Daisy Garcia-Montoya
Education Reporter

KIPP Endeavor Academy, (2700 E. 18th St.) a local charter school in Kansas City, Missouri, recently secured a substantial $2.4 million grant through a Department of Education (DOE) program. 

The award was granted as part of the Innovative Approaches to Literacy Grant through the DOE with the collective goal of providing access to books in new and exciting ways. The funds will be used throughout the course of five years in order to fund a new library and increase resources in order to help better  literacy outcomes for more than 600 students Pre-K through 8th grade. 

As the Foundational Literacy Director, Jenna Zakrajsek’s role revolves around ensuring that students at KIPP have effective instruction and resources as they learn to read. In looking for ways to serve the students and community she works with, Zakrajsek decided to search for funds that would aid in her mission. 

“I was just thinking to myself, there has to be somebody that wants to give schools money and I had never written a grant before but I was like, ‘Let me just look and see what the Department of Education is offering’, and I was just searching and it popped up and I was like ‘This was the one’,” Zakrajsek said. 

The grant application process began in late April, only three weeks before its deadline. With no prior experience in grant writing, Zakrajsek looked for guidance from colleagues to gather information and review before submitting, piecing together the final grant application. 

The application was submitted on May 1st and the school was notified four months later, in September, that KIPP was one of the 12 projects that had been selected for funding this year. 

Zakrajsek says that she was not expecting to be awarded the grant and took the applying process as a learning experience, given it had been her first time ever applying for a grant. “If we get it great, but I was also not expecting it. It was our first time and just heard several people say ‘Don’t expect to get it the first time’. Lots of people have to apply several times and I just tried to keep realistic expectations about it and then when I opened my email, I was like ‘Oh my God, awesome.’ It was really exciting, we’re really excited about it and what we plan to do with it.” Zakrajsek said. “Now the trick will be navigating all of this, there’s oversight with the grant. So how you spend the money, what are you spending on, so it’ll be a lot of learning to do but we definitely have a detailed plan.” 

The $2.4 million grant will be awarded through the course of five years with regular check-ins and report submissions to ensure the correct usage of funds.

The grant will focus on four pillars: access to diverse books, access to a library media specialist (LMS). implementation of Literacy Best Practices and literacy-focused parent engagement. 

In order to increase access to books, students will be receiving free books that they’ll be able to take home. Books will include decodable books to allow for students to continue practicing at home with parents as they learn to read. Additionally, the creation of a library will take place, with a significant percentage of the total grant award being dedicated to the sole purpose of buying books for the library. Furthermore, to ensure the access to diverse books, the library will make books that are racially, ethnically, culturally, disability status and linguistically responsive available to students. As the school prepares to create a library, the grant will allow the hire of a LMS,  a position that has never been available to school, in order for students to have a resource as they explore and grow into reading. To achieve the third pillar, teachers will be provided with additional professional development that provides them with additional knowledge on the science of reading and learning strategies to best support students as they begin their literacy journey.

Since parents serve as a support system and teacher outside the classroom, KIPP wants to continue to foster the relationship between the parents and school to increase literacy outcomes. By creating engagement opportunities through family literacy nights, KIPP will equip parents with the resources, knowledge and books to continue developing their children’s skills at home.  With the help of the grant, KIPP hopes to achieve an 85% test score increase of 4th graders and 8th graders to demonstrate growth on Missouri’s Assessment Program (MAP), increase the book ratio from 2:1 to 20:1, and for each student Pre-K to 8th grade to receive at least two free books each year. 

“This grant will allow us to further partner with our families and community to ensure we are creating academically excellent schools,” said Jana Cooper, Executive Director of KIPP KC. The additional staffing, partnerships, access to diverse books and professional development will ensure that each of our KIPPsters have strong foundational literacy skills. The funding for this grant will last five years

but the impact it will have on our students can impact their entire educational journey.”

As a long term result of the new program implementations using the grant funds, KIPP hopes to see literacy outcomes improved with students feeling better prepared to enter high school, college, or their desired career plans while parents develop a trust and collaborating relationship with the school in order to best support students. 

As KIPP prepares for its first year of funding, Zakrajsek says that she’s excited for what this means for families and Americans as readers but also shares about what this experience has demonstrated to her. 

“We’re just ready to start doing things and that’s a really exciting place to be. I think it also taught us that you have to go for it, these opportunities exist out there. I think it’s important that if you see something, just try and it can happen.”