Kyle Kenan

KIPP Houston Teacher Kyle Kenan

There had never been an engineering program at our high school before, so my first task was to sell students on the purpose of the class. My students didn’t respond to discussions about cool power tools or robots. No, they responded when I framed engineering as a way of helping people. I would tell them, “Doctors can help a person or two at a time. An engineer can create a water filtration project that serves an entire community.”

It was only then—when we looked at the field through a lens of service—that students bought into the program. That’s what got them committed.

I introduced an invention curriculum, and now, four years later, my students’ minds are going to the stars.

Last year, we came up with an idea for how to fix the pothole problem in Houston. We actually won an MIT grant to fund the creation of our proposal.

It got pretty exciting after that.

We made the prototype of our robot and developed a chemical—we called it “Formula X”—that is stronger than the cold patch mixes currently on the market. And we were invited to present at City Hall. The mayor was so impressed with our students that he decided to come and visit our school. He made a proclamation: March 29 is now “KIPP Sunnyside Invent Team Day” in the city of Houston.

We were flown out to present at MIT. Many of my students had never been on a plane before. And when we arrived in Boston, a stretch limo was waiting to pick us up.

Kids freaked out.

Let’s just say that there was a whole lot of Snapchatting and Instagramming going on. At one point I remember thinking, “OK. We are representing KIPP Sunnyside. We should maybe at some point stop with the cheering?” But of course, I let my students enjoy it.

There have been so many great moments at KIPP. And I’m not talking about engineering now. I’m not talking about those stretch-limo or mayor-moments. Great moments are when the kids—OK, this might not sound cool to you—but not too long ago a student broke up a disagreement in the bathroom. Another kid videotaped it, and the kid who broke up the altercation gave this passionate speech. He said, “We just talked about this! We have finals next week! We’re better than this!”

His whole speech was caught on camera, and somehow I got the video.

This kid…he wasn’t trying to impress anybody. There weren’t any teachers there. He didn’t even realize he was being recorded. He was just stepping up and doing what was right. And when I saw that…man, now that’s a great moment! I was so proud of him.

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