There once was a young and rebellious Philadelphia native named Marquisha, who would give her fifth grade teachers heck. Even though she was in the fifth grade, she read at a third grade level perhaps a product of social promotion. From time to time, Marquisha would lead class revolts against her substitute teachers. In one instance, she stood on top of her desk and rallied her classmates, chanting,
‘We can do what we want. Don’t listen to her. She’s going to leave anyway.”
When the average school looks at Marquisha, they see a troubled and hopeless girl who causes more harm than good. But, when members of the Knowledge is Power Program, or KIPP, saw Marquisha, they saw a misguided girl with tremendous leadership skills.
After four years at KIPP Philadelphia Charter School, Marquisha graduated as the president of the middle school student body. Now, as a high school student, Marquisha is the president of the 11th grade class, an outstanding athlete and on her way to college. For KIPP, Marquisha is hardly an exception; she epitomizes its mission.
In 1994, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin had a vision of starting a school that would provide a healthy educational environment for under served youth. When the two Teach for America participants worked together to set up the first KIPP charter school in Houston, Texas, their mission was to provide the skills, knowledge and character necessary for their students to succeed in college and positively affect their communities. Sixteen years later, with 82 public schools across 19 states and the District of Columbia, 21,000 children are being served, 90 percent of its students enroll in preparatory high schools and 85 percent of its alumni enroll in college. It is clear that KIPP’s mission is in full effect.
In 2003, Marc Mannella ’98 became integral to the mission when he founded KIPP Philadelphia. But, as an undergraduate student, Mannella didn’t seem like a likely candidate for the task.
Mannella spent his first four years at UR completing his bachelor’s degrees on with a double major in biology and psychology. From day one he was convinced that medical school was in his immediate future and that he would pursue a career in medicine. But, before embarking on his journey, Mannella enrolled into possibly the most impactful program for UR students: Take Five. Mannella’s Take Five Scholar program was called’Methods of Bringing up Change in Modern America.” By the end of the program, it was evident that Take Five changed him.
As an undergraduate, Mannella would work as a camp counselor during his summer breaks he was always a natural with children. Before making any final decisions about medical school, Mannella decided to give Teach for America a try. Teach for America assigned Mannella to West Baltimore Middle School from 1998 to 2000. As a science teacher, he observed the darker side of education.
‘It was frustrating,” Mannella said. ‘There was a lot of bureaucracy, parents weren’t supporting the children and the system was failing them.”
After completing his time with Teach for America, Mannella couldn’t shake off his calling to engage in education. Mannella wanted to serve kids who were overlooked and unchallenged constrained in a perpetual system of failure. When Mannella started working at a North Philadelphia charter school, he reached the final straw and decided that it was time to make strides for change.
In 2003, he took notice of a program that shared his vision: KIPP. Mannella took it upon himself to start KIPP Philadelphia Charter School, serving as a leader for the school for its first five years.
‘They believe what I believe that all children will learn when taught in an effective high quality way,” he said.
KIPP’s enrollment and graduation statistics are highly reflective of their hypothesis. Eighty percent of KIPP students are from low-income households and 90 percent are minorities. Upon enrolling in KIPP, fifth graders scored a mean of 59 percent in math and 32 percent in reading scores on their Pennsylvania System of School Assessment standardized test in comparison to the state average of 71 percent and 61 percent on respectively. Upon graduating, however, KIPP graduates score 78 percent and 81 percent on their math and reading PSSAs as opposed to the state average of 70 percent and 77 percent. The results are measurable, and the accomplishments are rewarding.
Having finally found his niche, Mannella anticipates big things in KIPP Philadelphia’s future. He is currently helping expansion plans from two schools and 420 students, to 10 schools and 4,400 students. Until then, he expects to be right where he is, pacing in his office. Mannella and his cohorts continue to challenge their students to their full potential.
‘Ultimately, people need to remember that kids will rise to the challenge when [they are] placed in a proper school environment.” he said. ‘When we set the bar low, we are telling our kids something. It’s a way to make excuses for expecting less from certain children. But KIPP makes no excuses.”
Nathaniel is a member of the class of 2011