Community Impact

KIPP Bridge Academy Students Explore New Educational Pathways Through Crucible Classes

Cathy Niland | 3.9.2022

On Wednesday, March 2, Mischelle Brown and ten of her students from KIPP Bridge Academy in West Oakland arrived at The Crucible for the first in an eight-week-long series of workshops. These 7th and 8th graders are participating in a pilot program Mischelle designed to support students with alternative learning needs, called YES, I Have An IEP!. Mischelle explains, “When I first started at KIPP, I recognized that we have a lot of students who are not at grade level but are not on the moderate to severe special education track, so we needed something in the middle.”

Mischelle is a passionate believer in the power of hands-on, creative learning through art-making, outdoor activities, cooking, or any general free-form play. “I grew up as a free-range kid and we learned a lot by trial and error, cooperation, critical thinking, and collaboration.” This sense of exploration is what inspires Mischelle’s approach to education.

kipp bridge academy
Mischelle helps a student with her newly crafted key pendant necklace.
kipp bridge academy
Camdan shows off the paperweight and cup he made in Glass Blowing.

“I like to see life through risky play,” which she explains is a concept that allows kids to explore the world around them and self-direct. “If they want to climb a tree, they figure it out. If they want to build a fort, they figure it out. We’re taking those elements of play to make a class that impacts students who learn differently, and help them reach goals and satisfaction academically.”

KIPP Bridge Academy students turn art into education

The ten KIPP students participating in the program all have individualized education plans or IEPs. “IEPs are for any child, K-12, that has been assessed to have special learning needs,” explains Mischelle. What she wants to do is rebrand IEPs so that students with different learning styles can access education on their own terms. “Tracking special ed students has not been a happy, joyful thing. With The Crucible and KIPP, we’re making IEPs sexy!”

Over the course of the eight-week program, students will explore glass blowing, jewelry, blacksmithing, ceramics, glass fusing, leatherworking, and two kinds of welding. “These are fine arts that are usually only accessible through privilege, but why not us?” asks Mischelle. “What The Crucible is allowing us to have is access.”

Following each Crucible workshop, students return to their classroom to apply what they’ve learned to math and science concepts, as well as develop writing skills by reflecting on their experiences. It’s an opportunity for Mischelle’s students to build new, powerful relationships with their education.

The future of YES, I Have An IEP!

The program is the first in what Mischelle hopes will become a standard set of opportunities for IEP students at KIP Bridge Academy and beyond. As part of the process, Mischelle is collecting data on student progress not only in academic areas but also in things like confidence and engagement. She expects the data will reflect what she already knows; that play is an essential tool in education, noting that, “When kids are engaged and inspired, they excel.”

In April, Mischelle will present her initial findings at the US Play Coalition’s annual conference at Clemson University. “We’ll have data that shows how art and play and nature are really good teachers for kids who learn a little differently.” With this, she hopes to not only impact the national approach to IEPs—and in particular, those for Black and Brown students—but also, secure additional financial support for her pilot program here in Oakland. “We can do school differently and better, where kids can contribute to their educations,” asserts Mischelle. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Help KIPP Bridge Students Access Risky Play

Learn more and support the YES, I have and IEP! program on IOBY.

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