KIPP provides much needed support for marginalized students in the community

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Nick Mitchell from the College of Natural Sciences explains an experiment to visitors at Explore UT on Saturday. The biggest college open house in Texas, Explore UT provided an opportunity for visitors to delve into programs on the UT campus.

Photo Credit: Shweta Gulati | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: The name of Huynh’s mentee has been changed.

Just past dawn every Thursday, a few cars full of Plan II Honors students make the 20-minute journey through East Austin to the KIPP Academy of Arts & Letters (KAL) as part of the KIPP/Plan II Partnership that pairs select middle school students with college mentors. Arts & Letters is one of 162 academies in the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a network of free and open-enrollment college-preparatory schools aimed at getting socioeconomically disadvantaged students to graduate from college.

Walking through the middle school doors, the first thing you see is the dozens of college flags prominently draped on the wall by the front office. For a majority of the 88 percent of low-income students enrolled, KIPP is the first exposure they’ve had to college. As a mentor myself, I certainly know this to be true of my mentee Ana, whose family has never attended college and has simply ignored the college posters plastered all over the school for the past three years.

Ana was specifically recommended by her teachers to participate in this program after she was held back a grade and her father was facing trouble with the law. She certainly was not aware of this reasoning when we met for the first time, in the KAL gymnasium during a Thursday morning free period in the fall of 2013. Ana was clearly uncomfortable, responding with minimal interest to my attempts at conversation.

After several weeks of visits, she began to warm to me, slowly telling me more about her latest test or boyfriend. Perhaps the major turning point of our relationship was when we first met outside of KAL on a Saturday morning that following spring, when I picked her up from her family’s apartment to take her to ExploreUT, an open house event inviting the public on to the 40 Acres.

After showing her around the different college workshops, from Cockrell’s nitrogen ice cream experiments to Gates’ self-operating robot battle, she quietly mentioned that she might even want to be a filmmaker some day. I beamed.

Since then, Ana and I have spent hours together well beyond the confines of KAL’s free period, spending entire Saturdays kayaking Lake Austin, touring the Capitol or walking the Domain. After all this time, it’s become more and more clear exactly how immense a burden Ana bears from her financially and emotionally unstable home.

Even now that my role as an official mentor in the program has ended since Ana’s moved on from KAL to the high school, I still plan to work with Ana and her family by regularly bringing her college entrance exam prep material and information on scholarships and college film programs. About a year-and-a-half later, every visit with her still moves me and serves as a humble reminder – to be diligent in supporting students like Ana, thoughtful in how service is approached, and, finally, immensely thankful for the opportunity to attend this University.

Huynh is a Plan II, supply chain management and business honors junior from Laredo.