By Jarius Allen, Alumnus, KIPP Metro Atlanta
More than nine years ago, my parents told me that I would be attending a new school. Since I stayed in an ample amount of trouble at my prior school, I was open to the idea of switching schools. Of course, this was before I was informed about the ten-hour weekdays, bi-weekly Saturday school, and a month shaved off of my beloved summer vacation. To top it off, I had to sit down and meet face-to-face with a strange white lady, my principal, and sign a commitment to work hard (along with my teachers and parents) before I even saw the school building. At the time, this did not seem that appealing to my young, unruly nature, yet the commitment I made to this unfamiliar place would prove to be one of the greatest choices in my life.
During my first few weeks at KIPP South Fulton Academy, I grew to love all of my peers and my teachers. The teachers seemed to really care about all of us, and they constantly repeated the idea that with hard work we would all make it to college. My principal always stressed the importance of treating a fellow KIPPster as a brother or sister. We called ourselves a Team and Family, and we all wanted to have the best grades, best behavior, best sports teams, and most of all, the best character. The goal was that ALL of us would succeed and go to college, so when one teammate slacked, a brother or sister just gave a little shove of love as a reminder to refocus.
By my sixth grade year though, I was no longer in unfamiliar territory. The butterflies of that first day at a new school went away. During class, I mastered multi-tasking, so I could learn each lesson while unintentionally creating countless distractions for the teachers. I was in full-blown puberty. I was feeling more and more like a “man” and believed it was ok to challenge the teachers. I began to let them know when I was unhappy or upset with an occasional smack of my teeth and loud sigh. Halfway through my sixth grade year, my teachers were extremely tired. I was tired too. My vision had been lost. By the end of my second year, the trust my teachers had for me just one year ago seemed to be gone. However, KIPP South Fulton Academy still recognized my potential and planned to help me to achieve it.
My last two years at KIPP South Fulton Academy were better than my sixth grade year but were by no means up to KIPP standards. But my KIPP teachers still believed in me. When they saw I was goofing off and causing distractions, they would call me out. It worked. I paid a little bit more attention. They would challenge me to become more mature, realize my potential, and be a leader of great character amongst my peers. My teachers would constantly repeat to me, “Jarius, we will not give up on you, but we will not settle for this type of behavior. We know you are capable of more.”
As I ponder that statement as a young man today, my heart holds nothing but love for those teachers. Despite my thoughts, my words, and my sometimes inappropriate actions, they would not let me fail. When I was not motivated to improve my character, they provided the encouragement that I needed. They challenged me to improve my reading and writing skills. They forced me to be the best that I could be, even when I was not self-motivated enough or willing to take that role. For that, I am still saying thank you. My credentials, success, and character can all be accredited to those KIPP teachers and administrators who believed I would one day be great. When all hope was lost on the inside of me, they still believed in me like I was a child of their own. The promise that was made to me by a strange white lady in the summer of 2003 was surely being fulfilled.
KIPP teachers, I challenge you to continue to express the same belief in your KIPPsters. Truly let them know that they are part of a great team. Clearly lay out the vision that KIPP has for each of them. Uphold the promise that regardless of their lack of discipline and belief in themselves, you will not let them quit or settle for less than their best. You and your KIPPsters are one team. You and other KIPP teachers possess one vision. Everyone in the KIPP Network must always remember that one promise. The promise that says to each student: if you believe and follow this model known as KIPP, you will surely achieve great things.
Tell your students that through perseverance, one day you will graduate near the top of your class, one day you will get that acceptance letter to Georgia Tech, and one day you will receive the Gates Millennium Scholarship. Sure, they will have their setbacks because as humans we all do, but despite minor and sometimes major mistakes, as one team… with one vision…working towards one promise…failure is not an option.
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