When the front door at KIPP Kirkpatrick Elementary School opens, Mrs. Fakunle and Alexis embrace and share the excitement of two people with a deep seeded relationship who haven’t seen each other in person for close to a year-and-a-half.
Mrs. Fakunle is a Persistence Counselor at KIPP Nashville, and Alexis is a KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School alumna, part of the founding class of 2018. Alexis is spending some of her summer interning at KIPP learning the ins and outs of the operations work that goes into running a school, something she says has been eye opening, and Mrs. Fakunle is taking this opportunity to connect in-person again.
“Our relationship is really good,” says Alexis, laughing while sitting next to Mrs. Fakunle. “She’s so supportive of me and every time I have an accomplishment, she celebrates me. I look to her as someone who is going to support me and lift me up.”
As with all students who graduate from KIPP Nashville Collegiate High School, Alexis was assigned to a Persistence Counselor and landed in Mrs. Fakunle’s caseload. Mrs. Fakunle is one of two Persistence Counselors who support our alumni.
“How do I even start?” says Alexis, when reflecting on how Mrs. Fakunle supports her. “I think the big thing is she’s always available for me whenever I need her, and she helps me find the starting point of a problem or situation so I can move forward on my own.”
The persistence work takes many shapes and forms. On the front end, it’s helping students matriculate into college or their technical school, or making sure students who are choosing to go straight into a career have what they need to launch successfully. It’s regular communications, which during pre-pandemic times included actual visits to college campuses for in-person check-ins with alumni. It’s guiding students through the often confusing and mazelike process of applying for and claiming their financial aid. It’s helping students select classes, figure out housing, navigate the adjustment to life away from home and making new friends. And it’s everything in between.
The everything-in-between part is where Mrs. Fakunle’s work often goes well beyond any job description.
“Through our process, Alexis has inspired me a lot and I don’t think she even knows how much she has inspired me,” says Mrs. Fakunle.
Like many students, Alexis came home from college in March 2020 as the world shut down due to COVID-19. She was completing her sophomore year at Berea College. During what would’ve been her junior year, Alexis decided to take some time off to figure out her next steps and suffered the loss of her father and mother within five months of each other.
“After everything that happened, I didn’t want to think about transferring. My grandparents pushed me to call Mrs. Fakunle. I honestly don’t think I would’ve transferred without her help.”
Alexis says losing her parents and dealing with the isolation of the pandemic triggered something within her that has given her a renewed sense of purpose and drive.
“After my parents passed away, that gave me a reason why. People say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, but that has made me push harder now. And I guess I grew out of being comfortable with being comfortable.”
Alexis is in the process of transferring to MTSU and plans to begin classes again this fall. She’s interested in studying biology.
“Alexis is so resilient,” says Mrs. Fakunle. “She’s been through so much and she is the picture of what we do in our persistence work supporting students. She represents why I do what I do.”
During a time where Mrs. Fakunle also experienced the ups and downs of life, including having her first child and losing family members to COVID, she says her relationship with Alexis gave her strength.
“A lot of life has happened in these past few years. I see the value more in my position and my job even more now because of her,” adds Mrs. Fakunle.
As a result of their relationship, Mrs. Fakunle says the persistence team has created a bereavement plan to make sure there are supports in place for other students who experience loss, something Mrs. Fakunle says everyone is more acutely aware of after these last 16 months.
“I’m fully convinced Alexis is going to walk across the stage again and graduate from college, and it makes me happy that I had a small part in that,” says Mrs. Fakunle.
Alexis puts it another way, “When I get my degree, it’s mainly going to be influenced by Mrs. Fakunle.”
As Alexis works on organizing materials in classrooms at KIPP Kirkpatrick Elementary School and helps around the school in other invaluable ways, she says she’s excited for the future and the all the possibilities that come with it.
“I think about this all the time, because I remind myself every day, don’t get so attached to small details, you always have to look at the bigger picture. I’m here for an internship, or I’m here to graduate, whatever the big picture is, keep that in the front of your brain so you don’t give up or quit at the smallest inconvenience.”
As Mrs. Fakunle and Alexis say goodbye, they make plans for their next check-in and promise to see each other again soon for lunch. Both forever changed and yet moving forward in the comfort of their familiarity with one another and the belief that the best is yet to come.