When a School is More than Just a School

KIPP Houston

By Lindsey Smith, Fisher Fellow, KIPP Houston Public Schools

A school is supposed to be a place of learning. Great schools are where students acquire the knowledge and habits they need to succeed in college and life. And they can be even more than that—they can also become community hubs and bring together people from throughout the neighborhood.

What happens after that last bell rings and classes are dismissed? Does the school go to sleep, or does it come alive with after-school activity? Over the past five years, as a teacher and assistant principal at KIPP Explore Academy in Houston, TX, I’ve seen what it looks like when a school hums with activity throughout the week.

By offering great extracurriculars and after-school activities—including a thriving baseball program and student performances each spring—KIPP Explore has become a place where people come to learn and to enjoy themselves and each other. For many families, these are the kinds of activities that they’d otherwise have to pay large fees for, or that are only offered locally during KIPP’s extended day when our students are in school. By providing these opportunities, we’re giving families access to something that might otherwise be out of reach, while also making KIPP Explore into a sort of “home away from home.”

Through these programs, families and teachers grow close, while kids get to enjoy an activity they love. Students develop transferable skills, like the grit to practice hitting pitch after pitch, which teachers can then build on in the classroom. Teachers and families build relationships that they can draw on when working together to support students. The school provides a safe environment for students and families to spend time together outside of class. And everything adds up to a vibrant support system that will help carry students all the way to and through college.

When I started at KIPP Explore, I wondered if all of this activity outside of school hours would be tiring for the teachers and staff. In my experience, the opposite is true. We’ve found it energizing and fun to spend time with students outside of class, cheering in the stands or applauding in the audience. It’s actually a way for us to renew to get stronger, together with our students and families.

KIPP Explore’s strong sense of community has really pulled at me. Now, as a Fisher Fellow preparing to open KIPP Climb Academy, my goal is to take it even farther—to make our school an integral part of the social life of the community. I’ve been taking suggestions from students and families, as well as brainstorming with my Fisher Fellow colleagues and visiting schools around the country to see what community activities they offer.

Our early ideas for activities to offer at KIPP Climb include sports programs; community picnics with outdoor activities and crafts; monthly theater performances; family movie nights with a projector and lawn chairs; and family dances with a local DJ. As the year goes on, and KIPP Climb begins to take shape, we’ll be adding more to this list.

It’s still early in the Fisher Fellowship, and I’m excited to keep learning and planning for a school that’s our families’ “home away from home.” I can’t wait for the voices of our students, parents, teachers, and community members to echo in our halls, all while students receive a world-class college-prep education.

Apply to found your own KIPP school through the Fisher Fellowship > 

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