Grace Yang ’22

KIPP STAR Harlem Elementary School, New York, NY

I spent this past summer working as an Operations Intern at KIPP STAR Harlem Elementary School, a charter school that seeks to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and to provide underprivileged youth with a stellar education. In a world where mass incarceration primarily plagues people of color, education is more important than ever as a nurturing and promising alternative. I felt compelled to work with KIPP because they place a strong emphasis on educating beyond the intellectual sense. They promote different types of learning that deliberately address the emotional and psychological needs of children. Most American public schools, unfortunately, could learn an incredible amount from KIPP schools. I decided to work with KIPP in order to explore my interest in how education operates to either stunt or promote the emotional, mental, and intellectual growth of youth who have had numerous ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences. Although I could have chosen to focus on learning about the psychological effects of trauma on young children at a medical facility, I figured that a charter elementary school would be an interesting place to observe the dynamics within families and schools.

My responsibilities at KIPP ranged from basic administrative tasks to more interactive and family-oriented tasks. Some days were more tedious: I found myself making copies, filing documents, running errands, and organizing mountains of school supplies in various closets. On more active days, I helped to plan and execute school-wide events, to maintain a steady and calm workspace when students and families proved difficult in their interactions with school staff, and to direct visiting volunteers who generously donated their time to compose reading booklets in preparation for the next academic year. As the end of the school year approached, I worked with other interns to ensure that teachers could pack up their classrooms as smoothly as possible. We implemented new organizational systems to maximize function and aestheticism. We also reorganized classrooms to promote efficient and comfortable learning. Throughout this process, I quickly noticed that communication was not a strong point of the school and stepped in to act as a sort of liaison between teachers and the Operations Team. I often clarified and reiterated specific protocols that teachers had previously misunderstood. I also helped welcome the new incoming Director of Operations as she took the time to become more familiar with KIPP culture. As the Operations Team adjusted to this transition, I helped mediate minor conflicts among our team as I learned how to settle disagreements.

Although my tasks as an Operations Intern were not always the most stimulating, I found my interactions with the KIPP teachers, staff, children, and families most informative and valuable. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that teachers conducted home visits for incoming students and that social workers were permanently stationed on-site to ensure that family situations did not get out of hand. Eventually, I began to hone my ability to detect the subtle implications of various situations and conversations. I observed actions and reactions. I noticed how children acted out or stubbornly resorted to silence when their home situations grew more complicated.

One of the most jarring moments of my internship happened when I realized just how many children at KIPP had unstable family lives, lived in temporary homes under foster parents, and possessed no sense of normality. School remained their only relief as the constant variable in their daily lives. While I did not pity these children, I did know that their individual situations only reinforced the importance of their education. During my time at KIPP, I was satisfied that no student ever experienced a shortage of learning materials. KIPP STAR Harlem was well equipped and prepared to address the effects of poverty that often ravage specific school districts. KIPP’s mission has proved that effective and comprehensive education improves the lives of children who have survived domestic violence and instability. KIPP’s high standards, however, expose the underwhelming performances of the majority of American schools in any given state. I believe that the need to reform our education system is one of our most pressing issues if we are to benefit our children.

My time at KIPP ultimately reaffirmed my belief that children are the most underestimated participants of our society. As minors, they are at the complete mercy of parents, guardians, and other adults. While they begin to solidify their understanding of the world, they require reliable and steady guidance that we too often deny them. My experience at KIPP has strengthened my desire to advocate for children and their wellbeing. I know that I want to pursue studies in early child development and trauma work. I would like to explore the ways in which education, parenting, neglect, and abuse shape the lives of children and follow them through adulthood. As I return to Williams, I hope to take more courses oriented toward psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience. I want to be able to learn more about human thought, behavior, and relationships. Only then will I be even better equipped to educate others about the rights of children that are so necessary for their success. I also plan on studying animal behavior so that I can understand how humans and animals can better serve each other.

I am sincerely grateful for the opportunity to intern at KIPP STAR Harlem Elementary School. I feel more empowered to become an advocate for children’s rights and to alert others of the injustices we are all condoning as bystanders. I plan to do more work in trauma intervention and I hope to inspire others to respect children in a way that they have not in the past. I will most likely major in psychology so that I can better understand the ways in which children think, behave, and act in a more clinical sense as well. I am excited to put my leadership skills and persistence to use at Williams as well as beyond my college years.