I vividly remember my first day as a student at KIPP Academy Middle School in 1998. I remember boarding the bus in the early morning light and how the streets of the Gulfton neighborhood in Houston seemed to stretch on forever. My mind raced. I was too nervous to eat, too nervous to say anything past a whiny, “Good morning.” I knew that things would be different at my new school, but I lacked any comparison. My classmates and I were about to begin a new journey. None of us could have known that we would be propelled into an environment that would completely change our lives.
Looking back on it, I realize my first day at KIPP was also my first day of a divine paradigm shift. In my years as a KIPP student, I went from a girl who was interested in studying our country’s history to a young woman passionate about changing our country’s future. I reveled in our class discussions of leadership, civic engagement, activism, and public policy. Today, as we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, I recall the lessons I learned at KIPP and how it made me the woman I am today.
My social studies and history teachers commemorated the struggles of women to be heard, and taught us about the fierce advocates who fought for the statutory right to vote. I was taught about the importance of engaged citizenship and using my voice for good, and when the many elected officials and community leaders visited our classrooms, we had the opportunity to advocate for our right to receive an excellent education regardless of our zip code. And I learned at KIPP the invaluable lessons of how to seize opportunities, remain humble, and not be afraid to make mistakes.
I wholeheartedly believe that these lessons and experiences at KIPP changed my life’s trajectory. I now work for KIPP Texas, doing exactly what I learned to do as a young girl–advocating for the students and families who need access to education.
The women I learned about in my classrooms and the lessons I continue to learn from the women who work around KIPP Texas give me a better understanding of my own place in history. As I watch this new generation of KIPPsters grow into themselves, I am reminded that we all have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to help each other overcome life’s obstacles, to give our very best effort, and to join with our fellow citizens to form a more democratic society.
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Tasha Dennis is a Public Policy Strategist known for successfully leading school reform and advocacy efforts. For the past 12 years, Tasha has provided policy expertise at dozens of conferences, briefings, and panels in Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Washington, D.C. Tasha leads Advocacy at KIPP Texas Public Schools in Houston and is active in her community through her commitment to community development, grassroots organizing and legislative analysis.
She holds a B.A. from Tulane University and a M.P.P. from New England College. She is currently J.D. Candidate at Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University.