Chevon Boone’s story is the sort of against-all-odds tale they make TV movies about.
She grew up in the tiny rural town of Garysburg, North Carolina, about a six-hour drive from Penn and the Ivy League. Yet for Boone and other underserved kids in Garysburg, that stretch of highway may as well have been an ocean.
Boone has successfully made the journey, overcoming many obstacles to become a student at Penn. Today, she’s on pace to graduate in May with a health and societies degree and a concentration in public health.
It wouldn’t have been possible, she believes, without the help of the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP). The KIPP charter school she attended from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a dozen years was her vessel to a future of possibility.
“They opened me up to a seriousness I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten,” she says. “I’m from a very low-income, disadvantaged area. They opened my eyes to a better world.”
Next month, Penn is entering into a landmark partnership with KIPP to make sure future generations of Chevon Boones will be given the opportunity and access to exceptional education. Under the new partnership, Penn will enroll 12 to 15 “KIPPsters,” as they’re known, each year.
“Making a Penn education available to talented, hard-working students from every walk of life is the cornerstone of our efforts to increase educational access,” says Penn President Amy Gutmann. “A partnership between Penn and KIPP is a natural fit, and we could not be more supportive of KIPP’s mission to prepare and help enable students in underserved communities to reach their highest potential.”
KIPP has 14 partnerships with universities, but its agreement with Penn is its first with an Ivy League school. KIPP students will have to meet Penn’s admissions requirements—as they’ve always done—and the University will strive to ensure they have a positive and successful experience.
“I feel like this was the first partnership not in name but in spirit,” says co-founder Michael Feinberg, a 1991 graduate of Penn. “Nine KIPPsters have gone to Penn over the years. I hope our work together inspires other institutions of higher education, especially top institutions like Penn, to do something similar and figure out [to] crack the nut and make sure that any child from any zip code has the ability to succeed in school or life.”
KIPP is a network of 125 charter schools located across the nation, educating 39,000 children. It has helped more than 3,000 children get into, and graduate, from college. An international relations major at Penn, Feinberg co-founded KIPP in 1994 after teaching fifth grade in Houston.
“The basic premise is there are no shortcuts, the basic ingredient is great teachers,” he says. “Our goal is to get our kids to go to, and through, college. Our graduation rate from college is five times the national average for low-income kids, 10 points higher for all demographics. We celebrate that. But our kids still do not graduate from college at a rate of top-income kids. There’s still an achievement gap. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Dean of Admissions Eric Furda says partnering with KIPP will help the University “learn about what it takes to help support students who have the talent and motivation, but are coming from backgrounds that are perhaps disadvantaged in certain ways.”
Making a Penn education available to talented, hard-working students from every walk of life is the cornerstone of our efforts to increase educational access."
Boone, for one, sees nothing but positives in formalizing a relationship that already has helped her immensely.
“I feel like there aren’t enough people who know about KIPP, and there aren’t enough people who know the wonderful things about Penn,” she says. “Combining those together, and showing [potential students] completely different worlds is entirely beneficial.”
Feinberg says an overarching goal of KIPP is to change expectations about students.
“I think one of the biggest things that we’re doing together is trying to change beliefs and mindsets. Right now, a kid from the Main Line graduates, goes to college. Yeah, they all do. A kid from the Main Line drops out of school. [People ask] what happened?” Feinberg says. “[But] a kid from West Philly graduates, goes to college, is successful, we make a TV movie of the week about that kid. That ultimately is what we have to change, that kind of belief and mindset. I think Penn and KIPP both firmly believe that demographics don’t determine destiny, that every child can succeed in school and life.”
Originally published on September 13, 2012