“In the summer before 9th grade, I almost quit on KIPP and myself. I saw the KIPP squad at the door and could not lie to my mom.”
A KIPP alumna from the Class of 2006, Claudia Cardenas is a bilingual PreK-4 teacher at KIPP ZENITH. Her passion and selfless ways are a reflection of the commitment others poured into her. As a Mexican immigrant, Claudia could have easily been a statistic of Houston’s Gulfton neighborhood, but she attended KIPP Academy Middle School, Episcopal High School, and University of Houston-Downtown, and is now on a mission to help others find their paths.
As a 9th grader, Claudia did not like her high school choice (back then there was no KIPP high school) and decided she would go to her zoned high school. But, her village of teachers—Mr. Sam Lopez, Mr. Elliott Witney, and Ms. Jenn Dewhirst—showed up at her house and had something else in mind for her.
“The squad showed up at my house and I couldn’t give up. If they saw something in me that was worth the extra time and effort, then I had to try.”
Being the oldest child of an immigrant family adds a pressure that can’t easily be explained. Claudia’s parents wanted her to succeed for herself but needed her to succeed for her entire family. Learning English was a challenge for Claudia and her parents, and that is why Claudia is committed to teaching economically disadvantaged students now.
Unbeknownst to her teammates at ZENITH, Claudia started tutoring after school. Word of mouth went a long way and one student turned into seven. Older siblings of her PreK-4 students needed help with English and Claudia took it upon herself to give them the extra support they needed.
When parents offered to pay her, she said no. No, because it was her job to equip students and to give them the opportunity she had; give them a piece of what other KIPP teachers had given her. She is part of the village that will help raise these KIPPsters.
“The most satisfying time of the year is at the end once the kids take the test and I can see their progress. Seeing a kid go from selective-mute (not talking to us and we can’t asses what their knowledge base) to a students that now knows his alphabet, sight words, and can read, literally makes me cry. I can see the growth and see that all the hard work pays off. I am helping my students on their path to success.”