KIPP Reach Academy Students reflect on their experience at the college prep school

 KIPP Reach Academy has taken the word “reach” quite literally in recent years. Although it is a middle school, it is now reaching far beyond its grade levels to help students attain scholarships when they move on to high school and beyond.

A charter elementary school, KIPP is the best-performing publicly-funded educational institution in Oklahoma City. Its students outperform all other eighth graders in the local system on academic achievement benchmarks.

KIPP’s staff promotes its enthusiastic, high-achieving students to enter prestigious private schools, boarding schools, and later colleges. The receiving schools know they are getting highly-committed students who know how to succeed academically.

In June, KIPP leader Tracy McDaniel gathered four soft-spoken, polite students and graduates for an interview. Their stories say more than any brochure ever could.

Before she came to KIPP Middle School,  “I wanted to be a rapper,” said Annetta Oleru, 18, a 2008 graduate.

“At first, (the adjustment) was hard for me,” she said. “I came from Longfellow Elementary. It was a fun school.”

Her fourth grade Longfellow Elementary schoolteacher promised that if anyone scored a 50 (which she didn’t know was still failing) or more on the state test, she would take them to a pizza party. “I was the only one who scored a 50, so I got to go.

“But when I got here in the 5th grade, I still thought I was smart.”

When she arrived at KIPP she found a state test passing score was, in fact, 70 or above. She then realized she’d never passed such a test.

“Upon leaving KIPP I’ve never scored less than advanced on a state test and even achieved a perfect score on a state math test,” the shy 18-year-old said with a disarming smile.

At KIPP she was never satisfied with anything less than perfection, but she occasionally missed one or two questions on state tests. She still remembers them with a little frustration, but it hasn’t dampened her enthusiasm.

“My drive to succeed is to change things for my family,” she said. “My grandmother worked really hard to raise me, so one day I want to be able to take care of her when I get my first job,” she said.

After graduating from KIPP in 2008, she was awarded a $43,000 scholarship to St. George’s, a prestigious boarding school in Newport, RI. One notable St. George’s alumna is: Prescott Bush, grandfather of George W. Bush.

Annetta is now a senior planning to begin her college search to lead to a career as a physician.

“I’m looking at colleges now, researching, making my final list, Oleru said. “I want to go to Emory in Atlanta, Ga., or Duke in North Carolina.”

Sung-Kook Guervara, 14, is graduating from KIPP Reach Academy middle school and will attend St. George’s in Rhode Island on a $50,000 scholarship.

His favorite subject is math. His mother encouraged him when he was a very young boy to pursue his dream, which was to become a stockbroker.

“My mother wanted it to be my decision to come to KIPP,” he said. “She wanted me to decide my future. She put it in my hands.”

Anthony Lay excelled in his final year at KIPP, but decided to stay another year to become a more competitive candidate for high school and college. Lay, 16, decided on his own to repeat his final year at KIPP to better prepare himself for high school. It is not an uncommon practice and typically raises a student’s achievement scores.

He was accepted on scholarship at boarding school Orme School of Arizona in Myer, Arizona.

“KIPP is another opportunity to succeed, to make your dreams come true, said Lay. “ Whether it’s to be a stockbroker, an anesthesiologist or an investment banker.”

Lay said he plans to become a stockbroker, too.

In the beginning, it was sometimes it’s a tough sell to engage parents in their KIPP experience, including coming to the school for parent-teacher conferences and other activities, the student said.

“KIPP helps, you can convince parents of what it can do for you. It will get you to where you want to go,” said Lay. “I want to go to one of the top business schools. I like Yale.”

Carolina also attended KIPP an extra year to bring his writing skills up to a higher level. He made a perfect score on his reading test and a perfect score in math, at least one each apiece in each year.

“I wasn’t doing well enough on my writing, so I came back so I could raise the level enough to get into Casady,” Carolina said.

He was recently awarded a $13,180 scholarship to Casady, considered by many the best preparatory school in Oklahoma City.

Editor’s Note: Stacy Martin is a writer and researcher for CapitolBeatOK. She is also editor of The City Sentinel, a newspaper where portions of this article also appeared last week.