Celebrating a Community of Achievement

By Jason Botel, Executive Director, KIPP Baltimore

At KIPP Baltimore, our fantastic staff has created a school culture that is rich in tradition. One of the many traditions led by the staff at KIPP Ujima Village Academy, our middle school, is the annual pep rally to get our students excited to do their best work on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA). This year the event was incredibly inspiring as usual.

While attending the pep rally, I began to reflect on a favorite concept introduced by Malcolm Gladwell to some of our board members and supporters. We were fortunate enough, thanks to our dedicated board of directors, to have Malcolm come to KIPP Baltimore last year to speak at an event in our school. The focus of his talk was on “human capitalization.” In “Geek Pop Star,” New York magazine documents Gladwell’s thoughts on this concept:

“The human capitalization rate…Gladwell explains, “refers to the rate at which a given community capitalizes on the human potential of those in its midst.” In the United States, Gladwell is sad to report, “cap rates are really low” owing to poverty, stupidity, and culture. He tells the story of an inner-city neighborhood in Los Angeles where the boys must cross gang lines to go to high school, so none of them go to high school. “We have a cap rate for that community in Los Angeles, one of the richest cities in the world, that is zero,” Gladwell says, disgust creeping into his normally tranquil voice, “because if you don’t go to high school, you basically can’t achieve anything in our particular society.”

The article goes on to quote him:

“We have a scarcity of achievement in this country, not because we have a scarcity of talent,” Gladwell says, his voice taking on an urgent tone. “We have a scarcity of achievement because we’re squandering that talent. And that’s not bad news, that’s good news, because it says this scarcity is not something we have to live with. It’s something we can do something about.”

I believe that we are surrounded by a community ready to capitalize on human potential at KIPP Baltimore. That is why the tradition of the MSA pep rally made me think of the concept Gladwell explained. The pep rally showed not only the tremendous talent that our staff and students have but also the extent to which our staff lead our students to develop their talents so they and their community can capitalize on them.

How does this human capitalization take place? First of all, our students could not perform so artistically and skillfully in their dance and step performances without the coaching of our staff and the support of their families. Of course the pep rally is not the only time we see the results of their hard work; it is also reflected in their performance on the NWEA MAP assessment, the MSA, athletic championships, numerous artistic performances and presentations, and most importantly, admissions to college-preparatory high schools.

Secondly, throughout the pep rally the staff wove in data and stories about how successfully our students have performed on past years’ MSAs (KIPP Ujima has had the highest-performing public middle school program in Baltimore City for five of the past six years and one of the highest-performing middle schools in the state). The artistic performances and the achievement data highlight that our amazing staff members are doing something about the scarcity of achievement, in academics as well as in the arts. Who could ask for a better staff?

Check out the videos of our respective student and staff step performances; the pep rally also included student band, dance, and cheerleading performances.