2nd grader headed to Vanderbilt

When students believe in the school they attend, something is working.

KIPP Primary academy received a “C” and an 83.5 on their Student Performance Score on last year’s state report card. Among the student body, 69% are performing at or above grade level and 94% receive a lunch subsidy. The best data point, however, is the smile and excitement on the face of Ronald Anthony Clark Jr. or “Dooda” – as his family lovingly calls him – as he makes his way to school.

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It was Pajama Day and the last week of school for students at KIPP Believe Primary. Dooda lives in New Orleans East with his mother, stepfather and two siblings. He wakes up at 5:30am every morning to be ready to catch the bus which comes promptly at 6:20am every morning. The sun is out because its summer, however, during daylight savings time in the fall this one block trek feels a lot different. Dooda’s bus arrives and he hops on and waves back with glee.

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Dooda will eventually graduate college as part of the Class of 2030. To prepare him this year he was one of 23 students in Ms. Lund’s Vanderbilt first grade class at KIPP Believe Primary School. If you remember, this is the school that was moved from its uptown location to Holy Rosary on Esplanade because of bat infestation during the school year. Considering this, Dooda is still charging towards the “Respectful Revolution” which represents one of the many mantras students at KIPP Believe Primary are learning and living by. When I asked what university he would attend, Dooda with as much confidence a seven year old could have, says “I want to go to LSU to stay close to mom but may just end up going to Vandy.” As a former teacher, I beamed with pride because I knew Ms. Lund worked all year for the very moment someone asked him where he would go to school and without hesitation he envisioned himself at Vanderbilt University – an Ivy League University. During the time we spent together he raved about his teacher and spoke about his recent fieldtrip to Dillard University.

So while as an educator, organizer and someone who spends times listening to families that push back on the new educational landscape I can say that for Dooda it’s working and he loves his college going school culture and his school. The sad truth is that in New Orleans for every Dooda there are hundreds of others not having his experience. Unfortunately, I have heard and witnessed more stories of students who are not excited about school and not reading on grade level. Every child in New Orleans should be able to benefit from schools that groom them for college and beyond. Without a critical mass of students having Dooda-like experiences, we essentially are re-packaging inequity, whereby a select few black and brown students are college-bound while the vast majority are left with few options. Something is working in Dooda’s home, in his school and in his classroom that have made him a part of the selected few who are college-bound now let’s make this work for every child in the city.

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