At KIPP NYC our goal is not only to support our students to college, but also through college. At KIPP NYC College Prep High School, students hone the academic and character skills needed to succeed in college and beyond. With 19 courses in visual and performance art, KIPP NYC College Prep’s arts programming is critical to that mission by fostering independence, self-expression, and self-control.

Brenda Zamora, KIPP NYC College Prep Digital Media Teacher, tells us how she is teaching character and opening up career pathways in her graphic design course.


Why did you decide to be a visual arts and graphic design teacher?

Brenda: I earned my Bachelors in Fine Arts from UCLA, and then I received a graphic design certificate. After college, I went into fashion, working for one of the largest global apparel companies, and I was a part of the men’s neckwear division. I worked in the corporate sector for two years. It was amazing, but I just didn’t belong to the corporate world. I knew that digital video, film, and photography was new and innovative in education. I thought it would be perfect to be a graphic design teacher so I went into NYU and got my art education master’s and my teaching license.

You designed your own curriculum. What were your goals for your students?

Brenda: In the corporate sector, I was part of a team that facilitated our client’s vision to create a product that ended up on the shelves. I want my students to know what it means to be a consumer of products, and more than that, I want them to be the producers creating their own visions. In the beginning, my students struggled switching between a PC and a Mac interface. They knew how to check their email and how to open Microsoft Word. They could shop online! They knew the basics. By introducing the Adobe Design Suite, I hope to open up a graphic design career avenue. Right now we are designing magazine covers. In the future we will learn logo design and branding. I want them to be ready for college, and I want them to consider themselves as a producer not just a consumer.

How are you helping your students build this passion for graphic design and product creation?

Brenda: The projects they react to the most are the projects about themselves. Their portrait. Their photo. Their silhouette. Their magazine cover. The thing my students know inside and out is themselves. The most successful curriculum in the arts is when it is about identity and student centered.

How has KIPP NYC College Prep’s arts programming developed over time? How is your class part of this development?

Brenda: In the beginning, we had dance and music. We started with one studio art teacher, and now we have three. This is the first year my Digital Media course is being offered, fusing art and technology. KIPP NYC College Prep sees how the arts are powerful and innovative, and some of the most amazing jobs, such as designing apps, combine technology and arts so we are teaching our students these skills.

What is your favorite part about teaching the Digital Media course?

Brenda: The “ah ha” moments. Teaching a computer software program is very challenging because there is a steep learning curve. Students will play around with the tools in the program. What happens if I change the opacity or I change the stroke decimal level? What happens if I change the diameter of the eraser tool? I will hear “ohh” and know they’re having an “ah ha” moment. That puts a smile on my face. They learned something on their own because of their curiosity.

College prep is all about character development. As a teacher, it’s easier to do the heavy lifting and just show them what to do. I could just say, “1. Change the opacity to 75%; 2. Then you do this.” I could be very step by step, but when you allow students to make mistakes, to try again and play around with tools, they take ownership over their learning.