Grantor: Rockwell Fund, Houston
Grantee: KIPP Academy, Houston
Amount: $75,000 since 1995
The school day runs from 7:25 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, until 3:45 on Fridays, and half a day on Saturdays. The school year lasts until mid-July. Students get three to four hours of homework each night.
Yet students flock to Houston’s KIPP Academy. Before they can matriculate, students commit, in writing, to “work, think, and behave in the best way I know how” and to “do whatever it takes for me and my fellow students to learn.” Students also acknowledge responsibility for their own behavior and promise to “listen to all my KIPP teammates and give everyone my respect.”
KIPP, the Knowledge is Power Program, is an academically rigorous college preparatory public school that begins in the fifth grade. The school provides an “intense academic commitment” that is the “key to the future” for its students and their families. KIPP’s guiding principles are simple and forthright: There are no shortcuts; success is built through desire, discipline, and dedication; and education is the path to success.
Michael Feinberg and David Levin, both 5th grade teachers, began KIPP in 1995 after they saw with dismay their former students’ lack of success in middle school. Their 5th graders, inspired about their futures and enthusiastic about school, went on to middle school only to find an educational wasteland. Some would actually call Feinberg and Levin and ask for homework. (They couldn’t take their books home because the teachers feared they would ruin them.) By Christmas, according to Feinberg, they would be just like their peers—girls would be getting pregnant, boys would be involved in gangs, and almost all would be using drugs.
Feinberg and Levin decided that they could not simply blame the environment—the abysmal schools, the bad neighborhoods, wider society—for their students’ lack of success. Instead, they decided, they had not done enough. In a state of “utter hopelessness,” according to Feinberg, he and Levin late one night, listening to music by the rock band U2, typed up a proposal for what became KIPP. They submitted grant proposals for funding, including a letter to the Houston-based Rockwell Fund.
Martha Vogt, program officer at the Rockwell Fund, still remembers reading Feinberg and Levin’s letter in July 1994. “What impressed me about that letter, what caught my eye” she says, was its recurring theme: “There are no shortcuts.” Vogt continues, “as an ex-schoolteacher, I spotted [this] right away.”
The Rockwell Fund provided the KIPP Academy’s first grant. The $15,000 unrestricted donation funded field lessons, snacks, instructional supplies, and enrichment programs. To hear Vogt tell it, Feinberg and Levin are successful precisely because they are absolutely honest about the state of their incoming students’ educational attainment. They tell their students that they will have to work hard to succeed.
But the school’s results are impressive. It serves 300 5th through 9th grade students who live in communities rife with drug use, illiteracy, broken homes, gangs, and crime. Ninety-six percent of the students are Hispanic or black, and over 95 percent qualify for the federal free and reduced price meals program. Most students arrive at or below grade level in school, yet KIPP actually led the state of Texas in its statewide assessment of academic skills.
The first class of KIPP alumni will be going to college in 2002; Feinberg is justifiably excited to see how his “babies” will do. By all accounts, Feinberg’s babies will do just fine. Through Feinberg and Levin’s insights, dedication, and hard work, they have created a program that gives its students everything they need to flourish and, in Feinberg’s words, “achieve the American dream.”