Kimaya’s Story of Growing Pains & Gains from Middle Grades

The To&Through Project
5 min readApr 25, 2023

Meet Kimaya

Kimaya is a Black college student who grew up in Woodlawn. She transferred to several elementary schools before starting 7th grade at a magnet school in the South Loop. She graduated from a selective enrollment high school. She is currently a Senior at a 4-year private university in Pennsylvania and is going to graduate with a degree in Psychology. You will most likely find her with her Ultimate Frisbee team around campus.

Kimaya’s Middle Grades Experience

After transferring to three different elementary schools, Kimaya’s transition to middle grades went more smoothly. “I wasn’t a stranger to transferring schools and having to reacclimate to a new environment.” She was quickly able to make friends. “I was always that kid in the cafeteria that I didn’t have a group of friends or one spot to sit at. I’d literally just hop around to whichever table I wanted.” Kimaya was well-known among her classmates. She won class clown in 8th grade and high school. Despite her outward popularity, Kimaya felt some insecurity about her friendships and had doubts about how to make meaningful connections. “Maybe they are my friends now, but are they my actual true friends?” By the end of middle school, she found a way to forge a few deep meaningful relationships that she still holds today.

“Maybe they are my friends now, but are they my actual true friends?”

In the classroom, however, Kimaya felt secure and supported. She found her teachers at her new 7th-grade school to be super accessible and helpful in supporting her passion for STEM. A math teacher and a teacher’s assistant enrolled Kimaya in the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA), A STEM-focused summer boarding school in Aurora. Her 7th-grade English teacher also left a significant impression on Kimaya. Despite not enjoying English as a subject, she reminisces about the harmony her English teacher was able to cultivate in his class. “Just having teachers that made it fun to learn and also, I think a big part of it was the way that he showed everyone respect, and because of that, everyone respected him.”

Growing After Middle Grades

Since her older brother didn’t attend college, Kimaya felt the pressure of excelling academically, and her family expected her to go to college. When it came to the high school application process, multiple teachers and her family supported her with test preparation and the application itself. However for Kimaya, the support also came with an intense amount of pressure to find a school that would lead to college, as she described “It was so high stakes. For me, it was basically I got into a ‘good’ high school leading me to the path to college, or I didn’t, and then I most likely wouldn’t go to college at all.” Once she enrolled in her selective enrollment high school, college was the only track she focused on. “I don’t think I ever could have seen any other path for myself because of just how conditioned I was. I went to a college prep school so there was — I never even was introduced to any other possibilities that I could have, so it was — that was just all there was.”

“I don’t think I ever could have seen any other path for myself because of just how conditioned I was. I went to a college prep school so there was — I never even was introduced to any other possibilities that I could have, so it was — that was just all there was.”

When it was time to start the college application process, Kimaya had a new perspective on enrollment compared to high school. “I hated the high school enrollment process. I think it’s because it felt so competitive and like we were pitted against each other, especially for those selective enrollment schools. So just wanting to not have to do that for college was, I think, a big reason why I let myself chill a little when it came to applying to college.” Kimaya knew she wanted to go away for college and applied to many colleges she wasn’t invested in until she applied to the school she ultimately attended on Decision Day in May of her Senior year through rolling admissions — a 4-year private school in Pennsylvania.

When Kimaya started college, she struggled with the academic transition. “I’ve always pretty much excelled at academics, especially in middle school and high school and I think honestly if anything, for me, that backfired because going to college, it was — I always just felt like… I can just grasp things easily, because that was always how it was for me in middle school and high school. Then having to try harder at stuff is something that was a shock in college.” This was also a personal identity shift as Kimaya’s academic performance was so tied with her core identity. “I have always been seen as the academic weapon of the family, and how I needed to excel to sometimes give myself that worth and just having to reevaluate that relationship with school in general and focus more — focus less on school and more on learning.” In realizing how much academic pressure she still carries, if she could go back in time, she would tell herself, “it’s okay not to be perfect when it comes to academics and school.”

“I have always been seen as the academic weapon of the family, and how I needed to excel to sometimes give myself that worth and just having to reevaluate that relationship with school in general and focus more — focus less on school and more on learning.”

Now in her senior year, Kimaya is excited to enjoy her last year of undergrad. She is currently applying to jobs and is still deciding where she would like to move to next. She still wants to continue her passion for science and plans to get her Doctorate of Psychology in the future.

Kimaya’s Lessons from Middle Grades

In navigating the high school selection process, Kimaya encourages students to protect themselves from the stress of the competition and try not to compare themselves to other students.

She noted the importance of meaningful friendships where she could feel grounded and supported

Kimaya’s Hopes for the Field

  • She hopes that educators can respect their students as humans first. She believes the foundation of respect can help ensure students feel welcomed in the classroom.
  • She also recommends educators be accessible and supportive of students’ aspirations outside of the classroom. This can help strengthen bonds between students and teachers

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The To&Through Project

The To&Through Project aims to increase high school & post-secondary completion for under-resourced students of color in Chicago & around the country.