HOUSTON -- In a series of portable buildings, nestled on a small dusty lot, a group of tireless teachers has started a passion for learning that has grabbed the nation's headlines and changed the lives of hundreds of children.
This faculty, touted by Texas Gov. George W. Bush as education visionaries during his presidential campaign, seems to have done the impossible. Each day they inspire 300 of the city's most disadvantaged middle-schoolers to spend eight hours a day in class, challenging seventh-graders to tackle algebra and pushing sixth-graders to read literature.
There are no shortcuts to success in class, and students find that message posted in every nook and cranny of the campus. Teachers and administrators instill success in children by teaching them desire, discipline and dedication.
They have created the KIPP Academy, also known as the Knowledge is Power Program. In this school, education doesn't acknowledge race or income. Everyone can do the work. If they choose not to, they leave.
Any child in Houston can attend KIPP as long as there is classroom space. There is a waiting list of about 200 students.
"It's a neat mixture of some of the old-school ideas with the new-school flare," said Michael Feinberg, co-founder of the school and superintendent of the Houston program. "It's an intense program, but we insist that the kids go in and out of class with a smile on their face."
After watching a segment featuring the school on the 60 Minutes television program last year, Gov. Roy Barnes earmarked $1 million in this year's budget to bring the program to Georgia.
Teachers willingly stay at school until well after 9 p.m. most weeknights and are required to constantly carry a cellular phone when not at home or at school. KIPP promises its charges that teachers will always be available for homework questions, no matter what time of day or night.
Students attend four hours of class each Saturday, in addition to the extended school days, and tackle two hours of homework each night. Until 5 p.m. each day, students are on task in class. Visitors won't see laziness or students dawdling around campus.
"They have proved they can get results from children who need the most help," said Ron Newcomb, Gov. Barnes' education assistant. "We need someone to come to our own state and show people how to break a culture of too low expectations. We want them [KIPP Academy] to be a model."
The first Georgia school to use the KIPP model is expected to open in 2002 and will be chartered by the Atlanta Public School System.
KIPP officials submitted their application Oct. 16 to receive charter status with the Atlanta Public School system and have already begun recruiting teachers and administrators for its first Georgia campus.
KIPP officials delayed the school opening to train staff adequately until 2002. Leadership, according to the school's founder, is the key to success stories like that of 14-year-old Marcos Maldonado.
"My cousin didn't even think about going to college. People in my family have jobs, but they aren't the best jobs," said Maldonado, a four-year veteran of the KIPP Academy. "I'm filling out applications for high school, and I'm looking forward to college. I want the best job. I don't think I'd be thinking about this if I wasn't a KIPPster."
Maldonado, who plays left guard for the school's football team, arrives at KIPP as early as 7:20 a.m. each day and doesn't get home until well after 9 p.m. He has to take a city bus for more than an hour to get to and from his school. Occasionally he'll start his nightly two-hour homework requirement while he's on board.
"This can be hard sometimes, but I really want to go to college," he said. "I think it is better to be a well-rounded student. It's good to be into the books, but colleges want to see what else you can do, too."
So, he piles sports and drama on top of his rigorous academic schedule. …