Meet Elizabeth Petrey, one of our most tenured team members who has had an impressive 17-year career at KIPP SoCal.
In honor of our 20th anniversary, we sat down with her to dive into her experiences, learn more about the evolution of KIPP SoCal, and touch on the different aspects of KIPP’s culture that have resonated with her over the years.
From Pre-Med to Teach for America
When Elizabeth started her college journey, she planned to pursue a medical career as a pre-med student. However, that quickly changed during her junior year after she took a transformative trip to Cuernavaca, Mexico.
While in Cuernavaca, Elizabeth lived with a family in a neighborhood where educational opportunities were scarce and often seen as a luxury. She frequently saw kids missing school because they were taking care of their younger siblings or supporting their parents by joining the workforce.
When she returned, she was determined to contribute to the public education system in the United States to ensure every child had access to a high-quality education. Shortly after that, she decided to apply to Teach for America (TFA) and was assigned to work at a middle school in Oakland.
Although TFA only requires you to teach for two years, Elizabeth quickly grew a passion for the profession and stayed for six years while she obtained a teaching credential. Northern California will always hold a special place in Elizabeth’s heart because it’s not only where she fell in love with teaching but also where she met and fell in love with her husband.
A Proud KIPP LA Prep Educator
Since her partner was a Southern California native, they decided to make the move down to Los Angeles. Elizabeth had heard “buzz” around KIPP from her TFA colleagues in the Bay Area, so she decided to apply for a KIPP school in SoCal. Determined to work alongside like-minded educators, she interviewed at KIPP Los Angeles College Preparatory in 2006 and got a position as a 7th and 8th-grade math teacher. A decision she never looked back on.
While at KIPP LA Prep, Elizabeth went on to grow as an educator and leader, serving as a math intervention teacher and assistant principal. In 2018, she went on to join KIPP SoCal’s regional team as the Associate Director of Teaching and Learning.
“Student impact is what motivates me to stay. When you're a classroom teacher, you see it more directly when you're face to face with students, and you can really see their growth since you're with them every day. And even though I don't see it at that level every day, that's still what motivates me to keep being with KIPP and working with this organization,” she said.
Elizabeth Petrey (right) with her former KIPP LA Prep student Melanie Barrios (left), who is now a KIPP LA Prep teacher
As one of KIPP SoCal’s most tenured educators, she has also had the opportunity to watch her students become adults. In fact, some of her KIPP LA Prep students have recently come back to work for KIPP SoCal to pay it forward to their fellow KIPPsters.
“I have KIPP LA Prep students who are now teaching KIPP LA Prep students. To be a part of that kind of culture where people want to keep getting better and then come back and help students have that same experience they did — that's really special. To me, that's definitely something that keeps me here, just being a part of that growth in that community,” she said.
The Evolution of KIPP SoCal
Over the years, Elizabeth has been fortunate enough to watch KIPP SoCal’s transformative impact, such as our expansion from individual schools to a regional structure, our focus on a more balanced education experience (whole child), our dedicated family and community engagement, and the integration of our anti-racist standards.
“At KIPP, I feel like when we know better, we do better. We're not set in our ways and are receptive to feedback on what's working and not working. And make sure that when we figure out something doesn't work, we will try to do better for students,” she said. “It feels good to feel like I'm a part of something that will continue to innovate and make better decisions for students when we know what that better decision is.”
Elizabeth (left) with her children at KIPP SoCal's Summer Social, an employee appreciation celebration
Despite the changes throughout the years, Elizabeth believes one thing that has stayed the same is our mission to prepare students with the skills and confidence to pursue any paths they choose so they can lead fulfilling, choice-filled lives.
“I believe that I'm a part of an organization that truly believes in every student and wants every student to continue to grow and learn, love reading and learning, and be curious about the world around them.”