For years we’ve focused on hiring the best teachers to support our students and help them achieve their dreams. And over the past few years that has meant hiring some of our founding students who are now college graduates and want to make an impact in their community.

For Bilal Walker, a KIPP alumnus and teacher, his decision to return to KIPP TEAM Academy to become a teacher was partially based on the importance of having teachers who identify with the student experience, and how these teachers can empower students in ways that transcend gender and race.

“The truth is, as a young black male, I wish that I’d had more teachers who looked like me. As I have developed as a teacher, I’ve learned firsthand how valuable that can be. Having teachers who look like you is powerful. Teachers need to understand their kids, and if they don’t come from the same communities as their students, they need to make it their business to explore the city, research its roots and immerse themselves in the cultures in which their students live, eat and breathe.”

Like Mr. Walker, many KIPP alumni see value in creating an environment where students can see success modeled by the teachers and mentors around them. This is where KIPP alumni make the biggest impact and support a culture of giving and service in their communities. Alumni, like Mr. Walker, are highly and uniquely qualified individuals who want to be the change in their community.

At our schools, more than twenty local alumni, as well as several hailing from other regions, have returned to work in some capacity including teaching and co-teaching roles, as well as student support roles. Kalimah Bolden, a 2010 KIPP TEAM Academy graduate who describes her time there as life-changing, says that being an alumnus makes it easier to identify the needs of students on a daily basis and that the experience guides her work.

“Being a former student makes it easy for me to talk to my team about what our scholars need on a daily basis. I’m able to teach and grow the minds of our kids in Newark. Every day has its ups-and-downs, but I never regret my choice to be an educator, especially for KIPP. My teachers nourished, loved, and challenged me so it’s easy to return and give that same love to my students.”

KIPP SPARK Academy fourth grader, Ayokunmi Lapite, couldn’t agree more. Her teacher, Tiandra Kimbrough, is a KIPP NJ alum and having her in the classroom has been inspirational.

“I think it is amazing that she came back to work in the community she grew up in. Seeing her makes me think I want to give back to the community that will get me to where I will be in the future,” says Ayokunmi. “She inspires me because she achieved her goals to come back and teach. If she can achieve her goals, I can achieve my goals, too.”

Having alumni teach and lead in our schools offers the opportunity for our schools to improve even more. Having had the experience of being students in our classrooms, our alumni offer feedback to question and improve systems, revisit policies, innovate curriculum and impact culture.

“I love knowing my students have the same access to loving teachers, quality education, and ways to express themselves that I did,” says Bolden. “I don’t think I would appreciate KIPP as an educator if I wasn’t a student first. I believe in the systems that were created to give the children of Newark a loving environment to grow and learn. There’s a reason why so many former students come back to work for KIPP New Jersey—we believe in the work that we do here.”

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