Cultivating Identity Development Practices - KIPP Chicago Public Schools

The Whole Child Review Issue No. 6, May 2021

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Cultivating Identity Development Practices

Black History Month celebrations
In February, KIPP Chicago celebrated Black History and championed Black futures by amplifying our KIPP community’s voices and impact while looking back to celebrate movements and figures in history where African Americans inspired, thrived, and trailblazed in the face of unconscionable barriers.

Our school-based planning committees collaborated to exchange ideas and encourage one another ahead of this month’s virtual celebrations. Here are just a few examples:

The KIPP Ascend Primary K-4 Excellence team including Liz Lesinski (musical theater), Elise Thomm (visual art), Cortney Horton (PE), Jasmine Nicholson (music), and Ciara Phillips (explorations) worked with their classes to showcase examinations of Black History. The culminating video production was viewed live on Zoom for students, staff, and families to enjoy together!

The power of storytelling and exploring our roots was central to KIPP One Academy’s virtual event. 5th-8th grade students were invited to interview a family member to learn more about their ancestral history and how they ended up in Chicago. Students’ recorded stories were compiled into a video that students, staff, and families watched together virtually. Special thanks to the planning committee: Briana Jocelyn, Andrew Albert, and Sylvia Ibarra.


Congratulations to our Regional Black History Month art contest winners! This year’s theme was “The Black Family: representation, identity, and diversity.” These are two of our winners from KIPP Academy Chicago Primary! This beautiful art from Javell and Bria is now being showcased in all eight schools.


Our social media campaign featured Black History and Black Futures by highlighting people like Carter G. Woodson and Cicely Tyson and young people, Marley Dias and Tyler Gordon.

We also highlighted some of our teachers as they shared reflections on Black pride and what this month means to them. Here are just a few:

“I have traced my maternal lineage to 1849. I’m sincerely proud to know their names. As simple as this is, it is an accomplishment for African Americans to know the names of great great great grandparents and be able to trace our migration across the U.S. It’s a sad reality of our story. Still, I have pride in simply knowing their names.”

“My parents moved to the states after the war in Liberia. My grandma is doing research 24/7 to trace our other lineage and return to the early 1800s. It is an honor to have this information and be able to truly understand my lineage. What gives me pride is that I am able to provide students more information about Black history than I was taught in Naperville schools growing up. We are able to celebrate Black heritage through the present and the past.”

“When I was younger, I remember February always being my favorite month because we would finally talk about something interesting to me in history class. I remember a feeling that I was always Black, but that wouldn’t be appreciated until February. So I turned up my pride as a young child. As an adult, I find the most pride in learning about my history and culture and identifying how this impacts my daily life. Although I have learned to love and appreciate being the woman I am, I celebrate a tad bit harder in February and on Juneteenth.”

McNair Features:

Sylvia Ibarra

What are your aspirations in leadership and how do you see this fellowship helping you get there?
I want KIPP Chicago schools to be a community resource for students and families. I aspire to create a space in which parents and guardians are an inclusive part of the school’s culture. My goal is to lead an initiative in which adults and kids can simultaneously enroll in extracurricular activities that engage their respective interests. I believe the McNair Fellowship will connect me with the needed stakeholders in order to fulfill this vision.

This program is inspired by the success and life of Ronald McNair. In terms of your career, who is someone that you consider a hero/role model/inspiration?
There are many historical figures whom I have much to learn from and admire fondly. The non-conformity of Frida Kahlo. The power in Audre Lorde. The resilience in Coatlicue. However, none are more personally influential than my mother. I know the highs and lows of her journey. She is my push to keep going and my first and most important inspirational figure.

Tita Herrera

What are your aspirations in leadership and how do you see this fellowship helping you get there?
My aspirations in leadership are to make a meaningful impact and inspire others to reach their true potential. Knowing that I can’t change the world, my leadership aspiration is to impact someone’s world one person at a time. This fellowship will provide me the coaching and professional development opportunities to grow as a leader and manager. This fellowship will also grant me the opportunity to do a project of my choice to explore some of my passions. This fellowship will also allow me the opportunity to connect with other LatinX leaders from our region and the chance to build community with them. I am grateful to be a McNair Fellow and look forward to this incredible opportunity.

This program is inspired by the success and life of Ronald McNair. In terms of your career, who is someone that you consider a hero/role model/inspiration?
Growing up, my mother always told me to gain an education to think and advocate for myself. She said, “you can go bankrupt, you can have nothing to your name, but the only thing no one can ever take away from you is the knowledge you gained because with an education you can recreate yourself and do anything!” My mother is my inspiration, and role model because she immigrated into this country not knowing the language and with a peso in her pocket. Years later, she fought the Chicago Board of Education advocating for the needs of our middle school at the time – she demanded a Spanish interpreter to voice her concerns and be understood in the same language of those in charge. While my mother was in Mexico, she couldn’t finish high school because she had to help my grandfather on the farm. When she was studying for her GED, I was struggling my freshman year transitioning into college. She worked really hard for several years to learn English and earn her GED, but she accomplished her ambitious goals and I couldn’t be prouder. I am grateful to my mother for fighting for us to have a college degree and a better future. I am proud of her for believing in herself and my six sisters. I am eternally grateful for her sacrifices, firm commitment, and dedication to our family and herself 🙂

Miguel Rodriguez

What are your aspirations in leadership and how do you see this fellowship helping you get there?
I want all students to have a robust education that includes arts programming. Growing up, I was profoundly impacted by theater. It made me more engaged in school and put me on a pathway towards higher education and onto a career in education. Even today, I see the ways in which theater can move people to act, connect, and grow.

Since being at KIPP, I’ve been able to bring arts programming to students. I’d love to expand what we started at KIPP Bloom to all KIPP schools and the communities that we serve. I see the McNair program as the catalyst for seeing that dream come true. The fellowship is giving me the space to build skill and conceive the idea.

This program is inspired by the success and life of Ronald McNair. In terms of your career, who is someone that you consider a hero/role model/inspiration?
I’m inspired by my partner, Robbie. He not only shows me unconditional love and support, but he inspires me to be a better version of myself. Those of us in education know how difficult being an educator– especially these days. There have been many moments that I’ve wanted to abandon ship and move in a different direction, but Robbie reminds me of what brought me to this work. He also reminds me of my highest self. We were both raised by single, working class mothers. So having someone who reminds me of home and my values has been a saving grace while doing this work.

McNair Website Update
Check out the new page on our website, detailing the McNair program and introducing all of the fellows! This page will showcase highlights and progess as the group engages in professional development, retreats, and other growth opportunities. We’ll also continue to feature the fellows with each new edition of the Whole Child Review.

Schools Visual Updates
Before welcoming students back into school buildings, the Operations teams worked hard to ensure all areas were carefully and thoughtfully updated, from fresh new paint and safety signage to installing new vinyl stickers with inspirational messages. Then, teachers and administrators got to work adding photos, artwork, and decorating bulletin boards to ensure schools are filled with identity-affirming, positive imagery.

Teacher Spotlight

Asia Booth
On any given day, you can hear Asia Booth singing good morning warmly as she walks through the halls with her coffee, welcoming students and staff alike. Her classroom is a haven for students she teaches and ones she doesn’t. I’m not sure if she’s ever taught an entire class period without being interrupted by a student waving at her through her doorway. She insists on students taking pride in who they are and the efforts they make. She is a confidence builder, a creative genius, and a teacher who sees each student’s full humanity and potential. Her dynamic leadership is leaving a legacy of self-love, love of community, and love of learning for KIPP Bloom College Prep students.
-Brittany Jones, former Assistant Principal, KBCP

Why do you think it’s important to create identity-affirming, inclusive environments in your classroom? How have you created these spaces?
In my life I have found myself in spaces that encourage me to be myself and live to the fullest and I’ve been in spaces that demanded I fill a role to meet a norm. As I’ve grown, I’ve moved away from the spaces that put me into a box and I cling to those that allow me to be what I see as my best self. I recognize that I can be that safe space for my students and more. I know what it feels like to not be the norm of what you see around you, to desire something different, to feel a resistance to what is, a system that it set up to make us feel like we do not qualify. It is like going to the gift shop and trying to find a keychain with your name on it. Asia is not that special of a name, yet I can never find it in a space that is supposed to be designed to appeal to me. So how can I, in this space where children NEED to be to learn and grow, how can this space not reflect them? How can I expect them to be comfortable, when if they look around they see images that are not a representation of themselves. How can you feel comfortable enough to lay down your burdens and trust who is there in front of you to lead you if you cannot see yourself in the space around you. You have to change your thinking of what is appropriate, what is proper, how things should be done. You have to ask WHY…what is the reason it is done this way and most times you will see it is based in something that really does not matter or even worse, racism, and it is at that point that you have to realize that it should be a part of your everything to work against it. Then you take the first small step of ensuring that when your students come into your space they don’t see a “this is what you have to be, how you should look, what is acceptable.” There is just themselves staring back at them and they know, they don’t have to fit some mold or meet this unnatural standard, they just have to take in knowledge and continue to grow. They already are what they need to be great.

How do you support and encourage your students in creating artwork around identity?
When you are standing at the starting line looking at the task in front of you it can seem overwhelming. How do you teach a child to express themselves? How do you show them how to just be, to let it pour out of them? Being honest, I am a person who wants to control and ensure it is “correct”. As a teacher I want my students to get the answers right, but when it comes to creating, being creative about who they are, connecting with themselves, there is no right answer, it is just what it is. And so you step back and tell them to just be. Whatever comes out, put it down, if you want to scribble, scribble, if you want to say the same things over and over do it! Talk about happiness do it! pain, do it! Mix all the colors together DO IT!! When I think about art and what art is and helping students to see how they can put it out, I think about handwriting. Everyone writes differently. It is so unique you can identify a person based on their handwriting. So I don’t tell my students they have “sloppy” handwriting. I say it is art. In this constant daily way they are creating art. It’s as simple as writing your name. When it is put forth in this way, the children can realize that it’s just that. Put it out there, put yourself out there, however it comes out of you is fine! We are here to experience it with you or support and encourage you as you traverse it independently. Just know that you have it in you and in whatever form you want it can and will present itself. And then there is the acceptance. Students have to have a space where they can express and be accepted. You have to show them at times to be vulnerable. I truly enjoy presenting students with a task and then working to see what I will create and be vulnerable and share that with them. Some are willing to share right away, others open up slowly.

What growth have you experienced in yourself over the last 5 years when it comes to supporting students in identity development? What growth have you noticed in KIPP Bloom College Prep or in KIPP Chicago around cultivating identity development practices?
When you realize that students are missing out on something, you decide that if it is to happen, it will be you. I remember all the identity affirming experiences I had while going through school and I realized that my students were missing out on many things I thoroughly enjoyed. I remember engaging in art projects such as creative writing, drawing, coloring and creating with my hands. Performing for my peers and family, reciting poetry experiencing poetry and through it all an emphasis on blackness. The question was how could my students have the experiences I had… the answer was Booth. I have always said I close my door and I do my thing. I will admit that a lot of the identify affirming activities that I’ve done with my class were without asking permission first. I took on the policy that we would do until they told me NO, rather than asking and possibly being shut down at the start. From doing this I have been able to engage in various identity affirming activities with my students. My students within my self contained classroom have been challenged to do things they would not be considered or volunteer for. Year over year they have been expected to engage in weekly community circles, memorize and perform a poem for black history month program. Create poetry to perform for peers and families. Kippsters have engaged in the creation of self portraits that presented themselves as they want to be viewed, not just how the world chooses to see them. They have viewed themselves as black history and written their own biographies of greatness. In addition I’ve taken to putting forth images that emphasize blackness in what I saw as a rebellious way, because this was my protest. Bloom had many white walls, but when you walk by my door you see images of greatness, you see our kiddos represented, you see Blackness emphasized, you see a protest in action. And then this year for our return I was asked to create an image/message that was similar to something I created for Black history a couple years back. I have to laugh just a little because we’ve moved from my allowed, not asking for permission space, my classroom door, to this is what we want to be displayed, this is the message we want to put forth. It is encouraged and embraced. This is the space for you, this is the space for them. Let’s make this space a reflection of them so they can trust us to help them learn and grow. It is exciting to see the changes taking place and it is an honor to be a part of it. Even though I come from a place of not asking permission, because you should not have to ask permission to present yourself as you are, I realize that I was in the right space for this to happen. KIPP Bloom has come quite a way from what I remember 5 years ago and we will continue to grow. But the seed was always there..scattered hither and thither. It just took some rain and sun to help it to grow. I’ve never been told I was wrong, I’ve never been told to get back to the schedule, follow the routines. I’ve been allowed to be myself and through that I am allowing my kiddos to be themselves. If we step back to when I came into the picture, we can limit the view and see how we were “oppressed” what you would miss is always there, a space where once you step out, they will provide a foot hold. If it is to the benefit of the kiddos we will not stop you but encourage it and in this way I and Bloom have grown together. And we will continue to Bloom.

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