On Martin Luther King Day, our Springside Chestnut Hill (SCH) Academy class of 2016 did service trips for various organizations over a span of three days. The group of students we were part of visited the KIPP School in West Philadelphia. KIPP is an organization of charter schools across the country and stands for Knowledge Is Power Program. There are currently 125 KIPP schools in the country and four of those are in Philadelphia. Using the Stanford Design Thinking method, we came up with a service project. It is part of the skills we've been learning from our school's Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL). We recently completed the public speaking course part of CEL, which turned out to be very helpful as we presented our project to the KIPP students and our fellow classmates when we returned to SCH.
We learned a lot from this experience, even some really unexpected things.
1. We learned that sometimes a charity isn't a charity. Initially, we tried to figure out why we weren't working with a traditional charity like a food bank or homeless shelter. Upon arriving at KIPP, we were once again surprised. These kids were special because they appreciated how fortunate they were. The halls in KIPP are covered in college banners, mascots and posters to reinforce the positive impact of college in the students' minds. Their homerooms are not done by the name of the teacher, but rather where the teacher got their undergraduate degree. The halls are covered in inspirational quotes and messages to keep the kids motivated. It was a great environment and the KIPP students acted like a true family that didn't take what they had for granted.
2. We learned that you can have a lot in common with people that are really different from you. The majority of the students at KIPP West Philadelphia come from low-income families. They spend a lot of time prepping for college because, without KIPP, the students might never go to college. We interviewed one boy at KIPP who loved to swim. He was trying out for the Junior Olympics this year. Three of the SCH students in our group were also competitive swimmers. They all bonded over this sport and it made their connection a lot stronger.
3. We learned teachers work really hard. It might sound a little cliché but the KIPP teachers have a teacher phone that they have to keep on at home until 8:30pm each night to help the students with homework. The commitment of these teachers has helped me realize the commitment of our teachers at SCH.
4. The fourth thing we learned is that combining lots of ideas together can be really hard. Although using design thinking opens a new world of possibilities, it also means that all the ideas you come up with either need to be compromised or prioritized. There are five steps to design thinking: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. We spent as much time as we could to get to know these students so that we could empathize with them. We had a few ideas that we could use to work with the students at KIPP. We thought about a buddy program, a book checkout system and a book drive. We ended up combining them by having a buddy program through notes inside the books we get. The checkout system will then be used on the new books. It took awhile to figure out how things would connect together but eventually we succeeded designing our prototype. We will be putting our project to action (the testing phase) sometime later this year.
5. The last thing we learned was something that many relearn every MLK Day. We saw these kids at KIPP working so hard every day so that they can get a good education that will help their success because they have to. Most young people hate waking up in the morning and having to go to school. However, students at KIPP wake up in the morning knowing that they have an amazing opportunity in front of them. While there we learned how goal-oriented and focused the students we visited are. They taught us that we need to remember how important our education is and how lucky we are to have it. We can't wait to return to KIPP and complete our project with them this spring.