Rugby Team USA Eagles Visits KIPP Ascend Middle School
Students at KIPP Ascend Academy, a charter public school in Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood, are gaining attention for their successes both in and out of the classroom. Because of the students’ high academic and athletic achievements, the students received a special visit from members of the United States men’s national rugby team, the Eagles. The Eagles were prepping for their upcoming match at Soldier Field against the All Blacks, New Zealand’s national rugby team who have not competed in the United States since 1980.
KIPP Ascend Academy offers 7th and 8th grade students a unique opportunity to compete on their rugby team. With the school being the only Chicago public elementary school with a rugby team and the only fully African-American middle school team in the state, they travel to compete against suburban schools in places like Naperville, Arlington Heights, and Palatine. Despite many obstacles, such as not having a field to practice on and not having enough money for uniforms, this newly founded 7th and 8th grade team continues to rise above the odds and is performing exceptionally well. They have made a name for themselves in the Rugby arena with a winning record and being state champions last year at the middle school level.
More importantly, KIPP’s students are achieving in the classroom, too. This year, KIPP Ascend Academy was recognized for achieving the highest of all of the 15 public schools in the neighborhood. In reading, 79 percent of students met or exceeded national growth, and in math, 82 percent met or exceeded.
The students were very excited to welcome the Eagles rugby players to their school. These professional athletes shared their stories of perseverance and encouraged the students to keep striving for their goals. “It was so meaningful to be able to celebrate our team’s success with the Eagles. More importantly, all of our Kippsters got an amazing opportunity to learn about the importance of setting goals, showing tenacity, and being a great teammate,” said Andy Schmitz, coach of KIPP Ascend’s 7th and 8th grade boys rugby team.
In one of the classrooms, professional rugby player Carlin Isles encouraged students to focus on their goals and to take initiative. He shared the sacrifices he had to make in order to become a USA Eagles rugby player and encouraged the students to do the same regardless of what their end goal is. Carlin overcame many obstacles, including one that some of the students were able to relate to. When describing his middle school experience, he admitted, “I was so scared to read in class.” But, he used this fear as a motivator. He urged the students to “keep pushing, be special, and self-motivate.”
The students sent the USA team off with kind words, gratitude, and wishes for their upcoming match against the New Zealand All Blacks at Soldier Field. After an inspirational day for the students, the USA Eagles rugby team had some extra support from the box suite where KIPP Ascend Academy students and faculty rooted for their heroes.