September 15, 2010
In 12 years, some of today's first-graders will be first-year students at Knox College. Don't be surprised if the new arrivals include former pupils of Sicily Bua, a 2007 Knox graduate now teaching in Houston, Texas.
A native of Minocqua, Wisconsin, Bua majored in elementary education, and she minored in anthropology/sociology and history. She teaches at KIPP SHINE Preparatory School, where her first-graders are learning about Knox.
"I explain where Knox is by using a map and showing pictures of the campus," said Bua, pictured above at left with students. "Sometimes I tell them about the classes I took or experiences I had at Knox. They love the idea of so many squirrels on campus!"
KIPP, which stands for the Knowledge Is Power Program, is a national network of 99 public charter schools spread across 20 states and Washington, D.C. Most KIPP students are African-American or Latino/Hispanic, and most come from low-income families. SHINE is an acronym for the school's values: Seek, Honor, Imagine, Never give up, Everyday.
Bua said that KIPP's main mission is to prepare every student to attend -- and graduate from -- college. "All KIPP students, from pre-kindergarten 3-year-olds up to 12th grade, know that they are ‘climbing the mountain to college,'" she said.
"By having a class university theme, we build the familiarity the kids have with the different universities that they may choose to attend," Bua said. "And we reinforce our expectation that they will attend and finish at a four-year college."
Bua recently completed her first year at the early education and elementary charter school, which she joined after teaching for two years in Phoenix, Arizona, through the Teach for America program.
Every classroom door at KIPP SHINE Preparatory School is painted a different color, and the colors coordinate with specific colleges or universities. Bua's classroom door is purple -- Knox's signature color.
"I wanted to choose Knox because it is my alma mater, and I thought it is a great way to let more people know about Knox," she said. "I think Knox tries to create opportunities for first-generation students to go to college, and many of the students I teach will be in that position come 2022."
"I would love to see them go to Knox!"
Already, Bua's first-graders and Knox College are forming a bond. Carol Brown, director of alumni programs at Knox, sent the youngsters Knox pencils, purple Knox T-shirts, and other items. The students are wearing their Knox shirts every Friday, and "I Love Knox" pins adorn their homework bags.
Bua also is working with Stephen Schroth, assistant professor of educational studies, to set up a pen pal program involving her young students and Knox education majors. "After teaching letter-writing, I'll have the students write letters to their college pen pal so they can learn more about Knox and about college," she said.
On another front, she is trying to provide her students with more books in the classroom library, and she is working with the online charity DonorsChoose.org to request donations.
Bua's elementary school classroom is the third in recent years to develop a unique connection to Knox. A second-grade class at Hanover Countryside school in Streamwood, Illinois, and a fourth-grade class at Euclid Elementary school in Mount Prospect, Illinois, have adopted Knox as part of the No Excuses University Network. No Excuses is a network of elementary, middle, and junior high schools across the United States that actively promotes college readiness to all elementary students.
Reflecting on her time as a Knox student, Bua said she learned to become involved in her community and to "always take opportunities when they arise." While at Knox, she served as a resident advisor in Post Hall, as a member of the Student Senate, and as a member of the Conduct Council. She also worked for the Center for Teaching and Learning as a writing tutor and Red Room coordinator.
Those leadership experiences have served her well, she said: "I believe that these opportunities at Knox really did give me the ‘freedom to flourish' in life."