Rooted in Courage, Empathy, & Optimism: Tricia Kiely Dong Founds KIPP Generations Academy

Rooted in Courage, Empathy, & Optimism: Tricia Kiely Dong Founds KIPP Generations Academy

While we had hoped to open KIPP Generations in San Pedro this Fall, challenges with LAUSD timelines to approve our presence in San Pedro resulted in the difficult decision not to open Generations this Fall. We are committed to making this school a reality, and remain passionate about the vision for Generations where all students, families, and community stories are honored and empowered. Please feel free to reach out to with any additional questions.

Tricia Kiely Dong is the Founding School Leader at KIPP Generations Academy, educating students from TK-8th grade in San Pedro.*

From an early age, Tricia Kiely Dong’s family taught her the importance of community, family, and education. Tricia grew up in the South Bay and received her Bachelor’s degree in International Relations (Global Business) and Sociology from the University of Southern California. “It was there that I first began to realize the reality of education and its inequity. I started volunteering through Jumpstart at County Kids right on Flower Street about five blocks from USC. I saw the disparity between my preschoolers’ education and my own,” shares Ms. Dong. 

To make a difference in public education, she began her career as a Teach For America corps member, which took her to Waianae, Hawai’i where she would get the opportunity to teach 7th and 8th grade math inclusion at Waianae Intermediate School. She was beyond ecstatic after getting her student roster! But, on her first day, teachers greeted her with warnings and derogatory comments about her students. “These were my kids and I was not going to allow these messages to become realities for them,” she stressed. In fact, her class reached academic math proficiency goals within their first year together. Ms. Dong showed her students courage, empathy, and optimism  — skills that her grandfather taught her. “There was something special in my classroom and I could not codify or name it but it was [positively] impacting all of my students.” 

“Would having a strong community, rigorous academics, and a college focus in my class be enough?” is the question that she grappled with when wanting to guarantee that her students would not be in the minority, and that they would have continued support. “I knew I had to be in a school that valued community, academics, and had a college focus as a system and vision — a place like KIPP,” she said. Tricia joined the KIPP Team and Family when she relocated to San Jose, California to be a part of the KIPP Heritage Academy founding team. For five years, Ms. Dong gained more on-the-ground experience, and excelled — she held the different roles of 5th grade founding math teacher, 6th grade founding math teacher, 6th grade-level chair, Assistant Principal, and then Interim School Leader. Within that time, “I was able to see what a vision and mission-aligned group of team members could accomplish,” she stated. But, she knew it was time to come back to the South Bay, the community where generations of her family have called home, to continue her education journey! 

"Meaningful relationships are a pillar to KIPP Generations — getting to know every student for who they are, what they love, and who they want to become." — Ms. Dong

Ms. Dong did continue her education journey and joined the KIPP SoCal Public Schools Team and Family as a School Leader Fellow and Assistant School Leader at KIPP Corazón Upper School, KIPP Academy of Innovation, and KIPP Academy of Opportunity. She saw the alignment with what she was looking for — including the restorative practices, the importance of culture, and the whole-child approach to learning. “For me to have a mentor like Mario Echeverria, founding Co-School Leader of KIPP Corazón Academy Upper School, has been extremely beneficial. I also appreciate the opportunity, through the School Leader Fellow Program, to build strong relationships with other Leader Fellows — we are able to support each other, push each other, and be there for each other. I think it’s really special to have a cohort of people that you can call on whenever you need something.” 

“Like branches on a tree, we may grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”

Ms. Dong was always encouraged by her parents to follow her dreams and use her voice. With that advice, she is keeping kids, families, and community at the center of her work — “this is what matters and what I continue to practice,” she emphasized. 

"To me, this isn’t just a ‘School Leader’ role. I think about my family. I think about the strength and courage of my grandparents who fought for everything that we have today and who were forced into Japanese internment camps, yet continued to stay optimistic, believed in this place that we call home, and believed in themselves. I think of them when founding this school,” she disclosed. “I think of my previous students and what they would have wanted in a school. I think about making sure that we are doing everything possible to have as many opportunities for our students — an education that I’d want for my son,” Ms. Dong added. “I think about my future students, families, and team. And, I think about one day being able to watch my students walk across the graduation stage. I think about the future alumni and some of them coming back to teach, or going on to cure cancer, or visiting space. I think about them coming back to just say ‘hi.’ I know that no matter what, I will love my students!”

“I want to make sure that my school can be the best for every student, every family,” shared Ms. Dong. To practice a pedagogy of justice, “we are listening to our families and communities, we are learning from our families and communities, with the goal of being better and doing better everyday. She adds, “I think so often people are scared to make mistakes, but I want to be a team and family that can make mistakes and grow from them to build a more just world in our school, community, and beyond.” She describes this effort as a light that will shine brighter, the more that we do it together. 

At KIPP Generations Academy we honor our past, empower our present, and brighten our future. We amplify the strength of our students, families, and community through an education rooted in our identities and endless opportunities for all. Together we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us as we uplift each other and achieve multi generational change for a just tomorrow.1

Fun fact: Outside of the classroom, Ms. Dong enjoys traveling to foreign countries, going to USC football games, watching Netflix, and finding good local food.

*A grade level will be added each year until we are fully grown with TK-8th grade.

1 KIPP Generations' Academy vision