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My Journey with Plan II/KIPP

What is Plan II/KIPP?

YouthLaunch collaborates closely with KIPP Austin Public Schools in efforts centered on strengthening peer mentoring programs and services. A key feature of this collaboration has been the Plan II/KIPP Partnership, whereby students from the Plan II Honors Program at The University of Texas at Austin serve as mentors and resources to younger students at KIPP Austin.

Susannah Morey was as a student in Grant Thomas' Plan II/KIPP (P2K) course her sophomore year of college (2012-2013), and mentored two students at KIPP Austin College Prep. She later restructured and revitalized a P2K spin-off mentoring program at another KIPP middle school, KIPP Academy of Arts and Letters (KAL), and coordinated the program from August 2013- December 2015. After graduating in Spring 2016 with degrees in Plan II Honors and Geology, Susannah joined our team at YouthLaunch, working as a “meta-coordinator” for the Plan II/KIPP Partnership, managing relationships between the course and the two spin-off P2K branches: the mentoring program at KAL and Plan Tutoring, a college admissions tutoring program at the KIPP high school, KIPP Austin Collegiate (KAC). Susannah will be pursuing a PhD in Geology at the University of Washington this fall.

My Journey with Plan II/KIPP: A Reflection by Susannah Morey

8 am always came too quickly. Although I'd have spent the last hour with one of my mentees, each time it felt like we were just getting to the good stuff. 8am would crash into us as the gym or courtyard around us filled with students. I'd give my mentee an awkward side hug and then wave as she blended into the throngs of khaki clad middle schoolers.

I've been doing this for so long, it's hard to explain the details of my involvement with the Plan II/KIPP Partnership. It’s safe to say that it’s as much a part of me as I am of it. While I was enrolled in the class my second year at UT, I’d meet every other Tuesday evening with my peers and discuss readings about the state of the American education system, with specific regard to KIPP schools. We ran intellectual marathons around the idea of institutionalized inequality in public education and debated every pro/con we could concerning teachers unions and the breakdown of federal/state funding of schools. Every week, we'd write blog posts regarding either our mentoring experiences or something relevant we'd seen in the news. It challenged us to think critically about both our relationships with our mentees and current policy decisions that impacted how our students like our mentees accessed education.

From October 2012 to May 2015, I went to KIPP Austin College Prep (KACP) weekly to see my mentee, we’ll call her Ximena. Then, from August 2013 to May 2014, during my first year coordinating the KAL mentoring program, I took on another mentee, Maarika, at KAL and began going KIPP’s east Austin campus twice a week. Twice a week, I had to have my life together enough to wake up at 6am, pick up the other mentors in my carpool, drive the 20-minutes out to KIPP’s campus and then have an engaging conversation with a middle school girl.

Our conversations were seemingly inane. The first few weeks of meeting with Ximena consisted of silent games of Hangman or MadLibs. I wanted her to talk to me, but I didn’t want to force her to be my friend. Also, her English wasn’t perfect and I, as a 20-year-old honors college student, struggled to connect with her.

There was no away around it: I’m an upper middle class white woman from an affluent part of Houston. I grew up going to private Catholic schools and had very few peers that didn’t look like me or, at the very least, have a similar financial background. Few of my friends’ parents were divorced and most had vacation homes in other states, sometimes even in other countries. I am privileged. So how was I supposed to be a role model for an 11-year-old, fifth grade Latina girl or a 16-year-old eighth grade Muslim girl, both of whom struggled with being at an intense charter school? The answer was, I wasn’t.

Being a mentor doesn’t mean you need to win the award for best role model of the year. It doesn’t mean that you know better than your mentee. It doesn’t mean you’re there to “fix” him or her. You’re not a counselor; you’re not a teacher; you’re not their best friend. As a mentor, you need to learn to just show up. It’s not that I had to show up and be a role model; I had to show up and be a 20-something college student spending time with a middle schooler. That made more of a difference than anything. I didn’t have all the answers to everything. I didn’t have to. We almost never talked about the “important things.” I never tried to help her with her English or work with her on other school work. I could have, but she didn’t need me to do that. I don’t even think she needed me, but we definitely developed what I considered a meaningful relationship by the end of our three years together.

It’s easy as a college student to be self-centered. You have a lot going on and need to focus on the next deadline, the next assignment, the next test. Being Ximena and Maarika’s mentor made sure that for an hour or two a week, I wasn’t the most important person in the room. I actually think I needed them more than they ever needed me. Every week before I drove to KIPP I had to think about what I would talk about if there were long, empty silences. Would I tell her about my weekend? Would I tell her about the test I just barely passed or that paper that I loved writing? Would I ask about her family? How much would I tell her about my own? The weeks I didn’t see her didn’t feel as full.

The P2K course taught me a lot about education, but it was my mentees who taught me about what education meant. I couldn’t apply the Solution™ to educational inequality that we so often debated in our classroom to my mentees. Being a P2K mentor taught me the difference between the theory of educating our youth and the reality of teaching and being around them. My mentees and those of my friends were dealing with more than I ever had to face when I was their age.

This experience shaped the way my peers and I began to make plans about the future. The guy who was the student teaching assistant for my year is now enrolled in a doctoral program in education at Harvard. One of my friends from the class now teaches creative writing courses at local women's prisons. She plans on attending policy school to try to inject more education into our criminal justice system. Another P2K classmate received a Fulbright scholarship to teach English in Azerbaijan for a year and now teaches at an elite boarding school in Somaliland.

P2K challenged me to address my own privileges in real time, something I now try to emulate in other aspects of my life. Additionally, as I follow my own path, it’s hard to not let the last five years of P2K education focused conversations influence my choices. I intend on joining a program that emphasizes STEM in elementary and middle schools while I’m earning my PhD. I want to show girls that they can be scientists, not as a role model, but as a mentor. I hope to one day end up in the classroom teaching geology. It’s like there’s this little P2K voice in my head telling me that I need to teach, that I need to do something for girls like my two mentees. I’ll miss them and the Plan II students I’ve worked with, but I’m left smiling at the thought of where P2K will be in another 5 years.

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