Dominique Mejia, Founding Principal, KIPP Affirm Middle School

Born in the Bronx, Dominique Mejia was one of KIPP NYC’s first students back in the ‘90s. In August 2021, she will be the first KIPP alum to open and lead a KIPP school. We spoke with Dominique about her founding KIPP Affirm Middle School as part of our Five with the Founder series.

Looking back to when you were a student, did you think you’d found a school one day?

I actually had no intention of being a teacher, let alone a principal! But after I interviewed for a marketing position at KIPP DC (I was working in marketing at the time), the interviewer convinced me to try out teaching because she thought it would be a good fit. I fell in love with it–well, really with students and families. I always envisioned myself “giving back” to KIPP; I just thought it would be through philanthropy somewhere down the line. Turns out giving my time and service to KIPP students and families was the route, and it’s been the best!

What is your inspiration for KIPP Affirm and the culture you will create for students, families, and staff?

Our approach to instruction and school culture at KIPP Affirm come from Harriett Ball, the educator who inspired the founding of the first KIPP schools in the mid-1990’s. Harriett Ball was a bold, beautiful, brilliant, creative, and masterful black woman educator. As an original KIPPster, I got that gift of having Harriett come into my school and provide development for my teachers. I remember the joy I felt in seeing and experiencing her; at 11 years old, I had no idea what a powerful impact Ms. Ball was having on me at that time by taking up space in a manner that seemed so fearless. Standing in her shoes today, I hope to have as strong and positive an impact on my own students. KIPP Affirm is a way to honor Harriett Ball and black women all over the world, past and present, who’ve made lasting contributions in their communities and in society at large.

How will you incorporate the meaning of “affirm” into the school’s program?

At KIPP Affirm, students will be at the center. Our students’ identities, cultures, and communities will be celebrated, explored, and of course, affirmed. Together, we will uplift our students – always with love. We will ensure that they have the knowledge, and the skills and tools needed to have strength, power, and pride in themselves and in their education.

Our students will have dedicated time to engage in powerful individual, relationship-building, and community-building experiences, which emphasize self-reflection, identity development, and character growth. This will take place in Affirmation Circles, in which students will gather in small groups to collectively reflect on those experiences.

How will families contribute to the creation of KIPP Affirm?

Our students, staff, families, and community members work collaboratively to create the learning environment at KIPP Affirm. We believe in uplifting each and every voice and story in our school and community to ensure input and collaboration among all stakeholders and to foster humanity, grounding, and connectedness.

    This looks like:

  • Staff making touchpoints with families on a weekly basis to discuss all aspects of their children’s development and education
  • Staff seeking out the innovative ideas as well as the feedback families have for us through monthly family and community meetings as well as quarterly surveys
  • Workshops with and for families and community members based on the desires and needs expressed
  • An active parent association

How will KIPP Affirm make a difference in the lives of its students?

At KIPP Affirm, we don’t aim to “make a difference” in the lives of our students. We aim to guide them in developing the brilliance and beauty that already exists within them, within their cultures, and within their communities. With this, our students will have the freedom to live choice-filled and fulfilling lives, becoming changemakers and leaders of their community.