Deborah and Jissel: A Seat at the Table - KIPP NYC

Deborah and Jissel: A Seat at the Table

That feeling of community has been really big. I always hear from other parents how great it is that parents have a voice.

Deborah Walker, Enrichment and Community Engagement Coordinator, KIPP Infinity Elementary School
Jissel Hall, Kindergarten Parent, KIPP Infinity Elementary School

As a KIPP Infinity Elementary Homeroom Ambassador (HA), Jissel Hall plays a critical role as the liaison for families at her daughter Amalya’s kindergarten class, providing tech tips, soliciting ideas for improved communication, and as layer of language support for Spanish-speaking families. She loves ensuring that families feel included and heard, particularly in a year filled with new systems and structures. As an HA, Jissel has developed strong relationships with, and learned what motivates, the other families:

“The quality of the education has been a driving point for families. It’s a big reason for why they’ve put their kids at KIPP Infinity. Also, bilingual parents or Spanish speakers feel welcome. No matter what, they have someone they can go to. That feeling of community has been really big. I always hear how great it is that parents have a voice. The family sessions have been really great. Parents have always felt that they can speak up and be heard.” – Jissel

A key reason for the successful relationship between teachers and families is Deborah Walker, KIPP Infinity Elementary’s Enrichment and Community Engagement Coordinator. Deb, who was previously Director of Operations, works closely with the Social Work team at the school to manage partnerships with organizations such as Goddard Riverside and Northside. She also makes families aware of bi-lingual resources for their children. Her focus this year has been elevating family voice and giving them a seat at the table for decision making. Deb shared the following about her work with the HA’s:

“I’m appreciative of the HA’s; they have provided so much feedback on how they want to see their cultures represented. They hold us accountable and make our school better. I’m excited about what it will mean for the rest of this year and in the future. I’m glad we switched from a parent association to representation in every class.” – Deb

Deb is also teaching a new Social Justice (SJ) and Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) class that exposes students to current events, civics, conflict resolution, and strategies for managing emotions. At the beginning of the year, families responded to a survey about their cultural backgrounds and what they are concerned about. This input helped Deb design the curriculum, which includes discussions about the Black Lives Matter movement and what students have lost during COVID. Deb described how the class came together:

“Before this year we had SEL and SJ mixed in, but this class is icing on the cake. In addition to my new class, we do Morning Circle, Peace Path (conflict resolution), and we have restorative justice lessons that Social Workers make and teachers use in Circle every morning on different topics. Kids are experiencing SEL in various ways and come to class ready to engage and talk about how they can help each other.” – Deb

At this time last year, Jissel was looking at several elementary school options for Amalya. She was convinced that KIPP was the right choice when she learned that SEL was a key component of the program. Amalya has embraced Deb’s course and it’s often one of the first things she and Jissel cover when reflecting on the school day:

“Having that class is super important to her . It really means a lot to me as a parent. This is a big reason why we put her in KIPP to begin with. I had a lot of questions and they gave me details and made me feel that SEL was ingrained in the culture of KIPP Infinity. You can teach a kid anything, but if you can’t teach them how to handle their emotions, then they will struggle to be a successful adult. Amalya has loved it.” – Jissel

Deb, who began her career in education 16 years ago, has experienced many roles in a school, from math instruction and operations, to community relations and social justice education. She has learned that for a school to successfully weave SEL into its curriculum, leadership needs to set the vision and make feedback a part of school culture. Deb is particularly proud of KIPP Infinity Elementary staff’s growth mindset:

“We are not satisfied yet; we are always hungry to be better. Feedback drives that improvement. We want our students to contribute to the world and the only way we can do that is if we are fine-tuning our practice. We are completely honest about what went well and what did not go well. Everyone just wants to be better for themselves and the kids. There’s a commitment to hearing from people and getting better together. We will make mistakes, but we are very reflective; we hear you and we get better. Always.” – Deb

As we welcome new families and students during this enrollment season for the 2021-22 school year, we are excited for students to experience the social and emotional benefits that come with a KIPP education. Thank you Jissel for trusting KIPP with Amalya’s education and for giving back as a Homeroom Ambassador!

We are now accepting applications for the 2023-2024 school year!