Pretty excited and proud to say my kids will be in the same spot in only 2 and 3 years!
Proud day for KIPP Pride High School
by Hank Dewald, Daily Herald Staff Writer
GASTON — Forty-eight seniors sat on the stage in the KIPP Pride gymnasium yesterday afternoon beaming with pride. They are the first ever graduating class from the school, but that was not the source of their smiles. They reflected an achievement worth celebration — each and every one of them is going on to college.
This has been the mission of the school from the beginning.
The 48 seniors have been accepted into at least two colleges, with some having to choose from up to eight acceptance letters. This was “Signing Day” at KIPP Pride High School and the entire combined school, which includes KIPP Pride High School and Gaston Prep, or Gaston College Preparatory School as it is officially known, gathered to watch as the seniors stood and announced to the audience which college they had chosen.
Sometimes it was difficult to distinguish which group was more proud, the graduating class, the 70-or-so teachers and administrators or the student body watching. Smiles and tears were obvious on faces in every group, especially the section that held the graduates’ parents and family members.
As each speaker took the stage and lauded the graduating group, more interesting and surprising facts were revealed. Guidance Counselor Joanne Sanborne, who is also Director of College Placement, told the audience the 48 seniors sent out a combined 333 applications to more than 90 colleges and universities, and had an acceptance rate of 83-percent.
“That translates to 213 acceptances to 59 colleges and universities throughout the country. Eighty percent of the students will be the first in their family to graduate from a four-year college or university,” Sanborne proclaimed from the podium.
One of the organizers and true believers in the KIPP learning system model that was used in creating this unique school is Caleb Dolan, who has seen this group of kids, the first fifth grade class to attend KIPP, to the proudest of moments on Thursday. Dolan will be leaving the school after this year, taking a job in Boston.
“This is something else,” Dolan said, looking up and smiling. “It’s a beautiful thing. It works. As soon as we get the elementary school started this place is going to be packed.”
When asked why the KIPP system can be such an unqualified success while public systems like Halifax County Schools District languish with what Judge Howard Manning said was 70-percent of the district’s students who could not read at their grade level and was committing “academic genocide” with it’s students, Dolan said the KIPP system would work anywhere.
“Absolutely, our kids are just kids. We have to commit as educators and a community; We have to say we’re not going to accept less than students being 100-percent college-ready. It takes commitment. Students, teachers, parents and community- all have to be committed, then this can happen anywhere.”
When Principal Tammi Sutton, who has also been a part of the new formula since day one, took the stage, her comments echoed Dolan’s. “They said it couldn’t be done,” Sutton said. “I want you to look past the statistics at the remarkable men and women who sit before you today, because that’s what they are. These students have already visited more than thirty states across the nation; Thirty states that represent about 50 universities. Not only that, they have visited Egypt, Costa Rica, India, Mexico, Hungary and have their eyes set on seeing the rest of the world.”
She said these students have been a part of starting the school from the beginning when very little was there as far as buildings and facilities. They helped start sports programs, a jazz band, develop the school grounds, worked after school jobs and much more. “All that while keeping their eye on the prize of attending college. They are amazing people,” Sutton said to tumultuous applause.
“As a group of students, they have now shown, not what is possible, but what is real,” Sutton said. “They have shown us all, whether parents, teachers, community members, people in rural North Carolina and the small towns across this nation, not only can you, but you will, because they have.” Sutton paused for effect and said, “I want you to remember that.”
Finally the students themselves, who sat listening, some with tears streaming down their faces, had their turn to declare aloud which college they would be attending next fall. As they stood and made their announcement, they held T-shirts from their chosen college up and basked in the applause.
While many of them were notable for many reasons, two in particular stood out to most of the crowd. One was Damian Blackwell, who was the first student to sign the required contract to attend the school, which was little more than a dream at the time.
Blackwell signed a contact committing himself and his parents to a regimen that included much longer school days than regular public schools, going to school on Saturdays and even attending summer school. Now he was standing before the crowd and announcing he would be attending college.
The other most notable student was Victoria Bennett, who had many letters of acceptance from colleges and universities across the country. She won the prestigious Robertson Scholarship. The scholarship endowment is applied for by students across the country and around the world, but only 19 students are chosen and Bennett is one of them. When it came her turn to announce where she would be attending college in the fall, she said, “I will be going to UNC and Duke.”
The audience seemed stunned by Bennett’s announcement and Sutton spoke up quickly saying, “The Robertson Scholarship includes a complete, free-ride to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but it also allows Victoria to attend classes of her choice at Duke University and she can even attend an entire semester at Duke, if she chooses.”
Once the announcements were finished, the students ceremonially signed letters of intent to attend their chosen schools. The final speakers each made note that what had started as an idea for a better way of teaching kids who historically had not done well advancing to higher education, had proven itself beyond any doubt. The KIPP schools, which are free, open-enrollment, college-preparatory public schools where students develop the knowledge, skills and character traits needed to succeed in top quality high schools, colleges and the competitive world beyond, have proven themselves across the nation and this class has proven itself here. The message was, “These 48 students have proven the system works.”