Charter Schools Changed My Life: From Newark to College

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It’s 5:45 a.m. on a Monday morning in the middle of August. The year is 2006 and my mom is rapping on my bedroom door. “Julien! Time to get up Ju, you have school in an hour,” my mom says as I rise out of the bed rolling my eyes.

If it was not for TEAM Academy, I’d still be in Jamaica. Actually, I’d still be in Jamaica sleeping. Instead, my mom is forcing me to switch from St. Joseph’s Catholic School to KIPP New Jersey TEAM Academy that conducts classes from 7:15 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every single day. What kid is cool with that? Do not let me forget that KIPP starts school earlier in the year than other schools, if you did not catch the middle of August part. Also, I have Saturday school a couple times throughout the school year; sounds like fun, right?

Careful not to make my mom come back to my room to scold me, I rise from my bed promptly to see a freshly ironed button-up shirt with khaki shorts delicately hung on my doorknob. Then, I saw a navy-blue folder with large white letters that read “TEAM Academy KIPP New Jersey” sitting next to my backpack. I thought to myself, “At least I get to wear my own clothes today”. I began to drag my feet to the bathroom to begin my morning routine, just imagining the fresh Jamaican air that I already missed so much. I spend so much time in my head that before I know it, I’m dressed, sitting at the dining room table, and eating a half cold waffle with fresh strawberries. My mom makes her way down the hallway and says, “Good morning baby. Are you ready to head out?” I look up from my plate to see my mom putting on her jean jacket; a subtle bit of happiness is on her face. Happiness, that I’m sure she did not see on mine.

“You know I would’ve been happy at Peshine Avenue School…” I remarked softly.

My mom smiled and replied, “Yeah maybe, but TEAM Academy is an amazing school. I think you’ll be happier there. Alright? Let’s be on our way then”.

“Good morning class of 2014!” Ryan Hill’s enthusiastic words carry through the entire ‘gymnatorium’ of 5th graders sitting on the floor facing the stage where he stood. The speakers are so loud, I’m sure that the entire neighborhood in Newark’s South Ward can hear him. I calmly scan the open room of all the new faces, some of which I will come to know as fellow TEAMsters, and others as my teachers.

Mr. Hill continues, “2014 is your class’ name. Hold it proudly because 2014 is the year that you will graduate high school. 2014 is the year that you will go on to start your lives. We here at TEAM Academy aspire to prepare you for success even after you have commenced from KIPP New Jersey in 2014. It is our mission here at KIPP schools nationwide to get our students to and through college”.

As Mr. Hill continues to welcome us to the school, I realize that at such a young age, I have never thought about my future after high school; what is a college anyway? I think about this pretty much all day; everywhere I turn, I see banners with college names decorating the hallways of my new school. However, the decoration that intrigues me the most is the iconic picture of a guy wearing a sweater that reads COLLEGE in bold white print. I quickly imagine my face on that poster despite not knowing KIPP’s plan to help get me to the new goal they made possible for me to achieve.

After a long first day sitting on the hardwood floor at TEAM Academy, I have to admit to myself that I’m not quite sold on my new school. So many questions linger in my mind. Why do I have to sit on the floor to earn my desk? Why do I have to earn my school shirt? What is college anyway? Mr. Hill rose more questions than answers on the first day, but somehow I know that all my questions will be answered in due time, because of the hope and confidence in his voice. I went to bed eager to find out what separated TEAM Academy from every other middle school in Newark.

I rise again one morning in early August. The year is 2014, but this time I’m on my way to Howard University as a member of the incoming freshman class of 2018.

Looking back now, as a Black woman from an inner city, I can finally say that I understand why KIPP schools are so integral to the success of young Black children. No other school in my career thus far, has been so invested in my future. KIPP funded trips, provided college preparation courses, gave academic counseling, and a plethora of other rarities that I only knew to be available at KIPP schools. They took their students on college tours, and put together a college fair right in the gym of our high school. KIPP showed their students that college comes in many forms; it was simply up to the students to choose what path was best for them. No other schools that I have been to have offered me full counseling through the college application process and awarded me an $8,000 scholarship to aid in my career at Howard University.

As amazing as all of this sounds, it is not even half of what KIPP schools offered me even after becoming a KIPP alum. I cannot say enough how grateful I am that my parents chose to send me to a school that did not initially seem appealing to me. Attending TEAM Academy for middle school and Newark Collegiate Academy for high school, was one of the best investments I could have made in my future. KIPP schools are proof that every child from an inner city can be exposed to all the opportunities the world has to offer with the proper guidance and dedication.

Now that I’m nearing the end of my college career, I have never been so sure about my decision to teach English in an inner city. I aspire to inspire, just like KIPP schools are still doing for me. I feel I’d be doing a disservice to young Black children from cities like Newark, N.J. if I did not pass along the gems that were shared with me. Even as a senior at Howard University, my KIPP Through College (KTC) counselor, Sharifa Extavour, has been the ultimate help in ensuring that I can do what KIPP schools have done for me.

Thank you dearly KIPP charter schools for seeing my potential! 

Julien Broomfield is senior at Howard University pursuing a degree in English with a minor in Sociology. She aspires to be an elementary school English teacher at KIPP after graduating from Howard in the Fall of 2018.

Special Note for National Charter Schools Week (May 7-11): As part of our weeklong celebrations, the National Alliance will shine a spotlight on public charter school achievements by honoring the Change Makers of the public charter school movement. Today, our spotlight is Students and Alumni. 


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