This is my 12th year working in education. I moved to Chicago when I was 20 years old to teach on the South Side as a Teach for America Corps member. I knew very little at that age, but what I did know, with every fiber of my being, was that my calling was in education. Soon after I began teaching, I knew my next step was to join the KIPP Network. Three years lat er, I began teaching at KIPP Ascend Charter School; today I lead that very school.
What surprised me most about being the School Leader was how much I would need to rely on others, both inside and outside of my school building, to ensure the success of ALL of our kids.
At our school, we strive to give students the education they deserve and put them on a path through college, so that as adults they can live a life of freedom and choice. And while I am proud of our results — 87% of 8th grade graduates from my school later enroll in college — I know that there is work still to be done. UCAN is an invaluable partner in helping us achieve our mission.
At KIPP Ascend, we partner with UCAN’s 360 Community program. This program focuses on about 15 students who work one on one with UCAN staff. These are often the kids that I would stay up late at night worrying about. However, since UCAN came to my school, their parents and our school community worry much less, because we know that we are not working alone.
When I met Jacob Dancer, 360 Community Program Manager, I immediately felt relieved. I remember thinking, “He gets it; he knows what needs to be done.” His leadership, long-term experience, and willingness to collaborate make the partnership a success. Monthly, he brings his team in to talk to me about our students and we problem solve together. Jacob has even conducted workshops for both teachers and parents to better support us in meeting all of our students’ needs.
As a part of the 360 Community program, Jacob leads a team of youth development coaches and clinicians who support our school. I think of the youth development coaches as the hands and feet of our school. They do extra home visits, come into the school when students need extra one-on-one time, and connect our families with resources and organizations in the community. At any time, they are literally only a call away.
I can say with certainty that every KIPP student who works with UCAN is making steady progress that has been bolstered by the 360 Community program. The program has fundamentally improved the way that our school partners with families and community resources.
Perhaps my most powerful takeaway from working with UCAN for the last two school years is that the old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” is not only true, it is absolutely crucial. I have learned that I cannot, nor should I, do this work in isolation. In education, I often get the impression that everyone is looking for a silver bullet a leader, a system, a pedagogy that will ensure the success of our children’s future —when, in fact, the truth has been available to us for centuries. We need to work better together. The 360 Community program seeks to facilitate this process of school, community and family partnership.
When you love a child, perhaps the greatest compliment you can give someone is to trust that child to someone else’s care. I love my students and I trust UCAN with them. I know that UCAN’s staff will believe the best about my kids and work tirelessly on their behalf, and for that I am indebted and incredibly grateful.