It has all the makings of a solid relationship, starting with the things the University of Texas of the Permian Basin shares in common with the network of college prep charter schools in Houston and Dallas called Knowledge Is Power Program.
Both UTPB and KIPP boast high numbers of first-generation students. At UTPB, 70 percent of its student population is first-generation college students. At KIPP, most students are first-generation high school graduates and go on to becoming those first-generation college students like the three KIPP students from Houston who are studying at UTPB now.
Adding one more layer are three students: Alex Ambriz, 18, Edi Cruz, 19, and Danny Martinez, 22, who are all first-generation Americans. Each student’s parents hail from Mexico.
What the three men represent is the new and flourishing partnership KIPP has with UTPB.
As UTPB President David Watts explains it, the graduates of KIPP schools are excellent.
“Their mission is close to UTPB’s,” Watts said. “This gives them the opportunity to pursue education in a way that’s going to change their lives. We’re delighted to do it.”
UTPB has recruited five KIPP alumni for the 2013-14 academic year and five to seven each year thereafter. The school will provide nearly full scholarships throughout their stay at UTPB, Watts said.
KIPP was founded in Houston in 1994 and has grown to 141 public schools in 20 states and Washington, D.C., serving nearly 50,000 children. Houston is KIPP’s largest region, with 22 public schools serving more than 10,000 students. Their focus centers on getting students to college and tracking their matriculation to college graduation.
“What we find is that our students become leaders on campus,” Bryan Contreras, the executive director of KIPP Through College at KIPP Houston Public Schools, said.
“They have the experience, the skills and the competency to integrate well and become active leaders on the campus,” Contreras said.
And beyond sending a few students each year to UTPB, Contreras said they plan to share ideas and get more students in Houston plugged into their dual credit online courses as well. Thirdly, Contreras believes they’re building a “pipeline of talent at UTPB” who could return to KIPP campuses to become teachers. The impact is tremendous, Contreras said.
“President Watts has been a true champion for our KIPPsters,” Mike Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP, said. UTPB orchestrated a fly-in program that brings accepted students to the campus and gives them a look at what UTPB offers.
Contreras wasn’t just boosting the KIPP name. Watts backed up the statement as did UTPB Director of Continuing Education Rey Lascano.
“The quality of their work ethic is high,” Lascano said about the five students on campus now. The rigor of KIPP also sets a solid foundation for a four-year university, he added.
“They got that discipline … it’s instilled in them, it’s routine that they apply and abide by,” he said.
A new group of KIPP students will attend the Falcon Day this month that gets incoming students familiar with UTPB, Lascano said.
“It’s the beginning of something very wonderful,” Lascano said. “It’s just a win-win for all.”
Martinez, who is studying mechanical engineering at UTPB, called finding his KIPP family in the sixth-grade a blessing. He was acting up and lost in school.
“My friend told me the teachers really cared. I wanted to be him. He wasn’t a troublemaker anymore. He was intelligent. It made a difference in his life and in mine, too. I’m a changed person,” Martinez said.
The three students left no praise unmentioned after 20 minutes of discussing their time at KIPP and the successful transition into college at UTPB. While they certainly miss home, Ambriz knows the importance of getting a quality education on his own.
And when they were able to visit Harvard University and Penn State University, among other historic landmarks in the U.S. (yearly field trips were made possible with good behavior and good grades), they said the opportunities have been eye-opening.
“You feel like you can reach that,” Martinez said. “Like nothing can stop you.”
>> Contact Lindsay Weaver on twitter at @OAschools, on Facebook at OA Lindsay Weaver or call 432-333-7781.