K.J. Kearney makes a difference in Title I schools with sneakers

K.J. Kearney works as a teacher’s assistant in the fourth and fifth grades at Daniel Jenkins Creative Learning Center, an alternative behavior middle school with the Title I distinction in North Charleston. 

Several years ago, before entering the public school district, Kearney started H1GHER LEARNING, a nonprofit that gives kids a pair of nice sneakers. Initially, the non-profit only gifted students with cool shoes they would otherwise never get, but in the spring of 2015, H1GHER LEARNING took a more academic turn. Kearney says, “What I learned from giving away over 100 pairs of shoes is that it doesn’t really mean anything after the initial gift. For some of the kids it wasn’t even enough incentive to help them change anything, and I didn’t want to keep it up if giving shoes away wasn’t going to make a difference.”

So, now H1GHER LEARNING is a 12-week program offered to kids in Title I schools that teaches life skills using elements found in hip hop. At completion of the program, H1GHER LEARNING still rewards its successful participants with sneakers, and, recently, Kearney has furthered his message by penning a children’s book, Rosie and the Golden Sneakers, which also "uses sneakers to teach the value of being an individual and the value of hard work.” 

Kearney says this story is a direct result of his experience in both teaching and with H1GHER LEARNING. In its pages, Rosie has her eye on a pair of golden sneakers that her parents cannot afford, so with a job as Charlestonian in nature as it gets—folding palmetto roses—Rosie raises funds and is rewarded. 

On the whole, with experience navigating the pubic school system in a racially-charged city, Rosie is one of the success stories in Kearney’s life. 

ELIZABETH BOWERS