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Isaac Abankwa is a teacher, grade level chair for enrichment, and a teacher coach at KIPP Upper Roseville Academy. According to researchers, if Black students have just one Black teacher in elementary school, they are not only more likely to graduate high school but also significantly more likely to enroll in college.
My name is Isaac Abankwa and I’m a physical education teacher at KIPP Upper Roseville Academy (KURA) in Newark, New Jersey.
I grew up all over New Jersey, and even spent my elementary school years in Newark, where I teach today. I’ve always been passionate about athletics; in college at Virginia State University and William Paterson University, I played football and competed on the track team.
After I got my degrees in sociology and psychology, I worked as a prison counselor guiding young people and supporting their educational journeys. Hearing the stories of the young men I worked with drove me to transition my career to teaching. I knew I wanted to have a positive impact on the next generation of students and supporting them in making good life choices.
Growing up, I didn’t have many male mentors. Today, I want to be that person for my students. For the past several years, I’ve been a classroom teacher, first in Trenton, and then in Newark.
When I found KIPP, it felt like the right fit. I liked that I could receive support and have growth opportunities, while also having the freedom and autonomy to decide the best way to engage my students in learning. I love the camaraderie that exists here between the staff, everyone genuinely wants to watch their colleagues succeed.
I’ve taught second and third grade students at KIPP SPARK Academy, but ultimately, my desire to reach all students in the building and passion for athletics drove me to seek my current role at KURA teaching physical education. Today, I support students in understanding how academic learning and healthy lifestyles support one another. I always strive to incorporate Math and Literacy concepts in my PE lessons to make things transferable for kids. It’s about developing the whole child.
I love building relationships with every student in the building as they grow. For the first half of the year, we focus on developing gross and fine motor skills, and simple things like knowing our left from our right. Then we work on sports like basketball, hockey, soccer, flag football where students can hone their agility, learn how to stretch, and develop the ability to work as a team. It’s important for them to experience a variety of sports and establish the basics.
My goal is that every child develops healthy habits that will last them a lifetime. Too many people in our country really struggle with staying physically active and I want my students to have a positive association with exercise and start a conversation about why these habits matter, early.
If I can encourage students to be healthy and get them invested in their education, that’s a win for me.