The 2018-19 school year is a big year for KIPP Northeast Denver Leadership Academy as its founding KIPPsters plan their post-secondary pathways and become the first graduating class of their school.
KNDLA opened in August 2015 with 140 students in 9th grade. Since then, the school has expanded to educate students through 12th grade, moved to a new campus, and has earned recognition for its growth and performance among the national KIPP network, the state of Colorado, and Denver Public Schools.
“When we started in 9th grade we didn’t have very many resources,” said David, a founding KIPPster and graduating senior who has two younger siblings who attend KNDLA. “We only used a section of the building we were in and we didn’t have too many rooms to use,”
The school moved to a brand new shared campus in Far Northeast Denver by the time the inaugural freshmen became sophomores. Despite having begun in an old building with limited resources, the student experience at the school felt new.
“I was suddenly in a community where people cared and didn’t just work to get their jobs done,” said founding KIPPster and current Senior Abigail. “I had advisers who would cook us breakfast before final exams, bring little presents for us, or do random activities, and that was the way we fostered a community. That was bizarre for me—I had never experienced that before. It made it easier to transition to this school because I felt like I had a strong community here.”
Abigail is currently working on her essays for colleges, including the University of Colorado at Boulder, Emory College, and Dartmouth University. Like many of her classmates, she has already made out-of-state campus visits. She visited Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania with support from the KIPP Through College program for travel expenses. She says her priority is to complete the applications for all her top college choices, before focusing on choosing the right school to attend.
Teachers who have worked at the school since its opening also reflected on what it means to see the founding class reach their senior year.
“I have been here since day one,” said Mr. Casanova, a KIPP Through College advisor who works with the senior class. “It is such a incredible feeling to see the culmination of all the effort that has gone into preparing our students for a life full of choices. Their role in being the example and setting the tone for the rest of the school is something they have really taken seriously.”
That leadership is personified by KIPPsters like David, who will be a first-generation college student, and who helps his sister, a junior at KNDLA, navigate her college preparations.
“The school wants us to show the rest of the students that we take care of business and we know what we’re going to do,” he said.
As the inaugural class watched the school grow, the students established its legacy as a place not only with high expectations and academic rigor, but also as a space for self-discovery and support.
“My favorite experience was when we went to the Food Bank of the Rockies and we did our community service hours there,” said Adilene, a senior. “It was really fun because we bonded with our advisers while we made a difference.”
For many members of the founding senior class, the best quality that stands out about KNDLA is the teachers.
“My advice to incoming students would be to get to know your teachers. I feel like I got to develop a deeper relationship with them as people and not just teachers,” said Diana, also a senior. “I’m very open with my adviser and I’ve learned more about myself and I view her as someone who can get me.”
David, Abigail, Adilene and other seniors shared that their experience as the founding class has been an honor.
“Everything we do is focused on enhancing their successes,” said founding school leader Mr. Erwin. “We define student success by both academic outcomes, character development, and success beyond the classroom in items like clubs, sports, service to our community, and summer experiences. This was our measure from the time our doors opened and it always will be.”
As college applications go out and acceptance letters start arriving, the members of this trailblazing class of students say that, while they are eager to reflect on all they have accomplished, they haven’t finished making their mark just yet.