This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
For the fourth year in a row, the KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools’ Federal Policy Fellowship sent eight KIPP alumni to work as summer interns on Capitol Hill.
One of them was Chentese Stewart-Garner, a graduate of KIPP Philadelphia Preparatory Academy in North Philadelphia.
The program offers the fellows resources to cover living and business expenses for the summer, including housing as a cohort in the dorms at George Washington University, a Metrocard to use for public transportation, business attire, a bi-monthly paycheck, and field lessons.
Students accepted into the program must submit at least eight applications, at least three of them to members of Congress from their home area. KIPP staffers help fellows refine their resumes and prepare for interviews on Capitol Hill.
Stewart-Garner worked on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee under Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state. Stewart-Garner graduated from Gettysburg College in May with a major in sociology and a minor in education. She was at the beginning of a three-year teaching residency program sponsored by KIPP in one of their D.C. schools.
Stewart-Garner felt that her experience in the program changed her career path and made her more interested in public policy.
“I had never imagined myself going into policy before, just because I wasn’t really exposed to it when I was younger,” Stewart-Garner said. “This really being my first exposure to that world, and it’s a way I can make a tangible impact on the lives of students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, which is what my overall career goal in life is, to really work with those communities and make sure that they have the opportunities to be successful.”
Stewart-Garner, who grew up in North Philadelphia, said she was in Murray’s office during protests in the building by opponents of President Trump’s immigration policy.
“There was a protest that was held on Capitol Hill – I think most of them were mothers. They were called the ‘Women Disobey Protest,’ and they were protesting the family separation [of children from their parents] at the borders,” Stewart-Garner said. “They all came into the building I was working in, and they started cheering and chanting and disrupting what was happening in the building. Different senators started to come out of their offices, like Sen. [Elizabeth] Warren was there, and cheered the women on.”
The KIPP internship program is something Stewart-Garner feels is especially helpful for students who are not well-off and would not normally be able to live in D.C.
“It’s a really good opportunity for students who come from low-income backgrounds to participate in that civic engagement part of it, because without the program, I wouldn’t have been able to afford a summer in D.C.,” Stewart-Garner said. “They give you a paycheck every week, so you’re able to enjoy more of the social scene and network with people, like I made a lot of really good connections with former Hill staffers and people who work in different sectors within education in D.C. So I think overall it’s a great opportunity for students who might not even think of going into policy or don’t have the means to do it.”