Since joining KIPP in 2007, Carlos “Cap” Capellan has been a college and career advisor, a coach, a dean, an assistant principal, and now he’s principal of KIPP NYC College Prep High School. As principal, he still embodies the roles of mentor, teammate, confidant, colleague, and of course, leader. However, Carlos always makes it clear that this work can’t be done by a single person. “I’m appreciative of everyone who is a part of our school because it really doesn’t happen with one person alone,” he explains. “This is why I believe so strongly that we either dominate together… or we struggle alone.” We spoke with him in-depth about his passion for character and community at KIPP NYC College Prep.

Carlos Capellan

Carlos Capellan addressing graduates.

You’ve been with KIPP for more than a decade. What do you think makes KIPP, KIPP?

The people who believe in our core values make KIPP, KIPP. My colleagues all understand that character is vital to a young person’s development and believe that we can all be role models to our students. Our adults bring a high level of zest and show kids that they’re passionate and committed to teaching. And we can’t forget the love. Our staff have a love for education and want to inspire a love of learning and curiosity in our kids.

You mentioned character, why is that so important?

I think that a strong character is important wherever you go. I tell our kids that you can be the smartest person in the world, but if you’re not a nice person and you don’t interact with others effectively, people are not going to want to work with you. That’s going to limit your options and decrease the quality of life that you live.

We infuse character education into our school in a variety of ways. With our sports teams and our clubs, we’re always pushing character forward. Our KIPPSters understand that there are certain expectations that have to be met before being part of that team. Over the past three years, we’ve run town halls as a school to discuss issues in our country and our community that have been impacting us. This has strengthened our collective character.

What happens at the town halls?

Town halls provide a voice for our community. They’re an opportunity for teachers and students to come together and speak about issues that are happening outside of this building. It’s very easy to get stuck inside of your own bubble and not realize the impact that the outside world has on us. Communication is the most important thing in any organization. The more we can improve communication between students and teachers, the better and stronger we will be as a community.

What’s your vision for the KIPP NYC College Prep community?

My vision is that we’re a community that is accepting of everyone, where everyone is striving to do their best, and where our students are working hard while being nice. I want this to be a place where a thousand plus students and 150 plus staff call home. This school should be a place where KIPPsters feel comfortable enough to challenge themselves, feel vulnerable, and have the freedom to shine. Too often young minds are stifled and kids are led to believe they can’t shine. The truth is that kids have a lot to teach us.

What does it mean to be a KIPPster?

Being a KIPPster means that you’re going to give more than the average person and you’re going to earn everything that you get. The reality is that at KIPP we work really hard. We pride ourselves on trying to provide our students with opportunities while also ensuring they are prepared to seize opportunities.

What does it mean to be a great KIPP teacher?

We want teachers who are committed to student growth and the mission of KIPP. Supporting our students in living choice filled lives takes time, it takes energy, and it takes love. Our great teachers are committed to the idea of giving the time, giving the energy, and giving the love to help our students realize their potential.

We also look for teachers who want to grow. Our school motto is Ancoro Imparo which stands for “I am still learning.” We want people who are looking to learn and can bring new ideas to the school.

On top of all that, great KIPP teachers understand that this isn’t just a job. It has to be a passion. You have to love educating others.

What brings you joy at KIPP?

I love working at KIPP because of our team and family. Working with a group of people who are passionate about giving kids access to opportunities is something that’s near and dear to my heart. I grew up in a single-parent household with a very low income. I see myself in some of our students. It brings me joy to work alongside people who care deeply and dedicate their lives to ensuring others can be successful. It makes me work even harder.