliest. Those eligible locally more often graduated a KIPP middle school and are currently attending various high schools.

Every fall, kindergartners get a taste of college life with a visit to Washington University’s campus. They ask college students questions in the student union building, play duck, duck goose on Mudd Field and tour the campus.

One scholar’s mom joked that her daughter was so excited to see the campus that she woke her up at 6:30 a.m. asking if it was time to go yet.

College is on the brain from day one for students at KIPP, a system of schools that aspire to academic rigor and success. That’s one of the reasons Washington University got involved as the charter school’s sponsor.

Cheryl Adelstein, assistant vice chancellor for community relations at Washington University, said joining the “KIPP to College” program “just made sense.”

“We have a lot of pipeline programs already, and we’re always focused on our own KIPPsters (in St. Louis) and hoping some of them come to WashU, but this helps us broaden that,” she said. Recruiters will be in KIPP regions across the country ahead of next fall, she said.

This is exciting news for Anna Robinson, a St. Louis resident. She looks forward to talking to her daughter, Amiya Neal, 5, about college someday. Maybe even Washington University.

“She’s really tall so we talk about her playing basketball or track,” Robinson said while her daughter outsprints her classmates during duck, duck, goose. “We talked about scholarships and how they will pay for your college if you work hard.”

They talk about college a lot already at Amiya’s school, Wisdom Academy, but Robinson wants to build the foundation of Amiya understanding the importance of paying attention and never being afraid to ask questions. Still, a visit to what could be her school in another 12 years is exciting.

“This is so beneficial for these kids, experiencing the surroundings of a college campus,” she said. “It gives them something to, you know, look forward to.”