KIPP is for Everyone, Including My Kids with Autism

KIPP parent Janett Cerda with her family

I moved to California from Mexico City when I was 17 years old. I went to high school for a year, but I left before graduating because I wasn’t aware that I could still go to high school as an adult or that the education credits I earned in Mexico could be transferred. My education was interrupted, and I have worked tirelessly to make sure that the same won’t happen for my three children, especially because my two youngest have special needs and have been diagnosed with autism. 

I have always made a huge effort to be involved in all of my kids’ educational paths. It was during a school carnival at my oldest son’s school KIPP Summit in San Lorenzo that I began to wonder if KIPP also accepted students with special needs. I was skeptical because I’d heard people say that charter schools didn’t serve students with individualized education programs (IEPs), but I learned that there were actually many students with IEPs and 504s at KIPP. Once I learned from the KIPP team that all students are welcome, I started thinking of enrolling my second child at KIPP, because I wasn’t happy with the services he was getting at the time.

Janett’s son in the 6th grade at KIPP Summit

He was in 4th grade and wasn’t reading or doing math yet, and his school psychologist told me he might not ever be able to meet certain milestones. I called his school all the time to check on his progress and ask for an individual education program (IEP). I also tried teaching him to read on my own, but that only led to him getting upset. I didn’t know how to handle the situation, and I was worried.

Even though I knew something had to change, I was still scared to make the move to KIPP. I talked with KIPP Summit principal Ms. Roberto, who encouraged me to visit and see firsthand what students were doing in class. She gave me a rundown of what my son’s school life could look like.

I didn’t know much about KIPP before my kids began attending. I’m so glad we kept an open mind, because he is thriving at KIPP. KIPP is for everyone.

In the past, my son never wanted to go to school. He would pretend to be sick all the time. Since he’s been going to KIPP, he hasn’t wanted to stay home once. Even now that we are in distance learning, he’s always asking, “When are we going back? I want to wear my KIPP shirt.

He never had friends in the past, and now he’s always talking about his friends. I think a big part of this is the loving environment KIPP fosters and values. The school gave me the opportunity for teachers to explain some of the challenges my son has to his peers. His teachers told me it was a touching experience, and that other students were able to connect and relate to the challenges my son faced. My son comes home and tells me how helpful and supportive his classmates are. He’s able to participate in everything. He especially loves his mind and body yoga class and technology class.

Not only is he happy, I’ve seen huge progress in his academics. Halfway through his first year at KIPP, he was reading and doing addition and subtraction.

Janett’s daughter in transitional kindergarten (TK) at KIPP Bridge Rising

My daughter is in transitional kindergarten (TK) at KIPP Bridge Rising in West Oakland with an individualized education programs(IEP). She’s doing awesome, and I’ve seen major improvements. A year ago she was only really saying one or two words at a time. Now, she is speaking in full sentences and knows her colors. She is able to sit for a longer time and they support me by teaching me new strategies to help her remain engaged in learning. My daughter’s teacher is very involved in her progress and success. 

KIPP teachers and staff at all three of my kids’ schools are very committed to helping my children grow, even in these troubling times. They are very communicative and work with me to find ways to ensure my children are learning and feeling successful and confident in school.

All my children have different needs and all are thriving at KIPP!

I know there are a lot of misconceptions about public charter schools and children with special needs. I heard the same myths, but all my children have different needs and all are thriving at KIPP. I am filled with hope for my children’s futures, and I know they are also excited about what’s to come. My oldest son isn’t sure yet what he wants to do, but I hope that he finds whatever he feels gives his life purpose. My middle son wants to work with cars, and my youngest currently wants to be a princess when she grows up! My wish for all three of them is that they grow up to be happy, healthy, and independent, and I’m glad that KIPP is partnering with me and my husband to support them on that journey.

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