Early Literacy Leads to Long-Term Academic Success at KIPP Detroit Imani Academy

Learn what children can achieve, and where achievement can lead, when expectations are high and support is strong.

At the heart of KIPP Detroit Imani Academy’s innovative approach to literacy is the belief that every child, no matter their ZIP code, has the right to walk to a school that provides the highest quality education available. As the first school in Michigan to embrace the Knowledge is Power Program, KIPP Detroit Imani Academy (KDIA) recognizes that literacy is the key that drives lifelong opportunity, particularly for children in under-resourced communities.

“We all know there is a link between socioeconomic status and quality education. Our teachers wake up each morning wanting to disrupt that,” says Candace Rogers, Superintendent at KDIA.

A tuition-free public charter school in Detroit, KDIA is part of a network of 300 schools across the country with a literacy vision that includes a robust curriculum, regular and meaningful professional development and an achievement-focused approach to education.

Kindergartners reading

Some underestimate the value of kindergarten, believing students spend their days with Play-Doh and blocks, but in this age group exists an overlooked opportunity to build life-changing, foundational literacy skills, says Tiffany Ward, Director of Early Literacy. Students at KDIA do enjoy the fun of play-based learning, but they also dedicate extended time to growing literacy skills through interactive phonics and phonemic awareness, vocabulary and reading comprehension.

“We build on the foundation of language skills that our students learn from birth,” Ward explains. “Even before they begin school, children form powerful brain connections that are critical to literacy development. They learn to speak naturally, but reading and writing must be taught directly to most children. That happens over a period of several years.”

Not only are kindergartners at KDIA reading, but they’re engaging in conversations that demonstrate understanding of what they are reading — and they answer questions using full sentences. “The way they speak with each other about what they are reading is really impressive,” says Ward.

In its first year serving students, the data is clear, says Rogers. “Our Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) scores show our school is in the 97th percentile on growth in reading,” she says. Where the MAP predicts students to grow two measured RIT points, KDIA students grew an average of nine RIT points in Reading. “This isn’t compared to other under-resourced schools, but against all other schools in the country. The reason I’m proud is this proves it’s possible. Kids who live in Detroit can achieve, period. KIPP was founded for high-quality education for everybody, and our results speak to that.”

KIPP students continue to achieve when they attend KIPP middle and high schools; 55% go on to achieve bachelor’s degrees, says Rogers.

Long-term success

At KDIA, educators and parents share a common goal. “Every parent wants what is best for their child, and at KIPP Detroit Imani Academy, parents can have confidence that our teachers also want what is best for their child. Here, we never put the adults before what’s best for the kids,” says Rogers. A thoroughly researched curriculum balanced with high student expectations, family engagement and excellent instruction provides KDIA students with a springboard for long-term academic achievement, be that college or something else entirely.

“College may not be the be-all and end-all, but when we’re pushing students to be ready for college, we’re giving them options in life. You can be an entrepreneur, and having a strong academic foundation allows you to be ready for that,” Rogers says.

An early, strong literacy foundation also improves a child’s self-esteem, Ward says. “When we see children learning how to crack the code of reading, they light up. Personal empowerment increases economic opportunities. It helps them be active in a global society and in their own communities,” she says. “Literacy is the gateway to everything.”

Expertise brought to you by KIPP Detroit Imani Academy. Learn more at kippdetroit.org.

Claire Charlton
Claire Charlton
An enthusiastic storyteller, Claire Charlton focuses on delivering top client service as a content editor for Metro Parent. In her 20+ years of experience, she has written extensively on a variety of topics and is keen on new tech and podcast hosting. Claire has two grown kids and loves to read, run, camp, cycle and travel.


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