The ninth-graders were hard at work at KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate, in temporary classrooms on the second floor of a brick office building in working-class Lynn, Mass. But when KIPP administrator Caleb Dolan ’96 looked around him, he saw a small, rigorous, and supportive educational community.
A lot like Colby.
“You can’t get lost on campus,” Dolan said. “It’s a really warm place. It has that culture and environment. There are people who want to support our kids.”
The connection between KIPP (the Knowledge Is Power Program) and Colby is now more than the affinity of the many alumni who work in the growing national network of charter schools. In November Colby became a KIPP partner, agreeing to encourage the organization’s low-income students to apply to the College and, once they are enrolled, to provide support systems to help them succeed.
Colby joins Tulane University and the University of Houston as a KIPP partner, hoping that the College’s support will help more of the students (50,000 to be enrolled by 2015) to earn a college degree—and will bring high-achieving students to Colby.
Ninety-five percent of KIPP students are African Americans or Hispanic/Latino, and 85 percent of the students are eligible for the federal free or reduced-price meals program. Since its founding in Houston in 1994, KIPP, which emphasizes academic rigor and parental involvement, has expanded to include 109 schools in 20 states.
According to Dolan, 85 percent of the first waves of KIPP graduates entered college, but only 33 percent of those students graduated—four times the national average for low-income students but still far short of the schools’ goals. “We made all these promises to families, and it’s not thirty-three percent,” he said.
Dolan, who co-founded Gaston College Prep in North Carolina and is now the KIPP foundation’s principal development programs director, said school leaders are considering academic readiness, cultural issues, financial pressures, and lack of general “college knowledge” as reasons students drop out of college.
They are also looking at helping KIPP students find the right fit in a college or university, and, with the partnerships, they are developing relationships with colleges that will support KIPP students once they’re enrolled.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is almost like Posse,” Dolan said, referring to the Posse Foundation program that enrolls students at Colby and other schools in “posses” of 10 to 12 students. Similarly, KIPP is trying "to cluster our kids in schools that will support them.”
Andrea DeAngelo ’03, principal of KIPP Academy Lynn Collegiate, was a head resident at Colby, and recalls the first Posse students arriving—and the support systems that were in place for them and for all first-years. “When I was a sophomore at Colby, I was a peer mentor and worked with a group of freshmen,” DeAngelo said. “Just seeing the different connections and groups that kids can become a part of—I feel like that’s huge.”
The experience of KIPP students now at Colby (there are three) bears that out, two of them said. Ismael Perez ’13, attended a KIPP school in Houston, went on to Loomis Chaffee School in Connecticut (his Houston school offered grades five through eight), and now is a mathematics major with minors in physics and Chinese. Perez studied abroad in India and plans to study in Beijing later this year. In addition he is on the Pugh Community Board, which does programming for multicultural events, and sings in the Colby Eight and the Colby Chorale.
While Maine and Colby aren’t familiar to many Houston students, Perez said he found Maine to be “a community-oriented state,” and Colby to be a close-knit community. “It’s that atmosphere of everyone working together,” he said. “That’s something that resonates with a lot of KIPP students.”
Another “KIPPster,” Joseph Whitfield ’15, of Helena, Ark., said the director of KIPP Delta Collegiate schools there, Scott Shirey ’98, talked up Colby, as did the school’s principal Todd Dixon ’06, and his cross-country coach, Brian Hurley ’03. “All they talked about was Colby, Colby, Colby,” Whitfield said. “I was like, ‘What is there in Maine to do?’”
It was Colby’s academics that convinced him to apply, he said, and he was nervous through orientation, worried that he wouldn’t measure up in the classroom. It turned out that KIPP prepared him well academically, in terms of study skills, time management, note-taking, and speaking in class. Whitfield said he may major in anthropology (“the light bulb went on last week”) and perhaps join the Peace Corps. In terms of the social transition at college, he said he’s watched older Posse Scholars mentor younger Posse students “like a big brother, big sister.”
Whitfield said he’d do the same for any KIPP students who come to Colby in the future. His message: “There’s always a support group for you.”
Whitfield may offer a support group of his own with some special credibility. He and his roommate were elected co-presidents of the Class of 2015.