For My Daughter’s Education, I’m Going to Move Mountains

A KIPP Philadelphia school mom goes to Capitol Hill to talk student mental health, gun safety and school choice with federal lawmakers

Tia Llopiz snaps a selfie on Charter Family Hill Day with (from left to right) Jillian Fain, Achievement First’s senior director of external relations; Scott Quinn, Education Reform Now’s director of government affairs and Chatara Benson, KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools’s chief of staff. (Tia Llopiz)

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My daughter knows I am going to move mountains. Whatever the situation is, if it’s one thing my daughter knows, Mommy’s going to show up. This is why I decided to attend Charter Family Hill Day this year alongside 40 other public charter parents from nine states and the District of Columbia. I wanted to tell Congress members how KIPP Octavius Catto Elementary in Philadelphia has been such a blessing for my daughter and my family. 

I am not just advocating for one public charter school. When it comes down to it, it’s not just about my child, it’s about all kids. Everyone may not have the ability or the privilege to be able to come to D.C. and to advocate. Everyone doesn’t have that, but I do. I naturally have the desire to help and to fix and to be a part of the change that I want to see. I walked into these legislators’ offices hoping that they would hear me say our communities are crying for help. We need more quality schools, and we need to stop gun violence and address the mental health crisis in our schools. 

Across our group of parents and advocates at March 29’s Charter Family Hill Day, we met with the offices of 37 members of Congress. We talked with Democrats and Republicans, with senators and members of the House of Representatives, and shared our call to action. As a parent, I was grateful to be able to choose KIPP Philadelphia Public Schools for my child’s education. All kids and families deserve access to a high-quality public education. That means not only do we need to invest in mental health and keeping our students safe from gun violence; we also need to invest in public education and high-quality public charter schools like KIPP Philadelphia. We all went to Washington, D.C. to tell our families’ stories to Congress. We also got to hear each other’s stories and to learn from one another. 

My story began this fall, when we gladly accepted a founding kindergarten seat at the newest KIPP Philadelphia school. We were excited to put the last two years of home learning during COVID-19 behind us and start life in our new normal. Except, things didn’t feel normal. My 5-year-old didn’t act like other children her age. She’s what I affectionately coined my firecracker child, but a lot like a firecracker, things always explode. 

Our first few months at KIPP were not easy. She struggled with transitions, she couldn’t sit still and sometimes she got so overwhelmed the only place that she felt comfortable was under her desk. As a parent, I felt all types of failure. I felt like because I chose to keep the lights on and not spend more time by her side during those Zoom classes while she was learning at home, that I had set her up to fail. I felt that I had somehow dropped the ball on my biggest responsibility — my daughter.

Tia Llopiz (Rocketship Schools parent Brenda Gordon)

It wasn’t until a few conversations with the school social worker, then with the dean of students, which led to more conversations with her pediatrician, that I started seeing things a lot differently. I was able to see that the behaviors that she was exhibiting weren’t a result of my failure, but instead, were signs that her brain works differently than some of the other students. 

I was able to work with the staff at KIPP Octavius Catto Elementary to get a referral to have my daughter receive an extensive evaluation, one that outlined exactly where she’s struggling and identified interventions and strategies that will allow her to thrive in any classroom. For the first time in a while, I was able to breathe. It gave me a feeling of joy that I was able to advocate for my daughter so that her needs would be in the conversations that led to her evaluations.. I advocate for mental health support for students because it is a top priority for me and families across the country, especially as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During Charter Family Hill Day, I was also able to reinforce my top priorities as a parent: investing in student mental health and keeping our kids safe from gun violence. Our children deserve to feel safe at school. These children have seen more trauma in their short lives than some of us ever experienced. My daughter deserves to live her life. My daughter deserves to be able to walk into a building that she knows she’ll walk out of. She deserves to know that she can be safe, even when I’m not around. 

There is a fire in me that deserves to continue to grow, and with that growth, I’m not only advocating for my child, I’m advocating for thousands of other kids and families across the country. If two days in Washington D.C, is what it takes for me to light some stuff on fire, then give me the two days, let me do it.

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