New school promises hard work, high hopes

KIPP Ujima keeps focus on learning in long days

August 04, 2002|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Debora Womack wants her son, Warren, to grow up to be president, and she hopes the rigors of the newly established KIPP Ujima Village Academy in Baltimore will push him to do his best.

This year, Warren, who had been attending Langston Hughes Elementary, rushed home, excited about a new school that was enrolling students. He told his mother he wanted to go to the school, even though classes would be held from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week and from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. every other Saturday.

Debora Womack hadn't heard of the academy, but was sold after a visit from Jason Botel, the young man who would be directing the school. She felt her son needed to be pushed harder and given greater challenges than those he received at Langston Hughes.

"It seemed like he was pretty bored there," she said yesterday, after the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Ujima's ribbon-cutting ceremony. "I know he's smart."

The school, in a wing of Roland N. Patterson Sr. Academy on Greenspring Avenue, just north of Cold Spring Lane, begins its three-week summer school session tomorrow. It is one of three innovative middle schools opening in the city this year.

At Ujima Village, 80 fifth-graders will begin a four-year journey their teachers and parents hope will lead to college preparatory high schools, then to colleges and universities.

KIPP began in 1994, the brainchild of two Teach For America teachers in Houston. A year later, they added another class in the South Bronx in New York City. Success in those two schools - consistently high test scores, stellar performance and 99 percent enrollment in college preparatory high schools - attracted the attention of Doris and Donald Fisher, founders of The Gap Inc. Three more schools joined the program last year. The Ujima Village Academy is one of 10 KIPP schools starting up around the country this year.

Botel, a Teach For America graduate, said he was attracted by KIPP's principles, which include high expectations, an extended school day and an unrelenting focus on results. Those ideals led him to switch from being a teacher at Booker T. Washington Middle School to enrolling in KIPP's yearlong leadership development program that ends with graduates starting their own schools.

"I actually really enjoyed teaching here in Baltimore City," said Botel, 27. "I just felt that they needed a lot more."

The planning process for opening the school took about 1 1/2 years, said John Alford of KIPP's development office. During that time there were numerous meetings with school officials, including Chief Executive Officer Carmen V. Russo. A site had to be found, along with resources and staff.

The school will be funded through the Baltimore City Public School System - the same as other city schools. The academy also has received corporate and philanthropic help, including $60,000 in grants from the Abell Foundation.

Alternatives to standard public school education in Baltimore are becoming increasingly popular as frustrated parents look for academically rigorous and enriching schools for their children.

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