Learning With My Son At A NYC Charter School with Zest, Grit, and Determination

Here I am again, tip-tapping away in a corridor of KIPP Infinity Elementary Charter School (KIES) in Harlem, throwing up peace signs and greetings to students and staff alike. I know it’s been awhile since I’ve blogged and, to tell you the truth, I’ve missed it.

Let’s go back to the beginning, my first blog, when I wrote about why I chose KIES for my son. I know that folks like to read about the politics of the educational system but sometimes I like to indulge in the feel-good and the background of what it takes to raise a healthy child.

If you go back to my earlier post, you know that I focused first on a school’s location, as well as the educational quality and supportive services they provide.

As a seasoned single mom living in Harlem with a son who is just as inquisitive as they come, it was important for us to establish a system that would last into adulthood. When my son Christopher Lane and I walked through the doors of KIPP Infinity Elementary, it was show-time more for him than for me. That first week he presented himself as Michael Jackson and gave his teachers and principals the willies!

Speeding forward to last May with Christopher acting as emcee, interviewed his then-departing principal Stephanie Adams on the Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Ms. Adams discussed with him that first week of meeting the young Michael Jackson. She admired his zest, grit, and curiosity. She even said that she wants her children to think outside the box, just like him. That’s a huge compliment. When I first talked about Principal Adams (introduced in my first blog) I described her as being tough, and she is: as I toured KIES with her, she kept her gaze on me.

She was attentive because I asked a lot of questions. During that year,  2011-2012, leaders of the NYC teachers’ union UFT were battling against charter schools and I was aware of this tension. But it was Ms. Adams’ own zest, grit, and determination that landed us at KIES. She knew her facts and statistics. She was able to explain to me in laymen’s terms why UFT leaders were causing trouble for NYC charter schools. (Space and money, of course.) Yet Principal Adams made it her business to listen to what the parents wanted and needed that year so that KIES could provide what it could to feed the whole child (not just the food, although there was that too) but to be critical thinkers.

I’m not saying we didn’t have our downs at KIES but most were fixable, and they all were learned-lessons for the adults and children alike. I used to volunteer on a consistent basis during Christopher’s first three years at KIES and so I watched Principal Adams give her staff the freedom to be themselves but also provide them with excellent professional development.

There were about fifteen to twenty parents whom she chose to call “the posse.”  When we brought her a grievance it was handled immediately (although not always in our favor) because, at the end of the day, it was about respect on both sides.

My first five years here at KIES were bittersweet because the school was a new and growing entity and I was a self-discovering individual. With both great successes and minor defeats, we made our way.

Stephanie Adams and Lindsay Danon-Fry were the founding principals. When Christopher and I first encountered KIES they were young and relatively-inexperienced women (mother wit!), but with extensive knowledge of how they wanted their school run. However, they had no idea how encountering the posse was going to change their lives forever. We gave them a run for their money! I laugh because now they are mothers of beautiful children and had to ask for our advice on a few occasions, which was given freely and wholeheartedly. Then we teased them – okay, laughed at them — and told have a great evening, be safe, see you tomorrow, take care, hug those babies.

Thank  you, KIPP Infinity Elementary School.

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