Let Freedom Ring

by Ariel Reynolds on Feb 04, 2016

in Our KIPPsters, Team & Family

Started in 2010, the Freedom Tree Award unifies us around the KIPP Houston Values—Honor, Commit, Persist, Enjoy and Excel – all part of our Freedom Tree. Our own Team & Family nominates Big KIPPsters who embody these values daily.

The most unique part of the award is the committee of 4th through 12th grade KIPPsters. Nowhere else will you find students reading through award nominations written by adults, deliberating and debating on the best exemplars of our values. 

On January 29, 2016, five of our Team & Family were announced as Freedom Tree Award recipients.


This winner always has the desire to become better, striving daily to improve as a teacher and honor the craft of teaching. This award winner has simple yet profound educational philosophy: all children can learn and learning produces freedom.

Often described by his co-workers and students alike as reflective, loving, honest, humble and intelligent, this Algebra I teacher and learning coach has passionately worked to dispel the notion that low-achieving math students will remain just that throughout their education careers. The data tells us that his work is paying off: 98% of his students met the state’s proficiency level in the Algebra I End of Course assessment.

Congratulations to the Honor winner from KIPP Houston High School, Terry Lin.


This winner truly stands on the shoulders of giants. A KIPP alumna taught by Mr. Fienberg, Mr. Lopez, and Mr. Spann, this winner climbed the mountain to college and came back to KIPP Houston to give her time, treasures, and talents to help other KIPPsters do the same.

During her second year of teaching, her school experienced a heavy increase in the number of LEP (Limited English Proficiency) students and this teacher took it upon herself to begin an after school tutoring program for 3rd and 4th graders. She tutored them in math and reading free of charge and never told anyone from her leadership team because she wasn’t looking for any special acknowledgment.

Around February 2015, due to an unforeseen circumstance, this Big KIPPster, was unable to be paid for work. Despite this situation, she came to school every day for over a month! She was even offered a modified schedule to come late or leave early. Once again, she denied any special privileges and stated that she was here for the students. And don't worry, she got paid!

Congratulations to the Commit winner from KIPP ZENITH, Claudia Cardenas. 


This Freedom Tree Award Winner consistently takes excellent care and thought toward the excellence and well-being of all of her students. This teacher knows each of her students better than anyone on campus and supports them and their families. During her commutes, this Big KIPPster records testing materials, so that her students will have the materials they need in the manner that works best for them.

She greets every student with enthusiasm and kindness daily.  She re-directs students in such a way that they do not even realize they are being re-directed. She has close relationships with her school’s parents and helps to communicate the needs of each student in a way that makes their parents feel hopeful instead of helpless. 

Congratulations to the Persist winner from KIPP Liberation, Melanie Bryant.


This Big KIPPster is strong, confident, caring, demanding, encouraging, loving and motivated all at the same time. This award winner is only in her second full year of teaching; however, she is not only an incredible teacher but also the grade level chair.

Whenever a teammate needs help, she is there. Always laughing and dancing, this Big KIPPster is ready with a big smile for everyone. Whenever her students catch mistakes in her work, she tallies them up and eventually wears something silly to school, including a giant dinosaur suit.

She enjoys what she does every day, even on the hard days, and it is evident in the little things she does for her coworkers and students.

Congratulations to the Enjoy winner from KIPP Courage, Lindsey Jackson.


When multiple students were in danger of having to leave school because their families moved, this Big KIPPster volunteered to find them rides with other families. When the rides did not work out, he began driving the students to and from school without complaint. Because of his efforts, two of these students have the best attendance in their grade level.

This Big KIPPster has made a huge impact on the entire school community. Whenever he calls parents—to volunteer, support the front office staff, or anything else—they come without questions because he has built lasting and positive relationships with them. Additionally, he has established relationships with businesses who donate bicycles, gift cards, and toys to give away to the neediest students in the school.

Each quarter, this Big KIPPster single-handedly plans and runs a lock-in for the students of his school, meaning he is on campus from 6:45 am Friday to noon on Saturday to ensure students have fun and can connect with their classmates. There is never a day that he doesn’t go above and beyond the call of duty. 

Congratulations to the Excel winner from KIPP Polaris, Marvin Pierre.

At KIPP, we are 49% academics and 51% character. We are proud to have little KIPPsters thinking about the character of the big KIPPsters and these incredible role models.