Game Changers: KIPP SoCal, Robotics, and the Los Angeles Lakers

Game Changers: KIPP SoCal, Robotics, and the Los Angeles Lakers

KIPPsters Surprised with a Special Visit from Los Angeles Lakers center, JaVale McGee.

By: R. Khaleeq Sattaar El, II

KIPP Academy of Opportunity (KAO) is a charter public school known for providing its students with incredible opportunities and experiences both on and away from campus. As an alumnus from this very institution, I have been invited on numerous trips, ranging from college tours to Stanford and UC Berkeley, to a service trip to build a school in Costa Rica. Though the KAO building has changed, the tradition of rewarding students who embody the KIPP principles like determination, constant learning and teamwork, has not.

“Here at KIPP we really value character,” said KAO principal John Coleman III. “We are 51 percent character and 49 percent academics. For our eighth grade group, leadership is one of the values that we really focus on.”

The embodiment of leadership can be found in eighth grade KIPPster Ejetta, the leader of the award winning all-female Lego Robotics team at KAO. A program that really took off after KAO received a grant through Amazon’s Future Engineer program.

After spending a year learning and competing with KAO’s original team, Ejetta lobbied administration to let her lead an all-female crew to compete alongside her fellow KIPPsters. 

“Ejetta wanted to see young ladies represented. She was really competitive, and she brought that competitive experience to Lego Robotics,” said Coleman. “She made a video welcoming all young ladies to try out in the summer, and she chose three to join her team.”

Though initially uninterested in playing with Legos, Ejetta was drawn to the program because of her love for computers and coding. She found an immediate connection to the sport.

“My science teacher really got me into [robotics]. My teachers already knew that I was into science and computers and I joined the team in seventh grade,” said Ejetta. “KIPP is a school that lets you find your passion. There are many clubs and opportunities to help you find what you are passionate about, and the teachers support you all the way.”

Ejetta’s passion led her team all the way to the national FIRST LEGO League Challenge competition, where they came just shy of qualifying for a trip to compete in Japan. Despite the result, Ejetta’s confidence and pride in her team never wavered. 

“She is the biggest cheerleader for all her teammates and it showed this school year when they competed,” said Coleman.

Ejetta took a break from cheering on her robotics team, and switched her focus to another team competing for a championship here in Los Angeles.

Pictured (from left to right): Lakers Great Michael Cooper, Ejetta, and her guardian, at Staples Center for Delta Showtime Seat Exchange Lakers game.

Ejetta and 24 other KIPPsters were surprised with free tickets to the Los Angeles Lakers versus Memphis Grizzlies game on Feb. 21, 2020, personally delivered by Lakers’ center and two-time NBA champion JaVale McGee. 

Dressed in all black and sporting a Laker warmup jacket, the 7-foot McGee ducked into multiple classrooms, meeting the astounded students who were told that a special guest was coming to see them. After taking pictures and high fiving everyone who walked past him, McGee thanked the KIPPsters for allowing him to come hang out with them, before inviting them to come see him play at the Staples Center. McGee also shot around with the girls and boys basketball teams, while giving them encouragement and words of wisdom for their upcoming game.

The KIPPsters attending the game were chosen for their academic performance, and their character shown in and out of the classroom. These tickets were provided through the Delta Showtime Seat Exchange program, in partnership with the Los Angeles Lakers and Delta Air Lines. The program allowed Lakers season ticket holders to donate their game tickets in exchange for a domestic flight voucher. KIPP SoCal Public Schools was one of four non-profit recipients along with: After-School All Stars Los Angeles, Bob Hope USO and Junior Achievement of Southern California.   

KAO has been on the forefront of bringing athletes to surprise students. In 2010, I was invited to sit and talk with six-time NBA all star Amar`e Stoudemire during his visit to play against the Lakers. NFL Hall of Famer, and member of the former Los Angeles Raiders Marcus Allen visited KAO and generously donated time and money to the school. 

The impact that a visit from someone like JaVale McGee has on a child is immeasurable. Children of this age are dreamers. It is one thing to hear about the hard work needed to get to the end result  from your parents/guardians and teachers, but it is another to hear it from a larger than life figure, both in stature and image. Stoudemire told us to ignore the fact that he owned really nice cars, clothes, and jewelry. Instead, focus on the work it took to earn that luxury. I was told that 14-years ago, and it still inspires me to this day.

KIPP SoCal Public Schools employ a whole child approach to learning. It focuses on rigorous academics, but also: character development, enrichment, social-emotional learning, physical and mental health, sense of identity, and the nurturing of one's purpose. They motivate you to not only pass classes, but excel in them. They want you to focus on the present while simultaneously looking towards the future. 

KIPPsters have the unique opportunity to attend an institution tailored to their interests. The many programs and clubs are perfectly designed to appeal to many from the athletic to the intellectual and curious while maintaining an unparalleled level of inclusivity. The students who come out of KIPP SoCal Public Schools are ready to excel in high school,college and beyond, but they do not forget to add some fun along the way. And what is more fun than a Friday night Laker game?

R. Khaleeq Sattaar El, II photoAbout the Author:
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Khaleeq is a budding journalist with published works in many local and national publications across the country thanks to partnerships with the NFL, Associated Press, KIPP, and the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.