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Prior to 2017, I did not know that a place called Helena-West Helena, Arkansas even existed.  Having been born and raised primarily in Chicago, urban education was all I personally experienced.  I had spent 12 years of my life working with urban youth in many different capacities, and I never saw myself in any other environment.

Ironically, my mother is a product of rural education.  She was born and raised in Lexington, Mississippi, and her primary and secondary schooling took place within the Holmes County School District.  I always respected her because she graduated from high school at the age of 16, moved to Chicago to live with her aunt just so she could attend college, which was against her father’s wishes, and ultimately obtained her doctorate in history and philosophy of education from the University of Chicago.  However, even with all of her accomplishments, I did not realize how lightly I took them until I began working for KIPP.  Her accomplishments deserved more than my respect; they also deserved a “job well done.”

Now that I am in a new environment, I realize that the struggles that African American youth in urban environments face in relation to attending college are just the same, if not even more difficult for the youth in rural communities.  More often than not, rural communities are overlooked and not recognized, and prior to joining KIPP, I was guilty of being one of those individuals who overlooked them.

I believe many of us take for granted how fortunate we are to be able to experience going to a 5-star restaurant five minutes away from our homes, or driving ten minutes to stroll downtown and shop at Bloomingdales, or even to see a skyscraper.  We take for granted how many great schools we have to choose from when we are thinking about where to send our children. What we fail to realize is that there are so many people who are not afforded these same conveniences.

It is my passion to give our students at KIPP Delta College Preparatory School experiences that they may not have ever envisioned for themselves; whether that be going on a field lesson to New Orleans, or taking a trip to see a Broadway musical; whether that be teaching them the proper table settings to use while eating dinner at a fancy function, or providing them with the best education possible.  

A wise woman once said:

"Much can be found in the history of the rural South that cannot be found elsewhere in in American society.  Frontier state, rampant cotton economy, decades of slavery, rush to secession, the Civil War, Reconstruction, removal of Negroes from economic and political life, lynching and violence in a rigid system of Jim Crow segregation, decades of farm depression, the Great Migration, the battle for civil rights, and the movement of blacks back into political life are all factors that defined the course of education in the South…." 

                                      - Dr. Sylvia Gist

My goal is to not take for granted what the community has gone through in decades past, and to give back to the community in honor of what my forefathers both withstood and sacrificed for me.



Alexia Gist

School Leader at KIPP Delta College Preparatory School