andreakilpatrick.jpgAndrea Kilpatrick could have taken a very different path. The New York area native had a top-notch education; with degrees from Princeton, Harvard Law School and Oxford, and a plum job with management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But in 1999, the then-28-year-old and a group of friends co-founded Cool Kids Learn, a non-profit organization providing after-school activities for elementary and middle school students.

Kilpatrick and her friends, educators in the Miami-Dade and Broward school systems, saw a need.

“A lot of kids were staying after school because their parents couldn't pick them up,’’ says Kilpatrick, “but a lot of what they were getting was baby sitting. We thought we could better utilize the time.”

Now, Cool Kids Learn, which the friends incorporated in 2002, operates after-school programs in seven Miami-Dade and Broward schools, tutoring programs in 150 locations across
South Florida, 20 counties across the state and five states across the southeastern United States.

Kilpatrick, the 37-year-old president of the company, left McKinsey to join Cool Kids Learn full-time in 2004. She was named as a recipient of a 2008 African-American Achievers award March 27.

The late Jim Moran, who founded JM Family Enterprises and Southeast Toyota Distributors, created the award 16 years ago to honor outstanding individuals in the tri-county area.

The awards honor four people each year in the areas of Arts and Culture, Business and Enterprise, Community Service and Education. There is also a “Jerome Edmund Gray Youth Achiever’’ that is chosen by the Moran family’s private foundation.

The Arts and Culture awardee this year is Daisy Odom Fulton, director of the Spady Cultural Heritage Museum in Delray Beach.

The Business and Entrepreneurism honoree is George L. Burrows Sr., who in 1948 became Fort Lauderdale's first black licensed master electrician. He is also credited with bringing
“Friday night lights’’ to Dillard High School by leading the team that wired the school's football stadium with lighting for night games.

Community Service honoree Vern Dooling is the charismatic senior area director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Broward County.

Jerome Edmund Gray Youth Achiever Khenitha Reeves is a senior at William T. McFatter Technical High School in Davie.

The March 27 awards ceremony – the first without Moran, who died last year – took place at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.

The event also marked the end of WPLG anchor Dwight Lauderdale's 12-year tenure as master of ceremonies. Lauderdale, who is stepping down as anchor of Local 10 in May, passed the torch to WPLG anchor Calvin Hughes at the event, saying it was time for him to enjoy the annual program from the audience.

Donations of $5,000 apiece will be made to a charity designated by each award recipient, and Reeves, the Youth Achiever award winner, will receive a four-year scholarship to
Florida State University.

Kilpatrick, the Education awardee, says her achievements grew out of her lifelong love of learning.

“I always said I would open my own school, even before I went to college, because I always loved school,” she says. “Education was the key to getting where I was able to go.”

Born in Manhattan, Kilpatrick moved with her family first to Philadelphia, then to the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, New Jersey when she was 3 years old.

“By moving, I ended up in a great school,” she says. “I was always aware that education was a great equalizer.”

After majoring in African-American studies at Princeton, Kilpatrick attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1995. But her desire to work in the education field led her to take numerous electives at Harvard’s School of Education, and to pursue a master's degree in Education Policy at Oxford University in London.

Kilpatrick says that even her corporate job kept her on a path to education.

“When I went to McKinsey, I consciously didn't go into law because I wanted to learn management skills,” she said.

What finally convinced her to move out of the corporate world was the need she saw reflected by her friends, who were teaching in South Florida schools, she said.

“This opportunity presented itself and the need was so great,’’ she said. “People were asking us to do this and there wouldn't be a better time.’’

So Kilpatrick and her friends, Tracy Seaton, Dorothy Delima, Dorothea Copeland, Cutari Copeland and Cutonya Copeland, founded Cool Kids Learn, first as a summer program. It quickly grew from there.

“We operate on site at schools, community centers and area churches,’’ Kilpatrick said. “The kids come in after school, work in groups with certified teachers, and do a number of hands-on activities designed to build their critical skills.’’

The program also emphasizes applying those skills with computer programs that allow kids to design a business or investigate ancient Egypt. The focus is on math and reading plus enrichment activities like chess, debate, community engagement, public service, social skills and character education.

“Everything culminates in an activity such as a chess competition, debate tournament, art show, etc., and we invite parents and members of the school community,’’ so the kids can show off what they've learned.

Kilpatrick said she is “honored and humbled” to receive the award.

“I know some of the folks who have received [the award] in the past and their contributions to the community have been so significant,’’ she said. “It’s an honor to be thought of in the same category. It means a lot to me personally because it validates the work we have been doing, and there are so many people who have worked so hard and it's good to see their work validated.”

Photo: Andrea Kilpatrick  works with Cool  Kids Learn students in the afterschool program at  Skyway Elementary School in Miami Gardens.