By Andrea McCormick, Dean of Instruction at KIPP Dream Prep
My first impression of KIPP students? They know how to lead. The first KIPP student I met exemplified self-control and social intelligence in a way I’ve never seen before. What I learned from this student still motivates me and guides my approach to teaching at KIPP, six years later.
It all started when I volunteered with a wilderness program, the Woods Project, which takes inner-city high school students and introduces them to the great outdoors through hiking and camping. My group was responsible for preparing dinner at the campsite. Some kids were goofing off near their tents, and a KIPP student told me how frustrating it was that they weren’t helping. Instead of getting upset, she decided she would model what excellence means and show them what needed to be done to prepare dinner on time. I was blown away! She mediated the situation all on her own, which is really remarkable among a group of high schoolers.
At the time I had been teaching at a local public school in Atlanta, but after this interaction I felt drawn to KIPP. They invest so much in their students and encourage them to think on their own, even if it means doing the “unpopular” thing in a difficult situation. I knew I wanted to be a part of not just a school system, but a movement of change.
Now, after six years of teaching in a KIPP classroom, I’m the Dean of Instruction at KIPP Dream Prep. I’m focused on more than just the academic success of our students and the instructional development of our teachers. I also contribute to helping students develop character strengths by strategically planning weekly character development meetings between students and teachers. We use the time to discuss important topics like bullying, diversity, and equality, as well as our school’s IGNITE values: Integrity, Grit, Never Give Up, Imagination, Trust, and Explore. Teachers continue the conversation in the classroom through their discussions about literature and history, and each week we select a “Dreamster of the Week,” a student who exemplifies our IGNITE value of the week. We make the announcement in front of the whole school, so we can celebrate one another and build a stronger community.
I know that the work we do as educators is rewarding; it’s urgent and it’s often hard. There are also a lot of emotions involved. But having a dual focus on character and academics makes my work feel even more meaningful because I know we’re focused on developing the whole student. I can already see the impact as I watch my students stand up for what they believe in throughout the walls of our schools and within their community.