At KPEA, we pride ourselves on the fact that we serve every kid who comes through our doors. No matter what kind of strengths and challenges they have it’s our job to serve them well. This year we have a new family at KPEA, who I will call the Maxwell family. This family has multiple KIPPsters who started at KPEA this year, including a kindergarten student and a student in an upper grade (thanks to family preference in our lottery). As part of our orientation process, we go out to the home to do a home visit where we get to know new families, the new KIPPsters, and explain key information about our school. From talking to these students’ mom, we knew that her children had a number of needs - academic, behavioral, and social/emotional from the impact of trauma at home. Not only did they receive support in school, they were also accessing additional help through outside behavioral health agencies including a 1-1 behavior aid to help keep them focused and safe in their previous school. Even with those supports, Ms. Maxwell stressed to us that they had really struggled in their previous schools – frequent tantrums, running out of the classroom (and school), hitting other students, and more. When one of our staff members spoke to a counselor at the district elementary school where one of the siblings attended, the counselor "joked" that it wouldn’t be long before we would be kicking the Maxwell kids out and they would be returning to their old district school.
We knew we weren't going to do that (since we never do), but seeing how the siblings behaved when the family came in for our Open House event the day before school started, it was clear it was going to be a big adjustment for our new KIPPsters. They had learned a lot of bad habits about how to behave in school and the first couple of days of school at KPEA were not easy. But the transformation over the last three months has been dramatic. Our classroom teachers have built loving relationships, set clear expectations, and put flexible behavior plans in place. Our student support, social work, and SPED team have coordinated with their mother and outside agencies to align support and communication. Everyone in the building makes sure to show the siblings tons of love when they are doing great and works together to hold them accountable when they make a mistake. While they still have times they struggle (like most kids), the vast majority of the time they are making good choices, focused on their learning, and are loving being at KPEA. Watching them in class you, would have no idea of the depth of their past struggles or all the supports that are currently in place.
While everyone at KPEA was feeling good about the amount of progress already this year, their growth was driven home last week when we happened to have a substitute nurse in the building who previously worked at the same elementary school the siblings attended. When she saw them at KPEA and how successful they were, she actually started crying tears of happiness. Thinking about how much they had struggled in the past, she said “I always knew they could do so well! I’m so happy to see it happening.”
Of course, anecdotes are one lens of how to measure success. Another way to measure our success is to use standardized test results, especially to measure how our students do compared to others in our city and state. Results for the PSSA, which is the state test in Pennsylvania, were announced in the last month and overall we’re proud of our results at KPEA. There is always lot of work to do when you’re working hard to get kids to and through college but overall our results are up from previous years and continue to show our students are achieving at high levels. Our results demonstrate that students of color can and do achieve at high levels when you combine talented teachers/staff, awesome kids, and invested families.
Three highlights of our results are summarized below:
We achieve these results serving a student population that is representative of the communities we serve and with very low suspension and student attrition rates.
- We had a 98.4% in-year student retention rate.
- 91% of students who started Day 1 of kindergarten in August of 2012 were promoted from 4th grade this spring. We’ve back-filled those small number of spots over the years.
- We had a 2% suspension rate, meaning 98% of students at KPEA were not suspended last school year.
- 69% of students qualify for some form of public assistance and 89% of students qualify for free/reduced lunch.
- 26% of students qualify for special education services
- 99% of students are people of color, including 93% who are African-American