Dean of Admissions Eric Furda speaks at a celebration of a new partnership with the Knowledge is Power Program, a public charter school system, and a $2.5 million donation from philanthropists Bruce and Martha Karsh.

Credit: Sam Sherman / The Daily Pennsylvanian

After a $2.5 million donation and partnership with Penn, knowledge is even more powerful for Knowledge is Power Program graduates starting next fall.

Yesterday, the Penn celebrated its partnership with KIPP, a public charter schools system, at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies near 34th and Walnut streets.

The event centered around honoring philanthropists Bruce and Martha Karsh, who are donating $2.5 million to help send 12 to 15 KIPP students per year to study at Penn.

Speakers at the ceremony included President Amy Gutmann, KIPP co-founder and 1991 College graduate Mike Feinberg, Dean of Admissions Eric Furda and Martha Karsh.

Karsh said she had her “aha!” moment when she visited a KIPP academy in Los Angeles a few years back.

Aware of all the problems with Los Angeles’ public school system, Karsh was amazed at the college banners draped in the hallways, the enthusiastic teachers and the student guides, who were as poised and articulate as any student she’d met.

“From then on, I became an advocate for KIPP,” she said.

KIPP was founded in 1994 when Feinberg and Dave Levin, who met through Teach for America, opened the first KIPP Academy in Houston, Texas. Their mission was to provide children from low-income backgrounds opportunities similar to those that high-income children have.

Eighty-five percent of KIPP students are from low-income families and 96 percent are students of color.

College senior Chevon Boone, who attended the KIPP Gaston College Preparatory School in North Carolina, is one of nine KIPP graduates currently enrolled at Penn. “The dedication [the teachers] displayed towards their students pushed us beyond where I could ever have imagined us being pushed,” she said. “I would have had no idea what Penn was without KIPP,”

While approximately 75 percent of children from high-income backgrounds graduate from college, only 10 percent of children from low-income backgrounds do.

Thirty-six percent of KIPP students currently graduate from college, which is above the 31 percent national average of children from all socioeconomic backgrounds.

KIPP, however, is not satisfied with its students’ college graduation rates and has declared a long-term goal of having its students graduate from college at a 75 percent rate.

In a phone interview, KIPP Public Affairs Director Steve Mancini laid out KIPP’s five-point plan to reach that goal, which included partnerships with more universities like Penn, more philanthropists like the Karshes, a counseling system that works with KIPP kids through college, an emphasis on good character and a continuance of quality academics.

“They have been around, they have a track record of success and they are building a continuum to college,” an enthusiastic Furda said about KIPP.

Gutmann also expressed great excitement about Penn’s relationship with KIPP as she talked about how her own background was similar to those of KIPP kids.

“Now you can dream the way I couldn’t dream of being Penn’s president,” she said to a group of KIPP students in the audience. “If I had dreamed that, they would have tried to find some hospital for me to stay in. But now, it’s a real distinct dream, and it’s a dream that Bruce and Martha Karsh have made possible here at Penn.”

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