By D’Anza Smith, Fisher Fellow, KIPP LA Schools
Growing up as a young black girl in East LA, I could (and probably would) have been a KIPP student. One striking thing about my school experience is how insulated I was in my own community. In fact, I didn’t get to experience things outside my ZIP code until college. I was the first person in my family to go to college, and going to UCLA opened up so many doors for me. Most importantly, it allowed me to become an educator and give back to the community I came from — a community where in-school opportunities to explore are often limited.
This is something I work hard to change for my students because I see so much of myself in them. Here’s one example. When I was assistant school leader at KIPP LA Prep, one of the best parts of my job was taking students on field trips. A few years back, I was driving a van full of middle school students to the Getty Villa, a museum off of the Pacific Coast Highway here in LA. As we rounded a curve, the Pacific Ocean came into view. Students started clinging to the windows, gasping and pointing. I saw jaws dropping and heard cameras clicking. I realized that my students, who lived no more than 10 miles from the beach, had never seen the ocean before.
Too often, we take for granted that kids have access to certain things. We assume that any kid who lives so close to the coast has gotten to see the ocean. Unfortunately, because so many of these opportunities happen through school, students growing up in educationally underserved communities don’t always get the chance to explore. Here in Los Angeles, our students are so close to a lot of natural and cultural gems, right in their backyard. But just by virtue of their ZIP code and where they went to school, they haven’t been exposed to these opportunities.
As I work with the KIPP LA team to expand KIPP Comienza in Huntington Park this summer to serve grades K-8, we’re planning all sorts of opportunities for our students to get out and explore. This includes visits to colleges and universities throughout California, so students can experience firsthand what it feels like to be on a college campus. We’ll also take field trips to museums for in-depth lessons on art, history, and science. Along the way, I know our students will see and experience things they never expected — the ocean and so much more.
I’m eager to make sure that all our students experience all the rich learning experiences that Los Angeles has to offer. When students have the opportunity to explore, they learn. When they learn, they grow.
D’Anza Smith is founding and leading a KIPP middle school in Los Angeles through the KIPP Fisher Fellowship. Interested in exploring a career with KIPP? View all open positions here. >>