Minneapolis charter school 5th graders see college in their future


The KIPP Stand Academy just completed its first year. It is located in downtown Minneapolis, next to the Basilica of Saint Mary.

KIPP, which stands for “Knowledge is Power Program,” is one of 66 public schools in 19 states and the District of Columbia — over 16,000 students are enrolled. Most of the schools are fifth through eighth grade, but there are also several high schools, pre-kindergarten/elementary schools and one pre-K-8 school. Over 90 percent of its students either are Black or Latino, and students are accepted regardless of prior academic record, conduct or socioeconomic background.

In its first year, 65 fifth graders were enrolled in the Minneapolis KIPP school. “Most of our kids are from North Minneapolis,” school leader Mike Spangenberg points out. He says the school expect to have at least 85 students enrolled when classes resume in August. “We are building one grade at a time, until we reach 5-8,” says Spangenberg.

One of KIPP’s goals is, at every opportunity, to impress upon each student that they can go to college. “All our homerooms are named after colleges, and we paint [college] banners everywhere,”

Spangenberg says. “Our focus is really [to] get them to college as soon as they get here.”

Eleven-year-olds Alexandria “Lexi” Johnson and Maryan Ismeal, and 10-year-old Johannah Easley — all from Minneapolis — know exactly when they will be eligible to attend college: “We are going to college in 2-0-1-6!,” the students said in unison.

“My mom and I have been thinking about some schools that [are] out of state,” says Johnson.

Easley says, “My mom wants me to go to an African American school.”

“I want to go to Harvard,” proclaims Ismeal, “and I am going to become a doctor.”

The three students were part of a group of 30 KIPP fifth graders who traveled across Minnesota in May as an end-of-year celebration field trip. Instead of visiting the zoo or an amusement park, which usually is par for the course for youngsters to finish the school year, these students spent a week visiting such cities as Itasca, Duluth, Brainerd, Grand Rapids and Lutsen, along with several Native American settlements.

The class earned their “paychecks,” which according to Spangenberg were their ticket to go: “These [students] come to school every day from 7:30 [am] to 5 [pm] and come every other Saturday for enrichment classes. They earned their ‘KIPP dollars’ by doing their homework every day, being at school on time and doing all their school jobs,” he explains. “They got deductions when they break the rules.

“That paycheck was how they earned the trip at the end of the year,” adds Spangenberg. In other words, the fifth graders got their first exposure to being productive citizens.

“It feels good to work [and to know] that you earned it,” admits Johnson.

“We have a responsibility at this school — it is like a job,” adds Easley.

All year, the students prepared for the late springtime trip to places that many of them never have been before. “Our social studies teacher talked about the Ojibwa and the Dakota, and how they moved here, how they lived, how they ate and dressed,” notes Johnson.

“We had to do a lot of research,” surmises Easley.

Also, each student was instructed on what and what not to bring with them on their trip — school uniforms and just one electronic item — “a mp3 player or an iPod,” explains Easley. They also kept a daily journal: “Our chaperone would check it [every night during the trip],” she notes.

For the most part, the students enjoyed themselves, seeing various places they had only read about. “I never had been to the [Minnesota-Wisconsin] border or at the lake before,” says Easley proudly of seeing Lake Superior for the first time in person.

Not all her classmates went on the trip, however. A couple of boys didn’t go because of behavior issues, Easley pointed out. Even she got into a bit of trouble during the trip, she says, and “had to sit on the bus with Mr. Spangenberg because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do,” the young lady disclosed.

Johnson says that the KIPP group impressed all those they met on the trip. “We were told that we were the best group they ever had,” she said smiling.

KIPP doesn’t allow misbehaving, something that Easley and the other girls truly appreciates. “If I talk back to the teachers, they are going to check me because my grandma works at this school,” says Easley. Ismeal added that her overall attitude has improved since coming to the school.

Now that summer vacation is in full swing, the students are keeping busy — they are participating in a summer program.

Johnson says she’s working on a project called Beats and Rhymes. “I’m still learning — I am not just staying at home, lounging around.”

Easley says she is reading daily for at least an hour and working on two-page writing assignments. “My brother is tutoring me at home on how to do higher grade math,” she adds. “I’m kind of looking forward to going back to school because the summer right now is boring.”

“When I get home,” says Ismeal, “my mom wants me to read so my reading [proficiency] can go higher.”

Easley, Ismeal and Johnson were very polite and expressive during their interview with the MSR. When later asked if all KIPP students act this way, “Not all the time,” notes their teacher. On the three young ladies, “These are examples of our best, that’s for sure.”

The three will be sixth graders this fall. Additionally, Easley says she’s eager to help the incoming fifth graders learn what they need to do in order to go on a similar trip next spring. Spangenberg adds that field trips such as this are important because KIPP is “coaching our kids to go to college, and along the way, they are going to interact with people with all these [different] life experiences. So it is important that they [the students] have them, too.”

“At my other school,” says Easley, “[the teachers] really didn’t care.” Here at KIPP, that’s not the case because according to her, “It helps you to get your behavior in a straight line. If you didn’t do your homework, it goes [against] your grade and to your paycheck, so you can’t get your reward and [you] can’t get good grades.”

“It felt really good to come to school,” concludes Johnson.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.

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